Intermittent Fasting For Weight Loss: Everything You Need to Know
Intermittent fasting is a diet strategy that can make eating in a calorie deficit easier. Here’s what intermittent fasting is and how it can improve your weight loss results!
I haven’t had breakfast in 2 years.
You read that right...
For the past 700 or so odd days, I haven’t crunched into a crispy slab bacon, buttered a slice of toasted bread, bit off a crumbly piece of blueberry muffin, or had a swig of OJ in the 2-3 hours after waking up.
Am I Crazy? Am I Mad?
Well, maybe a little of both... but I know one thing for sure:
I've found a diet strategy that has helped me lose weight and effortlessly maintain a healthy body year round!
It's called Intermittent Fasting, and in this article, you'll learn:
- The What, How, & Why of Intermittent Fasting
- Two Big Fasting Myths That Need to Die
- Carter's Intermittent Fasting Crash Course For Weight Loss Success
- Intermittent Fasting FAQ's
The What, Why, How, and Benefits of Intermittent Fasting for Losing Weight
(note: if you're already an intermittent fasting wiz and know everything there is to know, then you can skip down to the crash course where I provide my person fasting strategies for losing fat)
This section will seem rather quick because, well, there's actually not a whole lot to go over...
Despite the claims you may or may not have heard, intermittent fasting isn't really anything magical.
Some people praise IF as being the cure-all for diseases and the secret to immortality while others say it'll cause starvation and destroy your metabolism...
The reality is that both extremes are being a bit boisterous in their claims. Just like 99.9% of all weight loss related information, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
A Brief Overview of Intermittent Fasting
What Is It?
Intermittent Fasting is an eating strategy that cycles between "fasting" (times when you're not eating) and "feasting" (times when you are eating).
It doesn't say anything about what or how much to eat, but rather when to eat.
In that sense, intermittent fasting is less of a diet and more of a meal scheduling strategy.
How Does It Work?
There are many different methods, but the three more popular ones are:
The 16:8 Method: involves skipping breakfast and restricting your daily eating period to 8 hours. For example, you would eat from 12pm-8pm one day and then “fast” 16 hours from 8 pm until noon the next day. (popularized by Martin Berkhan)
EatStopEat Method: involves fasting for 24 hours, once or twice a week, and then eating normally on the other days. For example, you would have dinner at 6 pm one day and fast until your 6 pm dinner the next day. (popularize by Brad Pilon)
5:2 Diet Method: this method is similar to EatStopEat, but it involves eating ~500 calories on 2 non-consecutive days of the week and eating normally the other 5 days. (more details here)
Note: the approach that I’ll be recommending in the crash course section is a modified version of the 16:8 Method.
How Does It Help You Lose Weight?
The thought process behind intermittent fasting for weight loss is incredibly simple...
By not eating in the "fasting" periods, and eating fewer meals in the shorter "feasting" periods, you'll end up consuming fewer calories naturally and create a calorie deficit to lose weight.
Eating less and having fewer meals can lead to fewer calories consumed? Shocking.
As simple as it may seem, that's the idea behind fasting for weight loss... and it actually works!
Studies have shown that mere act of following an intermittent fasting protocol can lead to losing weight without the need to consciously restrict calories. (source)
Another weight loss benefit of fasting is that it allows you to eat larger meals, specifically when using the 16:8 Method. For a lot of people (me included), having 2-3 BIG meals—opposed to 6 puny meals—is much more satiating and enjoyable.
That's because the larger meals fill you up and keep your belly full for longer, which can make eating in calorie deficit easier.
Let's say you're dieting on 1800 calories. Would you rather have:
a) two big meals (at 700 calories each) and one smaller meal (at 400 calories)
b) six small meals (at 300 calories each)?
Neither answer is better, but I think most people would go for the two-three bigger meals instead of the six teaser-meal approach.
How Does It Benefit Your Health?
Like I said earlier, some of the health benefit claims of intermittent fasting may be a bit overhyped...
The research is promising, but it's still in its "scientific infancy" (i.e. there's not a boatload of well-designed research to pull from).
Plus, most of the studies showing benefits come from animal experimentation, which doesn't always translate over to human physiology...
But it's still promising nonetheless.
Here's a quick bullet-point list of the possible health benefits of fasting:
- May help reduce insulin resistance and protect again/improve Type 2 Diabetes
- May reduce cancer risk as shown in some animal research
- May reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and inflammation
- May improve brain health and protect against Alzheimer's
(Click Here if you'd like to read more about the research behind these possible benefits)
Two Big Fasting Myths That Need to Die
Before I get into the meat n' taters of my intermittent fasting crash course, I want to dispell....rather, CRUSH, two diet myths that paint intermittent fasting in a negative light.
The First Myth - You "NEED" to Eat Breakfast
You've heard it from your second-grade health teacher, television doctors, and that big striped tiger, Tony:
- "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!"
- "You need breakfast to stoke your metabolism!"
- "If you don't eat breakfast, your muscle will wither away. Oh, and you might actually die."
Look. I could sit here and type out 10,000+ words about why all of this breakfast fetish nonsense is utterly absurd, but I'll save us both the time and keep it short...
Here's why eating breakfast is NOT necessary, and why you can lose weight and be perfectly healthy without it:
Research on breakfast and weight loss is flawed.
There have been many observational studies showing that folks who eat breakfast on a regular basis tend to be leaner and develop fewer diet-related health issues compared to breakfast skippers. (source)
But there's an issue with these studies... they're OBSERVATIONS.
Observational studies are useful for finding trends and commonalities among large groups of people. The downside, though, is they only show correlations in data—they don't determine causation!
In other words, these studies show that breakfast eaters tend to be leaner, but they can't prove that eating breakfast causes these benefits...
Why? Because people who eat breakfast also tend to eat healthier foods (high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals) and are more physically active (source)
Breakfast skippers, on the other hand, are more likely to smoke, drink more alcohol, move less, and eat fewer fruits and vegetables.
Saying that breakfast is needed to lose weight and be healthy is grossly oversimplistic. It doesn't take into account the good and bad habits that breakfast eaters vs. breakfast skippers engage in on a regular basis.
The Second Myth - You "NEED" to Eat 6 Small Meals a Day
Here's another perpetuating diet myth that needs to be sent straight to the chopping block...
You've likely heard that eating six small meals will "stoke" the metabolic furnace and help you burn more calories throughout the day...
This belief typically comes along with other beliefs such as:
"Go too long without eating, and your body will go into "starvation mode."
OOo-OOo! Here's another good one...
"Eat too much at one meal (or before bed), and the extra calories will get stored as fat!"
(by the way, both of those statements are a load of barnacles)
Here's the truth: there's no evidence that the number of meals you eat in a day has any impact on body composition when total calories are equal.
I'll use the 1800 calories example from before...
You'd lose the same amount of weight eating 6x300 calories meals, 3x600 calorie meals, or even just one ginormous 1800 calorie mega-meal per day.
Your body is going to burn and utilize the same number of calories in all three scenarios, so don't worry about eating a specific number of meals each day.
You’re much better off finding a meal frequency that you enjoy and executing on it with consistency.
Carter's Intermittent Fasting For Weight Loss Crash Course
FINALLY! The actionable information!
My take on intermittent fasting for weight loss is this:
It should ONLY be used as a way to make eating in a calorie deficit easier and less stressful.
If you don't get those benefits, don't use it.
Additionally, I still believe in tracking calories and logging food while using intermittent fasting. The only difference is you'll now have set times when you're "fasting" and "feasting."
Step 1 - Determine Your Calorie Deficit and Protein Targets
This is real' simple to do—all you need is an online calorie calculator!
I like to use THIS calculator and then use the recommendation it provides to "lose 1 pound a week" to set a daily calorie range.
So if it says you'll lose 1 lb/week eating 1800 calories, I would use a range of 1600-1800 calories as your daily target.
For protein, simply take your GOAL bodyweight and multiply it by .82-1g.
If you're 200 lbs, and your GOAL weight is 160 lbs, you would aim for 130-160g of protein per day.
Do you know why protein is so essential while dieting?
Step 2 - Determining Your "Fast" and "Feast" Times
My approach uses the daily 16:8 Method of intermittent fasting.
This fasting approach, I feel, is the easiest and most enjoyable to implement into most people's schedule.
However—similar to the calorie and protein targets—I like to loosen up the rules just a bit and suggest having ranges for the fasting and feasting windows...
Here's my method:
- I recommend skipping breakfast and sticking to black coffee & water for the first 3-4 hours of the day.
- Then, whenever you break your fast, the "timer" starts, and you should STOP eating 8-9 hours from that meal.
For example, say you wake up at 8 AM and have your first meal at noon. Your goal would be to stop eating between 8-9 PM later that evening.
The times you set doesn't matter as much as the window itself. You could break your fast earlier or later depending on your schedule and when you wake up—it's up to you!
Step 3 - Determine Your Meal Range
Now that you have your calorie, protein, fasting window, and feasting window targets, you just need to figure out how many meals you want to have each day.
Since you'll be eating in a condensed window of 8-9 hours, I'd suggest having just a few larger meals.
Here are the three meal frequencies I've used, for myself and coaching clients, that seems to work well:
- 2 Big Meals and 1 Snack
- 3 Equal Meals
- 3 Meals and 1 Snack
As long as your calories are in check and you're hitting your protein target, you really can't go wrong...
But I wouldn't have more than four meals. At that frequency, you'd need to eat every 90 minutes to 2 hours, which would likely end up causing more stress than actual benefit...
Here's Why I Like Using Intermittent Fasting
I mentioned in the opening to this article that I haven’t had “breakfast” in 2 years while practicing intermittent fasting. (though technically, my first meal is always "breaking" my "fast")
The reason I’ve continued to use it even after I’ve lost weight is for the lifestyle benefits.
My top reasons for fasting:
- I get to eat and enjoy larger meals without gaining weight
- I feel more alert in the mornings when I'm fasting and drinking black coffee.
- I use it as a tool when going out to eat (I can fast a bit longer and save the majority of my calories to order whatever I want)
- It makes nutrition simple, and I don’t have to continually prep and plan food.
When I'm trying to lose weight, I'm a bit more strict with my 6-8 hour eating window. When I’m maintaining or, "cultivating mass," I’m less stringent about when I break and start my fasts…
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is my all-time favorite comedy show. All 11 seasons are on Netflix if you’re looking for a hilarious cult-following show. (Put the kids the bed before jumping into this one ????...)
Will intermittent fasting work for ME?
If you're not much of a breakfast eater, enjoy larger meals, aren't afraid of feeling a bit hungry at times (usually right before breaking the fast), and do well with setting mental "rules" for yourself...
Then you'll probably enjoy intermittent fasting.
If you L-O-V-E your morning "brekky" (my Australian client, Rachel, told me that's what our friends from down-unda' call breakfast!), hate having any hunger pangs and enjoy snacking...
Then it might not be for you.
The best way to find out, though, is to try it for a week. That'll give your body time to adjust so that you can accurately assess whether or not it's something you could see yourself doing in the long run!
People in that study lost weight using IF without counting calories... Does that mean I can skip calorie counting and tracking and just follow intermittent fasting?
But I wouldn't recommend it...
Here's why: You know how people tend to lose weight when they start eating healthy, but then hit a plateau 2-3 months down the road and feel stuck?
The same deal happens here.
You'll eventually reach a point where you plateau, and without tracking your nutrition, you won't have a clear idea of what the next step should be...
Intermittent fasting is a great way to manage hunger and meals, but I still stand with tracking calories and journaling food as being the best approach for long-term weight loss success.
Is intermittent fasting good for women?
Some studies have shown that female rodents have issues with hormones when fasting, but it's not been effectively replicated in human models.
Plus, most women who struggle with fasting are typically already super lean, which is a recipe for hormone imbalance.
I would say try it out, but keep the fasting modest. Don't fast for longer than 24 hours at a time. Stick to 14-18 hours fasting.
If you don't like the way it makes you feel, then I have good news...You DON'T have to do it! As long as you’re tracking your calories and food intake accurately, you'll still lose weight without intermittent fasting.
What if I’m STARVING during the fast?
Hunger pangs are common for folks who haven’t yet undergone their intermittent fasting “deflowering”…
The thing is, hunger isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, most of our hunger signals don't come from actually needing food, but rather from our routine and eating schedule.
What I'm saying is conditioning is a big driver in hunger signaling.
So if you’ve been eating breakfast for the past 20 or so odd years, then you’re going to have hunger pangs in the morning while fasting.
After a few days, most people’s bodies will adjust to the new way of eating and your morning hunger will drop off.
Any tips for fighting morning hunger?
1. Drink Water and Black Coffee - both have zero calories, will keep you hydrated, and the coffee will give you caffeine which is a natural appetite suppressant.
2. Wait It Out - Like I said, you’re not “starving” in the true sense of the word. If you’re hungry a few hours before breaking your fast, try to wait 10-15 minutes, and I bet your hunger will subside.
What if I workout In the morning? Should I train fasted?
You can if you want! It’s totally okay to train on an empty stomach.
If you do train fasted, thought, try and have your first meal within a few hours of your workout, and be sure that the meal gives you some protein (~20-25+ grams)
Won’t I lose muscle by working out fasted?
Is this going to be my miracle weight loss solution?
Probably not. No single diet or exercise change is the “solution” to losing weight.
But you may find that, like me, having bigger meals and spending less time worrying about when to eat makes dieting much less stressful.
Do you have any other tips?
Stay Busy - if you’re sitting around doing nothing, then you’ll get bored and start thinking about food. Use the time you’re fasting to get the most important tasks of the day done.
Forget about Jim - “Jim” is the guy at work who tells you that you’re stupid for skipping breakfast, and that you’re wrecking your metabolism by starving yourself.
Jim doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Ignore Jim.
You do you.
Use Fruit to Extend The Fast - Have a big event or dinner planned and want to push your fast a bit longer? Try eating a piece of WHOLE fruit to stave off hunger.
Short-term hunger comes as a result of depleted liver glycogen (stuff we use for energy). The fructose, fiber, and water content in fruit will help restore this lost energy and fill your stomach.
My two go-to fruits are bananas and apples.
Do you know of any other resources for learning about this intermittent fasting jargon?
Yessir! Here are some of my favorite articles/resources to learn more:
- The Beginner’s Guide to Intermittent Fasting - JamesClear.com
- Experiments With Fasting - Precision Nutrition
- 6 Ways to do Intermittent Fasting - Authority Nutrition
Whether or not you’ve heard about intermittent fasting before, I hope this article has given you a clear understanding of what it is and how it can help you lose weight.
I’ll say it again, though...
Intermittent fasting is NOT a miracle solution for losing weight.
It’s simply a way of scheduling your eating that many people find to be more enjoyable than the traditional breakfast - snack - lunch - snack - dinner - snack routine.
A successful weight loss nutrition plans—whether they use smaller & more frequent meals or larger & less frequent meals—should all include the same weight loss truths...
- They Control Calories. When calories are controlled, progress is made. Whether you control them by tracking, using portion control, eating frequent small meals or infrequent larger meals is ultimately up to you.
- Food Quality Matters. The majority of your diet should come from fresh, unprocessed, nutrient-dense food. (note: that does NOT mean you have to eat "clean" all the time, though...)
- Exercise Matters Too. Exercise—specifically resistance training—is incredibly important for losing fat, building muscle, and maintaining a healthy metabolism in the long run.