If you’ve been looking for ways to drop a few pounds, chances are you’ve encountered the term “intermittent fasting” at some point. Though it may seem like just another fad dieting trend on the surface, intermittent fasting is actually a very effective way to lose weight and control caloric intake. Here’s an overview of how you can lose weight with intermittent fasting.

What Exactly is Intermittent Fasting?

Stated simply, intermittent fasting is an eating regimen wherein you fast for a period of more than 12 hours each day and allow yourself to eat only in the remaining hours. For most people, a 16-hour fast with an 8-hour window for eating proves to be a good balance. Some intermittent fasters, however, choose even longer fasts of 18 or even 20 hours. Though these longer fasting periods are good for increasing the benefits of intermittent fasting, they are usually too much for beginners. Those just starting intermittent fasting should try a 14 or 16-hour fast to get their bodies used to going without food and then build up to longer fasts if they choose.

Why Does Intermittent Fasting Work for Weight Loss?

Intermittent fasting supports weight loss in two critical ways. First, it allows the body to tap into stored fat reserves for energy, rather than drawing on food that is already in your system. After about 12 hours of fasting, anything you do will burn fat, allowing you to reduce your fat stores much more directly and aggressively than is possible with traditional dieting. For this reason, many intermittent fasting practitioners even choose to do some light cardio, such as walking on low-intensity bicycling, during their fast to further increase the amount of body fat that is burned.

The second way that intermittent fasting supports weight loss is by helping with calorie control. It’s common knowledge that, in order to lose weight, you will need to consume fewer calories than you burn. However, when and how you consume these calories will make the difference between feeling full and satisfied and feeling consistently deprived and hungry. Say, for example, you knew that in order to meet your weight loss goals you needed to eat only 2,000 calories per day. Spread out across three meals, that would mean you could eat less than 700 calories at each sitting, which would leave you hungry all the time. Now suppose you had to eat the same 2,000 calories within a 6-8 hour window. Although the amount of food is the same, eating it in a shorter period of time will actually fill you up and satisfy your hunger while still allowing you to maintain the same caloric deficit.

How to Start Intermittent Fasting

If you want to give intermittent fasting a try, the best way to do it is by cutting off your eating after dinner and skipping breakfast in the morning. This way, the 8-9 hours you sleep at night will be incorporated into your fast. If you eat dinner at 7 PM and do not eat again until noon the next day, you will already have a 17-hour fast under your belt. Over time, you can push your first meal of the day later to extend your fast.

During your fast, be sure to drink plenty of fluids, as hydration is essential and drinking will help to stave off hunger. Water is best, but you can still have black coffee or tea as well. The only caveat is that you cannot add milk or sugar to these beverages, as ingesting and substantial amount of calories will take your body out of fasting mode.

If you want to lose weight but struggle with limiting your caloric intake, intermittent fasting may be a good solution for you. Remember to plan your meals out in advance, as you will be very hungry after your first few fasts and therefore more prone to binge. After a week or so of daily intermittent fasting, your body will become more used to your new routine and the initial hunger will largely go away. Many intermittent fasters find that not eating for long periods of time actually helps them to control their hunger and cravings, which is another side benefit of intermittent fasting.

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