Get the Skinny on Intermittent Fasting and Weight Loss

| Diet & Nutrition

One of the newest ways people are trying to lose weight is by using intermittent fasting. As you can probably guess from the name, it requires you to go without eating for a certain period of time - anywhere from a few hours to an entire day. Some people swear by it and say it is not just a great way to lose some weight, but it also gives your body a chance to detox itself and take a break from digestion which requires a lot of work for your body and its systems. But is not eating for an extended period of time a good idea or even healthy? Let’s weigh the pros and cons.

woman with a flat tummy measuring her waist

First, you need to understand what intermittent fasting is and is not. Intermittent fasting, or IF as many people say, involves alternating between days of regular eating and days of fasting. Although food is cut out, you can consume liquids like water or black coffee while you fast. You are not supposed to do this on consecutive days, however, if you find not eating for a full 24 hours is too much, you can modify your fast by eating a small percentage of what you would normally eat (maybe 25% or less). Your other option is to eat one meal for the day without worrying about how many calories you consume since it is your only food and it will still be way under your normal caloric consumption. Eat, Fast and Live Longer, a BBC2 documentary, offered a different type of IF where women ate 400-500 calories (500-600 calories for men) on their fasting days, but were allowed unrestricted calories on their feeding days. This was done two days a week or on alternating days.

With all this said, you cannot look at IF as a diet plan per se. Yes, it is often used to lose weight, but it is not a designed plan that you follow to the letter. You may find that you have to adjust your fasting days according to how you feel or for your activity level or schedule. Some people find that fasting all day leaves them feeling weak, tired, fuzzy-headed or gives them a headache. Of course, many people who do IF say that this is a normal occurrence when you first begin IF, but it gets more tolerable the more you do it.

woman holding a bowl of granola

The Pros

With more and more studies being done today on different styles of eating, there is some evidence to support the fact that IF does have some health benefits including reducing LDL and triglyceride levels, cleansing the body of toxins and promoting fat oxidation. There is even research suggesting that it can heal your body because it lets your body recover from all the hard work it does when digesting food. This healing process leads to less inflammation, more energy and an overall feeling of better health and greater alertness.

But even with all of these advantages, the number one effect you will discover (and the main reason people use IF) is weight loss. At the end of the day, any method you use to reduce calories is going to result in losing weight. And if you fast more than once a week, you are going to lose weight.

woman taking a power walk outside

The Cons

While all this sounds good, you also need to understand that there is often an adjustment period with IF. Not eating for an entire day or significantly dropping your calories takes some getting used to by your body. On top of that, you may not feel very well when you first fast so you may have to opt for trying it for a few hours until your body gets acclimated to it and then go from there adding on a few more hours the next time.

The other consideration is your medical history and activity level. If you have any medical conditions and/or are taking medications, fasting may not be optimal (or even allowed) for you. Many medications need to be taken with food and for people with chronic conditions, fasting may not be advised. Speak with your doctor first if you are unsure if IF is okay for you.

If you're an active person, you may want to try IF on your non-active days - at least the first few times you do it. Since you don't know how your body will respond to it, don’t take a chance on fasting on a day where you are going to exercise intensely and especially on days you lift weights. Once you feel like your body has adapted to it, you can try it on more active days, but preferably for cardio-only workouts.

Should You Try IF?

empty plate for fasting

There is no reason why you shouldn’t give IF a try and see if you like it or what kind of results you get. Start by doing it one day a week and then you can go up to two days a week, but not more than that. While you will lose weight, it should not be the only method of weight loss. Eating a healthy diet and exercising on a regular basis are still the two most important aspects for long-term weight loss. Also, be sure not to abuse IF and use it more than once or twice a week on nonconsecutive days. Depriving your body too much can do more harm than good. Your body still needs all the nutrients it gets from food in order to function properly so don’t go overboard just because you see the number on the scale going down.

Finally, listen to your body. If you try IF a few times and it just isn’t working for you for whatever reason, don’t force yourself to keep doing it. Not every method of losing weight or detoxing your body is for everyone. You know your body better than anyone else so listen to what it is telling you. Your body will definitely thank you for that!