Many people do intermittent fasting wrong, says a weight loss researcher.
Fasting mistakes, such as eating junk food, can leave you feeling deprived and missing out on benefits.
Add more fiber and protein, cut back on sugar to burn body fat faster, research suggests.
Intermittent fasting can be a powerful tool to help you burn fat and lose weight while feeling less hungry, but according to a weight loss researcher, you’re probably doing it wrong.
To get the most out of fasting, first watch what you eat, said Dr. Paul Arciero, a health professor at Skidmore University and author of The Protein Pacing Diet.
His research designed a specific fasting routine, and there’s some evidence that it can help people burn fat faster than counting calories alone. The findings were published in December 2022 in the journal Obesity.
“We have data to show that it’s not about the total number of calories we consume. Now it comes down to the quality of the nutritional intake and the pattern,” he told Insider.
By adding more protein and fiber, timing your meals properly and reducing sugar, you can see better results and fewer side effects from fasting, Arciero said.
Fasting before following a healthy diet can backfire
Before you can even think about intermittent fasting, according to Arciero, it’s important to already follow some basic healthy eating habits.
“If they’re on a bad diet, it won’t serve them well,” he said.
Create a habit of protein boost — eating enough protein and multiple sources of protein throughout the day — for a few weeks before trying to fast, Arciero recommends.
Otherwise, any unhealthy habits you may have will negate the benefits of fasting, such as better blood sugar control, since you’ll likely go right back to eating junk food once the fast is over.
Do not eat junk food after fasting
The biggest mistake most people make with intermittent fasting is thinking they can eat anything as long as they stick to the fasting window, Arciero said.
This can lead to cycles of deprivation and binge eating, which it can according to Arciero, are counterproductive to health.
“It’s a disordered eating pathology. Why would we ever want to emphasize that as helpful?” he said.
Instead, you should try to get more fiber and protein in your snacks and meals, both of which can help you feel full and supported
a healthy digestion. It’s also important to cut back on sugar, especially added sugar, Arciero said, because too much of it can interfere with your metabolic health, the opposite of your fasting goal.
Avoid skimping on protein
Arciero’s research found that people had better results with intermittent fasting if they ate protein-rich meals at least four times during their eating period.
Previous studies suggest that protein can help you feel more full after eating and may even help you burn more calories because it takes more energy to digest protein compared to other nutrients like carbs or fat.
It is also a crucial nutrient for muscle maintenance, which is important for a healthy metabolism. Some fasting diets have been linked to a higher risk of muscle loss, so the extra protein may help.
Water-only fasting may be less effective
It is a misconception that you should not consume anything while fasting. You can get the benefits of fasting while taking in a small amount of calories from coffee, tea and beverages containing electrolytes, Arciero said.
His fasting group in the study ate about 400 calories a day, divided into small portions of high-fiber and high-protein supplements every four hours. However, they stuck to very specific foods like bone broth, low-glycemic protein crackers, and small portions of nuts and seeds — sneaking a handful of chips or a bite of ice cream doesn’t count as a fast.
“We don’t allow nibbling,” Arciero said.
Other fasting proponents say you can enjoy bone broth and Bulletproof coffee, or other low-carb options that can help keep your blood sugar from rising to keep up with the fast.
Fasting is not about being hungry
One striking result of Arciero’s research was that people who got the best results while fasting also had less hunger – something that was a surprise at first, but has been a consistent result in his other studies.
The combination of protein, fiber and timing in the study is “very unique,” he said, and more research could help us better understand how it may support the benefits of fasting.
“People think the only way to reduce the hunger signal in our brain is to flood it with energy, and nothing could be further from the scientific truth,” he said.
In addition to debunking the idea that you have to abstain too soon, Arciero also noted that the benefits go far beyond fat burning, and can help with longevity, lower disease risk, and overall well-being.
“We’re really focused on the health and performance benefits,” Arciero said. “The side effect, as we call it, is weight loss. In our line of work, it’s just a wonderful icing on the cake.”
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