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  • Writer's pictureDr. Sheldon Bjorgaard, ND

How to use Intermittent Fasting to LOSE Weight and GAIN Health

How many times do you eat each day?

Perhaps the standard 3 meals, and maybe a few snacks in between to stave off uncomfortable hunger pangs. Or maybe you like to graze throughout the day rather than sitting down to eat a discrete “meal”. On the other hand, you may have no regular schedule at all!

While many eating strategies can be successful for improving or maintaining health and wellness, it’s important to choose one that is right for YOU. While anything can work short term, when it comes to weight loss most studies show that over 90% of people who lose weight will gain it back eventually. Many researchers think that this may be due to the fact that diets don't help people build sustainable habits that help keep weight off long term.

One promising strategy for improving numerous health parameters including obesity, diabetes, heart health, and inflammation is Intermittent Fasting (IF).

Because Intermittent Fasting (IF) doesn’t necessarily tell you WHAT to eat, it is more likely to become a long-term lifestyle habit than fad “diets” which place undue focus on food, often using harmful labels such as “clean” or “bad” foods, which cause emotional distress that actually leads to more weight gain over the long term.

The best thing about IF is that we all do it already! If you go to bed for 7-9 hours without waking up to eat, you are Intermittent Fasting. If you don’t eat a few hours before bed and a few hours after waking up, you’re doing more fasting! Most people also go a few hours or more between meals, which is even more Intermittent Fasting.

Therefore, with IF all we are doing is finding a way to harness the natural tendency of our human physiology. That is:

Eat --> Fast --> Repeat!

When to eat, when to fast, and what is best to include during both times is highly individual and should be discussed with a health care professional who has experience working with nutrition. Nevertheless a few guidelines may apply to most people wanting to get started with IF to improve their health for the long term.

[As with any nutritional intervention, consistency is key, and if it’s too hard, you won’t be consistent with it. Always think – do I see myself doing this one year from now? How about 5-10 years from now? If the answer is no, we need to modify the plan or find a solution that fits you better]

First, determine a time that you would like to start fasting every day. For many people this might be somewhere around 8:00pm (on a side note, not eating a few hours before going to bed is also optimal for digestive health!). If someone were to stop eating at 8:00pm, and didn’t eat again until 8:00am the next day, they would have fasted for 12 hours! That’s a tolerable start for most people, who may coincidentally notice they sleep much better without having anything to eat right before bed.

For the more adventurous, they may choose to extend their fasting window by a few hours in the morning and/or earlier in the evening, building to 14 or even 16 hours. I do caution against simply fasting throughout the day and “saving” calories for the evening, as this can lead to excessively food focused behavior and also cause excessive nighttime eating, which is highly associated with weight gain and poorer health. In fact, the avoidance of night time eating alone can result in huge health benefits for many people.

Keep in mind, because Intermittent Fasting is more concerned with WHEN to eat and not WHAT is eaten, we don’t have to be obsessive about our food choices, but we still can’t ignore them completely. Eating large portions of unhealthy foods during your eating window will undo all of the positive benefits of Intermittent Fasting. Keeping to 2-3 meals is usually best, with the majority being from nutrient dense whole foods sources.

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