Does intermittent fasting really work for weight loss? How long does it take to start seeing results?
Intermittent fasting is a proven weight loss strategy. Unlike traditional dieting, intermittent fasting doesn’t require you to obsess over counting calories—you simply don’t eat for a certain period of time. However, you won’t start seeing immediate results—it takes a while for the body to adapt to the IF schedule.
Here are some intermittent fasting tips for successful weight loss.
How to Use IF to Lose Weight
In her book Fast. Feast. Repeat., Gin Stephens delves into the science, best practices, and intermittent fasting tips. The first thing to note, according to Stephens, is that you will not experience rapid weight loss with IF. Instead, expect that your body will take time to adjust and know that weight loss will ramp up over time. In addition, intermittent fasting doesn’t produce linear weight loss due to body recomposition. You’ll lose fat and gain muscle due to increased human growth hormone. Because muscle weighs more than fat by volume, you’ll drop sizes while remaining heavier than you expected.
(Shortform note: Intuitive Eating recommends putting weight loss on hold and first reclaiming a healthy relationship with food. If you lose weight as a consequence of eating more intuitively, that’s wonderful. But if you focus on weight loss rather than getting back in tune with your body’s natural signals, you aren’t truly losing a dieting mindset.)
Use at least one of the following measurement tactics to track your progress:
- Tactic #1: Calculate your average weight loss. If fat loss is your main goal, track it by calculating your weekly average drop in weight. This shows you the trend of your weight loss—it’ll go steadily downward, even if daily numbers fluctuate. If weighing stresses you out, Stephens says you can drop the scale altogether and rely on other measurements.
- Tactic #2: Use “goal” clothing. Buy a pair of pants that you’d like to fit into—a size or two down—and check each week to see how they fit. Once they fit, you know you’ve made progress, and you can aim to drop another size or two.
- Tactic #3: Take regular photos. Wearing the same clothes each time, take weekly pictures from the front, back, and sides. By comparing these, you’ll see clearly the progress you’ve made.
|Weight Loss Isn’t Everything|
While many people come to intermittent fasting for weight loss, others argue that you can be “healthy at every size” (HAES). The basic premise of HAES is that you can have healthy lifestyle habits, such as exercise or practicing affirmations for self-esteem, at any size.
That is, being heavier doesn’t mean you can’t love yourself, build skills, or lead a satisfying life. Rather, HAES proponents contend that it’s the negative stigma against fatness that causes heavier people to feel discontented with themselves.
Taking this as the case, you might still benefit from intermittent fasting. While Stephens’s above measurement techniques would no longer apply, you might still reap other benefits—such as the positive effects of autophagy and insulin reduction.
Overcome Plateaus by Adjusting
Stephens explains that as you lose weight, your body might settle into a new set point—a default weight that your body wants to maintain—and resist further weight loss. When this occurs, the solution is usually to adjust your fasting or your feasting.
- Adjust your fasting. First, make sure you’re fasting cleanly. Second, switch up your fasting rhythms: Try going from TRE to ADF, changing the length of your fasting window, or adjusting when you fast and when you feast.
- Adjust your feasting. Recognize if you’re overeating or eating too many ultra-processed foods, and try delaying these foods for a month or two. In addition, try switching up your eating style by getting more whole foods or adjusting your macronutrient intake.
|Do Gut Bacteria Affect Your Weight?|
If you’re having trouble losing weight and Stephens’s adjustments don’t work for you, consider the health of your gut microbiome. In recent years, research on the link between gut bacteria and everything from mood and personality to obesity and appetite hormones has expanded.
In one study, researchers implanted mice with bacteria from the guts of lean or obese women, and the mice that received the obese women’s bacteria became obese. Conversely, the lean-bacteria mice remained lean. When the mice were allowed to mix, those that had received the obesity-causing bacteria remained lean—likely because they acquired additional bacteria from close contact with the lean mice. The researchers speculate that the gut microbiomes of the obese mice lacked the diversity of bacteria types to fill every role in a well-functioning digestive system.
Lastly, diet plays a large role in keeping your gut healthy. In Gut, Enders recommends taking probiotics and prebiotics, which fill your gut with healthy bacteria and feed them, respectively. She also advises against taking antibiotics unless strictly necessary, since they kill off both good and bad bacteria and can cause antibiotic resistance.
Maintain Your Weight
Once you’ve approached your goal weight, Stephens recommends choosing a “goal body” to maintain. Your weight will naturally fluctuate a bit, so stressing about maintaining an exact number isn’t helpful. Instead, trust that your body will reach a healthy weight and stay there.
To maintain your goal body, keep up with good IF habits. If you gain weight, check your eating habits and adjust them a bit to settle back down. If you lose too much, eat a bit more. It’s okay to enjoy a bit more food from time to time, and it’s okay to eat less when you need to.
You can also use your “goal” clothing to keep perspective. If you still fit in your goal pants, you’re doing fine. If you feel a little tight in them, that’s a gentle signal to ease back a bit on the feasting.