Intermittent Fasting -- Does It Work for Weight Loss?
January 9, 2011 5:25 PM   Subscribe

I've gained and lost and regained over 500 pounds in five years... will intermittent fasting help me keep it off?
posted by Chasuk to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The only thing that works is eating fewer calories.
posted by empath at 5:27 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Like empath said, it's all about it calories. I find that lean protein, and lots of fruits and veggies works wonders for the human body. Try to avoid many processed foods and go for items in their natural state. My suggestion is to avoid breads and starches. Balance is the key to everything, especially the human body and food. You need the proper knowledge and discipline. Knowledge to understand why the foods you eat make you overweight and discipline to do something about it. Good luck.
posted by Yunani at 5:33 PM on January 9, 2011

Some people do well on a low-carb diet because it helps with their cravings for starchy and sugary foods. You have to really stick with it though, and also learn to recognize when you've started to slide and get back on track.
posted by cabingirl at 5:35 PM on January 9, 2011

I guess I didn't really answer your question. No, I don't think fasting works long-term. Think about weight loss surgery patients. They essentially fast for months - before surgery and after. Many are successful in keeping the weight off. And yet, there are some people who are unsuccessful and gain back the weight even with a stomach that can only hold a cup of food. This is because they haven't learned to modify their eating behaviors.
posted by cabingirl at 5:38 PM on January 9, 2011

Thank you for your rapid replies.

Here are the article which piqued my curiosity about intermittent fasting:,1,883044.story?coll=la-headlines-healthI

The 500 pounds is cumulative, by the way. I've just turned 50, and I'm concerned that my yo-yoing weight will kill me soon if I don't learn to manage it.
posted by Chasuk at 5:43 PM on January 9, 2011

I'm with cabingirl -- I didn't answer your question directly.
I also don't think fasting works long term. Fasting is good to rid the body of toxins and give it a "break", but it isn't something that should be used for weight loss. When your body is deprived of calories for too long, it starts to go into shock and actually slows down the burning's a defensive mechanism. You become lethargic..tired...lazy. There's almost no good that can come of fasting to lose weight. Be safe.
posted by Yunani at 5:44 PM on January 9, 2011

I am very happy with the kind of intermittent fasting suggested at . The basic approach is to restrict your eating to an 8 hour window in the day. I find it very easy to adhere to. For me, it amounts to not eating until lunchtime.

Naturally, if you eat gargantuan meals of pure junk food during that 8 hour window, you will not lose weight. IF is just another way of helping you manage your level of satisfaction and appetite while eating less.

I think that IF is the coming thing, and it certainly is a good way to eat fewer calories while feeling happy and eating a lot during your eating window. However, if you haven't been able to stick with a regime up until now, what makes you think that you will be able to stick with IF? Rather than searching for a perfect regime, maybe you need to do some hard thinking about how to sustain good practises. You might find a book like 59 seconds which addresses practical tips for changing your own behaviour more productive than adopting yet another diet regime.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:00 PM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

The article you linked to is not reporting anything that I would construe as information that a rational person would want to take action on. Small size (the primary study reported had 16 subjects and no control group, for pity's sake), short-term studies of what would be an incredibly extreme regimen for most people (consuming nothing but calorie free beverages and sugarless gum every other day). With kind of wishy washy benefits even at that. None of these studies were aimed at overweight people. And the long term effects? Who knows, none of them ran long term. That's "interesting reading," it's not science.

You want science, here's something significantly more like science. You want your best chance to maintain weight loss, adopt a higher protein, low glycemic-index diet. The bottom line is that most of us who weigh too much weigh too much because we eat too much of the wrong kind of food and don't get enough exercise. There are no gimmicks that are going to change those simple facts.
posted by nanojath at 6:05 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Do you exercise? Is there a physical activity that you enjoy?

Please share a log of a typical day of eating for you.
posted by telegraph at 6:08 PM on January 9, 2011

The effects of the intermittent fasting discussed in the article you posted may be attributed to the overall reduction in the amount of food consumed by the subjects, but you could get the same results in a variety of ways, not just by fasting. The down side of fasting is that by reducing your overall intake, you also reduce your energy output to match it so as Yunani mentions, you'll be tired and lethargic and burn fewer calories overall, in essence defeating the purpose of your fasting. If you're looking for a better understanding of how and why we gain and lose weight, I'd suggest reading Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It by Gary Taubes. I just finished it and it sheds a lot of light on the mystery of what truly works and what doesn't and more importantly, the why.
posted by platinum at 6:11 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

If the fasting makes you lose muscle mass, no. In my experience this kind of thing made me GAIN.

Exercise is better for helping keep weight off.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:13 PM on January 9, 2011

@i_am_joe's_spleen: Did you choose your nickname from that ancient series of Reader's Digest articles? I hadn't thought of them in years.

I've never had a problem abstaining from food. I sometimes forget to eat for literal days (when I'm busy on a project). However, when I eat, I relish it. I've lost weight previously by restricting myself to six small meals a day, and it works well, but eventually I binge. I think I might be able to sustain a famine-feast regimen.

Thanks for the book recommendation.
posted by Chasuk at 6:17 PM on January 9, 2011

Fasting is good to rid the body of toxins and give it a "break", but it isn't something that should be used for weight loss.

No, fasting has nothing to do with "toxins." If you've been poisoned your body will do its best to remove that poison regardless of fasting. The whole "toxins" thing is bullshit created by diet peddlers and homeopaths to scare you and to sell you product.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:23 PM on January 9, 2011 [19 favorites]

I did the intermittent fasting thing for a while last year, mainly because I was curious, rather than because I particularly wanted to lose weight. I was also toying with the whole restrict-calories-and-live-longer thing.

I found that:
a. it was super hard to keep to. It seemed that parties, dinner parties, invitations, celebrations, etc constantly fell during my fasting periods and people treat you weirdly if you tell them the truth.

b. it made me really obsessive about food. In a bad way. I started to feel like not eating was "good" and that the longer I went without eating, the "better" (in some sort of moral way) I was. During my eating windows, I thought about food constantly, and often ate more than I was physically comfortable having in my stomach, because I knew the window of opportunity was limited. During my non-eating periods, I thought constantly about what I would eat when the time was up.

So I gave up on it. While I was on the system, I ate fewer calories overall, but not by a large amount - maybe 200 a day? (I was tracking to make sure I got enough vitamins, protein, etc: not for weightloss purposes). I made up for that calorie deficit by exercising less and sleeping more (on my non-eating days I couldn't exercise because it made me hungry, and I had to sleep more to get through the hours.)

Obviously, your mileage will vary a lot, but these are things you might want to keep in mind.
posted by lollusc at 6:37 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

There are no "toxins" in the human body that can be eliminated by fasting.

Also, maybe you might want to think about stopping dieting, since it hasn't worked very well for you, Chasuk? Perhaps treatment for your binging (bingeing?) issues might have a more lasting impact over the long run?

...eventually I binge. I think I might be able to sustain a famine-feast regimen.

That just seems like it would be reinforcing the binging issues to me.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:39 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've read a few things lately about how good it is to vary the number of daily calories widely so the metabolism doesn't go on autopilot. You might talk to your doctor about it, or try it for a little while and see how it goes, as long as you're not fasting more than a day at a time. See how it feels. Pay close attention to how you feel while doing with it.

I've wondered the same thing, having also yo-yo'd my weight despite exercise. I'll confess that the thought has also made me wonder if my eating is disordered if I have to Stop Eating (a day at a time) to be a healthy weight. But I've also come to believe that if you're otherwise healthy, it's worth trying a lot of different things to see if there's something that can make it Stick for you.
posted by ldthomps at 6:41 PM on January 9, 2011

Yes, Readers Digest articles are the reason behind the alias, combined with a certain splenetic tendency...

Back on topic: the IF approach advocated by Martin Berkhan et al is quite compatible with social whatsit. My fasting period is from about 8 PM until 11 AM. If I have to tweak it to be 9 PM to 12 PM it doesn't bother me a bit.

What I find difficult is staying at other people's houses where breakfast is a big deal. This doesn't happen very often though and a few days off the wagon here and there doesn't make a difference in the long run.

A lot of different practises seem to come under the heading "intermittent fasting", from merely eating one or two meals a day to skipping a day or two a week or even alternate days. I think it would help the OP if people were clear about the details of what they did.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:54 PM on January 9, 2011

posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:55 PM on January 9, 2011

(I am not a doctor and this should not be taken as medical advice from a doctor.)

Some of these comments are not answering the OP's question. OP is talking about intermittent fasting (IF). IF is not just typical spiritual-type fasting or haphazard self-starvation. It has been the subject of recent peer-reviewed mainstream journal research. People who practice IF generally do it with a great deal of care and most of them (not all) stick to a specific regimen. If you're not familiar with it, you probably shouldn't be knee-jerk dismissing it or claiming that it's not science.

IF does work for some people as a weight loss tool and as a blood glucose management tool. Anecdotally, people seem to find it easiest in combination with a low-carb or paleolithic diet, especially after they've been eating that way for a while, probably because a carbohydrate-reduced diet helps to modulate the blood sugar spikes and crashes commonly associated with hunger and the body adapts to that.

However, that doesn't mean that IF is a good idea for you.

IF can be dangerous for people with poor blood sugar control (e.g. hypoglycemia, diabetes) or certain other health issues. Medically unsupervised IF is a bad idea for people who have had eating disorders. IF can be very difficult in the beginning for a lot of people, especially people doing strenuous workouts. IF is also likely to be useless for people who don't know why their previous weight loss attempts broke down, who don't have a reasonably good understanding of nutrition, or who have trouble sticking to a new habit for weeks or months at a time. It's not really something most people can or should jump into and out of on a whim.

Here's some very basic starting information:

The "six-small-meals-a-day" regimen has never made much sense for me personally so I can see why so many people like IF. Keep in mind that the research is continually evolving and that everyone is different; IF offers no guarantee of either weight loss or good health, especially if it's half-assed.

There are a lot of people doing IF on various low-carb or paleo diet forums so I'd look there for further discussion of people's experiences.
posted by hat at 8:41 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've never had a problem abstaining from food. I sometimes forget to eat for literal days (when I'm busy on a project). However, when I eat, I relish it. I've lost weight previously by restricting myself to six small meals a day, and it works well, but eventually I binge. I think I might be able to sustain a famine-feast regimen.

I think that this is the key point here - Intermittent Fasting may work well for weight loss for someone who has, say, gained weight due to constant "grazing" and snacking. But it seems like IF would play very well into the bad habits you are prone to.
posted by fermezporte at 9:23 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Chasuk, IF can be a great assistance towards getting insulin levels under control and find a pattern of eating that works for you if you're not a "six small meals a day" type.

However, losing and regaining hundreds of pounds indicates your issue is long-term compliance. You don't regain from a one-time binge. At some point, even while IFing, you're going to want french toast or ice cream or whatever, and you're going to have to say no.
posted by schroedinger at 9:36 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've gained and lost and regained over 500 pounds in five years [...] The 500 pounds is cumulative, by the way.

Huh? That's really not helpful at all. I've probably lost and regained 500 "cumulative" pounds in that time, and trust me, I ain't even a bit husky.

How much do you actually weigh? How much would you like to weigh? What was your highest weight? When was that? What was your lowest weight? When was that? Do you exercise at all? Have you consulted a doctor about your weight?
posted by Sys Rq at 11:48 PM on January 9, 2011

Second Sys Rq, the "cumulative pounds" thing is not the most helpful information. If one week you gained 2 pounds, then the next week you lost those 2 pounds, then the next week you gained them back again, and you kept going like that for 5 years, you would have lost "500 cumulative pounds." And that wouldn't seem like a big deal. If, on the other hand, you've yoyoed from 150 pounds to 250 pounds 5 times in the past 5 years, that would be cause for concern. It's hard to give useful advice when we don't know what the situation is.
posted by John Cohen at 8:21 AM on January 10, 2011

I think IF is fantastic. I've done the style IF (which is excellent), and I've also done IF "warrior diet"-style, which is basically one giant meal at the end of the day.

I think it helps if you want to lose weight because you get to eat more when you do eat. However, if you eat too much or eat garbage, it won't do anything magical. I do think it's easier to restrict calories in this way, or just eat maintenance, because when you do eat you get to eat bigger portions and it's more satisfying. Plus, once you're used to it, you don't get hungry during the day anyways. Try it for a couple weeks and see if you like it.
posted by PFL at 9:26 AM on January 10, 2011

RE: binging, that's why IF works. You get to eat big and not feel like you're restricting yourself. Six small meals a day, to me, is punishment six times per day. Very difficult to control myself.
posted by PFL at 9:28 AM on January 10, 2011

I am going to assume that those "500 cumulative pounds" that you've gained and lost have come in fairly large increments (say, 20+ pounds) not, as John Cohen and others have mentioned, very small daily or weekly fluctuations.

It sounds like you have had success with a very traditional weightloss strategy (portion control), and that you have at least a hint of what caused previous episodes to derail (binging). The binges may point to excessive restrictiveness in your eating plan and/or a kind of "what the hell" attitude when you do deviate from the plan. This is conjecture on my part, but these are common dieting pitfalls and it would probably be beneficial for you to spend some time thinking about whether these fit in your case or if there are other factors leading up to your binges.

Other factors to consider: How does stress factor into your eating (sounds like you tend to eat less when stressed, due to being busy with other things)? How long are you generally successful on an eating plan, before having a binge? Would specifying "days off" of the diet be helpful to you? I know that some people build in "non-calorie-counting" days as a way to feel that their diet is not overly abstemious (note that this is NOT meant to be used as an excuse to have an all-day binge. It is a case of relaxing your typical focus on X-number of calories per day or what have you, in order to focus on a special occasion (e.g., Thanksgiving) or as a kind of "safety valve" for people who tend to become overly obsessed with calorie counting).

I don't know much about IF per se, but believe that most people who have kept off a significant amount of weight for 5 years or more tend to eat small, regular meals. You could check out results from the National Weight Control Registry for some examples of large-scale findings.
posted by Bebo at 9:32 AM on January 10, 2011

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