Fasting – Should you do it?

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Ryan Day Coaching

“I’m doing this thing called intermittent fasting.  It’s where you only eat in an 8-hour window from noon to 8 PM.  The other 16 hours I only drink water.”

Ever heard this before?  From a coworker? A friend? A family member?  All of the above?

Me too.  And shoot, you’ve probably done it yourself.  For better or worse, time-restricted feeding (aka Intermittent Fasting) has gained a lot of popularity the last few years.

Lots of people (too many, IMO) have used fasting as a weight loss “hack” and click-baity articles promote it as the superior way to lose weight.  These same articles also use phrases like “cell autophagy” to try to impress you.  In reality, cell autophagy (where your cells recycle old or damaged components) happens whether you’re fasting or not.

Here’s the deal.  Fasting has benefits (especially for spiritual practices), but like most fads, it’s not for everyone.  

My general recommendation for most people is that fasting should not be used for weight loss.  

This might rub you the wrong way if you’ve tried fasting before and it worked.   My question for you – did you put the weight back on?  

If the answer is yes, then I have news for you.  It didn’t work because you didn’t sustainably lose the weight.  If the answer is no, congratulations – you’re in the minority and fasting might be for you.

Fasting inherently sets you up for a poor relationship with food that promotes restrict/binge behavior.  If you’ve tried fasting, you know what I’m talking about.  16 hours go by without eating, and when that 8-hour window hits, you stuff yourself.

This isn’t normal.  And even if you’re losing weight while fasting, I’d argue that this is doing more harm than good for your health long-term.

Most people aren’t able to stick to intermittent fasting long-term.  And when they stop, what happens?  They end up going right back to the weight they started at and then some.  

Why?  Because their body adapted to eating fewer calories per day, and when you start eating throughout the whole day again, you’re consuming more calories than your body can burn.

So if fasting isn’t the answer for sustainable fat loss, what is?

Well, you might already know.  Eat a diet consisting of primarily whole foods.  Focus on protein & fiber.  Exercise.  

Boring stuff, I know.  “I’m eating whole foods and I exercise” doesn’t sound nearly as cool as “intermittent fasting”.  

Sorry to burst your bubble, but it’s way more effective – especially long-term.  And that’s what we’re after.

So how can you get started doing this today?  Well, here’s what I do with my clients.

Depending on the person, I start most clients off by doing one of three things.  

  1. Track food in an app like MyFitnessPal or Cronometer,
  2. Eat at least 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight, or
  3. Eat a fruit and a vegetable every day.

Seriously.  That’s it.  We don’t do anything crazy.  

These each have their own benefits that get people started on the right track to a sustainably healthy lifestyle, and I won’t get into the minutia of each here.

It sounds silly, but trust me when I say these things have huge impacts that really move the needle.  Starting small is KEY when it comes to any kind of behavior change, and that’s why we do it.

Is this all we do?  No, of course not.  But that’s how we get started.  And it works.

No fasting.  No hacks.  Just basic, fundamental things that we ingrain into our everyday lives that will improve our health over the long term.  Things that we all know we should be doing but don’t.  

So – to get back to where we started.  Should you fast?  The answer is probably not.  There are much better ways to achieve your health goals, and there are very few individuals where fasting should be a part of that.  

Try just one of those three things listed above for two weeks.  Pay attention to the changes in your energy levels, mood, digestion, and sleep.  You’ll surprise yourself.

P.S. Even though I just recommended you don’t fast, I know some of you still will.  If you still choose to do it, please, please, please consult your doctor to make sure it’s not doing more harm than good.  I didn’t even get into the detrimental health impacts that fasting can have, but they’re out there.  So talk to your doctor.