Fasting For Weight Loss: What is it? How Does it Work?

Fasting has become a popular strategy for losing weight and improving our health in the last couple of decades. Countless experts recommend fasting to achieve great results, feel better, and shed fat.

But what exactly is fasting, how does it work, and does it promote weight loss? More importantly, is it something you should try, or would a traditional meal pattern work better?

Let’s go over everything you need to know.

What Is Fasting, Anyway?

Fasting, better known as intermittent fasting or IF, refers to the act of not consuming any calories for specific periods. The objective is to enter a fasted state, which isn’t the same as not having food in your stomach. A fasted state means you’ve digested all the food you’ve previously eaten and absorbed all the nutrients. It also means that your insulin levels have returned to baseline. 

The fasted state occurs several hours after your last meal, but the exact time will depend on the meal size and its composition. Being in a fasted state offers some unique benefits, which we will discuss in the following points.

One of the most popular fasting protocols is the 16:8, which became widespread in the last decade. It includes a 16-hour fasting period each day and an 8-hour eating window. For example, you can skip eating in the morning, break your fast at noon, have your last meal around 7 or 8 PM, and fast until noon the next day.

Other fasting options include:

  • Alternate-day fasting – you fast one day, eat whatever you want the next day, and repeat.

  • Eat Stop Eat – the Eat Stop Eat method was developed by Brad Pilon and consists of one or two 24-hour fasts per week. For example, you eat your last meal on Friday, fast for 24 hours, eat dinner on Saturday, and follow a regular pattern until the following week.

  • OMAD (one meal a day) – a nutritional approach where you fast for around 23 hours each day and consume all of your daily calories in a single meal.

  • 18:6/20:4 – similar to the 16:8 approach discussed above, but you’re fasting for 18 or 20 hours per day.

Does Fasting Promote Weight Loss?

In the most practical sense, yes. Fasting is precisely what you need to lose weight. The problem is, just because someone is fasting doesn’t mean they are in a good position to lose more (or any) weight. 

The idea that intermittent fasting leads to superior weight loss is misguided because a much more important factor is your overall caloric intake. How many calories you consume daily will determine if you lose, maintain, or gain weight. Everything else, including diet composition, meal frequency, and fasting, comes second to that. 

To lose weight, you must consume fewer calories than you burn each day. Doing so creates a calorie deficit, forcing your body to break down fat and lean tissue for the remaining energy it needs. For example, if you’re burning 3,000 calories daily but are only consuming 2,500, you’re in a 500-calorie deficit and in a good position to lose weight. 

Now, let’s say that someone burns 2,500 calories per day and practices the 16:8 fasting protocol. Their noon meal is 1,200 calories; the afternoon snack is another 400 calories, and their dinner is 1,000 calories. The person’s total intake is 2,600 calories per day, 100 more than their expenditure. Sure, the person is fasting, but they won’t lose weight simply because they eat too many calories. 

But Does Fasting Offer Any Benefits For Those Looking to Lose Weight?

While intermittent fasting doesn’t directly impact weight loss, it can still be beneficial. One big reason is that fasting allows you to enjoy bigger and more satisfying meals, making it feel like you’re not dieting.

Consider the following examples:

Person A wants to lose weight and must eat 2,300 calories daily. They follow a traditional meal pattern consisting of three meals and one snack. The person’s caloric distribution throughout the day looks like this:

  • Breakfast – 600 calories
  • Lunch – 600 calories
  • Afternoon snack – 400 calories
  • Dinner – 700 calories

It’s not a terrible schedule, and person A might even feel okay following that for a while. But, at some point, dieting will increase the person’s hunger levels, leading to dietary dissatisfaction. These 600-700-calorie meals will no longer be satiating, and the person is more likely to feel hungry all the time.

Person B also wants to lose weight and must eat the same 2,300 daily calories. But, unlike person A, B practices the 16:8 fasting protocol. Here is how his caloric distribution looks:

  • Morning – 0 calories
  • Noon – 900 calories
  • Afternoon – 400 calories
  • Evening – 1,000 calories

The calories are the same, but person B enjoys larger and more satisfying meals that make it feel like he isn’t dieting. Even as the person diets for weeks or months and hunger levels increase, these larger meals will make it easier to stick with the necessary caloric restriction. 

The only issue is that fasting requires a period of adjusting, and you might feel hungrier until you break your fast. Consuming some black coffee or green tea can help you deal with that more easily and fast until it’s time to eat.

Should You Try Fasting?

Intermittent fasting is simply one tool you can take advantage of to make fitness more fulfilling and reach your goals. If you’re interested, you can try it but don’t expect any miracles. As with most approaches, everything boils down to discipline, consistency, and looking at the big picture instead of falling for instant gratification.

Fasting can be particularly valuable for people who struggle to stay within their calorie goals for each day and often overeat. By fasting, you eat larger meals, helping you feel fuller.

Similarly, people who have particularly hectic schedules can benefit from fasting. Eating fewer meals means you don’t have to think about food as often. You can simply fast and go about your day productively.

The only people who might want to avoid fasting are those who suffer from low blood sugar levels. Such folks would be better off having more consistent meals to prevent dips in blood glucose.

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