For most people, intermittent fasting works. This eating pattern, which restricts how many hours a day a person eats, has been linked to cognitive function, immune health, and weight loss.
But what if fasting doesn't help you lose weight and actually makes you gain weight? Consider whether any of these seven factors might be at play:
You're letting calories slip in during your fasting hours
Fasting means consuming zero—or as close to zero as possible—calories during your non-eating hours.
You might have some not-so-obvious culprits slipping in that are breaking your fast. For some people, even a little bit of sweetener or cream in their coffee can knock them out of their fast.
Not sure what counts? Here's exactly what breaks a fast.
Fasting typically helps you moderate your food intake without counting calories.
One research review that examined the effects of intermittent fasting on weight loss found that individuals on an alternate day fasting plan typically did not overeat during eating periods, which resulted in mild to moderate weight loss.
But for some people, breaking a fast can feel like an invitation to consume massive amounts of high-calorie food.
You don't journal
Writing down what you eat (and don't eat) and tracking the hours you eat in a journal can pay dividends as you learn to maintain an intermittent fasting schedule.
Tracking your food intake along with other measurements—your physical activity or mood levels, for instance—can also help you pinpoint potential obstacles to your success.
You're over-relying on caffeine
After doing an overnight fast, a big cup of organic dark roast can be the perfect start to your morning.
Among its potential benefits, caffeine has been shown to suppress appetite while boosting energy levels.
But using coffee as a crutch for poor sleep or managing your mood can mean you're drinking too much, which can contribute to weight gain over time in some people.
Some research has shown that too much caffeine can increase blood glucose levels and prolong those increases, making you less insulin sensitive and more likely to store fat.
You're eating the wrong foods
Fasting for 18 or even 24 hours doesn't give you permission to deep-dive into a deep-dish pizza or tip back a few glasses of wine during the hours you do eat.
Those foods and drinks will spike and crash your insulin levels, sending you on a blood sugar roller coaster that leaves you hungry and moody during your fasting hours.
When you eat matters, but so does what you eat. During your eating hours, ensure you're getting plenty of fiber, protein, and good fats from sources like vegetables, fruits, quality meats and fish, nuts and seeds, and olive oil.
Here's a foolproof meal plan for fasting, so you know exactly what to eat and when.
You're moving too fast, too quickly
Diving into a 24-hour fast immediately can become a full-blown disaster. Instead, start slowly with a smaller fasting window.
Play with that window and gradually increase it (many people end up settling on an effective yet sustainable 16:8 intermittent fasting schedule).
Don't jump off the diving board before you're comfortable in the shallow end.
You're not maintaining good lifestyle habits
What you eat and don't eat ultimately becomes an important piece of your health care puzzle.
Just as important: Getting at least eight hours of stellar sleep nightly, managing stress levels, maintaining a healthy social and spiritual life, and consuming the right foods to support your fasting efforts and cultivate amazing health.
When you maintain other good habits, you'll find fasting becomes easier and creates more lasting benefits.
Of course, no plan works for everyone, including fasting. If you're interested, give it a fair try: Commit to at least 30 days of fasting before you ultimately decide whether it works for you. (If you notice any adverse effects while fasting, stop your fasting routine and talk with your health care professional.)
Dr. BJ Hardick is a Doctor of Chiropractic and public speaker currently practicing in in London, Ontario. He received his B.S. in Life Sciences from Queen’s University and his Doctorate of Chiropractic from Life University. Having spent the majority of his life working in natural health care, he is committed to the advancement of holistic wellness. He is the author of The Cancer Killers and Maximized Living Nutrition Plans, which has now been used professionally in over 500 health clinics. He serves on the board for MaxLiving, regularly blogs healthy recipes and holistic health articles on his own website, DrHardick.com, and speaks to numerous professional and public audiences every year.