Seriously. The fastest, easiest, healthiest and most successful way to lose weight is to not eat–at all! This is in contrast to what has been done traditionally: to eat less at each meal (calorie restriction); or to eat a bunch of small meals throughout the day (also calorie restriction).  Although eating less food seems rational, it turns out that it is counterproductive and doesn’t result in long-term weight loss. To understand fat loss requires a primer on food consumption and energy metabolism.

When you eat, some of the energy is used immediately for muscle and brain function and some of the energy is stored; but energy is stored only when you exceed your immediate needs. Some of the excess energy is stored as glycogen, a modified sugar that is deposited in muscle and liver. Because glycogen is a sugar, you can use it very easily throughout the day and night when your blood sugar begins to decrease between meals. However, there is a limit to how much energy can be stored as glycogen and once you hit that limit (which almost everyone does at every meal!) you will store excess energy as fat.

When considering weight loss, the goal is to “burn” body fat; and traditionally the thinking has always been to eat less throughout the day—believing that this would achieve loss of fat. But just as excess energy is first stored as glycogen, glycogen is the first store of energy that is metabolized when dieting. In other words, when you take in less calories at a meal than you need for bodily function, the first store of energy that you burn is glycogen—not fat! In fact, the average person has about 12 to 15 hours worth of glycogen in their body, allowing a person to eat nothing for most of the day, never tapping into fat stores. The most effective way to lose body fat is to force your body to attack its fat stores by first depleting the readily available energy stored as glycogen.

If you refrain from eating until you’ve used up all of your body’s glycogen, in other words about 12-15 hours, you will shift from sugar burning to fat burning. And for every moment that passes thereafter you will be burning thru fat like crazy, so long as you aren’t eating any calories. The moment you eat any calories, the fat burning metabolism that you’ve just facilitated will be substantially impaired. This complete avoidance of food is fasting, and to do it for periods of short duration is known as intermittent fasting.

Intermittent fasting is the complete avoidance of all calories for at least 15 hours. This is easily accomplished by skipping a meal, usually breakfast. For example, if you finish eating at 6 pm in the evening and skip breakfast the next morning, not eating until lunch, you have just fasted for 18 hours. The more active that you are, the faster you will burn thru glycogen and the more fat loss you will ultimately achieve. Likewise, the longer you maintain the fast the more fat you will burn, which prompts some individuals to fast for 20-30 hours. Fasting beyond 24 hours is considered prolonged fasting and has additional health benefits beyond weight loss. Whether you are practicing intermittent fasting or prolonged fasting, most people have an easier time with compliance than when attempting calorie restriction only.

The main problem with restricting calories at every single meal is that it has to be done FOREVER! Which is, in and of itself, an overwhelming proposition to consider. Most people will lose some weight but struggle to maintain the loss; because when you increase the amount of food that you eat–and yes, you will increase the amount of food at some point–you will gain all of the weight back. On the contrary, with intermittent fasting you only have to commit to skipping a meal 1-5 times per week; the rest of the time you can mostly eat whatever you like. Most individuals would rather continue to eat their customary amount of food at each meal, skipping a meal here and there (i.e. intermittently fast), as opposed to severely restricting the amount and types of foods at EVERY SINGLE MEAL. And whereas calorie restriction at all meals is not realistic, skipping a meal periodically throughout the week can become part of a sustainable lifestyle modification and maintained over the long haul.

Intermittent fasting is an option here at the Heartland Wellness Retreat. We do not recommend it for everyone, but for individuals looking specifically for weight loss, a retreat is the perfect time to try something new while away from the stressors and temptations that are often present in the home/work environment.