If you’re researching intermittent fasting for weight loss you might be wondering, “is it a good idea to “starve” yourself just a little bit each day?”
The evidence is YES – it could have a very beneficial impact on your health and longevity.
As a scientist and professional coach who is curious, loves experimenting, and works with people on their eating habits, I’ve been my own guinea pig when it comes to ‘diets’.
After 6 weeks of experimenting with intermittent fasting, I’m sold.
Intermittent fasting could change your life.
I decided to write this article to explain what it is, how it works, and whether it’s right for you.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is not a “diet” as such, although it is sometimes referred to as the intermittent fasting diet.
Simply, the meaning of intermittent fasting is that alternate periods of eating with periods of fasting (not eating) – typically 14 – 18 hours per day.
You might most commonly see it called something like intermittent fasting 16/8, or a 16 hour fast diet.
This means you fast for 16 hours, usually overnight, and eat within an 8-hour window e.g. 10am to 6pm.
Actually, this isn’t really a new thing.
Intermittent fasting has been happening for years in many cultures in different guises.
And in the health arena, many intermittent fasting benefits have been identified in the past 40 years.
So let’s answer these common questions – how does intermittent fasting work, DOES it actually work, and is intermittent fasting good for weight loss?
How does intermittent fasting work?
First, we need to talk about metabolism.
Your body uses carbs (preferentially) and also fat (as a last resort) for fuel. And your body stores both carbs and fat for ‘later use’, so it always has a good supply.
That process looks roughly like this:
The critical stage is stage 3.
If you’re fasting there, then you are using up stored carbs in the liver and will eventually tap into fat stores.
But if you are constantly replenishing your sugar stores (glycogen in the liver) during stage 3, your body won’t have any reason to use dietary or stored body fat as fuel.
In other words, all those small, regular meals you’re eating, including white carbs and sugars, are keeping your weight stagnant because your body has no need to go searching for fuel.
It’s like topping up the fuel tank in your car for every few miles you drive.
Intermittent fasting is a way of reducing the available stores of fuels in your body, so it is forced to harvest the deeper, more dangerous and hard-to-reach fat stores.
Your body switches from being very efficient at using sugar for fuel (which is ridiculously easy – your body’s preferred method), to becoming efficient at using fat for fuel (which takes a lot more energy).
Intermittent fasting benefits
Does it work? Yes, it does – depending on what you want it to work on.
Here’s an overview of some of the main intermittent fasting benefits.
Intermittent fasting results
Intermittent fasting for weight loss
We all know that that reducing calories is pretty much essential for losing weight.
Above and beyond that, you can use intermittent fasting to lose weight because it is a way of reducing your calorie intake AND at the same time, prompting your body to harvest deep fat stores to use as fuel as described above.
Recent research suggests that intermittent fasting may provide all the health benefits of constant calorie restriction, but is a much easier alternative to trying to consistently eat low-calorie all day, every day.
I know many people who have successfully used intermittent fasting for weight loss and have noticed several kilos disappear within 2 – 4 weeks.
Intermittent fasting without losing weight
But what about if you’re underweight, or want to gain weight? What then?
The secret to maintaining your weight with intermittent fasting is getting enough calories and the right macronutrient balance.
You could probably also use intermittent fasting for weight gain, once again, the trick being in getting your total calorie intake and macro nutrient balance right.
To do intermittent fasting for gaining weight, you’d be looking at a more ketogenic approach where your meals are higher in protein and fat and lower in carbs, therefore creating a calorie surplus.
This approach would be better suited to heavy mesomorph or endomorph body types, as these do better with a higher fat diet.
It’s best to work with an experienced professional to get this right.
How does intermittent fasting affect insulin resistance?
The reason intermittent fasting works effectively for weight loss is because it increases insulin sensitivity (lowering blood sugar) and therefore boosts the efficiency of cellular energy production, which slows aging and reduces your risk of disease.
Studies suggest that cholesterol, blood sugar, fatty liver and metabolic problems can be reduced by intermittent fasting – and fixing those things means it’s easier for you to lose weight.
Intermittent fasting effects on immune system
Fasting induces a cellular stress response (similar to that induced by exercise) that increase your ability to cope with stress and resist disease and slows aging.
The decrease in your body’s stress response has a flow-on effect – it reduces the accumulation of damaging, stress-related by-products like oxidative radicals in the cell.
In terms of aging, restricting calories in certain animals has been shown to increase their lifespan by as much as 50 percent.
Intermittent fasting pros and cons
Intermittent fasting is great for people who:
- wish to lose weight – particularly upwards of 5kg
- are reasonably heathy but are unable to shift stubborn belly fat with conventional approaches, OR
- are prepared to commit to a new way of eating for long enough to see results
- have already cut out fructose and grains and replaced them with healthful fats, and/or
- are engaged in a regular fitness program but have hit a plateau.
If this is you, then intermittent fasting benefits include weight loss, a reduction in visceral fat, fewer cravings, a feeling of lightness, feeling more clear-headed, sleeping more soundly and becoming more energized.
Intermittent fasting is NOT suitable for people who:
- have low blood sugar, OR
- have diabetes, OR
- have chronic stress or cortisol dysregulation/adrenal fatigue, OR
- are pregnant, OR
- are breastfeeding.
If this is you, you are better off avoiding any type of fasting or timed meal schedule until you’ve normalized your blood glucose and insulin levels or weaned the baby.
Now, I wanted to share my results with you so you can see what’s possible.
This is Exactly How I Do Intermittent Fasting
Why Do Intermittent Fasting?
As I mentioned earlier, I was not doing intermittent fasting for weight loss, although I know many people who have lost 5 – 15kg through this method.
My reason for doing intermittent fasting is a little different.
I’ve had a weak immune system for most of my life and once I reached 35, my body started changing (as it does at this age) and I have been on a roller-coaster ride of shifts in mood, energy, sleep and irritating women’s business.
For me, this has been about managing the symptoms of peri-menopause like anxiety, insomnia, generally lethargy, foggy-headedness and a thickening waist – plus a few other symptoms that I won’t mention here.
As someone who loves experimenting on myself, I decided to see if intermittent fasting would help me get my insulin, leptin, cortisol, oestrogen and other hormones back into balance, so I could get rid of these symptoms.
Here’s what I learned.
Meal Timing and Hunger with Intermittent Fasting
I decided to try the 16/8 version of intermittent fasting. That means a 16 hour fast, with an 8-hour window in which I eat.
My first meal is around 12 – 1.30pm and my second meal is around 6 – 7pm. I fast through the night.
In my first few days I was hungry and a little cranky, a bit light-headed, and anxious to eat lunch.
I know that I was carb-adapted instead of fat-adapted, so I needed to ride this out and let my body learn to start targeting dietary and bodily fat as fuel.
My body became fat-adapted quite quickly, so my cravings disappeared, and I started feeling energized and light in the mornings.
Before intermittent fasting, I used to graze all day and never really had any hunger signals. I was craving carbs and sugar on most days.
Now that I’m doing intermittent fasting, I am more in touch with what hunger is – and what it isn’t.
I have just the right amount of hunger for lunch and dinner.
Sometimes I need an afternoon snack – a few nuts – and I’m sated.
My afternoon sweet cravings have gone!
Because I am choosing to eat this way, I find that I am more intentional about my meals and am making sure they are satisfying and nutritious.
Without the structure of IF, it might not have happened.
What I’m Eating While Intermittent Fasting
I’m not following a specific or set intermittent fasting meal plan, but this is what I’m eating and it’s working.
It’s generally lower in carbs, higher in fibre, vegetables and with adequate healthy fat – just like we do in the Downsize Me program.
In the morning, I’m drinking a decaf coffee with a little almond milk, or some green or herbal tea and water. That will see me through until midday.
Typically, my lunch is a medium can of tuna (180 – 200g) or similar quantity of leftover chicken with a huge pile of greens and a handful of brown rice or some beans. Sometimes an apple afterwards.
Sometimes, I have a large bowl of red lentil and vegetable dahl instead, with preserved lemon and yoghurt – OR – a macro-balanced, satisfying soup instead.
Dinner is beef, chicken or fish, with a colourful riot of vegetables, perhaps some sweet potato or rice. Maybe a little fruit for dessert.
One thing I LOVE is that my life is much simpler when I only have to think about two meals per day.
My Intermittent Fasting Results
So – does intermittent fasting work?
I say yes – here’s the nutshell of my intermittent fasting results, including the benefits and side effects of intermittent fasting that I experienced.
Within my first four weeks, I noticed these changes:
- My sweet cravings have disappeared
- My hunger hormones have normalised – I have normal hunger at every meal
- I have stopped overeating as a result (no longer ravenous)
- My digestive system has settled down and is working better
- I’m sleeping better
- My anxiety has decreased
- My body shape has changed
- I’m sleeping better.
The only apparent side effects I noticed was that I felt hungry and a little light headed in the first few days, as my body was learning to become fat-adapted.
Then, I was home free.
Also, some of my perimenopause symptoms remained like my night sweats and a few other things.
To solve those things, I trotted off to my trusted Naturopath Jacqui Berry for some herbs which have further improved my symptoms including better sleep, even lower anxiety and totally eliminated my night sweats and general dryness.
Based on my experience, I feel that intermittent fasting is a good option for women who want to lose weight, or simply improve their balance in stress, hunger and other hormones.
What the science says about intermittent fasting seems to be accurate – it’s a great way to bring your body back into balance so that you look and feel lighter, cleaner, calmer and more on track with healthy eating.
If you’re wondering how to get started with intermittent fasting, register for our FREE Intermittent Fasting webinar hosted by Naturopath and Health and Wellness Coach, Kristine Gardener.
They key is to experiment with it and work out the best way to make it work for you.
Got questions? Type them into the comments below.
Chief Inspiration Coach
I’m a quirky scientist and a Health and Wellness Coach who helps 35+ women to understand and eat right for their body type.
Intermittent Fasting for Easier Fat and Weight Loss
Want to know what intermittent fasting is and how to do it for optimal fat loss?
Or do you need to know which type of intermittent fasting is best, and how to get started safely and easily with intermittent fasting?
Register now for our FREE webinar with Naturopath and Health and Wellness Coach Kristine Gardener.