Do you get suspicious anytime you hear people raving about a new diet plan that makes losing weight easy? We don’t blame you.
In a world full of gimmicks and fads, there is one plan quickly rising to the forefront because it has the weight of scientific research behind it. It’s called intermittent fasting, and it is increasingly being praised as a plan that causes steady weight loss while also being easy to stick to.
We’re here to break it down for you, and we’re also going to investigate the claim that many people have found intermittent fasting to be the kickstart they need to break through a weight loss plateau.
Let’s start with a little background info.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
First and foremost, intermittent fasting is NOT a starvation diet. It is, quite simply, an eating schedule that gives you a specific window of time (most commonly eight hours), during which you eat all your food for the day. You won’t be counting calories, preparing special shopping lists or spending hours on meal preparation.
Many people swear it’s the most powerful tool they’ve found for losing weight, and they’re not imagining things. Intermittent fasting’s secret lies in the fact that it shifts your body from burning carbs and sugar for fuel to burning fat instead. A 2014 study demonstrated that this plan could help reduce your body weight by 3-8% in 3-24 weeks! (1)
Types of Intermittent Fasting
The beauty of intermittent fasting is that there are a variety of highly customizable schedules that you can choose from. The most popular plan is called the 16:8, which just means that you eat all your food within an 8-hour window and you fast for the remaining 16 hours of the day.
In practice, this would translate to only eating between noon and 8:00pm, for example, or maybe 10:00am to 6:00pm. While this schedule is perfectly safe to do every day, some people choose to follow alternate-day intermittent fasting instead.
You could also opt to implement a 24-hour fast once a week. Gaining in popularity is something called the 5:2 plan. You choose two non-consecutive days of the week (say, for example, Monday and Thursday) and you limit yourself to 500-600 calories on those two days. You would eat normally the rest of the week.
All of these plans count as intermittent fasting! Want to read more about getting started? We have a helpful Beginner’s Guide for you here. And you can download an easy-to-follow schedule for each of these plans here.
How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
The most important part of an intermittent fasting plan is that you allow at least 12-16 hours to pass without giving your body any food. It takes anywhere from 8-12 hours for your body to finish digesting, absorbing and metabolizing your glycogen stores.
So, it’s only about 8-12 hours after you stop eating for the day that your body even has a chance to start using your fat stores for fuel. The minute you feed your body more food, your body switches back to using those calories for fuel, and you are no longer burning fat.
Using Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss
The plethora of long-term health benefits provided by intermittent fasting have been well-documented (read more here), but the primary reason most people give it a try is for weight loss.
We’ve identified a few key reasons as to why it works so well for losing weight.
1. Secret Weapon For Battling Cravings
Considering that the mere word “fasting” can make us feel hungry, it’s a pleasant surprise for many intermittent fasting followers to discover that, after about 1-2 weeks, they no longer experience any hunger pangs during their fasting windows. And no, it’s not just a trick of the mind or extreme willpower. There’s a scientific reason why this happens.
You see, one of the most important effects that intermittent fasting has on your body is that your insulin levels become regulated. (2) Instead of rising and falling all day long (which is what happens when you eat all day long), your blood sugar levels stay stable. This automatically translates to less sugar cravings. (3)
The other cool thing that happens when you start intermittent fasting is that the levels of a hormone called “ghrelin” become far more normalized. Ghrelin is known as the hunger hormone. When it’s out of whack, that’s when you feel hungry all the time. After a couple weeks of intermittent fasting, your ghrelin levels become far more regulated, and that’s when your hunger pangs start to disappear.
2. Natural Calorie Restriction, But Better
At the root of nearly every diet known to man is the concept of calorie restriction. We’ve all seen the formula:
Calories eaten < calories burned = weight loss
Calorie restriction is also the main reason why most diets fail over the long-term. It goes against human nature and thus is incredibly difficult to sustain.
Intermittent fasting has earned high praise on account of the fact that it naturally leads to calorie restriction, without feeling like that’s what you’re doing. We like to call it “sneaky” calorie restriction. Here’s why: a typical intermittent fasting schedule (eating only between noon and 8:00pm) usually equates to skipping breakfast. Because it’s difficult to eat more than a certain number of calories per meal, cutting your day from 3 meals down to 2 can have a noticeable effect over time.
Studies have been done comparing a group of people who were asked to restrict their calories all day, and another group that was asked to follow an intermittent fasting schedule. (4) Both groups derived similar health benefits, except the intermittent fasting group experienced better insulin regulation. (5)
Most importantly, the intermittent fasting group found their diet much more manageable. (6) For most of us, it’s psychologically and biologically easier to restrict our eating to a certain time frame, as opposed to restricting our overall daily caloric intake.
3. Retain Lean Muscle Mass
Perhaps the biggest downside of many restricted calorie diets is that they have been proven to lead to loss of lean muscle mass, which actually slows down your metabolism. (7) This is really bad news for your ability to maintain any weight loss.
The good news? Research has shown that intermittent fasting actually helps you retain lean muscle mass while still losing weight. (8) Phew!
4. Better Eating Habits
When you intermittent fast, you’ll be sticking to a smaller eating window than you’re probably used to. This will naturally cut down on late night snacking, which is often a hidden culprit of excess calories and sneaky weight gain. When you know that giving in to the munchies is just going to kick yourself out of fat-burning mode, it’s much easier to resist that late-night fridge raid!
5. It’s Sustainable
Perhaps one of the most striking things about the intermittent fasting “craze” is that people are treating it less like a diet and more like a lifestyle. So many followers find themselves not only losing weight but feeling better and actually wanting to stick with this eating schedule. So intermittent fasting can quickly become a lifestyle change, as opposed to a crash diet.