Want to lose weight without giving up junk food entirely? If you try intermittent fasting, you might be able to do just that. This diet method restricts eating to specific hours in the day, or has you alternate normal food days with fasting days. Aficionados claim that it will jump start your metabolism, help you shed stubborn pounds and create long-term healthier eating habits.
As always, you should consult your doctor before trying a new diet program. While intermittent fasting can be effective, it’s not suitable for people with eating disorders. There’s also not enough research to study the long-term effects of an intermittent fasting diet—yet. Be sure to talk to your doctor about whether these diet plans might affect other health conditions before you start.
Do I have to starve myself?
The idea of going 14-16 hours without food—or, occasionally, entire days—probably doesn’t sound too appealing. Hunger can make us moody, unfocused, dizzy and fatigued, among other side effects. However, many intermittent fasting schedules allow for small, low-calorie meals on fasting days, so you’re not left feeling starved and miserable.
Depending on the schedule you choose, most of your fasting time could take place while you’re asleep. A 14-hour fast window isn’t so bad when you realize eight hours of that time is overnight. All you have to do is hold off on breakfast for three hours, and finish your dinner three hours before you go to bed.
Best of all, most of these diets allow treats, in moderation. You can’t expect to lose weight by hunkering down on your couch with Ben and Jerry on the “feast” days, but you can still enjoy desserts and other treats on a regular basis. If that sounds good to you, read on.
Intermittent fasting schedules
- 16/8. This method has dieters restrict their food intake to 14 or 16 hours per day. Basically, you wait three or four hours to eat breakfast and finish your dinner by 8pm. During that eight to 10 hour window, you can enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner. As long as it’s reasonably healthy, you’re on track to kickstart your metabolism and start to shed pounds.
- 5:2. The 5:2 diet is similar. For five days out of the week, you eat normal, healthy meals. On the other two days, women can eat 500 calories and men can eat 600. You can break that up into two small 250-300 calorie meals, or spread out your caloric intake over snacks. Water, tea and coffee are all “allowed” to help stave off hunger.
- Alternate days. This schedule is definitely not for beginners. You simply alternate feast days with fast days. On fast days, you can eat a limited number of calories, similar to the 5:2 diet above. Since it’s hard to give up eating every other day, this schedule is best reserved for more experienced intermittent fasters.
- Eat-stop-eat. This fast allows you to eat normally five days out of the week, but for the other two, you need to commit to a 24-hour fast. You can do it however you want—such as eating breakfast one morning and then not eating until breakfast the next morning—but it does require that you give up all food intake for two days out of the week.
- Warrior diet. This schedule has you fasting all day—although you can eat some fruits and vegetables during this period—and then cramming a large meal into a four-hour window once per day. It also recommends that you eat paleo foods for maximum weight loss.
- Just skip a meal. Finally, don’t forget the option to just skip a meal here and there. This is also a type of intermittent fasting, and it’s not as burdensome as throwing yourself wholeheartedly into a new, intense diet. Skipping meals occasionally has no detrimental health effect. If you’re not hungry—and you don’t have any health conditions that will suffer by fasting—why not skip breakfast or lunch?
Naturally, you should research these schedules more before you commit to trying one. Some have strict dietary requirements on top of the fasting schedules, while others are more flexible. You should also give some thought to how this might affect your social life. If your social circle tends to get together for food and drink-related outings, it might be hard to stick to it. But if you can make it work, some people swear by this weight-loss method.