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Using intermittent fasting for weight loss is becoming a popular health trend for a very simple reason… IT. WORKS. People have not only been able to lose weight with intermittent fasting, but they’ve also experienced improved overall health and potentially increased longevity (a fancy word for living longer).
If you want lose weight but haven’t had success with traditional or fad diets, intermittent fasting is a good approach to consider. Let’s dive in to how to lose weight with intermittent fasting by exploring what it is, the benefits, how it works, and how to start.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that focuses on when you eat instead of what you eat. With weight loss diets, your total food consumption is restricted in some manner – usually with limits on the types of foods or macronutrients (carbs, fat, or protein) you can eat, or the amount of calories you can consume in a given day. Intermittent fasting for weight loss, on the other hand, allows you to eat what you want and in the quantities that you want. However, food must be eaten during scheduled periods of time (called feeding intervals).
There are many ways to structure the fasting intervals (periods of no eating) and feeding intervals when using intermittent fasting for weight loss. Some methods consist of fasting for a portion of each day (also called time-restricted eating), with feeding intervals lasting 6-12 hours. Other approaches include fasting a full 24 hours one or more days per week.
Let’s take a closer look at two of the most popular approaches to lose weight with intermittent fasting.
16/8 Method (Leangains protocol by Martin Berkhan)
The 16/8 Method consists of daily cycles of 16-hour fasting and 8-hour feeding intervals.
Across a week it looks like this:
Although there is flexibility in the timing of the 8-hour feeding interval, a common feeding schedule is 12:00 PM through 8:00 PM. During the fasting interval, water (plain or sparkling), unsweetened coffee or tea, and other beverages with no calories are permitted.
Fasting during the earlier part of the day instead of later in the day is generally recommended. Most people find it easier to fast upon waking up in the morning and prefer to go to bed feeling somewhat full. Also, lunch and dinner offer opportunities for social interactions. Thus, fasting later in the day could have negative social implications.
24-Hour Method (Eat-Stop-Eat protocol by Brad Pilon)
The 24-Hour Method consists of one or two 24-hour fasting intervals per week, which could look like this:
A common schedule for the 24-hour fasting interval is 5:00 PM one evening through 5:00 PM the next evening. However, just as with 16/8, the timing of the 24-hr fasting interval is flexible, and non-calorie beverages are permitted while fasting.
Within a given week, a second day of fasting is permitted, but fasting should not occur on back-to-back days. In between fasting days, caloric intake should be as normal (unrestricted) as possible.
What are the benefits of intermittent fasting?
Research suggests that the benefits of intermittent fasting are varied, from increased metabolism and weight loss to decreased appetite and improved energy levels.
A systematic review of 40 studies concluded that you can successfully lose weight with intermittent fasting, with results ranging from a 7-11 pound reduction over 10 weeks. Additional benefits included reduced body fat, improved blood sugar regulation, and decreased appetite. Note that 31 of the 40 studies involved extended fasting intervals (1–7 days).
How does intermittent fasting for weight loss work?
It’s not unusual for people to question why you lose weight with intermittent fasting.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve been under the impression for most of your life that eating 4-6 small meals per day is the best eating pattern.
But don’t forget that our hunter-gatherer ancestors were experts in intermittent fasting, and usually not by choice. They didn’t have restaurants and supermarkets as means of constant access to food, and so sometimes they just couldn’t find anything to eat. As a result, we evolved as a species to be able to function without eating for extended periods of time.
Intermittent fasting leads to weight loss because the short breaks from eating that occur during the fasting periods yield a variety of positive health benefits. These breaks both lower blood levels of insulin (a hormone that tells your body to store fat) and increase fat-burning hormones like norepinephrine, which also decreases belly fat. Other positive metabolic changes associated with weight loss include reduction in triglycerides, low density lipoprotein (LDL), cholesterol, and blood sugar.
One of the not-so-obvious benefits of intermittent fasting is that the fasting periods temporarily lead to a state called “ketosis”. If this sounds familiar (as in “keto diet” familiar), your memory serves you correctly. When in ketosis, our bodies shift from using carbs (glucose) as the primary fuel source to producing and using fat in the form of “ketones”. In other words, our bodies become fat-burning machines! Check out these posts on about ketosis and the differences between the keto diet and intermittent fasting to learn more!
Lastly, by eating within a narrow period of time, intermittent fasting can naturally reduce your daily calorie consumption. And so with fewer overall calories consumed and a more efficient metabolism geared towards burning fat, how you lose weight with intermittent fasting starts to become more clear.
Bottom line: intermittent fasting can be a powerful weight loss tool!
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How can I lose weight with intermittent fasting?
Below are a few simple steps of how to lose weight with intermittent fasting.
1. Decide which intermittent fasting schedule is right for you.
There are a variety of intermittent fasting schedules to choose from. Which intermittent fasting method you choose will depend on your current eating patterns, experience with fasting, and health goals. Most importantly, think about an approach that you’ll be able to stick with for long enough to see how your body responds. I recommend starting with the 16/8 method for those who have no previous experience with fasting.
Also, don’t forget to consult your physician before implementing changes in your eating patterns. Intermittent fasting is not recommended for women who are pregnant or nursing due to their energy requirements. In addition, women in particular could be susceptible to hormonal issues if consumption of calories is too low.
2. Start gradually, and slowly build from there.
If you eat more than 3 times per day (and most of us do), start by eliminating snacks. Once you feel comfortable eating 3 meals per day, you’re ready to try intermittent fasting for weight loss.
Plan on starting your intermittent fasting program in the evening after a solid dinner. I recommend starting with a 13-hour fasting interval and adding 1-2 hours of fasting time every few days until you have reached your target fasting interval.
An example schedule for a 13-hour fasting interval is as follows:
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3. Don’t forget to hydrate.
During fasting intervals, it’s important to stay hydrated with non-calorie beverages. Certain beverage options can even enhance the benefits of your intermittent fasting plan.
Water is a staple during both fasting and feeding intervals. Plain water or sparkling water with a squeeze of lemon or lime can be quite refreshing during fasting periods. However, steer clear of artificially sweetened beverages, even if they have no calories. Artificial sweeteners can negatively impact your insulin levels, which may undermine some of the benefits of fasting.
Black coffee (no sweetener, milk, or cream) naturally has no calories, which is great for those of us who need our morning boost! Caffeinated or decaffeinated options are both okay. Some people experience an upset stomach or a racing heart when they drink coffee during fasting periods, so be mindful of how your body responds and adjust accordingly.
Tea is a nice complement to any fasting plan. All types are okay to drink, including herbal, black, oolong, and green. As a bonus, green tea (like Ocha & Co. Premium Organic Japanese Loose Leaf Green Tea) aids in appetite suppression to potentially enhance weight loss, so drink up! Just as with coffee, no sweeteners can be added, but spices like cinnamon and nutmeg are fair game.
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar contributes to weight loss in a number of ways, making it a go-to beverage while fasting. It suppresses appetite, aids in digestion, controls blood sugar and insulin levels, and stimulates your metabolism.
Start with adding 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to a glass of water to see how you respond. If tolerated ok, gradually increase to adding 1 tablespoon to water and drink 2-3 times throughout the day.
4. Expect your body to need time to adapt.
Once you’ve reached your target fasting interval, expect hunger and thoughts of eating to linger for another week or so. Often times we consume food out of habit, not necessity. And so be mindful that it’s normal to feel like you should be eating even when your body is sufficiently nourished. Once your body has adapted to the fasting schedule, this feeling will decrease.
Although you will start to lose weight with intermittent fasting in the first couple of weeks, it can take up to 2 months for your body to fully adapt to the new eating pattern.
Exercise is a healthy complement to any eating pattern, and staying active during intermittent fasting can help with hunger and aid in weight loss. Consider doing light exercise before you eat so you can adequately manage post-exercise hunger (but save high-intensity exercise for after eating). Also, consider delaying the start of a new exercise program until after your body has had time to adjust.
Intermittent fasting can be a powerful and effective weight loss tool. But it can be tricky to understand exactly how to lose weight with intermittent fasting. Hopefully with the information and tips in this post, you feel more confident that intermittent fasting is the right approach for you to successfully lose weight AND experience long-term benefits on weight management, and beyond!