Fasting is a word that is being thrown around in the world of weight loss a lot these days. But as with most popular trends, there tends to be a lot of confusion about whether it's good or bad for you, whether it actually helps with weight loss and if it does, ultimately how to do it safely and effectively.
So let me take out some of the confusion for you. First, what exactly is intermittent fasting?
Simply put, intermittent fasting is just that: fasting intermittently.
It's limiting your calorie intake during certain hours each day or during certain days each week. It's more of an eating pattern than a diet. The focus is more on WHEN you can eat, and less on WHAT and HOW MUCH you can eat.
And that’s part of what makes it so appealing! Who wants to constantly be counting calories or tracking everything they eat in a food journal every single day right?
Some people argue that intermittent fasting follows a more natural way to eat because way back in the days of our ancestors, food wasn't always readily available so the body had adapted to periods of fasting between each meal.
Think about it, in our modern world, we could eat food 24/7 if we wanted to. We have refrigerators, drive-thru's, and even 24-hour convenience stores. And as a result, we have evolved into a generation who doesn't think twice about eating several meals and snacks a day, and unfortunately a lot of the food we eat is void of real nutritional value.
Now there are different variations of intermittent fasting throughout a 24 hour period. They include:
16:8 which is 16 hours of fasting, and eating only within the other 8 hours (often 1:00 pm. - 9:00 p.m.);
5:2 days of fasting, where you eat regularly for five days of the week, then take in just 500-600 calories/day for the other two (non-consecutive) days. The "5:2" diet was a very popular trend not so long ago you may remember!
"Can Intermittent Fasting Help Me to Lose Weight?"
So the next question I often get asked is whether intermittent fasting is an effective plan for weight loss.
The answer is, yes absolutely! But it must be done safely. Too many diet trends are too extreme and end up being potentially harmful rather than helpful.
Intermittent fasting can help you to lose weight because it can help you to eat fewer calories, and also burn more calories too.
Lots of people say they have success with it. But what do the studies say?
According to one review study, intermittent fasting helped people to lose 3-8% of their weight over 3-24 weeks. In this study, people also lost 4-7% of their waist circumference (i.e., belly fat).
Another study of 100 people with obesity showed that after a year, the people who fasted on alternate days lost more weight than people who didn’t change their eating pattern. But, (and here’s where it’s interesting) they didn’t lose any more weight than those on a calorie restricted diet. Out of the people who were to follow the intermittent fasting protocol, 38% of them dropped out.
Sticking with a diet is one of the keys to weight loss success. So, if you can’t stay with a particular weight-loss plan or diet because it feels too restrictive and you end up feeling deprived and hungry, you’re more likely to struggle to either lose the weight in the first place or if you do lose weight, you will most definitely struggle to keep it off long-term.
As with most things in life, there are important factors you must consider before diving head first into an intermittent fasting regime.
First, you cannot "fast"-track your way through an unhealthy diet and an unbalanced body! Even when done safely, intermittent fasting is only ONE small component of a natural, sustainable weight loss plan. There are many other factors that need your consideration such as the types of foods you are eating and when and how you eating them to ensure a healthy gut, balanced hormones and a healthy liver. All of these factors are ESSENTIAL for long-term, healthy weight loss and weight maintenance!
People who are underweight, or have eating disorders shouldn’t fast. Neither should women who are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or are breastfeeding.
Certain medical conditions can be worsened with longer periods of fasting (ie; Diabetes, high blood pressure). Note I said "longer periods of fasting". When done for shorter periods, people with Diabetes and high blood pressure can actually benefit. But this is a perfect example why it must be done correctly in order to be beneficial and not harmful.
Also, certain medications can make some people more prone to side effects with intermittent fasting as well if they fast for too long. Specifically medications for blood pressure or other heart medications.
One of the reasons people drop out of the intermittent fasting eating pattern is that it’s hard to stick with the fasting part. They eat more than the allowed (low-level of) calories when they’re supposed to be fasting. And when they finish fasting, they may overindulge due to the reaction of the appetite hormones and hunger drive while fasting. None of these will help with weight loss.
Also, the hours and days of fasting can be very difficult. So having strong social support will be key to those intermittent periods of fasting. Sticking to a (healthy, nutrient-dense) weight loss diet is the key to success, and intermittent fasting can be difficult for many people to stick with. So again, this is where your mindset comes into play. Understanding that intermittent fasting should not be followed to the extreme and that consistency in your efforts is more important for long-term benefits is key.
Intermittent fasting is a weight loss trend that seems to work for some people. When followed correctly and safely, it has been shown to help people lose weight and maintain it, especially belly fat and it can be a very effective short-term strategy to break through weight loss plateaus.
But, it isn't safe for everyone. Some people should not try intermittent fasting because it can be risky dependent on their hormonal balance, medications they take and other potential medical conditions. It can also be difficult to stick with unless you have a strong support system in place to guide you.
Even for those people who can stick to and tolerate a short-term intermittent fasting plan, it is important to remember that there are other very important factors that must be considered for natural, sustainable fat loss. Intermittent fasting alone will not get you the results you want long-term if you have not addressed underlying hormonal imbalances, digestive issues and how to eat healthy, BALANCED meals for stable blood-sugar levels!
Have you or someone you know tried intermittent fasting? What were the results? Let me know in the comments below.
If you would like to discuss your health and/or weight loss goals with a view to getting clarity on the next best steps for you, CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR FREE ONLINE STRATEGY SESSION TODAY.
Just before you go, here is one of my favourite, tasty fat-burning snack recipes for you to try :)
Recipe: Almond Butter Energy Balls
Serving size: Approximately 12 energy balls
1 cup oats
⅔ cup almond butter
½ cup chocolate chips (semi-sweet and dairy-free if possible)
½ cup flax seeds, ground
2 tbsp honey
1. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and stir.
2. Using a tablespoon to measure, roll into about 12 energy balls.
Serve & enjoy! :)
Tip: You can roll the bites to coat them in cocoa powder for a bit of extra flavour and to prevent them from being too sticky.