If you’re wondering how to start fasting for weight loss, odds are that you’ve already tried one or more diets. You might be following a specific diet right now, whether it’s paleo, keto, Whole30 or a Mediterranean type diet.
Weight loss is one of the most obvious benefits of the fasting lifestyle, and one of the primary reasons many people give for fasting. The beauty of it is that intermittent fasting works equally well with any kind of diet.
So are you ready to learn how to do intermittent fasting for weight loss? Here’s what you need to know.
Which Fasting Protocol Should You Choose?
As you probably know, there are many different styles of intermittent fasting. Each one asks you to fast for a different amount of time before you can eat, and allows you a different number of hours for eating. Protocols vary from the extremely strict (alternate day fasting) to the relatively easy (16:8 or 14:10).
The most common protocols include:
14:10 or 16:8
The 14:10 protocol is probably the easiest schedule to follow. It asks you to fast for 14 hours, then allows you to eat as you like over the next 10 hours. With the 16:8 protocol, you fast for 16 hours and have an eating window of 8 hours rather than 10. Both protocols can be easily practiced by skipping breakfast. (Or if you simply can’t live without breakfast, you can move your eating window to the earlier part of the day and skip dinner instead.)
One Meal a Day (OMAD)
This protocol technically has a fast: eat ratio of 23:1 — you fast for 23 hours out of 24, then fit all your eating into a one-hour window. Most people who practice this very restrictive form of intermittent fasting choose to schedule their eating window during dinner time, but it can be at whatever time works best for you and your body.
The 5:2 diet allows you to eat normally for five days of the week, then either fast completely or consume only a handful of calories (500 for women, 600 for men) on the other two days. Fasting days need not be consecutive, and most people allow at least one “normal” day between fast days.
This is the protocol most often used in scientific studies of intermittent fasting, and the strictest. It’s exactly what the name implies — you fast from all solid food and calories every other day — and it tends to be the most difficult protocol to stick with.
So how do you know which protocol is right for you? A lot depends on your individual body, how experienced you are at fasting and whether you’re a man or a woman. If you’re new to fasting, or if you’re a woman, it’s probably best to start out with the 14:10 protocol and work your way up to longer fasting periods.
Your eating patterns are often influenced as much by habit as by actual hunger, so it’s best to make small changes (go from 14:10 to 16:8 instead of jumping into OMAD after doing 14:10 for a week, for example) and give them some time before you move on to the next level.
Yes, It’s Possible to Overeat While Fasting
While the question of “how do you do intermittent fasting for weight loss” is pretty straightforward — you do it just as you would if you were fasting for any other reason — it’s important to keep in mind that the end goal is weight loss, and intermittent fasting isn’t a magic bullet.
In other words, unless you’re practicing a very strict protocol such as OMAD, then overeating — especially in the beginning — could still be a problem. If you have a 10, eight or even six-hour eating window, it’s entirely possible to eat enough calories to offset the weight-loss benefit of intermittent fasting. So how can you minimize the risk?
First, pay attention to portion sizes, especially during the early days of your fasting practice. Have a solid idea of how many calories you should be eating per day, and try to spread those calories out across your eating window rather than consuming them all at once. Also, start your meals out with a high-quality protein source and plenty of non-starchy vegetables — protein and fiber both help you feel full longer, and protein may even help you consume fewer calories overall.
But what about breakfast? Won’t skipping breakfast make you more likely to overeat later? There’s no clear-cut answer to this question; some studies show that eating breakfast leads to lower calorie consumption later in the day, while others show no benefit at all.
In reality, it may come down to what works for you. Most people find that skipping breakfast is a relatively effortless way to ease into intermittent fasting, but if you’re a die-hard breakfast-eater and going without makes you tend to overindulge later in the day, try for a late breakfast and early dinner. After all, it’s the number of hours you spend fasting, not the time of day, that matters.
Life Hacks for People Fasting to Lose Weight
If you begin with a relatively short fasting period — 14 or 16 hours — you may find that you slip into intermittent fasting effortlessly. After all, when you take into account the time after dinner and before breakfast, most of us fast for 10–12 hours on a daily basis.
However, if you do find it difficult to hold out, here are a few tricks that may help you:
- Eat enough protein.
- Eat low-carb, high fat — fat helps you feel fuller longer.
- Get a good night’s sleep. Poor sleep can lead to food cravings, especially carbohydrate cravings.
- Stay hydrated. Our bodies sometimes mistake thirst for feeling hungry. Having a drink — especially a hot drink such as unsweetened coffee or tea — can satisfy the “hand-to-mouth” need and make you feel like you’ve eaten even if you haven’t.
- Distract yourself. Believe it or not, hunger is a passing feeling. If you don’t focus on it, it will pass within 20 minutes or so.
Intermittent fasting for weight loss is no different than intermittent fasting for any other reason, and the same general rules apply. Pay attention to your body and how it responds. Eat nutritious food and avoid junk food. And while you do need to keep an eye on your energy intake, especially at the outset, don’t starve yourself. Eat well until you are sated — just don’t overeat.
To learn more about how IF works and what results you can achieve please refer to our guide to Intermittent Fasting and weight loss.