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Will Intermittent Fasting Help You Lose Weight?

Intermittent fasting is a popular nutrition method that claims to help with weight loss and improve health and body composition. 

Intermittent fasting can be an effective way to limit calories, but for some, the restrictive eating habits of this method come at their own risk– especially to those who experience a mental or social strain from these restrictions. 

If you’re interested in trying intermittent fasting, here are some of the considerations you should make before trying it out for yourself.

What is Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent fasting is a way of scheduling meal times that cycle between a voluntary fast and a period of eating. The method does not dictate certain types of food to eat or not eat, or a specific number of calories to consume, only that you don’t eat during fasting hours. The most common methods of intermittent fasting are as follows.

The 16:8 method is the most common. Here, you fast every day for 16 hours and restrict your daily eating window to 8 hours. This might look like only eating between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., or some similar variation.

The 5:2 method is a bit different, involving both high calorie and low calorie days. In this schedule, people eat normally 5 days of the week while restricting calories for the remaining 2. On these low-calorie fasting days, it’s recommended that women eat 500 calories (and men 600).

Finally, there is the Eat Stop Eat method. This schedule involves a 24-hour fast once or twice per week, with normal eating habits on all other days.

Practicing intermittent fasting may result in weight loss for a variety of reasons, a recent study shows that this is likely due to lowered calorie intake.  Because you are eating within a limited window of time, many who practice a form of intermittent fasting unintentionally ate fewer calories overall.

Pros and Cons

Before trying intermittent fasting, it’s important to fully weigh the pros and cons of this method– especially if you are a woman or if you have a history of eating disorder. While the following list is non-exhaustive, it represents just a few factors that must be taken into consideration before beginning a fast:

ProsCons
Thinking less often about food can be freeingIncreased thoughts about food due to scarcity
Potentially lowered calorie intakeCould trigger rule-oriented thinking for those with eating disorders
Can enjoy larger portions when eating fewer mealsMay negatively affect hormones and/or the menstrual cycle 
Can elevate cortisol which may decrease the ability to burn fat

Social Implications of Fasting

Eating food is about more than calories and energy. For many, meals are an integral part of culture, socialization, and family time.  While intermittent fasting doesn’t keep people from interacting with others, it can change your eating schedule in ways that are no longer the norm. This can make many feel restricted about when they are “allowed” to eat, or cause scheduling problems for family dinners and nights out.

There is a psychological component to this, too. 

We know consistency is key when dieting. That said, if you aren’t able to have breakfast with your kids before school, or attend a lunch with co-workers due to a different eating schedule, it can make sticking to the diet more challenging. 

As you make exceptions and lose consistency, the chances of sticking to your diet plan long term become quite low.

Calories Still Matter Most

One of the reasons intermittent fasting is appealing to some people is that it gives them the opportunity to eat very large portions compared to someone eating 4-5 meals per day. This component of intermittent fasting can lead to the belief that within the window of eating, calories don’t matter. Unfortunately, this is a myth. 

The energy balance equation is still the paramount concern during weight loss. To lose body fat, you must be consuming fewer calories that you burn over time, and those calories must be from nutritional sources.

Let’s use an example for someone on a 1800 daily calorie diet:

You can eat 2 meals/day that are each 900 calories.

You can eat 3 meals/day that are each 600 calories.

You can eat 4 meals/day that are each 450 calories.

You can eat 5 meals/day that are each 360 calories.

As you can see, it doesn’t matter how or when you eat– it simply matters that you are not eating over a certain number of calories per day. Pick what works best for you and your life, even if fasting is not part of that equation!

Should I Try Intermittent Fasting?

If you have a healthy relationship with food, are healthy, and emotionally balanced, intermittent fasting is likely safe to try.

For most, starting with an overnight fast is the most effective as a portion of the fast is spent sleeping. Experiment with it for a few weeks to see how your body responds, but be sure to stop if you notice negative symptoms or signs of distress. 

That being said, intermittent fasting is not recommended if you have a history of eating disorder, prefer smaller meals, have hormone imbalances, or are otherwise in a stressful life situation. Similarly, if you are trying to gain muscle, fasting is the wrong way to go.

Nutrition is Personal

Nutrition is very individual, depending on variables such as genetics, current diet, and lifestyle and goals. This is also true for intermittent fasting: it works well for some women and it doesn’t work well for others. 

While intermittent fasting can be an effective and reasonable way of eating, if people don’t consider the overall calories they consume or are inflexible with their guidelines, the method could be needlessly restrictive and ultimately decrease wellness overall. 

The most important thing you can do for your health and body composition is to find meal timing and frequency that works best for you and stick with it consistently. Eat in a way that helps you feel happy, healthy, and helps you reach your goals.

Will intermittent fasting help you lose weight?

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