Fasting to lose weight is one of the fastest weight loss strategies possible. Intermittent fasting is also a very good way to reset your cells’ insulin sensitivity and decrease insulin resistance. Not all fasts are equal, though, and there are some guidelines to make fasting easier and more successful.
First, some definitions.
What Counts as a Fast?
Any period of time in which you voluntarily are not eating is considered a fast. The first meal of the day is traditionally called “break-fast” because you are breaking your overnight fast.
Fasting for periods of 6 to 24 hours can have significant health benefits, not least of which are weight loss and decreased insulin resistance.
Begin by fasting between meals. This is so simple that many folks overlook it. However, many of us get significant calories from snacking, nibbling, grazing, and “energy-boosting” throughout the day.
Fasting between meals allows your body to relearn how to recognize hunger signals and gives your system a break from the constant blood sugar surges caused by frequent eating.
Eat a late breakfast to kick it up a notch. By pushing out your overnight fast, you can gain many of the benefits of a longer fast without significant effort. For example, if you have dinner at 7 pm, and wait to eat breakfast until 10 or 11 am the next day, you will automatically have a 15 or 16 hour fast!
On the opposite side of the overnight fast, you can stop eating earlier in the evening, with tremendous benefits. First, there is the simple factor of fewer calories (particularly from highly processed “snack foods”).
In addition, by abstaining from food several hours prior to going to bed, you give your body time to do the heavy-duty part of digestion before you go to sleep. This means better cellular repair and whole-body restoration during sleep.
There you have it: three simple ways to begin incorporating fasting without significant effort.
Now you realize you have been fasting every night, perhaps without ever considering that this counts as a fast. You may have experimented with cutting out food between meals and after supper, and you have pushed back breakfast to lengthen the overnight fast. The next step is to combine all of these.
Eat an early dinner and fast until late breakfast next day and don’t eat between meals. It really is that simple. And lifestyle changes like this are going to be an important part of your healthy life, even if you use other shorter-term strategies for weight loss.
Before we look at some of the more heavy-duty ways to fast, there are some important safety factors to consider.
Check with your doctor or other healthcare professional before you begin fasting. Certain medical conditions can be contraindications for fasting, or you may need to fast under medical supervision when taking certain medications.
In particular, if you are an insulin dependent diabetic, DO NOT undertake a fast longer than sixteen hours (that is, overnight or a bit more) without your physician’s knowledge and approval.
Fasting can be combined with almost any diet or nutritional plan. An important consideration, in fact, is to be getting ENOUGH calories. For most people, that means 1,500 to 2,500 calories, depending on how fast your body burns energy (metabolism) and your activity level.
Most women, on average, will maintain weight on 2,000 calories, and lose weight on 1,500; most men will lose weight on 2,000 calories and maintain at 2,500. If you drop to much below 1,500 to 2,000 calories a day, your body will get the message that you are starving and will begin to hang on to all available energy and fat, which isn’t exactly a desired outcome.
Drink plenty of water while fasting. A total fast means abstaining from all foods and liquids, including water. For the occasional short fast, or when fasting for religious reasons, this can work. However, if you are making fasting a long-term lifestyle, doing repeated fasts, or fasting for longer than twenty-four hours, a total fast is probably not a good idea.
At the least, I strongly recommend drinking generous amounts of pure water as it is more of a natural weight loss plan. This will prevent many of the side effects of fasting, such as fainting, low blood pressure, toxin overload, constipation, dehydration, headaches, dry mouth, and so on.
Black coffee or green tea is a good choice of additional liquids (as a bonus, both coffee and green tea will increase your metabolic rate and improve weight loss) but do remember to drink plenty of water too since the caffeine in these drinks can have a dehydrating effect.
Psychologically, most people will do better with restricting either the time or the type of eating, not both. What this means practically is that if you are fasting regularly for a portion of the day, you are far more likely to stick to the plan and feel satisfied if you do not also restrict what you can eat during your meals.
However, eating whatever you feel like eating (during a defined window of time) may not work for everyone. Pay attention to what your body is telling you and honor your need for good nutrition. For the best long-term health effects, choose a diet rich in whole foods and especially in fresh fruits and vegetables. Avoid saturated fats and high-salt foods; but do get healthy fats and use sea salt in moderation.
Recognize that your body reacts in its own unique way to various foods and pay attention which foods make you feel bloated, heavy, irritable, foggy-brained, sleepy, or otherwise less than your best. Avoiding those foods is not deprivation, obviously. Avoiding food that don’t make you feel well is saying YES to good health and vibrant living, so don’t apologize for it.
Getting Serious About Fasting to Lose Weight
Now that you know how to fast for short periods of time, and you are getting nutritious food (real food, not fake food!), and you are getting enough calories but not too much—let’s look at stepping up the fasting game even more.
Intermittent fasting is the most popular way to incorporate fasting into your life. Here’s how.
Put all your eating for the day (24 hours) into a four or six-hour window. For example, if you eat brunch at 11 and dinner at 5, that is a six-hour window. If you eat lunch at noon and dinner at 4, that becomes a four-hour window. This is known as intermittent fasting, or IF. Other terms you may hear include restricted feeding, time-restricted eating, or one-meal-a-day.
You will probably want to begin intermittent fasting by having two meals a day and gradually moving them closer together until it makes sense to have only one meal that’s spread out over several hours. Doing it this way is the safest way and is least likely to leave you feeling “hungry” or nauseous.
Alternatively, you can fast one, two, or three days a week, and eat “normally” the rest of the week. Or you might choose to do intermittent fasting Monday through Thursday, and leave the weekends open to less restrictive options.
Intermittent fasting is not for everyone, so if your physician recommends you avoid fasting, you feel worse instead of better, or you are an insulin controlled diabetic, you may find much better success with other weight loss tools and techniques. That said, intermittent fasting is a safe and effective way to lose weight for most people. The key is to start slow and build gradually.
Really Serious Intermittent Fasting
Caution: This level of fasting should only be attempted after building up to it over several months or years. DO NOT jump straight into entire or multi-day fasting.
After doing one meal a day, the next level of fasting is to skip one of those meals. Doing this will effectively give you a nearly forty-eight hour fast. For example, if your eating window for Monday begins at noon and ends at 4 pm, skipping Tuesday’s meal means fasting until Wednesday at noon, which is forty-four hours later.
Healthy Options Online Daily Health Tip – “LIKE & SUBSCRIBE”
Occasionally, you may be able to push it out even further, doing multi-day fasts. For obvious reasons, including the risk of serious health issues or even death, fasting repeatedly for more than three or four days is not recommended. In fact, longer fasts like this should only happen several times a year, and only if your doctor approves.
If you do choose to fast for more than a day, preparing for the fast becomes very important. Eat a light meal, preferably vegetable based, for the last meal prior to beginning a longer fast, and break the fast with a small portion of cooked or steamed vegetables to avoid cramping and nausea. Wait several hours before eating more, and at least a day before eating heavier foods. Your body will thank you for the consideration!
Go Do It
There you have it, the secrets of fasting, or at least enough to get you started. For a much more in-depth look at the science and practice of fasting, I recommend picking up a copy of The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Kung.
What are your thoughts on fasting for weight loss? Have you tried it before or know someone who has? Give me your thoughts below and don’t forget to share this article if you found it helpful. Be Well 😊