Nothing produces more misunderstanding, fear and emotion in the area of weight loss than the idea of a fasting diet plan. Fasting conjures visions of day-long starvation for multiple days while drinking only water or juice, perhaps occasionally consuming bare minimal foods like fruits and raw vegetables.
Some other negative images associated with fasting are suffering from hunger pains, feeling dizzy, reduced metabolism, and rebound weight gain.
So should we avoid fasting for weight loss?
The short answer is no, you should not necessarily avoid fasting if you want to lose weight. In other words, fasting may work for you!
Fasting, especially intermittent fasting, has recently started to get a lot of attention, and is actually enabling people to lose weight and maintain weight.
Fasting Diet Plan, Intermittent Fasting
One type of a fasting diet plan is intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is simply not eating for a long period of time, usually up to 14-18 hours. A typical and easy way to incorporate intermittent fasting is to simply skip breakfast. For most people, especially if they work, skipping breakfast is relatively painless and also does not interfere with their social life. If you are one of those people not very hungry in the morning, this schedule may work for you best.
I know this goes against the conventional advice of never skip breakfast. However if eating breakfast every morning and doing everything else right have not worked for you, you may want to try this approach.
Especially if you are not really hungry in the morning, it is also an easy way to cut calories. Also, some people have found that skipping breakfast has actually reduced their overall hunger levels throughout the day.
Another point to note about breakfast is that, some people get even hungrier when they eat breakfast. This could be because in the morning our cortisol (stress hormone) levels are at their peak and if you eat during this time, a high level of insulin is released rapidly and your blood sugar drops.
Again a fasting diet plan is probably not for everyone, but if everything else has failed for you, you probably should try it.
For beginners, intermittent fasting can mean just allowing more time to pass between meals. For example, if you typically eat snacks in between meals, you can delay your snack until the next meal, and eat the snack and meal at the same time (or ideally skip the snack if you can to reduce calories).
How Does A Fasting Diet Plan Work for Weight Loss?
The idea behind fasting for weight loss is to allow your body to use up the glycogen (principal storage form of glucose) in your body and start burning fat. It usually takes 6 to 8 hours for your body to use up the glycogen and start using fat for fuel. The idea is if you keep feeding your body, you will never use up your glycogen and you will not use any fat for fuel. In other words, you need to fast for at least 6-8 hours for your body to start burning fat.
Advantages of Fasting
One advantage of reducing the number of meals is that you can consume more calories per meal for the remaining meals, meaning you can enjoy a meal that is more rich and with more volume. Instead of having a 500 calorie breakfast and a 500 calorie lunch, you can have a 1000 calorie lunch, which all of a sudden opens up a lot of possibilities for lunch ideas. Instead of half a sandwich, you can have a full sandwich with some chips. Instead of 10 pieces of sushi, you can have 20.
Mentally this will most likely leave you a lot more satisfied, which is so crucial when you are on a diet.
Another advantage is that for some people, it may make it easier to cut down on calories.
Let’s say for example you eat 400 calories for breakfast and 600 calories for lunch. By the time dinner comes around, you are probably very hungry and could end up eating 700 calories. With intermittent fasting, you choose to skip breakfast, which is or will become easy for you if you are all busy in the morning anyway. Then you have a late lunch at 1pm and consume a good 1000 calories. When dinner time comes around at 7pm, you are not so hungry because you had a good 1000 calories for lunch. So you only need to eat 400 calories at most.
In the first scenario (perhaps your current lifestyle), you’ve consumed 1700 calories. In the second scenario, you’ve consumed 1400 calories.
In addition, when you fast, you supposedly also burn fat during the fasting period, adding even more momentum to you weight loss.
This is a very simplistic example, and obviously what you eat also affects your hunger & satisfaction level. However hopefully the above example shows the possibility of cutting down on calories without much effort through intermittent fasting for some people.
Doesn’t Eating More Frequently Boost Your Metabolism?
Again opinions differ on this point.
Some diet programs suggest that you eat more frequently, in order to boost your metabolism.
It is true that the act of eating by itself increases your body’s metabolism right after you eat, since it takes energy to break down the food and absorb it (called the thermic effect of food).
However proponents of intermittent fasting point out that at the end of the day, the total energy expended by your body due to the thermic effect of food does not differ based on your meal frequency. They say the energy used in breaking down food varies based on what you eat and how many calories you consume. As long as these are the same, the frequency of your meals does not affect your total energy expenditure.
Benefits of Fasting
In addition to weight loss, fasting is said to also have the following benefits.
- Reduce inflammation
- Lower triglyceride levels
- Normalize your hunger hormones (ghrelin)
- Enhance the production of human growth hormones
- Improve the body’s insulin sensitivity
Risks of Fasting
Two of the major concerns about fasting as it relates to weight loss are reduced metabolism and rebound weight gain.
Opinions differ as to when our body goes into starvation mode, during which time our metabolism slows down dramatically. Some experts say it takes 2.5 to 3 days for our body to enter starvation mode, while others say it only takes about 18 hours.
This is something to keep in mind, and to be on the safe side, you should probably not fast for longer than 18 hours. By fast, we mean not consuming anything except water or any other noncaloric drink.
Rebound Weight Gain
Another concern with respect to going on a fasting diet plan is rebound weight gain. We often hear of stories of people fasting and losing a lot of weight, only to gain back the pounds they lost or even end up gaining more weight after the fasting period.
One of the causes of rebound weight gain may be reduced metabolism. However the bigger reason is probably the overeating that takes place after the fasting period. This could be the overeating that takes place at dinner time after skipping lunch, or overeating that takes place after 1 day of fasting, either way resulting in over-consumption of calories.
Obviously if this happens, fasting has just made things worse. That is why fasting is not for everyone, and you should assess if you are at risk of binging or overeating after a fasting period. Keep in mind that fasting will make you hungry in the beginning since you’ve been used to eating food at that time. However after even 1 or 2 days, the hunger level should get better, as your body adjusts.
Sometimes during the fasting period, you may get very very hungry. We do recommend eating food in moderation if you feel like you can’t tolerate the hunger (protein is recommended). If it’s minor hunger, try to stick it out. Drink tea or coffee and see if that helps.
What Kind of A Fasting Diet Plan Should You Do?
People suggest and do different kinds of fasting including skipping breakfast, skipping dinner, fasting every other day, fasting once a week, or once a month.
Given the potential risk of slowdown of metabolism, it is probably best not to fast for longer than 18 hours.
For many people, skipping breakfast is probably the easiest way to start fasting intermittently If you can, try to have a late lunch and relatively early dinner. This will allow you to lengthen the fasting period without adding any noticeable discomfort.
Make sure not to overeat in your remaining meals, and only eat normal-sized portions. There may be a risk that you will feel mentally deprived and have a tendency to overeat.
Make sure to not over-consume processed carbs and sugar, since those foods can make you hungry very quickly, as well as being bad for your health.