Intermittent fasting, or simply IF for short, has been making its rounds in the fitness community for at least a decade now, perhaps even more. It’s not particularly restrictive, but most of all, it’s effective which is what attracts a lot of people to it.
As a matter of fact, I’ve handled more clients than I can count who did this diet because they needed an easy way to rapidly shed pounds.
So, how much weight can you lose in a month with intermittent fasting anyway?
About 4-8 lbs because that’s how much weight you can safely lose within that time frame and it doesn’t change for any diet, including intermittent fasting. However, there’s a good chance you can lose more than that if you’re holding on to a lot of water weight.
But like everything else, there’s more to IF than slipping into smaller jeans. For example, there are concerns on how effective it really is, how healthy it can be, how long you should stay in the diet, what to eat, and what type of fasting you should be under.
Let’s talk about all those, shall we?
Does intermittent fasting actually work?
As previously mentioned, one of the reasons for intermittent fasting’s rapid rise to fame is that, yes, it works. Incredibly well, if I might add.
One search on Pinterest or Google will get you hundreds of thousands of anecdotes from people who’ve experienced tremendous success with intermittent fasting.
If you want to be scientific, there’s plenty of proof there, too.
A systematic review that was recently published (2020) shows how there are numerous studies on how effective intermittent fasting is for treating obesity.
Is a month enough time for intermittent fasting?
Well, that depends on how much weight you want to lose.
Per the CDC, losing 1-2 lbs of weight per week is both safe and sustainable. Using that as a guide, you’d lose 4-8 lbs in a month. If that’s all the weight you need to lose, then sure. A month of IF should be enough.
Losing a little more weight than that during your first month should be fine because you’re also going to lose a lot of water weight. But if you think you won’t be able to reach your goal weight in time, don’t force it. Going on crash diets with extremely low calories can do more harm than good.
So, how many months should you do intermittent fasting?
From a weight loss standpoint, you can do intermittent fasting until you achieve your goal weight.
For example, let’s say you weigh 200 lbs right now and you want to get to 150 lbs. Following the 1-2 lbs/week guideline, that’s about 6 months to a year.
However, there really isn’t a set of rules for this. You can do intermittent fasting even if it’s for weight maintenance after you’ve achieved your goal weight, or you could cut it short if fasting doesn’t feel right anymore.
The one rule I tell everybody — and this goes for any type of diet — is that whatever way you choose to handle your weight, make sure it’s both healthy and sustainable. If it doesn’t make you feel good and it’s having negative effects on other areas of your life, other methods might be better.
This brings us to the next question.
Is intermittent fasting healthy for you?
It most definitely can be and there’s plenty of evidence to prove it. For example, one study shows how intermittent fasting can reduce the following markers of cardiometabolic disease:
- Total cholesterol
- “Bad” (LDL) cholesterol
- Fasting glucose
Unsurprisingly, these effects are also linked to reduced inflammation which, consequently, helps steer you away from chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, cancer, and several others.
However, the same study that mentioned those benefits also says that weight loss is the main driving force. So, theoretically you should be able to achieve those same results as long as you maintain a healthy, clean eating lifestyle.
This is great news, actually, because not everyone experiences these benefits from IF equally. Some of you might fare better with other methods as we will discuss later on, but for now…
Can you eat anything while intermittent fasting?
Well, eating whatever you want just as long as you do it during your eating window is certainly how a lot of people advertise intermittent fasting. It’s attractive because it’s non-restrictive but it’s personally not what I recommend.
If you ate just about anything you could get your hands on during your eating window, there’s a higher chance you consume more calories than you need to lose weight. Furthermore, those calories will likely be empty calories. So, not only will you have a harder time losing weight, you’ll eventually lack the nutrients you need to function optimally.
To truly get the most out of your intermittent fasting experience, I believe you should still try to eat healthier food. Let’s talk about that for a bit.
What to eat during intermittent fasting
Considering how you’ll be going on extended hours without any calories, you want to eat foods that help suppress your appetite and food that help keep you fuller for longer.
These include foods high in fiber, good quality protein, healthy fat, water content, and a bunch of compounds that, ultimately, help you lose weight with less friction.
You generally get a good dose of these things from whole food like fruits and vegetables, home cooked meat, whole grains, and several other whole foods. Here are some of the best ones:
First of all, you need water to live because it plays a factor in both the structure and the function of your cells, along with several other biological roles. So, you need plenty of water regardless if you’re on a diet or not.
From a weight loss perspective though, several studies have associated water with reduced caloric intake leading to weight loss. Milk, juice, or any other liquid doesn’t have quite the same effect.
Specifically for your eating windows during intermittent fasting, you might want to try drinking water before any of your meals as it helps reduce the amount of food you eat, according to research.
Moreover, water is a zero-calorie drink, so it’s safe — no, recommended — that you drink plenty during your fasting periods.
“How much water should I drink a day”, you ask?
There’s a bunch of guidelines out there (and a good majority of them are right) but for simplicity’s sake, this is what one research recommends:
- For men: 3,000 mL/day
- For women: 2,200 mL/day
Coffee and tea
Like water, coffee and tea are zero-calorie drinks that you can have even on your fasting periods. That is, of course, given that you don’t add any sweeteners or flavorings that add calories.
Particularly if the fasting method you choose requires absolutely no calories during your abstinence periods, this means coffee and tea without any sugar, cream, milk, pearls, or whatever else is popular these days.
What’s good about coffee and tea, however, is that they’re both incredibly effective fat burners and that’s in large part because of their caffeine content. Per research, caffeine helps promote weight and fat loss as well better BMI.
Green tea, in particular, also has a compound called EGCG which, according to research, increases the amount of calories you burn in a day by about 8%. That’s even more weight loss power!
Yes, fortified. Why?
Because with a limited time to get calories in your system, you want as much nutrition as you can get and, in my opinion, fortified milk is one of the easiest ways to do that.
Also, research says fortified milk is usually infused with vitamin A and D. I think it’s great because both those vitamins go well with the nutrients already found naturally in milk.
For one, vitamin A and D are fat-soluble vitamins and milk has a healthy amount of fat. This combination helps your body store and make use of these vitamins better. Moreover, milk also has a good amount of calcium — and according to an article from the National Institutes of Health, your body needs vitamin D to absorb it.
All in all, it just seems like fortified milk and intermittent fasting fit each other hand in glove.
First of all, yes, you’re allowed to drink alcohol when you’re doing intermittent fasting. But the key, as always, is moderation.
Now, you might be asking: How much red wine is healthy?
Here’s what the American Heart Association says about that:
- For men: 5-10 oz of wine
- For women: 5 oz of wine
In terms of weight loss, red wine largely owes its prowess to resveratrol — an antioxidant that also helps with reducing weight, fat, and BMI while helping with muscle growth, according to research.
Eggs have become a staple part of most any diet, including intermittent fasting, because it’s cheap, easy to cook, and has a good amount of protein and healthy fat.
Protein, in particular, is important whenever you’re consuming less calories because it helps you maintain your muscle bulk. In turn, this helps keep your metabolism running which is especially important for long-term weight loss and/or maintenance.
In terms of fat, eggs have significantly more healthy, poly- and monounsaturated fat than it does the unhealthy, saturated kind.
Eggs have a lot of cholesterol though. 1028 mg for every large egg, to be exact (per The Self NutritionData).
However, research has found out that the cholesterol in eggs isn’t well absorbed, so it doesn’t negatively affect your cholesterol levels over the long haul. In fact, another research shows how it even shifts the balance between “good” and “bad” cholesterol more towards the good kind.
Also, a study from Nutrition Research shows how egg breakfasts can be more satisfying and filling compared to bagels because it reduces levels of the hormone ghrelin. The way I see it, this makes it a good fit for anyone who’s fasting intermittently.
Since we touched on healthy fat, let’s talk about avocados. It’s one of the most calorie dense fruits out there and it’s largely because of how much fat it carries.
As a matter of fact, a single avocado has about 322 calories and 77% of that comes from fat (per The Self NutritionData). While it does have a puny amount of saturated fat, most of it is unsaturated (or healthy).
It’s important to have a steady dose of these unsaturated fatty acids when you’re fasting because, according to research, it reduces ghrelin levels which makes you feel less hungry. Essentially, it means avocados help you adjust to fasting quicker.
Moreover, avocados are a good source of dietary fiber, several vitamins and minerals, and other weight loss compounds.
As one research suggests, the nutritional profile of avocados is what helps consumers improve their diets, eat less sugar and calories in general, as well reduce weight and BMI.
So, although it does pack a lot of calories, you also get an insanely good amount of nutrients — and that’s exactly what you want with your food when on intermittent fasting.
As one study says, seafood has dietary components that you can hardly get elsewhere, including omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Seafood is also a superb source of several nutrients including protein, fiber, and vitamins and minerals.
Of course, it’s nearly impossible for most people to eat fish everyday, which is fine. Per the NHS, just try to get 2 portions of fish every week with one of those being oily fish like salmon, sardines, trout, and herring. It’s these types of fish that pack the omega-3 you need.
White fish and shellfish, on the other hand, can be your substitute for meats like pork and beef. They have relatively less omega-3s but they’re also leaner types of fish, so they’re healthier in that sense as well.
However, the NHS also says that girls, pregnant women, and women who’re planning on getting pregnant shouldn’t avoid eating more than 2 portions of oily fish per week as pollutants may affect child development. If you belong to any of those groups, consider yourself warned.
Green leafy vegetables
You must have expected this, right? I mean, what healthy and sustainable diet is there without these darn leafy greens?
Per research, foods with high water content can effectively help you eat less calories. Along with high levels of fiber, these are just some of the reasons why vegetables are great for weight loss.
As a matter of fact, the CDC even recommends substituting higher calorie ingredients with vegetables (and fruits) with fewer calories. The fiber and the water are going to help you feel full, helping you eat less calories overall. Specifically for intermittent fasting, this helps stop you from overeating during your eating window.
Plus, vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals which you absolutely need when you’re on a caloric deficit.
Fruits with high water content
Like green leafy vegetables, a lot of fruits are also packed with fiber but there’s several of them that also have a significant amount of water, not to mention the different nutrients they hold. So, everything I said about veggies being great for weight loss and fasting? They all apply to fruits, too.
Some examples of high fiber, high water fruits include:
|Fruit (per 100 g)||Water content||Fiber|
While we’re talking about plant-based food for intermittent fasting, I urge you to always choose whole grains over their refined counterparts.
Whole grains retain all of its parts (i.e. bran, germ, and endosperm) whereas refined grains are processed to the point where only their endosperm remains.
The milling process extends the shelf life of the grains and improves their texture but because whole grains are virtually untouched, they retain their fiber and nutrients. Again, this goes back to eating nutritious foods that make you feel full despite not carrying a boatload of calories.
One such type of fiber, beta-glucan, is well-known for its ability to help fight obesity and the metabolic issues that typically come with it. You can find beta-glucan in whole grains such as oats and barley.
Boiled sweet potatoes
You’ve probably heard how sweet potatoes are better than regular potatoes when it comes to weight loss and while that’s true, that doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story.
How you cook sweet potatoes affects how good it’s going to be for weight loss because it alters the root crop’s glycemic index (GI). Think of it as a measuring stick to how fast or slow food raises your blood sugar levels.
Long story short, you want to consume food with lower GI because the slow-rise in blood sugar also means a steadier source of calories which can prevent you from overeating during your feeding window.
Now, with sweet potatoes, boiling is the method of cooking with the lowest GI (according to The University of Sydney). Fried, roasted, and baked sweet potatoes all have respectively higher glycemic indexes, so you might want to avoid those.
Along with berries, I think nuts make some of the best healthy snacks in the world. Though they may be higher in calories, they’re also packed full of nutrients like protein, healthy fat, and several vitamins and minerals, making them great for both health and weight.
As a matter of fact, a relatively recent study from 2014 says that nuts aren’t associated with weight gain because they promote satiety (leading to reduced calorie consumption), increased metabolism, and fat burning. Plus, the calories they have aren’t readily absorbed, making particularly great for intermittent fasting snacks.
Walnuts, almonds, pistachios, and pecans are heralded as some of the best ones particularly because of their protein, unsaturated fat, and fiber content.
Legumes are great low calorie sources of carbohydrates. They’re also generally high in fiber, so they’re great for your appetite and weight. If you’re watching your cholesterol levels, legumes generally also have none of that and are low in fat.
Some of the best legumes for your health and weight include:
- Chickpeas (102 calories | 4.9 g fiber | 5.4 g protein per oz)
- Lentils (98.8 calories | 8.5 g fiber | 7.2 g protein per oz)
- Kidney beans (93.3 calories | 7.0 g fiber | 6.6 g protein per oz)
- Peanuts (159 calories | 2.4 g fiber | 7.2 g protein per oz)
These include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, kombucha, and several others.
While I’m personally not a fan, even I can’t deny that any of these foods are great for weight loss — and that’s largely because fermented foods are rich in gut-healthy probiotics.
This is important because research has associated an imbalance between gut “good” and “bad” microbes (i.e. dysbiosis) with obesity. So, theoretically speaking, ingesting the “good” bacteria in probiotics should help maintain a good balance of microbes in your belly which, hopefully, helps with weight loss as well.
Oh, and speaking of good and bad. Intermittent fasting affects men and women differently. Especially if you’re female, you need to pay extra attention. Let’s talk about that real quick.
Intermittent fasting is different for men and women
Before anything else, I apologize if I say anything that isn’t PC here. But, just for the sake of this topic, let’s all be scientific about this, okay? Okay.
That said, the health benefits of intermittent fasting are largely associated with autophagy. And the way I see it, it’s the main reason why intermittent fasting is different for men and women.
So, what is autophagy anyway?
Well, our bodies all have sugars, amino acids, fatty acids, and nucleotides. These degrade sooner or later and ultimately alter our cells’ structures. But with a properly working autophagy, the damaged debris are either removed as waste or redirected to other metabolic routes for the making of newer cells. Sort of like sorting through garbage and recyclable materials.
In any case, this basically means that autophagy is our body’s self-preservation system.
Now, according to research, a well-recognized way to trigger autophagy is food restriction. The same research also suggests that short-term fasting (such as what’s done in intermittent fasting) leads to a dramatic upregulation in autophagy.
This is why a lot of people are so hell bent on fasting because, theoretically, it should be a way to extend life itself. With your body taking out degraded junk and making new cells to replace them, it’s likely one of, if not the main reason why losing weight with IF comes with so many other health benefits.
“Okay, but how’s it different for men and women?”
One research shows how fasting improved the insulin sensitivity of men but not women. In fact, it even made things worse for the prettier gender as glucose tolerance seemed to have gotten worse.
(Also, since hormones seem to act off of each other, a worse insulin response could cascade into other imbalances with other hormones, such as estrogen and other sex hormones.)
This is where the difference between men and women starts when it comes to fasting. Because, circling back to autophagy, one other study suggests how insulin resistance halts autophagic action.
In other words, if you have issues with blood sugar and insulin, your body won’t readily go into self-preservation mode. And, since fasting is less likely to improve insulin response in women, it could then be hypothesized that women’s bodies also aren’t as well suited to food restriction as men are.
Granted, the science behind this still isn’t all that conclusive but from what literature we currently have, the signs point toward women being possibly better suited to distributing their calories throughout the day whereas men can be more flexible.
Because of this, the intermittent fasting schedules for men and women also vary, with women being safer and healthier if they chose IF types with lengthier eating windows or more eating days. Here are a few examples:
Intermittent fasting schedules for women:
The Crescendo method of fasting
It’s largely regarded as the best fasting method for women because you’re only required to fast for 12-16 hours for 2-3 days. Moreover, the fasting days are spread out with at least a day of normal eating in between.
Put in perspective, this could mean having your last meal at 7PM today and breaking your fast at 7-11AM tomorrow. This leaves you with plenty of time to distribute the rest of your major meals throughout the day.
The 12:12 method
Here, you fast for 12 hours and eat for 12. It’s one of the easiest ways to fast, even for men, because sleeping does most of the work for you.
For example, you finish eating your dinner at 8PM today so your next meal starts at 8AM tomorrow. Put this way, it’s basically just stopping yourself from getting snacks after dinner and eating breakfast on time.
Spontaneous meal skipping
It’s self-explanatory, I think. There are no strict rules to follow here. You just skip a meal every time you can, but try to aim for 1-2 skipped meals per week. Nothing more.
Losing weight with intermittent fasting can be as friction-less and as effective as any other diet out there. However, in spite its versatility, the fact of the matter is that it’s probably not for everyone.
No matter what route you go with though, the most important thing you should remember is that if you came from a place where you’re eating junk, processed foods with little to no physical activity, no amount of caloric restriction is going to make your weight loss sustainable long-term.
So, regardless if it’s intermittent fasting, keto, or whatever else diet you have your eyes on, focus on replacing your bad habits with better ones.
Ciao! Share this with a friend or two, okay? Thanks, bud!