Intermittent fasting has gained in popularity over the past few years and a lot of people have asked the question, “does intermittent fasting work for weight loss?” Well, the answer may be somewhat surprising to a lot of people, but yes and no.
Intermittent fasting isn’t a magic bullet for weight loss, but when combined with an objective and proven method for weight loss like counting macros, intermittent fasting can be a valuable part of the weight loss journey. Below we’ll dive into what intermittent fasting is and the three reasons (when used correctly) it can help people lose weight.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting by itself does not work for weight loss – or at least why it’s not a guaranteed way to lose weight.
All intermittent fasting is, is a way of eating where you restrict all of your eating for the day into a predetermined window of time. For example, on an 18:6 fast, you’ll fast for 18 hours and eat for 6 hours each day – what that would look like is waiting to start eating for the day until 12:00 noon, and not eat anything after 6:00 pm. Simple as that.
To lose weight, you have to eat fewer calories than you burn every day. For a person who maintains weight at, for example, 2000 calories per day, they would likely find themself eating around 1700 calories a day to lose weight.
Now if that person has a big appetite and isn’t paying attention to anything other than their intermittent fasting eating window, they could easily pack down 2000 or more calories in that eating window! After all, the psychological pressure that you won’t be able to eat anything else after a certain time in the day, and the idea of rewarding yourself for skipping the first meal of the day could easily result in overeating if you’re not tracking your food.
Some people with abnormally good impulse control and born without a sweet tooth could purely use intermittent fasting without looking at any of the other variables and see success, but these people definitely do not represent the reality of most people!
All that being said, intermittent fasting is still an extremely valuable tool for supplementing a bigger picture weight loss strategy.
How Does Intermittent Fasting Help Weight Loss?
There are three primary reasons intermittent fasting can aid a weight loss diet plan. Let’s dive right in!
Reason 1: Appetite Control
One of the biggest challenges anyone on a fat loss diet is going to face is wrestling with their appetite. Losing weight means that you are draining the stored energy reserves of your body fat, which throughout most of human history, meant you were in big trouble. Your body is wired to like the taste of high-calorie foods and store energy because your next meal wasn’t guaranteed to be there. There was no Golden Corral, no DoorDash, and you had to farm, find, or kill everything you ate.
We should be thankful we live in a world where having too much food available has led to the kind of problems that warranted writing this post, but a problem is a problem nonetheless and best we equip ourselves with the knowledge and tools to deal with it.
One of the reasons why intermittent fasting is a great tool to fight hunger is because it suppresses ghrelin, a hormone that causes you to feel hungry. Ghrelin levels increase when you’re eating, so if you are in a fasted state ghrelin will remain low and the resulting hunger will be minimized.
Reason 2: Overcoming Mindless Snacking
Eating out of boredom or eating because you’re “feeling blue” is not at all uncommon – people eat for MANY reasons outside of simply combating hunger. What’s the reason for this? Well, there are a few, but one to consider is that eating will give you nice hits of dopamine, the feel good chemical for your brain.
It’s why people pull the lever on slot machines, constantly check social media, and keep scavenging the pantry and snack machines throughout the day. If you’re down for whatever reason, your dopaminergic system is begging for reactivation, and little bites of food here and there can serve as an emotional pick me up.
You’re not thinking about it when this happens, you’re just behaving based on sometimes subconscious emotional drives related to the ample stresses and anxieties of life!
So how is intermittent fasting going to help? It makes the eating that you do intentional.
During your fasting windows, you’re not eating anything at all. This means ZERO mindless snacking during your fasting windows, and during your eating windows, you’re eating with intention. If you are counting your macros and eating towards a goal, the mindless snacking patterns will be entirely broken and one of the major downfalls of many dieters is definitively conquered here.
Reason 3: More Satisfying Meals
If you’re used to eating larger portions, seeing a lonely few food items on a big plate can be pretty demoralizing, and shortly after the meal your stomach is growling in discontent.
This is one of the standard tropes most people associate with dieting: people think that dieting means tiny and disappointing portion sizes!
This doesn’t have to be the case though, because losing weight and body fat is all about the average intake being less than the average energy expenditure over an extended period of time. That means you can spread out your meals in a way that leaves you satisfied with the individual meal itself.
As an example, let’s say you’re at 1700 calories per day. A 1200 calorie meal is a decent amount of food for just about anybody – and you’re going to be feeling full and satisfied (possibly “stuffed”) after that. A few hours later you can have a 500 calorie smaller second meal or snack to round out your food for the day, and in returning to the fasted state, you’ll begin to re-suppress the ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and navigate your calorie deficit while keeping the effects of hunger to a minimum.
Having those larger meals makes a diet feel a lot less like one, and can really give you the psychological boost needed to stick with the plan and see lasting results!