Intermittent fasting is seen by many as the savior to all of their weight loss issues. The problem is though, not everyone sees results with the new phenomenon. Why is it that you have been diligently practicing intermittent fasting but you are not losing weight or even more unfortunate, you are actually gaining weight?
Well, this is because weight loss does not come down to Intermittent fasting or any of the other fancy new diet trends such as Keto, carnivore diet, Atkins diet, paleo, vegan, etc. Weight loss comes down to energy expenditure; the amount of energy you consume versus the amount of energy you expend.
If you consume more energy than you expend, you will gain weight. If you expend more energy than you consume you will lose weight.
Of course there are a very small percentage of exceptions such as women being on their period, excess water weight, medications, chronic illnesses. However, for the other 90-95% of the population, the laws of thermodynamics and energy balance are unquestionable.
What we are going to cover in this piece are the 10 possible reasons why you may not be losing weight despite following the guidelines of intermittent fasting. We will also be covering ways for you to get your energy balance in check so that you can see amazing results with intermittent fasting.
So lets get straight into it eh?
Number 1: You are eating too much food in your eating window
Many people feel that eating within a restricted window can help them lose weight. To an extent this is true, because a person may be cutting out an entire meal from their daily life. Some cut out breakfast and others cut out an evening meal. This means they are cutting out a third of their daily food intake. Of course this can lead to results. However, the problem occurs when people reach that eating window. The shackles come off and they often over consume food within that window. Yes, they skip their breakfast or their evening meal but they eat twice as much as they normally would within their window.
Regardless of whether people are doing a 16-8,18-6 23-1 or any other type of fast, the point still remains; if we consume more energy than we expend, we will gain weight. This is where so many people go wrong. They feel like, because they are cutting out a meal from their diet that this gives them more scope to eat during this window. This can be true to a certain extent but people tend to take this a little too far and justify eating bigger quantities, more junk and less real food. The problem of overindulging can often be caused by people eating when they are starving. When we are starving we often tend to make irrational food choices due to being low on energy, feeling that hangry feeling which leads us to eating quick release energy foods like sugars and refined foods.
So what is the solution:
Well, there are a few solutions that we can work on to make sure that you are not overconsuming on food within your eating window. The main solution is not to be so strict with your eating window and simply eat when you are hungry. I know this probably sounds a little too easy right but actually it can benefit you in the long term. Recognizing your hunger signals can actually give you much more control over your eating.
It can allow you to manage your own eating window and will prevent you from making ill advised starving decisions. People often get too obsessed by the exact window of eating but ask yourself does 20-30 minutes of extra fasting make a huge difference? The answer is no. If you are hungry, not starving, then eat awesome food. Listen to your body. It knows what it wants.
Number 2: You are not eating enough satiating food
This is also a very common reason as to why people are not losing weight while intermittent fasting. They just feel hungry and weak, not just while fasting but in their eating window also. This can often come down to the fact that they are not eating enough satiating food.
You see, there are certain foods that make us feel full and others that, well, lets say, make us feel hungry very soon after we consume them. These foods often come in the form of refined food, junk food and processed foods. These processed foods although tasty can often give you a quick burst of energy but make you feel hungry very soon after this.
So what's the solution:
By eating foods that are high in fiber such as veggies, foods and in general “real foods” we can often feel full for longer. Why not have a test of this? With your next meal, Eat 50% of the meal with veggies and see how long you feel full for. Put the theory into practise for yourself.
Now what else makes us feel full? Well, protein. Protein stimulates a hormone called Leptin, which indicates that feeling of being full. The more protein we eat the more full we feel. Not only that but protein also stimulates a hormone called CCK which slows down digestion and keeps us feeling full for a long time. In practical terms, think about the last time you ate a steak? You felt full didn't you? So here is another task for you to make sure you are full. Eat 25%-30% of your meal with protein in the form of a steak, chicken, plant protein, etc. Try it and see for yourself. One last point about satiation is that it can actually take up to 20 minutes for your satiation levels to kick in. For those people who eat like a wild animal, I personally use an app called Meal timer that you can find on apple or google play. It is an amazing object for awareness building.
Number 3; You are not strength training
With the modern fitness industry seemingly very focused on calories and HIIT training it seems we have forgotten the fundamentals of body efficiency. One of the reasons you may not be losing weight on fasting or plateauing is because you have forgotten about strength training. By focusing on strength training you can make your body more efficient, give it more storage space for energy and can also increase your testosterone levels. Think about the amount of food that a body builder has to eat just to maintain their muscle? If you are focusing on getting strong then that will give you more capacity to eat food just to maintain your beast like machine. People who focus solely on HIIT and cardio alone, even if they are fasting can often have problems. Why ? Because they are just burning energy most of the time and potentially even burning muscle.
What's the solution:
Implement strength training into your regime. It can be as simple as 3 sessions per week of full body, compound movements. With a focus on compound movements you can get more bang for your buck as they say. A simple combination of focusing on:
Hip dominant: Deadlift or hip thrust
Knee dominant: Squat or lunge
Vertical pull: Pull up
Horizontal pull; Row
Vertical push: Shoulder press
Horizontal push: Chest press or push up
You really do have most of your bases covered. Talking about training intensities and correct form is a whole different ball game.
Whether you train in a fasted state or not is entirely up to you. There can be benefits of both. On a personal level, I chose to do my steady state cardio fasted while my strength training fed. Why? Because when I lift heavy objects, I want as much energy as I can get. There are many people who say training in a fasted state can have huge benefits as you are more clear headed, light and your human Growth hormone is at a high level. However, as a rule of thumb for me. If it feels right and is efficient FOR ME then I will do it. My body is my scientific research.
Number 4; You are still grazing on food in the window
As I mentioned, for many, Intermittent fasting can be a saving grace. Mainly because they are actually just cutting out a meal from their diet and it's easy. They are not adding in any extra work, they are just eating less. It can also be an advantage for people because it can cut out mindless eating and snacking. However, a big mistake for people, regardless of whether they are doing intermittent fasting or not, is that they are grazing on food all day. This may be snacking at work, or going to the fridge at home to pick at a few items for comfort. Whatever the case may be, these snacks can add up, especially if they are refined snacks that taste good but have no nutritional value. Many of them hold little value in our diet and just serve to enrich the snacking companies.
So what’s the solution;
Well my solution, one which I often give to clients, is just a simple phrase; “meals over snack” which means that meals are more powerful than snacks. I often use the analogy of going to the gas station with snacking and meals. If I go to the gas station to get gas for my vehicle, is it better to put in a little gas or better to top it up? Well, the answer is that I can drive with both but with putting in a little gas (Snacking) I am going to have to keep going back to the gas station whereas if I fill up the tank (meals) I will not have to return to the gas station for a long time.
Does this mean that I can not have snacks? Of course not. We don't need to be that strict on ourselves. We just need to focus on meals. Flexibility is key to success.
Number 5: You don't just eat within a window, you move within a window also.
For many people they focus on HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) training to get results and of course there are so many benefits to HIIT training such as:
Expending a huge amount of energy in a short space of time
Having an after burn effect (EPOC) where you burn energy even after working out.
The problem is that people rely on this to get results. They think that a simple HIIT session is the solution to weight loss when quite often it is actually the movement you get on a daily basis which can be the game changer. Think about a farmer, laborer or a construction worker; they find it much more difficult to put on weight than, let's say, an office worker or a banker. Why? Because they are much more active and their jobs require so much more energy. The sedentary worker may burn 300 calories in a HIIT session and an additional 15 calories in the hour after but this does not equate to the huge general movement of the farmer or construction worker.
So what is the solution:
Well, it's pretty simple actually. Move more. If you are an office worker, then there are so many possibilities;
Walk to work
Walk to get your lunch instead of having it delivered
Take mini walk breaks during the day
Have standing meetings
Walk home from work
Have an active hobby
The more active you are, the better your chances for weight loss. We don't need to be intermittent fast with movement, the more movement we get the greater our energy expenditure, the greater chance we have of shedding fat.
Number 6: You are drinking too much alcohol
Regardless of how much we fast; whether you are doing a 5;2 style of eating, OMAD, TMAD, 16.8 or whatever your structure is it cannot negate the negative effects of alcohol. Not only does alcohol have negative psychological effects but also physical. It has a domino effect on everything else that goes into our body. Even if you drink low calorie alcohol, it still has a knock on effect in terms of:
How your body digests the other food that you eat while drinking
The energy balance in your body
Your blood sugar and hunger levels
Your sleep cycle
Your hydration levels
So whether you are intermittent fasting or not; alcohol can be a major player in the weight loss game.
So what’s the solution:
If you are intermittent fasting, make sure to:
Have your alcohol in your eating window so that it does not break fast.
Drink low calorie alcoholic drinks
Drink less frequently to give your body a chance to recover
Avoid binge drinking which can lead to poor nutritional choices
Drink within a window. Give yourself a 3-4 hour drinking window where you drink alcohol instead of having a 10 hour drinking binge. Let’s call that intermittent drinking.
Number 7: You are stressed
When we are in a fasted state our cortisol and adrenaline levels are usually high. This has some benefits as it makes us more alert and focused at the task at hand. However, if we are already at high levels of stress we may be having an overconsumption of cortisol. This can have a huge affect on our hormones which in turn have a huge effect on our ability to burn fat. Here is what high cortisol can mean;
Increased insulin secretion which means that at that point we are shuttling energy around the body. If we are shuttling more and more energy then we have more propensity to store fat.
High ghrelin levels. This is our hunger hormone. High levels of this can mean that we are in a constant state of hunger.
Low leptin levels; This means that we will struggle to feel satiated after a meal which may lead to us over consuming food on that particular day.
Low melatonin levels; This means that our sleep may be affected as melatonin is the hormone that is directly involved in our sleep quality and quantity.
These are just to name a few of the effects but not to worry there are always solutions.
So, what's the solution:
Tackling our stress is very important. Short bouts of stress are not a problem. Long term stress can cause the issue. The main way to solve this problem is through stress management. Here are a number of ways to do so:
Address the stress. Analyse where the stress is coming from in your life and address the situation
Number 8: You are not getting enough sleep
Sleep is a hot topic lately and I’m glad that it is because for years we undervalued its effects in weight loss. It has a direct link with stress. Poor sleep can often cause cognitive and physical impairment which leads to weight gain. You see, when we sleep we get into two stages of sleep. REM and NREM. REM responsible for cognitive ability, dreaming and memory storage while NREM is the more physical aspect of recovery. By having a poor quality and quantity of sleep we are directly affecting our bodies ability to:
Build and recover muscle tissue
Regulate our hormones
Regulate blood sugar levels
Lower blood pressure
Cleanse our digestive system
Think clearly and wake us feeling rested
So what’s the solution:
Well we need to focus on getting a good quality and quantity of sleep. Start by making sure you get between 6-8 hours of sleep. The next step is to get a high quality sleep. This can be done by sleeping in a cold, dark room, having a hot shower before bed, having a shut down routine from work or simply by going to bed at a consistent time each night.
Number 9: You are not eating enough nutrients
Many people get early results from intermittent fasting but end up plateauing. Is that you? Well, if it is then that just means you may have taken fasting to an extreme level. This happens quite often with people who are doing OMAD or longer fasts. The problem is that our body actually requires a certain amount of energy just to survive and once our body goes under that amount then a few things start to happen:
Our metabolism slows down dramatically
Our training sessions could possibly be eating in to our muscle mass (Muscle atrophy)
Reduced body output and efficiency
Not only this but our protein intake will not be enough. For a male, just for a baseline we need between .8-1.2 grams of protein per kg of body weight. This doesn't take into account activity levels and muscle building. Check out the protein requirements for yourself here. Can we get this in one meal? I am not saying that it is impossible but, wow, would you be stuffing yourself.
Of course we are reducing the amount of calories that we are eating but I would not recommend this as a long term approach for anyone. Short term, yes.
So what's the solution:
If you have had a plateau then try eating more whole foods. Even with the same amount of exercise you may actually lose more weight. There may be a possibility that you gain weight but that is something that you might want to endure so that you can start to fuel yourself effectively. My “go to” strategy with clients is always; if you are hungry then eat food. Your body knows when it wants something. It will ask for it.
Number 10: You are a weekend warrior
Many people love the discipline that comes with intermittent fasting and I was one of those people too. The idea of not having food in the morning was a positive decision I was making for my health and it made me feel good. Many people feel the same. As a matter of interest; Why do you like intermittent fasting?
Many people have an issue where they are strict with their fasting during the week but when the weekend comes along they thrown it all out the window. Unfortunately for many people we tend to overestimate how “Good” we have been and underestimate how “bad” we have been. This weekend warrior binge can often undo a lot of what we have done during the week. We overindulge at the weekend, sometimes not because we really want to but because we feel that we have earned it. The question you need to ask yourself if this is the type of schedule you have is:
Is this the best approach to getting long term results?
So what’s the solution:
80/20. We don't ever need to be in a state of on track and off track. Why does it need to be so black and white? Why can’t we be in a continuum where we are making positive decisions 80% of the time and the other 20% of the time we are eating food and drinking alcohol because we want to. Isn't that a much healthier approach to all or nothing? How about we spread our 20% out over the whole week so that we can enjoy all 7 days in the week instead of just 2? How does that sound for you?
Number 11: You have no plan besides “fasting”:
One of the main issues with fasting and not seeing results is the combination of all of the above issues. Just because you fast does not mean you will lose weight; it may help many people achieve their goal by cutting out a full meal and may give them some motivation to move. However, the bottom line still applies, you must be in an energy deficit to lose weight. How you get there is irrelevant. I do personally prefer fasting as it makes life easy for me but the process is entirely up to you.
So what's the solution:
In general when we look at intermittent fasting and why we cannot lose weight while doing it, it still comes down to one thing really doesn't it? Energy coming in and energy going out? Once we master that, then we can achieve results no matter what diet we do. I see why people love intermittent fasting and I do a similar style of fasting myself. I just call it conversational nutrition. It is based on hormones, fasting, listening to our body and understanding purposeful eating.
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