As a certified nutrition coach, my clients come to me with questions about the latest weight loss technique they just heard about. Over the years, it’s ranged from the paleo diet, carnivore diet, vegan diet, Keto diet, and lately it’s been intermittent fasting. I can unequivocally say clients have all talked with me about these diets for the benefits they believe they offer for weight loss. When asked if these work, my answer is always the same, “You can lose weight a bunch of different ways, but how do you want to live?” Or, more specifically, how do you want to live within the context of eating throughout the day? It’s not that these diets don’t have benefits or don’t provide some value, but when I hear someone that has no discipline, no self-control, no awareness of what it feels like to be hungry, and a very unhealthy relationship with food turn to intermittent fasting as a first step towards changing their life and weight, I can’t help but think there is an easier way.
If you’ve tried or are considering trying intermittent fasting for the sole purpose of weight loss, let me propose something different. It’s not that intermittent fasting won’t work, but it’s important to be aware of a couple of things.
What is Intermittent Fasting (IF)?
First off…What is Intermittent Fasting (IF)? Generally, it’s understood to be consuming all of one’s calories within an 8-hour period and staying in a fasted state for the remaining 16 hours. There are variations of this, but this is the most commonly understood version. While this can provide more of an opportunity for one’s body to burn fat due to the fact they aren’t eating for two-thirds of the day, it can potentially do the following:
- Slow your metabolism down since your body doesn’t have readily available energy and needs to conserve what it does have for 16 hours
- Slow down digestion
- Give you brain fog (our brain consumes +/- 800 calories a day. If we’re calorie deficient when we’re trying to perform difficult mental tasks, it can become difficult. I’ve personally experienced this.)
- Cause you to think about food more often since you are restricting the times you consume it. This can be the biggest side effect, and why I personally don’t like to restrict calories to specific times.
- Change your social life and make it hard to go out to breakfast or dinner with friends and family.
To learn more about intermittent fasting for weight loss, check out this article by Precision Nutrition.
Here’s what I propose to my clients.
Minding the Gap
We use a phrase called “minding the gap.” It’s 1 of our 10 health principles which can be found at https://www.bodybasicsboise.com/healthy-lifestyle-quiz/. The basic idea is we eat 3 healthy meals a day and get gaps between those meals where we’re not consuming calories. We have our clients shoot for 4–6-hour gaps and teach them to use their hunger cues as a marker for what their body needs and to adjust the size of their meals accordingly. The following is the basic structure we teach our clients:
- Eat 3 meals a day and get 4-6 hour gaps between those meals.
- If you aren’t hungry 4-6 hours later, consider eating slightly less at the same meal the next day.
- The idea is to begin to get hungry 2-4 hours after you eat but wait to eat your next meal until 4-6 hours.
- This allows for approximately 2 hours of a fasted period where your body can burn fat.
- It’s long enough to burn fat, but not so long that it will cause your metabolism or digestion to slow down.
- Hunger is the major factor we’re watching here. We adjust the quantity of our meals based on the hunger we’re experiencing.
- The general rule is to eat until about 80% satisfied.
- The 4-6 hours needs to be adjusted based on the client--their lifestyle and their activity level. I’ve found 4-6 hours works for most people. Less than 4 doesn’t allow us to burn fat for long enough, and over 6 hours starts changing our metabolic and digestive processes.
Depending on the clients, sometimes eating 3 meals a day isn’t enough and a snack needs to be added. That’s ok. We just want to make sure we are getting some gaps in our day and are allowing our body to experience hunger and burn fat.
The main reason I like this better than traditional IF is that it keeps our metabolic and digestive systems working well and working fast. It’s also way easier when I get to eat 3 times a day as opposed to not eating for 16 hours. Lastly, it’s far more realistic to have a social life when I allow myself to go out to breakfast or dinner with friends and family without being concerned it doesn’t fit within my 8-hour eating window. Give it a shot and see what you think!
Contact James at Body Basics for more information or to schedule a 1-on-1 health coaching session.