Dieting often requires round-the-clock surveillance of our natural cravings. We can’t stop wanting ice cream, pizza or burgers, but to be healthy, we have to limit ourselves. After every daily hurdle, it’s natural to want to reward ourselves with food. It’s also really easy to binge eat, even though we know we don’t really need all that bread or the extra sides.
Most of us are always striving for a balance between eating healthy and still managing to enjoy our food. If only there were a way to combine dieting with the occasional indulgence (and I still do stress occasional here), then we could have our cake and lose weight too! In that case, intermittent fasting may be exactly what you’re looking for.
When dieting to lose weight, the most crucial element to success is managing to consume fewer calories consistently. For most of us, it’s that last word that really causes us problems. Why? Well, the more we deprive our bodies of its cravings, the stronger the urge to binge eat becomes. Whether it’s late at night on the first day or week of dieting or six months in, eventually we will slip up and eat too much on a particular day. That’s why there has to be a balance. The great thing about IF is you sacrifice some but not all the time.
Here’s what you need to know and how to go about doing it.
The 5:2 diet
Jimmy Kimmel swears by the 5:2 diet for weight loss, which involves starving himself two out of seven days a week. On Mondays and Thursdays, he eats less than 500 calories a day. The other five days of the week, he eats normally. He doesn’t count calories, and he doesn’t exercise.
He’s lost a lot of weight and managed to keep it off by doing this, but he chooses to eat whatever he wants those five “normal” days of the week. It may not be the healthiest option, but he knows himself well enough to know he needs some junk food from time to time. While his version can be an option, it’s not always the healthiest one. What you eat still matters on those five days, even if those two days remain the catalyst for weight loss.
The 16:8 method
Despite what you may have heard, eating breakfast is not essential to your health. Some people prefer to eat breakfast every day, but if you don’t, then don’t. Just like there are a variety of IF diets, there’s more than one way to spread out your meals. So if you don’t mind skipping breakfast, the 16:8 method may be your best bet.
This one is my favorite, mostly because it simplifies my life. Basically, you don’t eat at all (or as little as possible) for 16 hours of the day. You eat regularly for the other eight hours. Now, that may be scary at first glance, but it doesn’t have to be. If you finish dinner at 8 every night, that means you don’t eat again until noon the next day. During those 16 hours, you try to forget about food. I’ve found it’s difficult at first, but after a while, you get used to it. The cravings subside, and I actually end up less hungry than I usually am during the eight-hour eating window. Sounds too good to be true, but it really isn’t.
Now, I have found that some mornings I do need a little food to go with my coffee, but I mean it when I say as little as possible. I’ll eat 1/4 cup or less of unsalted nuts or a 100-calorie snack bar when I need it.
With eat-stop-eat, you have to fast for 24 hours at a time one or two days a week. That means, for example, you eat a normal dinner on Monday night and don’t eat again until Tuesday night. You can do it breakfast to breakfast, lunch to lunch or dinner to dinner. It makes no difference, really. It’s about personal preference.
During the 24-hour fast, you should drink plenty of water and can drink coffee or other noncaloric beverages.
There are plenty of advocates for the eat-stop-eat diet, but I’m just not a big fan of most fasting diets. To me, there’s a big difference between 16 hours (up to half of which are spent sleeping) and 24 hours without food. I’ve tried cleanses and eat-stop-eat before, but they simply make me miserable.
My father-in-law manages to practice his own weeklong fasting diet several times a year. He swears by its results, and to him, the fasting really isn’t that bad. Most of the time, he ends up forgetting about food and gets on with his day. If you’re like him, maybe this one’s for you.
The side effects
Perhaps the best result is our bodies never completely “normalize.” The more we trick our system, the more work it has to do to keep up with our daily activities. That means more fat burning, better regulation of glucose levels and potentially increasing metabolism. That’s where persistent calorie-restrictive diets fail. The more weight we lose, the lower our metabolism becomes and the harder it is to lose more weight and keep it off.
Kimmel admits that on his starvation days, he’s “pretty unpleasant to be around.” This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. If we spend five days a week doing whatever we want, our bodies won’t be happy when we completely flip the script on the other two. It’s kind of like a workweek vs. the weekend, only in reverse.
For the average person, being grumpy for a couple of days a week might be something you can live with. However, for someone like me who suffers with persistent depression, this simply isn’t a viable option. Small fluctuations in my daily routine can throw my mood completely out of whack-but it could work for you.
Just remember, for the best results, you shouldn’t necessarily be eating anything you want during your “normal” meals. You might lose weight following one of these methods, but being skinnier doesn’t always mean healthier.
Jay McKenzie loves soccer, history and feeling great. He’s on a quest to eat better and exercise more, and he wants to share his experiences along the way. You can email him at [email protected] with comments or questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.