I used to be overweight. As recently as 4 years ago, I weighed 90 lbs more than I do now. I didn’t even realize how much extra weight I had added since high school. In July of 2010, I joined an office “Biggest Loser” competition and completely dominated it, dropping 65 lbs over 6 months and winning $250. How did I accomplish such a feat? Fasting. Today, I’m going to show you that despite many common misconceptions that fasting is an effective, healthy & sustainable means of weight management.
-Fasting is effective-
The amount of calories or energy you put in to your body compared to how much you use directly dictates how much energy or calories you store as fat. There is much debate regarding the type of calorie and what effect that has, however, the truth holds that you cannot lose weight while in a positive energy balance, it defies the laws of thermodynamics. Energy is never lost, only transferred.
If the battle for your waistline is won or lost in the kitchen, then simply scaling back at each meal is the sensible choice, right? Yes. If you have this type of continuous willpower. I find that “scaling back” during a meal usually means feeling deprived for most people. If you feel deprived during every meal of the week, eventually your willpower gives out and you gorge, ruining much of your progress.
Fasting, as I’ve used it, is also called intermittent fasting. The plan is to choose two 24-hour periods per week where you take a break from eating, meaning I eat dinner, then skip breakfast, skip lunch and then eat dinner the next day. There are many variations to this, but the main principle is to take about 24 hours off of eating. In essence, you miss 4 meals out of your weekly total of 21 meals, leading to a calorie deficit of 20%.
Fasting is effective because it creates a calorie deficit the same way standard dieting does and a calorie deficit is crucial to managing weight.
All through our lives, we are told that breakfast is the most important meal and even more recently the trend has been to eat 5 or 6 small meals per day to “keep our metabolisms humming”. In a study conducted at the University of Nottingham (Nottingham, England), researchers found that when they made 29 men and women fast for 3 days, their metabolic rate did not change. This is 72 hours without food – so much for having to eat every 3 hours! Your base metabolic rate is correlated to the amount of lean mass of your body and any additional energy use is related to activity, not to the frequency of eating.
-Blood Sugar Worries-
Many people will tell you that their blood sugar crashes if they do not eat every 3-4 hours. Usually, unless they are hypoglycemic or diabetic or just ran a marathon, this is not true. The “crash” or jittery sensation they are experience has been found to be an anxiety-related response to not eating. Studies have shown that even in people with a history of hypoclycemia, blood sugar remains virtually unchanged after 24 hours of fasting. Your body does an amazing job of normalizing any blood sugar fluctuations that may result, by pulling energy from your fat storage.
Having shown the myths regarding metabolism, blood sugar and muscle loss to be false, fasting is in fact a healthy way to manage your weight.
-Fasting is Sustainable-
One objection I have heard through the years is that once you stop fasting, your body will bounce back to it’s original proportions, or worse, you’ll gain weight. This is true of any diet plan. The reason fasting has been effective for me is that it is sustainable. I’ve remained at my target weight for 4 years now by adding or subtracting fasting days to every month, as my weight dictates. I hate having too many things on my mind and I do not like keeping detailed calorie logs every day.
It is also flexible – if a friend calls me up for lunch last minute on a planned fasting day, I simply enjoy that lunch as I would normally and move my fast day to a different day of the week – no mental effort needed and my weekly calorie deficit is maintained.
Compared to many other caloric deficit based diets, fasting has been shown to be one of the most sustainable methods for weight management.
Fasting has been a life-changing discovery for me, changing the way I think about and plan my meals and helping me to shed 33% of my weight which will most likely extend my life, avoiding hypertension, high cholesterol and heart disease. There are many misconceptions about fasting that we’ve shown to be false, and now you understand that fasting is an effective, healthy and sustainable means of weight management.
There are hundreds of free resources available online, but if you are interested in finding out more the detailed benefits, health research and a general all-around magnificent treatise on fasting, please visit Eat Stop Eat and pickup Brad’s book.