Does Intermittent Fasting Work?


So you’re wondering if intermittent fasting might be the answer for you.


You might not realize it, but that’s actually the better question to ask — not simply whether intermittent fasting works, which I’ll answer, but whether it’s a good fit for you.


I’ll answer that, too.


In other words, is intermittent fasting one of those diets where you lose weight for a little while and then hit a brick wall? Or will the hype around it hold up and actually give you an edge on losing weight for good?


My goal is to give you all the pros and cons so you can make that decision yourself.


When I Did It


It was the summer of ’69! Jk. It was 2016. That’s when I entered the world of intermittent fasting.


Something you have to know about me first is that I’m a very competitive person.


I hate playing new games without having a firm grasp of all the rules. It’s something I’m working on, but I’ll quit right in the middle of a game (even one of my kids’ games) if I discover the rules weren’t fully explained.


That’s a difficult mindset to get past with intermittent fasting because there are a lot of different ways to do it. There aren’t any universal “rules.”


The general principle is that you have a certain window of time where you’re allowed to eat and a much larger window where you’re not.


Sometimes it’s 2 days “on” followed by 1 entire day “off.”


What I would say is more common is the 16/8 approach. That’s what I did.


You get 8 consecutive hours out of the day where you can eat and then you have to take the other 16 off. Usually you can pick whatever hours you want (I did 12pm-8pm), although even with this there are endless Facebook debates over what’s best.


But there are endless Facebook debates about everything. So that’s not saying much.


As an ancient poet once said, “In the end, it doesn’t even matter." — Linkin Park


Everything I have to say about intermittent fasting will apply no matter which timing strategy you have in mind. But when I talk about my personal experience (which I’ll get into more later), now you know what I’m referring to specifically.


What Success Looks Like


No one wants to lose weight and still feel like crap every day.


So when we ask if intermittent fasting works, weight loss isn’t the only measure of success. Yeah, it’s almost always a part of it, but what about…


⚡️Having more energy so there’s more left of yourself to give to your family at the end of the day

🍭Having a better relationship with food where you don’t feel guilty enjoying treats

⛓Not feeling like you’re a slave to your diet having to always follow the rules or die trying

🏁Getting to a healthy weight and staying there rather than always having to lose weight again


In my opinion, success is all of that and more.


With intermittent fasting, there’s a lot of research to help us. If you look at all of it (and don’t just cherry-pick the specific studies that show the results you want), we get a very confident answer about whether intermittent fasting “works.”


The good news is there’s no doubt that it absolutely can cause weight loss.


The bad news is there isn’t a science-y reason why it will promote weight loss better than any other type of diet.


There’s nothing magical about it.


And the ugly truth is that it might not be great for all of those other measures of success I just listed.


So let’s look at the pros and cons.


The Pros


1. It Cuts Calories


I lost a few pounds pretty quickly with intermittent fasting simply because when I started limiting the time I could spend eating, the less food I was able to eat.

Duh.


In other words, when intermittent fasting works, it works because it’s restricting calories.


It isn’t making your metabolism work faster. It isn’t accelerating fat loss. It isn’t blah blah “science” blahbitty blah-ing your way out of a weight loss plateau.


The only reason this is a “pro” to begin with is because losing weight comes down to calories (read The Only 2 Things You Need for Weight Loss), and this type of diet addresses that issue.


It doesn’t mean it’s healthy. But you CAN lose weight.


As far as the “pros” list is concerned… that’s it.


The Cons


1. You can eat pure crap.


Literally.


You can take your dog for a walk, put his crap in a bag, then scoop it out with a spoon as a snack — as long as you don’t do it before 10am or after 6pm, you’re following the diet.


I’m not a fan of labeling certain foods as “good” or “bad,” but when the only rules of a diet are about when you can and can’t eat, that doesn’t give much guidance on how to improve the quality of your meals.


For me, that meant I carried over bad habits from other diets.


I was either obsessing over calories and grams, not allowing myself to enjoy certain foods I loved, or I was eating whatever I wanted and stuffing myself with high calorie foods and stalling out my weight loss.


2. It doesn’t work for a real-life schedule.


This is one of the biggest reasons why I quit intermittent fasting — it just wasn’t sustainable.


If you’re on vacation, or hanging out in the evening with friends, or having a meal with family for the holidays… you shouldn’t have to choose between sticking to your diet or having a good time.


Even normal days that just get kinda busy and throw your schedule off can be tough.


If your meal timing didn’t work out like you thought, you shouldn’t have to decide whether it’s ok to eat (because you’re genuinely hungry and need nourishment) or if you should starve yourself because of the rules of your diet.


3. You won’t learn your body’s natural hunger cues.


I was tempted to add another “pro” to this list saying that intermittent fasting prevents binge eating in the evenings.


But that’s not really true — at least it wasn’t for me.


Having a rule that says “no eating at night” is not the same thing as learning better eating habits that prevent you from feeling the need to binge in the first place (like we talk about in The Problem with Eating Before Bed).


For me, after a few weeks, I was MORE likely to binge at night with intermittent fasting than I was when I allowed my body to dictate when to eat.


Following your own hunger cues isn’t ALWAYS the best advice — especially if you have some deeply engrained bad habits — but spending some time and effort learning your actual hunger cues is the way OUT of those bad habits.


4. You might feel miserable.


Personally, I felt awful every morning waiting to eat. That may or may not happen to you depending upon your normal routine.


But there’s another reason you could end up feeling miserable.


With a diet whose sole benefit is that it helps you cut calories, it can easily take you to an extreme where you don’t eat nearly enough food to be healthy.


You may lose weight at first, which will feel good, but when the hunger kicks in and you start losing energy throughout the day, not only will it not feel great, your self-control will vanish and you’ll gain all that weight back in the end.


5. It can cause disordered eating.


One of the biggest problems with intermittent fasting is that it creates an illusion of a real-life quick fix. The supposed “science” some people claim is at play can make it seem like weight loss will be automatic.


When you take eating like crap and an unnatural eating pattern, then combine it with unrealistic expectations, only to end up feeling miserable and gaining any weight back you lost in the first place…


You have a recipe for disordered eating.


It’ll reinforce negative feelings of yourself and perpetuate a relationship with food where you constantly feel guilty for eating delicious foods and never being good enough to stick with a diet — one that isn’t realistic for most people in the first place.


Because that’s the truth. For the vast majority of people who try intermittent fasting, it’s not going to work.


At least not for long-term results.


Who Does it Work For?


After all that, you might think I’m “anti-intermittent fasting.” I’m not. I’m not against anything that works, and it CAN work for some people.


But who?


Mostly, it works for people who already eat in a way that fits the intermittent fasting guidelines anyway — people who don’t like to eat in the mornings and rarely struggle with snacking at night. But that particular combination isn’t very common.


Occasionally, you’ll run across someone who didn’t used to eat that way but, through intermittent fasting, discovered that the schedule suited them.


But was their success a direct result of the diet, or was intermittent fasting just an incidental “middle-man” that had them start paying better attention to their overall eating habits?


In my opinion, it’s the latter.


That’s why, if you’re looking for a way to eat better more consistently and lose weight more permanently, picking a diet that has specific, arbitrary rules and trying to force yourself to work around it isn’t your best bet.


You’re better off doing the opposite.


Start paying attention to your eating habits. Figure out what’s doable for you. Then live by your own “rules” in a way that’s flexible, but helps you reach your goals.


You may find that it ends up becoming intermittent fasting.


But probably not.


If you’re not sure how to find a realistic solution — which may be the best thing you can admit to yourself — I have two options for you:


1. Start working on it on your own. Our free guide, “5 Myths You Have to Stop Believing to Lose Weight” will help.


2. Skip straight to the part where you start getting results. Apply for our coaching here.

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