Fasting for Weight Loss
Fasting is growing in popularity, but it is not a new concept. The idea of restricting caloric intake over a set period of time has been used for health and religious reasons for thousands of years. More recently, intermittent fasting has become popular as a weight loss technique with documented health benefits. While fasting can be challenging for some, others claim that the intermittent fasting lifestyle is more sustainable than typical weight loss programs. Intermittent fasting is not appropriate for everyone, but can be a powerful weight loss tool.
What is Fasting?
Fasting means to abstain from eating or drinking anything with calories. Avoid food, drink, gum, mints, or anything that initiates the metabolic processes in the body. Some will argue that including small amounts of cream in coffee (less than 50 calories) does not break a fast (also known as “dirty fasting”), but a true fast does not allow any calories.
Intermittent fasting refers to a pattern with set times for eating and fasting. Intermittent fasting is not always about caloric restriction but is instead about eating normally in a time-restricted window. Although healthy foods are still encouraged during your eating window, there is less emphasis on calorie counting for intermittent fasting.
Advantages of Fasting
There are several well-documented benefits of fasting. Fasting encourages an overall decrease in calories by creating a set stop time for eating. This simple act alone can stop mindless snacking and support weight loss. Fasting can also help encourage weight loss by increasing our metabolism short term.
The health benefits of fasting also go beyond caloric restriction. After eating, the body releases insulin to move excess sugar (glucose) out of the blood and into our cells for storage. During fasting, insulin levels decrease, and the glucose stores are depleted. A decrease in insulin signals the body to burn stored fat for energy. Fasting also can help support chronic health conditions, including decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, lowered triglycerides, and decreases in cholesterol.
Fasting is also linked to an overall decrease in inflammation in the body, especially important as inflammation is linked to many chronic disease states. Cellular repair and autophagy (the body removing cellular waste and debris) also happen during periods of fasting. This includes removing and repairing the reactive oxygen species (or free radicals) that may cause damage to the body.
What are the Most Popular Types of Fasts?
There are multiple ways to try intermittent fasting, and since everybody responds differently you may consider experimenting with the method that works best for you and your body. The three most popular fasting patterns are:
This fasting pattern allows you to eat within an eight-hour window and then fast for sixteen hours. As it matches a similar pattern to the way people already eat, this pattern is the most popular.
With this method, you never completely fast but eat very few calories (500-600 calories) for two nonconsecutive days of the week while eating regularly for the other five days. People who choose this option may not get the metabolic health benefits from the extended fasts but may see the weight loss benefits through caloric restriction.
The alternate-day fasting pattern is exactly as it sounds – you fast for 24 hours and then eat normally the next day. Some followers of alternate-day fasting also eat up to 500 calories on the fasting days. This is not the fasting pattern usually recommended by health care practitioners because of the risk for nutrient deficiencies and the potential for disordered eating habits.
Who Should Not Fast?
Certain conditions are contraindicated to fasting and require a discussion with your healthcare practitioner, including:
– Breastfeeding or trying to conceive
– History of an eating disorder
– Under the age of 18
– Being Underweight
– History of low blood sugar
– Prescription medications (without MD approval), especially those that require food or affect blood pressure or blood sugar
– Hormonal concerns including amenorrhea
How to Fast: Do’s and Don’ts
Ready to try intermittent fasting? Here are 15 tried and true tips to help you succeed:
1. Plan ahead
How will you break your fast? What foods will you eat during your window? While intermittent fasting does not have to be about caloric restriction, you will be more successful and feel better if you choose healthy, unprocessed foods during your eating window. Make a shopping list and stock your fridge so you won’t find yourself without healthy options.
2. Ease into it
If you are intimidated to get started with fasting, try a shorter window to start until your body adjusts. Alternatively, try fasting a few days a week instead of every day. If you are used to eating at specific times, the idea of being hungry can be intimidating, and it may take a few days to get used to the feeling.
3. Stay hydrated
Drinking water is always essential, especially during your fast. If you feel tired of plain water, try sparkling water or herbal teas. Avoid artificially sweetened beverages as they are technically calorie-free but still may trick your body into feeling more hungry.
4. Set a timer
There are many fun apps available that can help you time your progress. These apps can help you stay motivated and track your improvement over time. Tracking is also a way to stay mindful and keep yourself accountable.
5. Enlist a buddy
Whether it’s an office friend, a family member, or even a social media group, social support is critical for making any health changes. Sharing successes and struggles can help you be more successful, and your progress may help to support others in return.
6. Break your fast with healthy protein, fat, and carbohydrates
Don’t start your eating window with coffee and a pastry. Yes, intermittent fasting is less about what you eat than when you eat, but this sudden influx of sugar will cause your blood sugar to spike and may make you feel hungrier later in the day. A balanced meal, or even a smoothie, will help you feel satisfied longer.
7. Don’t undereat during your window
Not only can undereating cause you to miss out on essential nutrients, but you also may find yourself more hungry during your fasting window or at night when you are trying to sleep. It is important to stay well-nourished with healthy foods to support your overall wellness.
8. Don’t overeat
Just as undereating can cause you to feel worse in the long run, overeating can make you feel uncomfortable and interfere with weight loss success. While you don’t necessarily need to count calories, you do need to pay attention to the food you eat. Eating several smaller meals during your window may help to prevent overeating at a single meal.
9. Eat nutrient-dense foods
When you eat less, you have less opportunity to get all the nutrients your body needs, so eating nourishing, supportive foods becomes even more critical. Fill your plate with veggies, fruit, healthy carbohydrates, protein, and anti-inflammatory fats.
10. Exercise smart
Don’t stop exercising, but do pay attention to how you feel to find the best window. Physical activity while fasting is not for everyone. If you feel light-headed, then you may either need to change the type of exercise you are doing or the timing of when you exercise.
11. Stay busy
It’s easy to feel hungry when you are bored and staring at a clock. Keep active to make the time go by faster. For many, this means starting the fast later in the morning as you tend to be busier getting ready for work or helping the kids to school versus the end of the day when you are home relaxing.
12. Pay attention to your body and take a break if needed
If something doesn’t feel right then stop. Our body can change daily depending on stress, how much we sleep, or even hormone fluctuations. Choosing to fast five days a week while eating regularly on weekends is another popular way to fast with similar positive outcomes.
13. Mix up your drinks
Drink herbal tea and infused water. If you are having a hard time drinking enough water, mix it up with other calorie-free beverages. Try new herbal teas. Flavor your water with mint or cucumber slices.
14. Ditch the all or nothing mentality
There is no reason you have to be perfect all the time, and there are some studies that suggest that taking breaks from fasting is healthier for some groups, especially women. If you find yourself saying no to social events or getting down on yourself for not following the plan “perfectly,” then it’s time to adjust your thinking.
15. Focus on sleep
Sleep and circadian rhythms have a significant impact on our hormones and hunger signals. When we are tired, we tend to feel hungrier and crave simple sugars for quick energy. Set yourself up for success by getting adequate sleep.
– Resting energy expenditure in short-term starvation is increased as a result of an increase in serum norepinephrine
– Intermittent fasting vs daily calorie restriction for type 2 diabetes prevention: a review of human findings
– Intermittent fasting: a dietary intervention for prevention of diabetes and cardiovascular disease?
– Fasting reduces cholesterol levels in prediabetic people over extended period of time, new research finds
– Interleukin-6, C-reactive protein and biochemical parameters during prolonged intermittent fasting
Fasting For Weight Loss
Fasting is growing in popularity, but it is not a new concept. The idea of restricting caloric intake over a set period of time has been used for health and religious reasons for thousands of years. More recently, intermittent fasting has become popular as a weight loss technique with documented health benefits. While fasting can be challenging for some, others claim that the intermittent fasting lifestyle is more sustainable than typical weight loss programs. Intermittent fasting is not appropriate for everyone, but can be a