Intermittent Fasting And Weight Loss

Fasting. Call it what you will – cleansing, a religious ritual, insanity. This month we take a peek into intermittent fasting, a subject of scientific research for decades and a recent addition to the dictionary of fitness buzzwords.

Intermittent fasting means choosing set periods of fasting and not fasting, the former being devoid of all calories. Water is allowed (and necessary), along with a few zero-calorie drinks, but that’s about it. Intervals are flexible and programmes are endless: some allow fasts as short as six hours, while others go up to 36. Consistency varies too.

So why would someone choose intermittent fasting as a weight loss method, and how does it compare to a normal, calorie-controlled diet?

Weight loss requires a calorie deficit, but long-term diets that are too restricted can cause the body to enter starvation mode, a clever mechanism that fiercely protects fat. This is great if you’re with Bear Grylls in the Arctic trying to survive for a month on seal fat, but terrible for fat loss. Three days in a ‘starved’ state will activate starvation mode, which is neither healthy nor conducive to sustainable weight loss, as it damages the metabolism we need to process a regular diet.

In this respect, intermittent fasting is appealing because we are able to create considerable calorie deficits without harming the metabolism (fasting periods are never longer than one and a half days). The catch is that you have to get through the fast.


Luckily for intrigued parties, programmes are numerous and varied. Junk-food loving athletes may fast one day every week to gain a cheat day where they can eat unhealthy food without gaining weight. One programme advocates a daily, 20 hour ‘fast’ (with limited snacking) where participants eat within the remaining four hours. Eat, Stop, Eat, one of the most popular programmes, suggests a weekly, ideally 24 hour long fast alongside a regular, normal diet. Oh, and Hugh Jackman in Wolverine? He was eating during an eight-hour window and fasting for the other 16.

But is intermittent fasting good for you? The short, general answer is, from a health perspective, yes. Scientifically speaking, most programmes that enforce healthy calorie restriction have demonstrated improvements in longevity and cardiovascular health, as well as reduction in inflammation.

In terms of weight loss, results range. Frustrated participants may fail to complete the fasts without the aid of appetite-suppressing supplements. Moderate programs (i.e. one weekly fast) generally yield positive results and improve health, but not always fast weight loss. If you’re eating an unhealthy diet outside your fast, a break won’t be enough to cause weight loss.


Interested? Here are a few tips if you want to try a fast:

Hydrate. Drink water all the time. A great habit, but even more important during a fast. Add lemon to reap from a lengthy list of benefits.

Don’t overdo it. Don’t initially try something extreme and don’t beat yourself up if you fail the first few times. It may help to start small and work your way up.

Keep it short. Short fasts are healthy, long fasts are not. Fasts for more than 36 hours should be supervised by a physician. Remember that three days too hungry will push you into starvation mode. Extended periods of not eating can cause organ damage.

Lastly, some people should avoid fasting altogether. If you are pregnant, under 18, diabetic, or require food in regular intervals, it’s not for you.

Today’s fast-paced culture promotes consistent eating. If you would like to try to give your stomach a break and get some clarity on your own eating habits, it may be interesting to try a 12, 18 or 24 hour fast and see how you feel. If you are interested in making it a habit, we suggest reading Eat, Stop, Eat, for a comprehensive understanding of intermittent fasting.


Giulia Sciota