7 Intermittent Fasting Mistakes That Could Make You Gain Weight
Newer research makes the evidence overwhelmingly clear: For most people, intermittent fasting works. When you fast, your body shifts its fuel source from glucose (either from incoming food or as a small amount of stored glycogen) to ketones or fat. In other words, your body literally utilizes body fat for fuel, making it ideal for fat burning without counting calories.
Equally important, intermittent fasting can create weight loss and fat loss while improving insulin sensitivity in overweight people. Fasting can also improve metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes while preserving muscle mass and function. It's even been shown to optimize your immune system, improve cognitive functioning and gut health, and help you sleep better.
But what if fasting doesn't work for you?
Maybe one of your favorite celebrities got big weight-loss results with intermittent fasting, or you read an article extolling fasting's benefits, so you decided to try it yourself. But you're sticking with the plan and not getting any of these benefits. You dutifully close the kitchen after dinner and skip breakfast the next morning, yet the scale refuses to budge, and you're always hangry at work.
So if you aren't getting the results you want, what's the point?
This can feel frustrating, but in many cases, something surprisingly simple could be holding you back. Consider whether any of these seven obstacles might be getting in your way of fasting success:
1. You don't journal.
Writing down what you eat (and don't eat) and tracking the hours you eat can pay dividends as you learn to maintain an intermittent fasting schedule. One study of almost 1,700 people found that writing down everything you eat could double weight loss. 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.
2. You're letting calories slip in during your fasting hours.
Fasting means consuming zero—or as close to zero—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 and stall their results. Become aware of where these calories might be slipping in. (Hint: A journal helps!)
3. You're overeating.
Fasting typically helps you moderate your food intake without counting calories. One study looked at how people ate after a 36-hour fast. Researchers found while they ate slightly more calories at their next meal than non-fasters, they consumed almost 2,000 fewer calories over the two-day period. But for some people, breaking a fast can feel like an invitation to consume massive amounts of high-calorie food. Your body has to store those extra calories somewhere, and they usually form as fat—stalling your fasting results.
4. You're over-relying on coffee.
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 can dial down hunger 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.
5. 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, potentially even stalling your results. 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.
6. 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.
7. You're not maintaining stellar 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, please eat something and/or talk with your health care professional.)
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