Intermittent Fasting VS Calorie Counting - Actually it Doesn't Matter

Intermittent Fasting VS Calorie Counting - Actually it Doesn't Matter

Write-up of a peer reviewed study carried out by the German Cancer Research Centre

Key Takeaways

  • Restricting calories by fasting intermittently doesn't provide extra metabolic health benefits over other dieting methods
  • Limiting calorie intake by fasting for 16 hours a day, or 2 days a week, leads to the same fat loss and health outcome as daily calorie control
  • It's not the way you diet that counts, it's more important to decide on a method that suits you and ...
  • Follow through with it!

Intermittent fasting helps weight loss and promotes health. However, it isn’t superior to conventional calorie restriction diets.

Scientists from the German Cancer Research Centre (DKFZ) and Heidelberg University Hospital have found out in a study called HELENA - the largest investigation on intermittent fasting to date.

The scientists conclude that there are many paths leading to a healthier weight. Everybody must find a diet plan that fits them best and then just do it!

Feasting eight hours and then fasting the following 16 hours? Or is it even better to fast two whole days a week and then enjoy eating without regrets for the rest of the week?

Intermittent fasting, also known as 16:8 diet or 5:2 diet sells a lot of books.

Popular self-help books on this topic promise weight loss without yo-yo effect as well as sustained changes in metabolism and resulting health benefits.

The German Nutrition Society (DGE), on the other hand, warns that intermittent fasting is not suitable for long-term weight regulation. In addition, according to DGE, there isn’t enough scientific evidence on the long-term effects of this dieting method.

"There are in fact only a few smaller studies on intermittent fasting so far, but they have come up with strikingly positive effects for metabolic health," says DKFZ's Ruth Schübel.

"This made us curious and we intended to find out whether these effects can also be proven in a larger patient group and over a prolonged period."

The Study

In collaboration with a team of DKFZ researchers and scientists from Heidelberg University Hospital, Schübel examined 150 overweight and obese study participants over one year.

One third of participants followed a conventional calorie restriction diet that reduced daily calorie intake by 20 percent.

The second group kept to a 5:2 dietary plan that also saved 20 percent of calorie intake over the whole week.

A control group followed no specific diet plan but was advised, like all other participants, to eat a well-balanced diet as recommended by DGE.

Following the actual dieting phase, the investigators documented the participants' weight and health status for another 38 weeks.

The Results

The result may be as surprising as it is sobering for all followers of intermittent fasting.

The researchers found that improvements in health status were the same with both dieting methods.

"In participants of both groups, body weight and, along with it, visceral fat, or unhealthy belly fat, were lost and extra fat in the liver reduced," Schübel reported.

The good news is: a small dieting success is a big gain for health.

Those who reduce their body weight by only five percent, lose about 20 percent of dangerous visceral fat and more than a third of fat in the liver - no matter which dieting method they used.

The investigators also did not find any difference between the two dieting methods in any other metabolic values that were analysed or biomarkers and gene activities under investigation.

Although the HELENA study doesn’t confirm the over-hyped expectations placed on intermittent fasting, it also shows that this method isn’t less beneficial than conventional weight loss diets.

"In addition, for some people it seems to be easier to be very disciplined on two days instead of counting calories and limiting food every day," explained Tilman Kühn, leading scientist of the trial.

"But in order to keep the new body weight, people must also permanently switch to a balanced diet following DGE recommendations", he added.

According to Kühn, the study results show that it is not primarily the dieting method that matters but that it is more important to decide on a method and then follow through with it.

"The same evidence is also suggested in a current study comparing low-carb and low-fat diets, that is, reducing carbohydrates versus reducing fat intake while otherwise having a balanced diet," said Kühn.

In this study, participants also achieved comparable results with both methods.

The scientists' credo is therefore:

"Just do it!"

Body and health will benefit from weight loss in any case, so long as it is achieved by a reliable dieting method - on the basis of a well-balanced diet.

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Intermittent fasting: No advantage over conventional weight loss diets Press Release

Effects of intermittent and continuous calorie restriction on body weight and metabolism over 50 wk: a randomized controlled trial, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Ruth Schübel, Johanna Nattenmüller, Disorn Sookthai, Tobias Nonnenmacher, Mirja E Graf, Lena Riedl, Christopher L Schlett, Oyunbileg von Stackelberg, Theron Johnson, Diana Nabers, Romy Kirsten, Mario Kratz, Hans-Ulrich Kauczor, Cornelia M Ulrich, Rudolf Kaaks, Tilman Kühn

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