Have you ever witnessed a person go through a weight loss journey and end up with loose skin as a result of losing a lot of weight?
We all have several reasons to shed some pounds, and for some of you, you may want to do it to be fit and sexy— to feel confident in your body.
Yet it’s always a dread when, after all your hard work, saggy parts appear due to loose skin. But have you considered that your diet can play a big part in that?
Fortunately, fasting is a form of diet that has been linked to helping with loose skin. There have been studies showing that it doesn’t only make you lose weight but lose those stubborn flabs too.
When you fast, your body can be triggered into self-preservation mode and this function is called autophagy; which has been associated to help trigger a process that can prevent the skin from loosening.
Let’s dive into how fasting and autophagy helps with loose skin and the ways you can avoid them while making them firm.
What Is Autophagy?
First termed by Christian de Duve, autophagy in Greek means “eating of oneself.” As the names suggest, your body begins to eat itself.
Autophagy is a self-degrading process that is essential for balancing energy sources at critical stages of development and in response to nutrient stress.
It plays a vital process in removing and recycling unwanted or damaged molecules from your cells. The outcome then leads to healthier cells because of its role in cell survival and maintenance.
Autophagy has been linked to a long list of potential health benefits. The process appears to be important in the immune system as it acts as a natural immune response mechanism against bacterial infection1.
There is also evidence2 that the autophagy process, by reducing inflammation, may improve the outlook for cells suffering from viral and neurodegenerative diseases.
What Is Autophagy In Fasting?
Fasting can lead to triggering autophagy. When you fast, you intentionally go without meals for extended periods of time — hours, days, or even weeks.
Fasting is not the same as calorie restriction. When a person lowers their calorie intake, they reduce their typical food intake. Whereas in fasting, you don’t have to limit calories, only the hours in which you eat. Depending on how much food a person consumes during feeding intervals, fasting may or may not result in calorie restriction.
Although, both fasting and calorie restriction stress your body’s cells. When you restrict the amount of food you consume, your cells receive fewer calories than they require to function properly.
When this occurs, your cells must become more efficient. Autophagy, as explained, causes the body’s cells to clear out and recycle any unneeded or damaged portions in response to the stress caused by fasting or calorie restriction to provide energy.
What Can Promote Autophagy?
There are several ways you may be able to prompt your body’s autophagy process. Remember that because autophagy is a stress response, you will need to trick your body into thinking it’s starved for energy. Here are the possible ways to activate autophagy:
- Intermittent Fasting – we already know that fasting can be the most effective way to trigger autophagy. Popularly known is intermittent fasting, which can be done in three ways:
- Alternate-day fasting is a practice in which you consume a normal diet one day and then either totally fast or have one modest meal (less than 500 calories) the next day.
- 5:2 fasting is when you eat normally five days a week and fast two days a week.
- Time-restricted fasting entails eating normally but only within an 8-hour window each day. For example, missing breakfast but having lunch around midday and dinner by 8 p.m.
- Exercise – Exercise also stresses the body’s cells. When you exercise, the components of your cells get damaged and irritated. According to the authors of one study3, our cells respond to this situation through autophagy. There is also evidence that exercise stimulates autophagy in human skeletal muscles4. Exercise is classified into two types: aerobic and strength training. Cardio exercise is excellent for your heart and can help you lose weight. Strength training not only aids in weight loss but also in the development of lean muscle mass.
- Curcumin – One animal study5, for example, found that curcumin induced autophagy restoration could protect against diabetic cardiomyopathy, a heart muscle condition that affects diabetics. Although these preliminary findings are encouraging, it is important to highlight that further research is required before scientists can draw any conclusions. Scientists are unsure whether increased curcumin intake can cause autophagy in people.
When Does Autophagy Start?
There is no specific fasting length that initiates autophagy. While fasting for three days straight may be overwhelming, doing intermittent fasts will still provide benefits. You may need to try a more prolonged fast regularly to kickstart autophagy.
Depending on circumstances such as what you ate before fasting, autophagy may begin as early as 12 hours into the fast for some people. However, the maximum effects of autophagy appear to come within 24-48 hours of food deprivation.
What Happens During Autophagy?
What makes autophagy possible are Autophagy-related proteins (ATG). The ATG causes structures called autophagosomes to form. These autophagosomes carry the junk cell pieces to a part of the cell called a lysosome. The lysosome’s job is to digest or break down other cell parts and then release the reusable bits and pieces. The cells use these raw materials to make new parts.
How Fasting And Autophagy Helps With Loose Skin
Autophagy helps skin health by decreasing skin aging. In one study, it was found that aging fibroblasts experience a higher speed of waste production, which results in skin aging6. It was stated by researchers that autophagy plays a crucial role in counteracting the aging process of the skin by keeping the fibroblasts healthy.
Autophagy may help with slowing down the aging of your skin, but it’s not eating up wrinkles and loose skin. It only supports the processes that keep your skin more elastic and able to tighten up faster.
Slower, more progressive weight loss allows a person’s skin elasticity to snap back into place, shrinking back down when the fat is eliminated. With rapid weight loss, the skin’s suppleness does not have time to catch up.
Wrinkles and saggy skin are common indicators of aging skin, which are produced by significant changes in dermal structure and a decline in the collagen fibers synthesis potential of dermal fibroblasts.
Factors That Can Lead To Loose Skin
Several factors contribute to loose skin after weight loss, including:
- Duration of time. The longer you have been overweight or obese, the looser your skin will be after losing weight owing to elastin and collagen loss.
- Amount of weight loss. Weight loss of 100 pounds (46 kg) or more is associated with more loose skin than weight reduction of less than 100 pounds (46 kg).
- Age. Older skin has less collagen than younger skin and is looser after losing weight.
- Genetics. Your genes or genetic component may influence how your skin reacts to weight growth and decrease.
- Sunlight exposure. Chronic sun exposure has been proven to decrease the formation of collagen and elastin in the skin, which may contribute to loose skin.
Different Ways To Prevent Loose Skin
One of the problems when losing weight is the expected loose skin. While this is a sign that your diet is working, it can cause self doubt and distract your weight loss process.
Fortunately, you may prevent loose skin by making changes to your diet and exercise routine which may also have health benefits for your skin. Here’s how to avoid loose skin after losing weight:
- Engage in Exercise – Including exercise in your routine is beneficial in keeping your body fit and toning your skin. Regular strength training is one of the most effective techniques for both young and old individuals to gain muscle mass. As you gain muscle, your body begins to burn calories more easily, making it easier to control your weight. It’s also generally favorable to exercise when you fast as your body’s burning more energy. When your body’s starved of nutrients such as amino acids or energy, it will trigger autophagy activation7.
- Stay Hydrated – Dehydration harms skin health and can cause wrinkles. There is a distinction to be made between simply drinking water and obtaining all of the electrolytes and minerals your body needs. Electrolyte water is enhanced with minerals your body needs to function optimally. The most important elements are sodium, potassium, and magnesium. In fasting, it is essential to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and quell hunger. It also helps to boost the benefits of intermittent fasting since your body uses water in your cells, organs, and tissues to help regulate temperature and maintain other bodily functions.
- Healthy Diet – During your eating period, consume food high in whole, natural, and minimally processed foods for long-term, sustainable weight loss. Foods high in spermidine can also aid in the induction of autophagy. In a recent study8, beneficial compounds found in plants called polyphenols may play a role in inducing autophagy. Polyphenols stimulate various pathways, which can lead to autophagy and a longer lifespan. The following foods contain polyphenols that promote autophagy:
- Dietary Supplement – Consuming nutritional supplements increases your chances of meeting your required daily consumption significantly. Here are a few supplements that can help in autophagy:
- MCT Oil
Autophagy is indeed essential for healthy cells for its natural method for cleaning out damaged cell components and regenerating new ones. Note that much study is still required to better learn about autophagy and how to best initiate it.
If you want to try to induce autophagy in your body, you can start by including intermittent fasting and regular exercise into your regimen. Intermittent fasting can help you lose weight by targeting your body fat rather than your lean mass without dealing with an excess amount of skin.
In addition, autophagy can help prevent the reduction of your skin’s elasticity. The older you get, the less elastic your skin is, which can lead to loose skin.
However, as is the case with most diets, you should consult with your doctor to ensure fasting is healthy for you. Especially if you are taking any medications, are pregnant, breastfeeding, want to get pregnant, or have a chronic condition, such as heart disease or diabetes to prevent yourself from taking any risks.
1 Riebisch, A. K., Mühlen, S., & Beer Y.,Schmitz, I. Autophagy—A Story of Bacteria Interfering with the Host Cell Degradation Machinery. Available online: https://www.mdpi.com/2076-0817/10/2/110#cite (accessed on 10 October 2022).
2 Rubinsztein, D. C., Bento, C. F., & Deretic, V. (2015). Therapeutic targeting of autophagy in neurodegenerative and infectious diseases. The Journal of experimental medicine, 212(7), 979–990. https://doi.org/10.1084/jem.20150956
3 He C, Sumpter R Jr, Levine B. Exercise induces autophagy in peripheral tissues and in the brain. Autophagy. 2012 Oct;8(10):1548-51. doi: 10.4161/auto.21327. Epub 2012 Aug 15. PMID: 22892563; PMCID: PMC3463459.
4 Brandt N, Gunnarsson TP, Bangsbo J, Pilegaard H. Exercise and exercise training-induced increase in autophagy markers in human skeletal muscle. Physiol Rep. 2018 Apr;6(7):e13651. doi: 10.14814/phy2.13651. PMID: 29626392; PMCID: PMC5889490.
5 Yao Q, Ke ZQ, Guo S, Yang XS, Zhang FX, Liu XF, Chen X, Chen HG, Ke HY, Liu C. Curcumin protects against diabetic cardiomyopathy by promoting autophagy and alleviating apoptosis. J Mol Cell Cardiol. 2018 Nov;124:26-34. doi: 10.1016/j.yjmcc.2018.10.004. Epub 2018 Oct 4. PMID: 30292723.
7 Long He, Jie Zhang, Jinshan Zhao, Ning Ma, Sung Woo Kim, Shiyan Qiao, Xi Ma, Autophagy: The Last Defense against Cellular Nutritional Stress, Advances in Nutrition, Volume 9, Issue 4, July 2018, Pages 493–504, https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmy011
8 Kiruthiga C, Devi KP, Nabavi SM, Bishayee A. Autophagy: A Potential Therapeutic Target of Polyphenols in Hepatocellular Carcinoma. Cancers (Basel). 2020 Feb 29;12(3):562. doi: 10.3390/cancers12030562. PMID: 32121322; PMCID: PMC7139730.