Conventional wisdom says that you should eat 5-6 small meals per day. Conventional wisdom also says that you can’t cheat on your diet. Well, call me unconventional then because I’ve managed to lose a significant amount of weight and get to my lowest body fat level ever by skipping breakfast and lunch twice a week and eating whatever I want once per week. Even better, I’m not an outlier when it comes to the successfulness of these approaches. In fact, scientific research actually supports intermittent fasting and cheat days. If you’ve struggled with calorie-restrictive diets, maybe it’s time to take a more unconventional approach…the only thing you have to lose is weight!
Intermittent Fasting Overview
Fasting is a word that people fear. The associations include starvation mode, metabolism slowdown, and muscle loss. These may be true if you go too long without eating or stop resistance training, but research has shown that short-term intermittent fasting is highly effective for fat burning. There are a number of popular intermittent fasting approaches but I think the method laid out by Brad Pilon in Eat Stop Eat is the most lifestyle-friendly.
The general approach is to fast for a 24 hour period 1-2 times per week. For example, I stop eating after dinner on Sunday around 6pm and fast until 6pm on Monday by skipping breakfast and lunch. I drink plenty of water though.
Intermittent Fasting Benefits
Even if fasting doesn’t have any negative connotations, why would anyone want to skip a couple meals? Because fasting offers several distinct benefits:
- Weight loss: by skipping two meals twice per week, you cut out a significant number of calories. If you normally eat 3 meals per day, 7 days per week, you are cutting out 4 of 21 meals…almost 20% of your weekly calories!
- Fat loss: Brad goes into all the scientific details but fasting helps your body release more fatty acids and burn those fatty acids significantly faster than normal.
- Reduced insulin levels: high insulin levels result in fat storage; by controlling these levels, you can keep your body in fat burning mode.
- Increased growth hormone (HGH) levels: HGH is a hormone that burns fat while preserving muscle. Fasting offers increased levels without illegal injections that some celebrities and athletes have been caught using.
Intermittent Fasting Approach
I hope this list of benefits has at offered a glimpse into how effective intermittent fasting can be. That being said, you still may not think you could possibly skip any meals, let alone 2 in a row. I’d recommend a phased approach on the days you plan to fast:
Week 1: Eliminate eating after dinner. Assuming 6pm dinner and 6am breakfast, you’re already halfway home!
Week 2: Eliminate eating between meals. Just eat breakfast, lunch and dinner on your fasting days.
Week 3: Eliminate lunch.
Week 4: Eliminate breakfast, including coffee (or make it black).
The first 3-4 times you fast will be challenging, but once you succeed, you’ll know it’s worthwhile. You won’t be as dependent on food either.
Intermittent Fasting Flexibility
You don’t necessarily need to make dinner your one daily meal either. You could easily eat breakfast while skipping lunch and dinner. The key is to avoid calories for 24 hours. Don’t compensate by overeating before or after the fast either. By employing this method, you have much more freedom to eat whatever you like during the rest of the week. When I first started fasting, I still ate dessert every night and had meals like pizza and hamburgers. I successfully lost a lot of fat just by fasting twice per week. The great thing is that I could keep this up forever since I’m not sacrificing my favorite foods. Calorie restrictive diets may work in the short term, but they’ve been shown to fail in the long term. Intermittent fasting works for the long term.
Despite the success of intermittent fasting, once I really leaned out, I had to take a more restrictive, healthier approach during the week to lose more body fat. I eliminated saturated fat and refined sugar. However, with a wife and family, it was too hard to maintain that discipline during weekends. I had to incorporate one cheat day per week on Saturday or Sunday. As counterintuitive as it may seem, this actually helped boost fat burning.
Joel Marion, author of Cheat Your Way Thin, offers the scientific rationale for why cheat days accelerate fat loss. Our body contains a hormone called leptin that is responsible for regulating hunger and burning fat. By eating a restrictive diet, leptin levels fall making it more difficult to burn fat. This can happen in as little as a week. The solution is to create a spike in leptin levels by purposely eating foods high in fat and carbs one day per week. This one cheat day can restore leptin levels to normal allowing fat burning to continue.
Combining Intermittent Fasting and Cheat Days
Overall, losing weight is about expending more calories than you take in. By following a cheat day with a fasting day, you can still create a weekly caloric deficit. If you eat healthy at a slight caloric deficit for the remainder of the week and throw in a fasting day at the end of the week, you should see a huge drop in weight and body fat. I’d highly recommend giving intermittent fasting a try. If you can’t bring yourself to do that, Cheat Your Way Thin offers a carb cycling approach while still allowing you one cheat day per week. Ultimately, doing both approaches together makes for a great fat loss combo.
About the Author: Dave is author of Not Your Average Fitness Tips where he offers no-nonsense diet and exercise tips to get a lean, defined look without spending hours in the gym. You don’t need to sacrifice your lifestyle to look your best.