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Intermittent fasting is usually practiced in one of the following ways. Either where you eat for 6 days and then have a 1 day fast, or where you skip breakfast and eat only later in the day; compressing the ‘eating window’ down to around 8 hours.
While cleanses can be anywhere from a day up to a couple of weeks of either only water, fruit/ vegetable juices, or other supplements.
They can both be effective ways to lose weight, but the question is why do they work?
People ask whether there is some special mechanism in a fast that leads to the body burning more calories, or is it just because you’re not eating?
It’s a question worth getting to the bottom of, because when you know why what you are doing is working or not, you are in control. You’re empowered to make changes, tweak things, and develop your plan based on actual knowledge – rather than jumping to the next trend in hope.
The Main Reason Fasting Leads To Weight loss
The main reason that fasting is an effective route to weight loss is the obvious answer.
You’re not eating.
Consuming fewer calories will always lead to weight loss. The only way that your body will lose weight is if more calories are expended than consumed.
By fasting for a period of time, you will lower your total calories over the course of the day or week, which adds up to weight loss.
Is that the only way?
Now, this is where things get a little more complicated. Only a calorie deficit will lead to weight loss, which you might think makes everything else irrelevant. That would be a perfectly logical thing to assume, but it misses the fact that different mechanisms lead to your body expending more or less energy.
You are losing weight because you’re consuming fewer calories than you expend, but fasting may lead to you expending more calories, even if you keep eating a constant amount.
There is evidence that fasting increases the availability and use of body fat as a source of energy. In absence of new energy coming in through food, the body will start liberating stored sources of energy.
Once energy is released from fat storage, and in the bloodstream, it has to go somewhere. If you eat a consistent number of calories as normal after your fast, the energy that has been released will be burnt off in addition to the normal intake.
Essentially by fasting, you can up-regulate the number of calories you are burning, and thus lose weight.
However, you need to be realistic about how big this effect is. The majority of weight loss will be coming from a simple decrease in calories.
If you skip eating for a full day, you might be down 2000 calories compared to normal. The 200 calories you’ve burnt in addition to the fast is inconsequential compared to the 2000 calories you didn’t eat.
Applying this to your lifestyle
Calories are and will always be king when it comes to weight balance. Therefore, you can use fasting as a tool, but do not think that it is a magic formula that has a profound effect on weight loss.
It does make a difference, but the larger benefit of fasting is mostly a placebo. The mentality that it brings, the ease of following the diet, the commitment that comes with doing it.
Often people find it both easier and more enjoyable to practice intermittent fasting. It allows you to eat larger meals and higher calorie foods. When the eating window is compressed, you’re able to consume more calories in that small window. You can enjoy food more, feel full, and still maintain a social life around food, without going over your calorie balance, because you’re eating less total meals.
This makes it more maintainable over the medium to long-term, and it can be ‘normal’, instead of being ‘on a diet’ for a limited period of time, where you restrict everything, and always have the intention of going ‘back to normal’ at some point in the near future.
However, you can just as easily lose weight by eating moderately on a normal eating schedule. The fasting is mainly a tool to make achieving the calorie balance you’re aiming for easier. You can just as easily do that without fasting.
Don’t fall for the hype that fasting is anything special. Instead, look at your goals, your lifestyle, and find the plan that is going to be easiest and most sustainable for your unique situation, while bringing maximum results.
That might be slower than the next person because all our situations are different. That is perfectly fine. Empower yourself to create a situation that works for you, rather than following the latest trends and hopping from one idea to the next.
If you create the best situation for you, and you control it, you will be able to effortlessly lose or maintain weight forever.