While most of us prefer a consistent daily calorie goal, some find it helpful to slash calories through intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is basically calorie cycling. On fasting days, you skip meal(s) and cycle down to a lower calorie goal. On non-fasting days, you cycle up to a higher calorie goal. This eating plan still works for weight loss because, on average, you still generate a weekly calorie deficit. Intermittent fasting appeals to some because it allows the freedom to eat with a higher calorie goal on some days of the week.
Let’s be clear: Intermittent cycling is not…
- Going more than 24 hours without eating.
- Regularly eating a very low calorie diet (think: less than 1,000 calories for women and 1,200 calories for men).
Both these scenarios can lead to nutritional deficiencies and other health complications and are not something you should pursue without the help of a health professional. Now that we have that straight, let’s jump in.
Are Fasting Diets Better than Nonfasting Diets?
At this time, there’s no hard scientific evidence to say that weight loss is better with intermittent fasting versus a consistent daily calorie goal. Both eating plans can be equally effective at helping healthy individuals lose weight and fat. A 2011 review by Krista Varady, PhD, at the University of Illinois at Chicago did find some evidence that those who practiced intermittent fasting may preserve more lean mass than those who ate with a consistent daily calorie goal. Because lean mass burns more calories than fat mass, it is beneficial to help you lose fat while preserving as much muscle as possible. Nonetheless, there were drawbacks to this review including a limited number of studies in this topic area and small sample sizes. To learn more check out: Is Fasting Really a Safe Way to Lose Weight?
Is Intermittent Fasting a Safe Choice for Me?
The answer really depends on how you approach it and how your own body responds. As mentioned before, going long periods of time without eating, or eating a very low calorie diet for extended periods of time, is not safe. Generally speaking, though, the human body is designed to deal with periods of fasting. If you’re a healthy adult with weight to lose, there’s little evidence to say that intermittent fasting isn’t safe.
However, fasting isn’t for everyone and you shouldn’t try it if you are pregnant, diabetic or healing from a traumatic event like surgery. Still iffy about whether fasting is a good choice for you? We suggest seeking guidance from a health professional before experimenting.
Tips for Fasting with MyFitnessPal
If you want to experiment with fasting to switch up your weight-loss journey, MyFitnessPal Premium gives you the ability to set different daily calorie goals. Weight loss happens when calories eaten are less than calories burned so it’s useful to keep track of calories on fasting and non-fasting days. Here are two pointers to make life easier:
Customize your daily calories. Premium gives you the flexibility to allocate a different daily calorie goal for different days of the week. This makes it easy for you to see your progress towards meeting those goals.
For example, if you want to eat 500 calories per day three days out of the week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) and 2000 calories per day four days out of the week (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday), you can set this as a custom goal.
Use the weekly view to gauge progress. Weight loss happens when a calorie deficit is sustained over the course of weeks, months or even years. It easier to visualize this deficit if you use the “weekly view.” The weekly view displays the number of calories you consume on any given day and the average number of calories you consumed that week. This makes it easier for you to pick out the days where you did or didn’t meet your goals.
5 General Fasting Tips
- Log your calories. If you’re doing a modified fast, you may want to track calories on a fasting day to help you meet your target calorie goal. For all other fasts, it’s helpful to track calories on the days you eat freely. Doing so can help offset the likelihood you’ll overeat and thus cut into your overall calorie deficit.
- Take it as an opportunity to better understand hunger. Not surprisingly, fasting diets can bring unpleasant side effects, one of which is hunger. We’re all born with hunger cues to signal that our stomach is empty and we should eat. For most of us, this ability becomes blunted as we age especially in a plentiful society where food is not in short supply. We may even mistake thirst or cravings for hunger. Fasting can reacquaint you with what physiologic hunger feels like.
- Drink plenty of water. Depending on how long your fast is, your body may switch to fueling itself more from fat and protein instead of carbohydrates. To do so will require more water to keep your metabolic machinery running smoothly. Also, if you’re already feeling minor unpleasant side effects from hunger, you don’t want to add a dehydration headache to the list!
- Choose nutrient-dense foods. On eating days, choose nutrient-dense foods that pack plenty of important vitamins and minerals along with calories. Nutrient-dense foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, lean meats, seafood, nuts—you get the idea! These are foods you should choose even if you’re not fasting. Check with your doctor if you’re concerned about vitamin and mineral deficiencies or want to undergo an extended fast longer than 12 weeks.
- Know you can always change your mind. Tried fasting and found it’s not for you? Fasting isn’t for everyone, especially those who get hungry really easily. Just know that you can cut calories the old-fashioned way and still lose weight.
- Varady, K. A. 2011. “Intermittent Versus Daily Calorie Restriction: Which Diet Regimen Is More Effective for Weight Loss?” International Association for the Study of Obesity 12(7): e593-e601. Accessed August 30, 2015.
- Patterson, R. E., G. A. Laughlin, A. Z. LaCroix, and S. J. Hartman. 2012. “Intermittent Fasting and Human Metabolic Health.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 115(8): 1203-1212. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2015.02.018. Accessed August 30, 2015.
- Orenstein, B. W. 2014. “Intermittent Fasting: The Key to Long-Term Weight Loss?” Today’s Dietitian 26(12): 40. Accessed August 30, 2015.