Intermittent Fasting 101
In a nutshell, intermittent fasting is just that: fasting intermittently.
It’s limiting calorie intake during certain hours of the day or days of the week. It’s more of an eating pattern than a diet per say. It limits when you eat, and not so much what you eat. And that’s part of it’s appeal to people who don’t want to count calories or use their food log to track everything.
This is NOT to say that what you eat doesn’t matter when it comes to intermittent fasting. All successful nutrition plans tend to have 3 things in common: controlling calorie intake, a focus on food quality, and regular exercise.
Some would say that intermittent fasting is a more natural way to eat because humans evolved without refrigerators, drive-thrus, or 24-hour convenience stores. We now have access to food (including junk food) all day long, so eating several meals per day plus snacks may be less natural than fasting from time to time.
There are lots of variations on this theme. 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)
- Weekly fast of 24 hours (one day each week)
Is intermittent fasting effective for weight loss?
Intermittent fasting can help to lose weight because it can help you to eat fewer calories and 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 weight-loss diet, you’re less likely to lose the weight and keep it off.
Before you consider intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting is not for everyone. 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. Also, people taking certain medications can be prone to side effects with intermittent fasting as well.
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.
Intermittent fasting is a weight loss tool that seems to work for some people. It can help to lose weight and reduce belly fat. But, it isn’t safe for everyone and especially pregnant women or people with eating disorders. Additionally, this way of eating can be difficult to stick with.
For the best chance of long-term weight loss success, finding a nutrition plan you can stick with is key. We are individually unique and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to weight loss. Paleo, keto, vegetarian and the whole 30 are all different approaches and people have found success with each.
The same is true for smaller more frequent meals and intermittent fasting. You simply have to find the approach that works for you.
Recipe (Whole food): Almond Butter Energy Bites
Makes about 12 energy bites
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
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and stir.
Using a tablespoon to measure, roll into about 12 energy bites.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: You can roll the bites to coat them in cocoa powder for a bit of extra flavor and to prevent them from being too sticky.