The Role of Water in Weight Loss

There are a bunch of reasons as to why you should drink more water — not the least the fact that around 60% of your body is made up of the stuff. It stands to reason that you should keep your levels topped up. But for the purposes of this article, you should drink more water because it encourages weight loss and increases satiety.

One study conducted at Virginia Tech offers evidence of water’s weight loss effects. The following is a paraphrased summary of that study courtesy of Wikipedia:

Davy et al. took a group of 48 overweight and obese Americans aged 55 to 75 who were considered inactive and divided them randomly into two equal-sized groups. The control group followed a calorie-controlled diet equating to approximately 1,500 calories per day for the men and 1,200 calories per day for the women. The second group followed exactly the same diet but drank 500ml of water before each meal. Both groups kept up the diet for 12 weeks.

Although both groups lost weight on average, the water-drinking group lost about 5lbs more on average (an 30% increase in weight loss). Because the water-drinking group reported feeling both more full and less hungry, the researchers believe that the water acts to suppress appetite.

Subjective effects also reported by the water-drinking group were feeling less hungry, having a clearer mind and a better ability to think. There were no negative effects reported.

While this study is far from perfect (for instance, the sample size and physiology of the subjects is limited), it does point towards the positive effects of drinking plenty of water. Furthermore, the study is backed up by an enormous volume of anecdotal evidence of the benefits of water consumption on weight loss.

Finally, drinking water prior to meals is advised in order that you do not confuse thirst signals with hunger signals. In my experience, it also encourages you eat less than you might otherwise.

So go ahead – drink more water. What have you got to lose?

Why Restrictive Diets Are Your Worst Enemy

You need chocolate.

Seriously. Life’s too short to cut out the things that you love the most: whether that be chocolate, cake, nachos, fries or all of them (hopefully not on the same plate).

Following a diet that prevents you from eating your favorite foods is a bad idea for two reasons:

  1. It’s incredibly hard to sustain in the long term
  2. It can make you utterly miserable

Successful long term weight loss and weight management is not about being miserable. It’s about moderation, not dieting extremism. After all, if you’re going to be following a diet for the rest of your life, you need to make damned sure that it involves you eating all of the things that you love.

Chocolate, chips and cake can all be part of a healthy diet. Moreover, if you like those foods, they should be. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.

How Your Plate Can Help You Lose Weight

According to Brian Wansink, head of Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab and the author of Mindless Eating, dinner plate sizes have increased 36% since the 1960s. That corresponds with an increase in obesity in the US from ~15% in 1960 to ~30% in 2004. While we should all recognize that correlation does not necessarily lead to causation, the relationship between these two variables is thought-provoking.

With the above in mind, you’ve probably read that if you use smaller plates you’ll eat less. However, that is not necessarily the case – a plate that is too small can simply convince you to go back for seconds or thirds, thus rendering the whole exercise pointless.

So instead of using smaller plates arbitrarily, find your ideal serving size (by measuring your meals and using the Portion Reduction Method) then grab yourself a set of plates that makes your meals look suitably piled up. A mountain of food on a relatively small plate will seem bigger to you than a meal spread across a larger plate.

How to Eat Fewer Treats

“They’re okay I guess, but they’re not a patch on Minstrels.”

It started innocently enough – a debate on the relative merits of confectionary on a second date with my now girlfriend. I’d always been a huge Minstrels fan, but she was putting an argument forward for Maltesers. I wasn’t convinced.

A couple of dates later we headed to the cinema. I bought a bag of Minstrels and she chose Maltesers. It was a standoff. Maltesers won comprehensively.

Fast-forward a year or so and things had gotten out of hand. I joke, but in all seriousness I did actually have a problem. It was not at all unusual for me to scoff an entire 360g box of Maltesers in one sitting. That’s about 1,700 calories (over two thirds of my daily allowance) of sugar.

While you cannot form a physiological dependence on sugar or chocolate, I was nonetheless psychologically addicted to Maltesers. It was ruining an my otherwise relatively healthy diet and had the potential to lead to all sorts of health-related issues down the line. Something needed to be done.

So I did something. In this post I want to share the specific techniques I employed to reduce the sheer volume of Maltesers that I was consuming on a near-daily basis. If you are addicted to sugar, chocolate or candy (or in fact any type of food), you’ve just found the means to make a major positive change in your habits.

Ban Enormous Portions

This is the only point at which I will simply say, “Just eat less.”

This is for people who are satisfying their addictions with absurdly large portions, like I was with my 360g boxes of Maltesers. The most effective thing I did was to enforce a complete ban on boxes and limit myself to the 135g bags only. This wasn’t particularly difficult – I just needed to give myself a long hard look in the mirror and convince myself how utterly wrong it was to destroy an entire 1,700 calorie box of confectionary in one sitting.

Don’t seek to eradicate your most-loved food, but do seek to eradicate eating it in an objectively absurd volume. If you are doing this, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Make Your Treat an Event

If you’re going to satisfy your craving, make it a big deal. Don’t just scoff your food down while watching TV – give the act the due ceremony it deserves.

I suggest eating your food of choice at a table with no distractions. Take the time to enjoy every morsel. Of course, you should start with a smaller portion than you would normally eat. Taking the time to really enjoy the process can satisfy you as much as scoffing down twice as much while distracted can.

Serve Your Treat on a Small White Plate

Seriously. A study conducted in Spain by Betina Piqueras-Fiszman, Ph.D. at Universitat Politècnica de València found that serving strawberry mousse on a white plate altered the participants’ perception of its taste – they considered it to be 15-20% sweeter, more intense and more enjoyable.

From a personal point of view, I believe this to be true. A pile of Maltesers in a small white bowl looks far more appealing to me than just munching them out of the bag.

White is not always the best color though – in some cases it is preferable to choose a plate color that complements the color of the food. Having said that, I wouldn’t worry about buying a plate in each color – white is a good default.

Furthermore, use a plate that makes your food seem more plentiful. When it comes to psychologically satisfying your appetite, nothing is worse than food on an enormous plate. In fact, eating from a smaller plate has also been shown to cut food consumption by more than 20%, according to David Neal, Ph.D., Director at Empirica Research.

Share Openly

If your addiction is something that can be easily shared, get into the habit of doing so. For every bite someone else haves, it’s one less bite going in your mouth (and to your belly or hips, remember!).

While I am not typically an advocate of sharing food (woe betide the person who takes from my plate without asking), this is one situation in which I actively encourage it.

Buy Your Treats in Advance

This is not a strategy I would employ myself, but I know that it can work for some people.

It’s simple: buy your craved food up front for the week, in bulk. Agree with yourself that what you have bought is all you’re allowed for the week – how you eat it is up to you.

This may encourage you to ration your food appropriately, in which case you can gently taper the volume of food you buy per week to wean yourself off your addiction. Alternatively (and like me), you might eat the whole lot and go out the next day, rules be damned, in which case I do not recognize this strategy!

Track the Cost of Your Addiction and Incentivize Moderation

Food addictions can be expensive. You could be spending hundreds of dollars per month without even realizing it.

So let’s address that – from now on you should make a note of the cost of your purchased treats. Knowing exactly how much of your hard-earned money you’re spending on unnecessary treats can be a powerful discourager.

But that’s not all – why not incentivize a reduction (or even an eradication) of your treats? It’s simple: just a set a weekly anticipated cost of fueling your addiction based upon ongoing costs. Any money you save below that amount should be put to one side and used to treat yourself to something nice (but not food!).

Milestone Dieting: The Most Reliable and Least Difficult Way to Lose Weight

This is part two of my series on why your diet always fail. Check out part one here.

Every time I watch a film like Thor or The Avengers I get a sudden urge to build myself a body like Chris Hemsworth’s or Chris Evans’ (it’s all about being called Chris when it comes to buff Hollywood types). However, the urge usually dissipates by the time I leave the cinema.

Why? Because I know that I simply don’t have the necessary willpower to create a body like that. I also know that the idea of going from my current physique to that kind of physique in one step is utterly absurd.

Consider the kind of pressure these guys are under to make themselves look so incredible. We can talk about Hugh Jackman in Wolverine or Gerard Butler in 300. Getting that stacked was their job folks. They were getting paid inordinate amounts of money (in part) to create a physical presence that would suitably reflect the character they were playing. Not only that, they already had a base level of fitness way beyond the average guy’s before they even got started. They had a big head start.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t aspire to have a great physique, but shooting for a Jessica Alba-esque bikini body when you’re about 40lbs off-target is like trying to run before you can crawl. Give yourself a good enough reason to achieve gradual weight loss — i.e. set a goal that you are reasonably capable of achieving. Set milestones that are within reach, and celebrate every single one when you reach them. Every time you reach a new milestone, take stock and consider where to go from there.

While it can be tempting to tell yourself that shooting for the stars from the outset will get you to where you want to be more quickly, the likelihood is that you’ll find yourself right back where you started in a year from now. When it comes to dieting, slow and steady almost always wins the race in the long run.

The Single Biggest Reason Why Your Diets Always Fail

You’ve no doubt experienced the pattern before. You start off with the best of intentions and manage to go a few days (or even longer) with a fad diet. The pounds start dropping off and you’re feeling pretty great.

But soon after, the bad habits start to creep back in. Before you know it, the diet is all but abandoned and you’re back to your old ways. Where did at all go wrong?

Consider this: if someone offered you a million bucks to get stacked, you’d probably be pretty huge within a few months. Similarly, if someone held a gun to your head and told you that you needed to lose 20lbs, you’d sure as hell lose 20lbs (and quickly). But these kinds of motivations are rare in the real world, and for the most part, we’re kidding ourselves when we set outrageous weight loss targets.

Most of don’t have a gun to our head when it comes to dieting. All we have is an amount of willpower drawn from a desire to lose weight, be more healthy and/or look better naked. These kind of motivations typically aren’t overwhelmingly powerful. As such, the majority of us need a diet that is relatively easy to stick to in order to assure long term weight loss.

But we go for the über diet. The one that promises near-instantaneous weight loss. The one that is effectively marketed. The one that demands an unrealistic amount of discipline (yet makes us feel like crap when we fall off the wagon). The one that is ultimately unsustainable for all but the most motivated.

If you’re going to succeed in achieving long term weight loss and keep that weight off, you need to adopt a diet that requires no more than your existing store of willpower and motivation. That’s the simple equation. Far better for you to gradually adjust your eating habits than drastically change your diet in a way that will only result in one outcome: failure.

There’s a simple way to know if your diet is too demanding: just answer this one question. From there you should make adjustments as necessary.

How to Lose Weight (And Enjoy Your Meals Just as Much)

In the past, a typical serving of spaghetti for me would be about 160 strands, which equates to 525 calories (yeah – I like pasta). I would grab a healthy handful of spaghetti (perhaps 140 strands), then, fearing I was doing myself a disservice, grab a few more just for good measure.

These days I measure out my spaghetti to around 80 grams (which is around 80 strands). In doing so I save myself from consuming an additional 260 calories. That’s a weekly reduction of 1,820 calories, which is equal to approximately ½lb of fat.

I don’t feel like I’m cheating myself either – I’m just taking my greed out of the equation and measuring out an amount of spaghetti that I know will satisfy me.

In my experience, knowing what amount of food will fill you up and making only that much can lead to weight loss with no perceived reduction in satisfaction and satiety. This is backed up by a compelling soup study (yep, you read that right) conducted by Cornell University. In the study, one group were given a normal bowl of soup to eat, while another group were given an automatically-refilling bowl of soup. The outcome was telling:

Participants who were unknowingly eating from self-refilling bowls ate more soup than those eating from normal soup bowls. However, despite consuming 73% more, they did not believe they had consumed more, nor did they perceive themselves as more sated than those eating from normal bowls.

The conclusion was similarly compelling:

These findings are consistent with the notion that the amount of food on a plate or bowl increases intake because it influences consumption norms and expectations and it lessens one’s reliance on self-monitoring. It seems that people use their eyes to count calories and not their stomachs. The importance of having salient, accurate visual cues can play an important role in the prevention of unintentional overeating.

To put it another way, if a big-ass portion of food is put on your plate, you brain tells you that you should eat it. On the other hand, a smaller portion can fill you up just as much and be just as satisfying (psychologically speaking) without the extra unwanted calorific load.

So to go back to my spaghetti, the first thing I started doing was weighing it. Rather than over-guessing how much I needed, I would weigh out 140 grams. No overcompensation through guesswork. Then, in a twist on the Portion Reduction Method I mentioned the other day, I would simply weigh out 10 grams less every time I had the meal. Before long I had discovered that 80 grams was in fact more than enough to fill me up, and I still enjoy the meal as much as I ever did. Simple!

How to Stop Eating When You’re Full (The Portion Reduction Method)

This is a tough one, especially for people like me: those who seemingly only feel satisfied when they eat to the point of slight sickness. It is however an effective way of eating less calories and partners well with eating slowly.

The strategy isn’t complicated: when eating a meal, stop when your body tells you that you’ve had enough. If you’re anything like me then it’ll take some time to rediscover this feeling, but it is there.

I’ll give you an example of how effective this can be. Last week I made two servings of a meal and wolfed the first one down in a few minutes. Since I’d eaten the meal so fast my body hadn’t had a chance to transmit the “full” signal to my brain, and so I dived into the second serving too, polishing that off for good measure. I felt absolutely stuffed and a little ill.

This week I made that same meal but with just one serving. I ate it a little more slowly (using the tips at the bottom of this post), and although I still felt a little hungry when I had finished, that feeling faded after around fifteen minutes. I had eaten half the amount of food, but my satiety level was the same.As an added bonus, I didn’t feel sick.

I appreciate that leaving food on the plate is often easier said than done. With that in mind, my suggestion is this: only put 3/4 of the food you make on your plate. Then eat the meal slowly and give it fifteen minutes. If you’re still hungry then eat the rest – if not, put it in the bin. Yes, I know it’s a waste, but the quicker it’s in the bin, the sooner you can’t eat it (even I wouldn’t stoop to that level). Next time, you know that you only need to make 3/4 of the portion size (or even less, if you care to repeat the experiment). I call this the Portion Reduction Method (PRM). It’s gonna be a thing.

Why You Should Take Your Time When Eating

I have historically been an astonishingly fast eater. It has at times been a point of pride for me (for some bizarre reason). I’d always be the first to finish at dinnertime when I was a kid.

However, it was nothing to be proud of, because there are no benefits to eating fast. On the other hand, eating slowly is only ever a good thing.

According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, eating food more slowly can lead to greater feelings of fullness and satisfaction.

Each subject of the study ate a serving of ice cream on two separate occasions. The only difference was the speed at which they ate the ice cream: the first time in five minutes and the second time in thirty minutes. The study concluded that when subjects savored the ice cream of the course of thirty minutes, they felt fuller and more satisfied than when they ate it in a mere five minutes. (I don’t know how the ice cream didn’t melt into a gloopy mess and turn into more of a drink, but far be it from me to question science.)

I can see some logical sense behind this, but the effect wasn’t solely psychological – it was proven that a higher level of hunger-regulating hormones were produced when the subjects ate the ice cream over a prolonged period. To put it another way, taking longer to eat the food gave the body more time to tell the brain that it was full.

This phenomenon has been discovered in study after study. And when it comes to proving the benefits of eating slowly, Kathleen Melanson, University of Rhode Island Professor of Nutrition is the queen. Most notably, in a 2007 study she found that eating more slowly led a test group to consume less calories than their control group counterpart (who were encouraged to eat fast). The average calories consumed between the two groups differed by a whopping ~10%.

To put that in perspective, an average adult male consuming 10% less than required to maintain his existing body shape would theoretically lose 26lbs in a year. Just by eating more slowly.

Eating slowly isn’t only good for your body shape though. Taking your time when eating – treating it as more of an event than a chore to be rushed – aids digestion and can help to prevent unfortunate…bodily expulsions, shall we say.

And let’s not forget that food is there to be enjoyed. If you’re wolfing it down then that enjoyment is bound to be blunted. Eating more slowly – savoring each mouthful and being acutely aware of the tastes and textures of the food you’re eating – should all be part of the process.

Now all this is well and good, but for many of us, eating slowly isn’t just as simple as telling yourself to do it. It is a habit that can be difficult to break (but certainly not impossible). I have found the following tips to be highly effective:

  • Make time for your meals. Make sure that a suitable period of time is cleared within your schedule for each time you eat.
  • Always sit down at a table to eat. No more TV meals; pay attention to what you’re eating.
  • Eat more foods that are high in fibre. They take longer to chew.
  • Put down your utensils between each bite.
  • Sip some water between each bite. Treat every bite of your meal as a meal in itself.
  • Have a conversation. If you’re eating with others, use meal time as an opportunity to talk as well as eat.
  • Take small bites.
  • Chew more. Count how many times you normally chew and add one extra chew on the end. Add one more chew per week for as long as you’re happy to.

Intermittent Fasting: How to Love Your Food and Lose Weight

There are some people in this world who eat breakfast on autopilot. It’s part of their morning regime – as normal as brushing their teeth or taking a shower.

That’s not the case for me. Why? Because my stomach isn’t always receptive to food in the morning. Put simply, I won’t be hungry – not for at least a couple of hours after getting up (and sometimes longer). So sometimes I’ll skip breakfast and wait until my stomach is in a better mood before I start munching.

“But breakfast is the most important meal of the day!” I hear you exclaim. At least, that’s what conventional wisdom tells us. But if you’ve learned anything from being a Healthy Enough reader, it should be that conventional wisdom exists to be challenged. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do in this article. I’m going to show you why skipping breakfast – and other meals – can in fact be good for you and lead to sustainable weight loss.

Welcome to the world of intermittent fasting.

Exploring Conventional Wisdom

Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper ~ Adelle Davis

Let’s start by talking a little about what most people say you should do when it comes to mealtime.

You’ve probably heard the above quote before, and with good reason – a huge proportion of dieters live by it. The concept is intuitive:

  1. Eat a big breakfast to kick start your metabolism and provide your body with a healthy proportion of the energy it needs to get through the day.
  2. Top up your calorific needs with a good-sized lunch.
  3. Eat a modest dinner, as the day is nearly over and you don’t need a lot of food to keep you going.

Sounds suspiciously sensible, doesn’t it? Which is exactly why so many dieters live and die by it.

Let’s consider another popular approach to eating in the dieting world: the “little and often” rule. There’s a whole bunch of people out there who are ready to tell you that eating food periodically in small doses is the best way to go.

Grazing was the way our body was designed to eat. Large meals burden the digestive system, often causing bloating and lowered energy while the body struggles to digest them. By eating smaller meals you prevent this, and the body functions more efficiently throughout the day.

~ Antony Haynes, nutritionist

The regular influx of food with a little-and-often approach keeps your energy level stable and makes it easier for you to cope with everything you have to do in a day.

~ Natalie Savona, nutritionist

Again, this appeals to our intuition. Keep the digestive system ticking (rather than overloading it) and maintain stable energy levels through the day. It’s the best way to lose or maintain weight.

Or perhaps not.

Quashing Conventional Wisdom

Conventional wisdom seems to make a lot of sense, but it is not without its problems.

Let’s start by introducing the human element: conventional wisdom’s recommended approaches to eating are tough for many of us. Our bodies can reject the notion of food in the morning and crave it (in quantity) in the evening. Furthermore, the sheer lack of practicality in making multiple meals and eating them at regular intervals throughout the day can be a deal breaker when it comes to living by the “little and often” rule.

But the issues are not related to convenience and cravings alone. There is a lot of evidence available to quash the notion that one should be eating big in the morning or eating regularly throughout the day.

Let’s start with the consideration that breakfast, as we know it, hasn’t existed for large parts of history. For example, the Romans ate just once per day at noon and breakfast was a big no-no. Here’s what food historian Caroline Yeldham has to say on the subject:

The Romans believed it was healthier to eat only one meal a day. They were obsessed with digestion and eating more than one meal was considered a form of gluttony. This thinking impacted on the way people ate for a very long time.

In fact, it wasn’t until the 1700s that breakfast began to emerge as a formal meal. Before then, it was often ignored.

If we cast our minds back even further and consider prehistoric humans, one could reasonably postulate that they didn’t start their day with a bowl of cornflakes. Perhaps they had leftovers from the previous day’s kill, or some roots and shoots they had scavenged, or maybe they had nothing. Breakfast wasn’t a given – it was a possibility.

But what about the supposed health benefits of eating little and often? Well, “supposed” is the right word to use, as the “little and often” rule is not without its detractors in the world of nutrition.

A 2010 article published in the New York Times put “little and often” in its place:

Some studies have found modest health benefits to eating smaller meals, but often the research involved extremes, like comparing the effects of two or three large daily meals with those of a dozen or more snacks. Six meals, according to some weight-loss books and fad diets, is a more realistic approach.

But don’t count on it. As long as total caloric and nutrient intake stays the same, then metabolism, at the end of the day, should stay the same as well. One study that carefully demonstrated this, published in 2009 in The British Journal of Nutrition, involved groups of overweight men and women who were randomly assigned to very strict low-calorie diets and followed for eight weeks. Each subject consumed the same number of calories per day, but one group took in three meals a day and the other six.

Both groups lost significant and equivalent amounts of weight. There was no difference between them in fat loss, appetite control or measurements of hormones that signal hunger and satiety. Other studies have had similar results.

If that wasn’t enough, the 2009 study mentioned above draws a couple of compelling conclusions that weren’t mentioned in the NYT article (with thanks to LeanGains):

…the premise underlying the present study was that increasing meal frequency would lead to better short-term appetite regulation and increased dietary compliance…[and] greater weight loss. Under the conditions described in the present study, all three hypotheses were rejected.

…we had postulated that increasing meal frequency would enhance the compliance to the energy restricted diet thus leading to greater weight loss, an effect possibly mediated by increased fullness. The present results do not support this hypothesis.

The whole “little and often” approach doesn’t quite seem so compelling now, does it?

The takeaway from all of this is simple: it’s not about when you eat, it’s about what you eat. The human body is remarkably adaptable; as long as you satisfy its calorific and nutritional requirements, it will sort everything else out.

There are two things you should take away from the above:

  1. Worry less about the times that you eat and more about what you’re putting in your mouth.
  2. Don’t eat because you think you should – eat because you want to.

If you’re not a fan of breakfast (or if you simply don’t feel like it on any given day), skip it. The same goes for any other meal, or even more than one meal in a row.

Introducing Intermittent Fasting

It may sound fancy, but intermittent fasting is nothing other than skipping meals.

It’s what the Romans did (although they didn’t know it at the time) by consuming just one large meal in the middle of the day. As long as you’re getting the right amount of calories, your body will be able to dole them out as necessary – regardless of when you ingest them. Furthermore, if energy (in the form of recently consumed food) isn’t available, the body will be encouraged into drawing from your fat reserves.

Intermittent fasting typically takes one of two forms:

  1. Regularly skipping a meal (typically breakfast)
  2. Occasionally skipping two meals in a row (typically breakfast and lunch)

When it comes to weight loss, the benefits are pretty obvious: by skipping a meal you consume fewer calories. While that is often true, that is not the only benefit of intermittent fasting.

By skipping meals you are encouraging your body to switch between two separate “modes”:

  1. If you have eaten, the body will busy itself making use of the readily available energy.
  2. If you have skipped a meal, the body will draw from your fat reserves to meet your energy needs.

The simple takeaway is this: if you don’t feel like having breakfast, skip it. You’ll be doing your body a favor. And if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, don’t be afraid to occasionally skip two meals in row. Your body will happily draw from your fat reserves, as it has evolved to do so efficiently.

But What About the Body’s “Starvation Mode?”

When it comes to arguing against the concept of intermittent fasting, the “starvation mode” theory is the most common culprit.

The theory is as follows: food abstinence leads the body to believe that food is scarce, and as such it seeks to lower metabolism, conserve fat stores and instead draw energy from lean tissue. Thus, by fasting, one loses muscle rather than fat.

That’s enough to scare anyone away from fasting, right? It’s a good thing that the theory is almost entirely invalid – at least, for our purposes.

The simple fact is this: the body’s eagerness to enter starvation mode is often wildly overestimated.

A study was carried out in 1991 to study the effect of a “very-low-calorie diet” (VLCD) on body composition and resting metabolic rate on obese men and women. A VLCD is defined as 800 calories (or less) per day, so we’re talking about severe food restriction – i.e. the ideal circumstances for the body’s supposed “starvation mode” to kick in.

The study’s key findings were as follows:

Seventeen subjects lost a mean of 24.2 kg. A mean of 75.5% of the weight loss was adipose tissue [i.e. fat]…Resting metabolic rate, as measured by oxygen consumption, dropped 23.8% during the 12 weeks of the VLCD. The findings indicate that a VLCD can provide a rapid weight loss of more than 75% fat and a concomitant decrease in waist:hip and waist:thigh ratios…Finally, it appears that the decrease in resting metabolic rate that occurs during treatment with VLCD does not correlate with changes in lean body mass.

So, the subjects lost a lot of weight, of which over 75% was fat. While the subjects’ metabolic rates did drop, this drop did not correlate with any changes in lean body mass.

It is widely and reliably acknowledged that just about any diet will encourage the body to slow metabolism to an extent, but the above study demonstrates that a loss of lean tissue does not automatically accompany a slowing metabolism.

Now here’s where it gets really interesting. Intermittent fasting (i.e. 16-24 hour periods of no food consumption) has been shown to affect the body’s metabolism, but in the opposite manner to what you might expect.

Two studies carried out by Mansell, PI, et al and Zauner C, et al are particularly compelling. Here are the two key conclusions (with thanks again to LeanGains):

Resting energy expenditure increased significantly from 3.97 +/- 0.9 kJ/min on day 1 to 4.53 +/- 0.9 kJ/min on day 3 (P < 0.05)…Resting energy expenditure increases in early starvation.

Starvation [over a 48 hour period] led to considerable alterations in basal metabolism including a significant (mean 3.6%) increase in resting metabolic rate.

That’s right – intermittent fasting can actually increase the body’s metabolic rate, potentially leading to a greater rate of fat loss.

How to Get Started

By now I’ve probably piqued your interest. Perhaps you want to give intermittent fasting a go.

While you can simply skip your next meal, a little forethought and research ahead of time will make intermittent fasting far easier to handle. Because let’s be honest – for many of us, the concept of skipping a meal is somewhat disconcerting. You probably have some reservations.

With that in mind, let’s look at how to handle intermittent fasting the right way.

Start Simple

The best way to ease yourself into intermittent fasting is to skip breakfast.

Going for a full 24 hour fast straight off the bat probably isn’t the best idea. In fact, you don’t ever have to fast for a whole day to benefit from intermittent fasting. Just stick to skipping one meal if that’s all you feel like doing.

Intermittent fasting is especially easy to follow if your stomach isn’t particularly receptive to food in the morning – skipping breakfast won’t seem like much of a hardship at all. However, if you’re all about breakfast and couldn’t imagine not having it, you will find the process less inviting. However, you should still give it a go – you may surprise yourself.

Your secret weapon is to keep busy. If you can pack your morning out and get to 12-1pm without knowing where all the time went, intermittent fasting will be far easier. This is when a hectic job can help!

You may well get hunger pangs, but that does not mean that you’re damaging your body. Hunger pangs are often misleading – usually we just need water. With that in mind, I recommend that you drink plenty of no/low calorie fluids when fasting (I drink tea with a splash of milk like it’s going out of fashion in the morning). Have a diet soda if that kind of thing floats your boat.

Trust me, unless you’re like a waif, your body has plenty of fat in reserve to draw energy from while you skip breakfast.

And remember this: every hour you go without food is another hour where your body is sucking fat out of your reserves and using it to keep you ticking. That thought alone can be a huge motivator in terms of encouraging longer fasts.

Don’t Overthink It

You can easily drive yourself mad thinking about how to do intermittent fasting the “right” way. But here’s the thing: there is no “right” way. There’s no commercialized diet plan here – it’s just a case of skipping meals and seeing how you go.

If you want to have a banana in the morning to keep the hunger pangs at bay, give it a go. Drink as much low/no calorie fluid as you like. Don’t worry about making it to exactly 16 or 24 hours fasting – it isn’t supposed to be torture.

Do not impose strict goals on yourself (then get demotivated when you fail to reach them). Instead, allow yourself to have a go at intermittent fasting without any preconceptions as to how it may turn out. Perhaps have a smaller breakfast at 11am rather than your usual big breakfast at 8am. You’ll still be fasting and consuming less calories, which is a big victory in my book.

Remember: we’re talking about being healthy enough here, not becoming a fasting machine.

Rely On Your Own Experience

My final piece of advice is to experiment with intermittent fasting and find out what works for you.

There is no one-size-fits-all diet regime (despite what some might say). You have a unique physiology and psyche. You need to find a form of intermittent fasting that works for you, and the only way to do that is to experiment.

Don’t worry that you must operate within the “rules” of intermittent fasting – after all, there aren’t any strict rules. Eat a smaller meal or eat it later. Have a piece of fruit instead of breakfast. Do a one-off 24 hour fast for charity to give yourself extra motivation and see what the experience is like. Whatever works for you.

Your Turn

I once scoffed at the notion of fasting. After all, I love my food, and eating less of it is rarely an attractive notion.

However, I’ve never been a huge fan of breakfast and I’m not too fussed about lunch either. Dinner is where it’s at for me. So skipping these meals isn’t such a big deal.

I tend to skip breakfast most days (as and when I feel like it) and occasionally miss breakfast and lunch (often when I’ve eaten gluttonously the day before and feel less inclined to eat). It’s not a big sacrifice for me (in fact, it doesn’t really feel like a sacrifice at all) and enables me to lose weight. That’s a win/win.

May be it’ll work for you too! Give intermittent fasting a go. See if it suits you. If it does, you may well have just found another powerful weapon in your dieting armory. What’s the worst that could happen?