Radical fasting: How abstinence from food changes our brain

Lent has begun. Some people are trying to eat healthier food - for example by abstaining from animal products. Others take the seven-week period of abstinence as an opportunity to lose as much weight as possible using radical methods. A neurosurgeon has now warned that this not only damages our health, but can also have a negative effect on our brain.

"If you fast radically, your brain changes permanently"
Jeans should fit better in spring and in summer you want to look good on the beach anyway - for many people the Lent season is just right. With a radical diet, the annoying pounds should then finally fall off.

However, extreme fasting or dieting, which often involves completely forgoing solid food, can change the functionality of certain parts of our brain. At least that is the opinion of neurosurgeon Dr. Iris Zachenhofer. "If you fast radically, your brain changes permanently," she says. And that has negative consequences for our healthy feeling of hunger.

Various psychological tests are said to have proven that in people who fast rigorously, at some point in time their thinking will revolve solely around food. The questions 'What and when can I eat?' are said to have a decisive influence on our way of thinking.

Food gains greater emotional significance during radical fasting
The neurosurgeon sees the reason for this in two opponents in our brain. Firstly, there is the so-called prefrontal cortex, our rational thinking, so to speak. This part of the brain is responsible for our plans, actions and for the goals we set ourselves. In other words, exactly the part that first points out that for the perfect beach figure you still have to lose weight. The problem: After a radical fast this part is much more inactive. So it is more difficult to set goals and to enforce actions.

The opponent of our rational thinking is the reward system in our brain. The very part that wants pleasure. In return, the part after a radical diet is much more active. This means that rewards in the form of food have a much stronger emotional meaning.

Long-term diet is more sustainable
With such a brute diet we make it really difficult for our body to lose weight permanently. The higher activity of the reward system could even turn the desire to lose weight into the opposite.

According to neurosurgeon Zachenhofer, a good diet is only successful over a longer period of time and not during a seven-week fasting period. It is recommended to take enough time for healthy cooking and eating. The slimming effect will be more lasting and better than doing without food completely.