What is Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss?

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Daniel Pavlik Sr DC

Apr 21, 2020

Intermittent fasting means fasting for short periods, usually anything from half a day to 24 hours. Fasting is believed by many to have various health benefits, including weight control. There is some science to support this. At the very least, an intermittent fasting plan typically leads to reduced calorie intake.

Why use intermittent fasting for weight loss and not a conventional low-calorie diet? Cutting your calories very drastically, often backfires. It can result in a lowered metabolism, making it hard to lose weight. Many people who attempt low-calorie diets find themselves over-eating when the diet is over, sometimes regaining all the lost weight within a few years.

By contrast, intermittent fasting is promoted as a way to avoid the metabolic changes brought on by a low-calorie diet. Because you’re eating a satisfying amount of food during the times when you’re not fasting, proponents of intermittent fasting state that there is no slowing of the metabolism or additional food cravings.

There are various types of intermittent fasting. Three of the most popular variants include:

The Eat-Stop-Eat Diet

With this program, the dieter eats a reasonable amount of healthy food for five or six days per week. On the remaining one or two days, no food is consumed for 24 hours.

The 5:2 Diet

With this diet, you eat a healthy, satisfying amount of food for the first five days the week. During the remaining two days, you significantly reduce your caloric intake, dropping your total daily calories down to 500 or 600.

The 16:8 Method

With the 16:8 Method, practitioners fast for 16 hours per day but eat their usual meals during the remaining eight hours of the day.

The 16:8 method is perhaps the most popular type of intermittent fasting. It’s extremely easy to implement. Many practitioners begin skipping breakfast and waiting to eat until lunchtime. If the final meal of the day is then eaten before 8 pm, the 16-hour fast is easily achieved. Of course, there’s no reason why the eight-hour window where eating is permitted can’t be moved around to suit your schedule.

The most obvious question for a prospective dieter is: can intermittent fasting be a real aid to weight loss? Research is still somewhat limited, but what there is seems promising so far. Many animal studies suggest that intermittent fasting can support weight loss, as well as improving other health parameters (for example, some studies showed less “bad” cholesterol after a period of intermittent fasting).

As noted above, an intermittent fast is likely to have the effect of lowering your overall caloric intake. To lose one pound in weight, you need to burn 3,500 calories more than you consume. If you’re aiming to lose one pound in weight per week (the kind of goal recommended by health experts), then you need to establish a caloric deficit of 3,500 calories per week. If you usually eat around 2,000 calories per day, it’s easy to see how two days of fasting could create the necessary deficit at a stroke. Skipping breakfast is a simple way to create a caloric deficit of around 500 calories per day. Assuming that you don’t take on additional calories when not fasting, it’s clear that intermittent fasting could deliver the weight loss you’re looking to achieve.

What is not entirely clear is whether or not intermittent fasting is better than changing your diet to create a caloric deficit in some other way. Some people find that they are much more successful in reaching their weight control goals with intermittent fasting, while others struggle with the fasting periods and prefer a more standard reduced-calorie diet. Ultimately, it’s a matter of what suits you. Intermittent fasting is certainly a winning strategy for many.

Before you begin an intermittent fasting plan, you should consult a medical professional to make sure it’s safe for you to do so. Some conditions, such as diabetes, mean that you will need to be especially careful during your fast.

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