So why do you need a break from eating of around 16 hours in intermittent fasting? Because it takes this long to trigger what is known as autophagy, the body’s internal purification process. This has lots of positive benefits for health and the human body, as the self-cleaning process takes all of the “rubbish” that food brings into our body and recycles some of it. However, this important regeneration phase only kicks in after 16 hours of fasting. In addition, during breaks between meals you can only drink unsweetened drinks such as water, black coffee with no sugar, or green tea. Even a sip of fruit juice will disrupt the process!
In a nutshell, the fasting phase is part of the body’s own detox program and purifies all of the body’s cells, with beneficial effects for many organs and chronic diseases. Autophagy also has an impact on the aging process, so fasting is a real fountain of youth – provided that half of the fasting time, i.e. the first eight hours, are before midnight.
This information about autophagy was only discovered relatively recently, primarily thanks to the work of Japanese cell biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi, winning him the 2016 Nobel Prize in Medicine.
Unlike for our ancestors, today eating is more than just an elementary requirement in order to satisfy hunger: enjoyment is the focus of mealtimes shared with family or friends, but we also (all too) often treat ourselves to a piece of chocolate as a reward or a bag of crisps when we are stressed. We are also quick to grab a snack without a second thought whenever we are even the slightest bit hungry. Because, let’s be honest, when was the last time your stomach genuinely “rumbled”?
“We are eating ourselves to death”, as Russian doctor Galina Shatalova wrote in her book of the same name. And in fact, excessive eating and poor diet and lifestyle have caused or increased the risk of many civilization diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and many more. Even a slightly high BMI (body mass index) can cause one of these diseases. The best preventative measure is regular fasting periods of at least 16 hours. Studies have also shown that fasting can bring high blood pressure and blood lipid levels back down to normal.
Another benefit of fasting is its positive impact on the aging process, slowing it down. For example, studies have shown that irregular mealtimes and eating late mean that the skin takes longer to regenerate or “repair” any damage. Do your skin a big favor and skip the evening feasting!
Animal testing has also shown that regular fasting of at least 16 hours can reduce the aging process by a third. Interestingly, skipping dinner had a significantly more positive effect than leaving out breakfast, even if still fasting for 16 hours.
Many people who fast regularly feel more active, capable and content – and not just because they are getting closer to their target weight as each day passes. Fasting also triggers a biochemical reaction that affects our psyche, because 16 hours of mostly overnight fasting increases the concentration of the happiness hormone serotonin. This is thanks to what are known as ketones, which are produced when the body breaks down surplus energy reserves. These ketone bodies also stimulate nerve cells and distribute increased amounts of neurotransmitters such as serotonin early in the morning.