Can Fasting Really Help You Burn Fat?
admin - July 6, 2018
Fasting has been around for eons. Its practice was mostly used for spiritual reasons, but using fasting as a method for losing weight was not unheard of. (Plato himself advocated fasting for weight loss!). The last several years of fasting — or more specifically, a new theory known as “intermittent fasting”* — has become a popular strategy for burning fat and losing weight.
What is Fasting?
In its most extreme form, fasting involves giving up food completely and drinking only water for a set period of time. Most people choose a slighter more relaxed approach — forgoing food but allowing oneself fruit or even protein drinks.
In order for fasting to actually burn fat, the body must enter a state called ketosis, which is a “metabolic state in which some of the body’s energy supply comes from ketone bodies in the blood, in contrast to a state of glycolysis in which blood glucose provides energy.” If you limit yourself to a water-only fast, this process will happen relatively quickly. If you allow your body fruit juices along with water, the process will take place once all carbohydrate sources have been depleted.
Important Note: Ketosis is a natural metabolic process, and is not to be confused with ketoacidosis , which is a dangerous state that can actually be life-threatening.
Even without considering ketosis, it’s also true that when you’re fasting for 12 hours or more, you’re going to end up restricting calories over the course of each week, which inevitably leads to slow, but steady weight loss.
A study published in 2008 suggested that intermittent fasting — fasting once or twice a week for a 24 hour period or (more commonly) fasting for 16 hours and eating for 8 hours each day — may offer health benefits apart from losing excess weight. The study tracked 448 people and concluded that intermittent fasting lowered the risk for both heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Intermittent fasting works to burn fat by “teaching” your body to use the food it takes in more efficiently. Basically your body “learns” to pull from fat reserves for energy when you’re not eating food all day, every day. (In mildly scientific terms, intermittent fasting increases insulin sensitivity, which converts food into glycose stored in muscles and burns immediately as energy. The alternative — the way it works for most of us who eat three meals a day and then some — is that we keep insulin levels normal, whereby the food we eat isn’t used so efficiently. That’s because the body is drawing from the ample supply of glucose in the body for energy, and storing the excess energy as fat cells!)
If you give it a bit of thought, it makes sense that this is really how our ancestors lived their lives. After all, they didn’t have access to grocery stores! They had to rely on hunting, gathering and later on — early forms of farming — to get their calories. That inevitably means that they frequently went for long periods without eating.
Is Fasting Considered a “Diet”?
Actually, consciously fasting is considered more of a diet “pattern” — a strategy for both when and how you eat. It does work, once a pattern is established, and your body learns to adapt to a new way to function around food.
Optimizing Your Success
If you’ve decided to try an intermittent fast like the popular fast for 16 hours and eat for 8 hours version, there are a few things you’ll need to know to get the most bang for your buck:
- Starting a few days before the beginning of your fast, cut out in between meal snacks. The reduction in calories will help get your fast off to a good start.
- Avoid sugar and fats, which can cause a blood sugar crash once you begin fasting. Stick to lean meats and other protein-rich foods, since these will “stay with you” longer. Eat clean! (Fruits, vegetables, whole grains!)
- The day before your fast, avoid having a heavy evening meal, as this tends to make you feel hungry sooner once you begin fasting.
Supplementing your fasting pattern with regular, moderate exercise (e.g. a brisk walk) can also help your body build muscle and burn fat more efficiently. In fact, endurance exercise combined with intermittent fasting is believed to reduce the incidence of emotional eating — eating to distract from your emotional distress. The best time to exercise, by the way, is right before you “break your fast”.
Another way to boost your progress is by supplementing with certain substances, which do things like increase protein synthesis within the body and help balance the protein breakdown that can occur when you’re fasting. Some weight loss experts recommend taking the following supplements during the periods when you’re fasting:
- Epigallocatechin-3-Gallate (EGCG) which can be found in green tea powder
- Beta Alanine (3.2-6.4 grams per day)
If you want to try intermittent fasting, you’ll need to stay consistent with your schedule to see tangible results. If you feel better eating small amounts of food throughout the day — e.g. the 5 small meals a day school of thought — then it’s probably better to do that, which is also an effective mean of weight loss when combined with moderate-intensity workouts. Just be sure your 5 meals are healthy and nutritious. You’re not going to lose anything if two of your five meals are junk food treats like cupcakes or french fries!
And in the case of intermittent fasting, you can also render your efforts useless if you eat anything and everything during your “eating” periods! Have healthy mini-meals spaced out between the 8 hours you’re allowed to feed your body. (Healthy means fruits and veggies, whether raw, cooked gently or whipped into a smoothie using almond or rice milk in place of regular dairy foods. Avoid high-fat and sugar foods. Small amounts of whole grains and lean protein are okay, too.)
In the end, intermittent fasting is one of many ways to burn fat and lose weight, but you have to use common sense and some of the tips outlined above in order to see results!