Intermittent-Fasting Plus A Few Clever Hacks Could Make Weight-Loss Easier:
Every once in awhile I end up in a conversation about nutrition & weight-loss.
So as a change in pace, I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned over time.
There are several studies to back this up, but some of it is just personal experience.
A lot of this comes from changing everything I was doing when I got a little bit chubby and needed to lose weight myself.
-Which I did to the tune of more than 40 pounds and 10+% body fat over the span of about 10 months, using only nutrition and without exercise.
So if that kind of thing is your cup of tea, then read on…
The Short Answer:
- I’ve tried a lot of diet & nutritional hacks.
- Counting Calories with low & slow carbs worked very well.
- Intermittent-Fasting worked even better, especially with low & slow carbs.
- Every once in awhile I get into a conversation about weight-loss.
- Every time I reach the same conclusion: Intermittent-Fasting is generally the best plan.
- Don’t over-complicate things, just try reducing your eating window to a workable 10-hours.
- The lab study results for IF are pretty amazing.
- Setting your eating-time window using your last meal as the guideline simplifies things.
- You don’t have to Gung-Ho/Cold-Turkey your way into any plan.
- You can just make small continuous change over a long time.
- Getting sugar & fast-carbs out of your diet as much as you can may help.
- Starting with a guesstimate of how much you eat and then tapering-off can make that easier.
- Beware of frustration-binges & set up reasonable structured cheat-days to avoid them.
- Stress & Inflammation may contribute to carbohydrate & sugar cravings.
- High-tryptophan foods and fish oil can help fix that.
- Don’t just cut out bad foods, substitute better ones in, too.
- Getting ultra-processed foods out of your diet is a great idea.
- Calorie-counting is easier & still-functional if you just use rough numbers.
- Beware of cutting your calories too far.
- Once you get things down, nutrition is often about fullness.
- Keep some high & low density foods around for when you feel different.
- Intermittent-Fasting is a great, simple way to lose weight.
- Leave the fancier hacks until much later on.
- Always check with your doctor to see if any diet or exercise program is appropriate for you.
- People who see the same doctor tend to live longer.
- I hope this mega-post can help!
Read on to find out the details…
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So in one way or another, I’ve been fooling around with nutrition, exercise, & fat-loss for a pretty long time.
And over the course of that time I’ve done several plans.
From tons of exercise, to high-protein, to crazy stuff like BodyOpus by Dan Duchaine, at which I did not do well.
Keto is very hard. Getting Cyclical-Keto down right is even harder.
And in all that time, the best success I’ve had has been with Intermittent-Fasting and Low-Sugar+Slow-Carb.
Low-Sugar+Slow-Carb really worked well, but when I paired that with just changing the time of day I ate ala Intermittent-Fasting,
Even more weight & fat fell right off; with zero additional effort.
I ate the same amount & type of food I had on the plan that lost me all the weight to start off with.
But after about 6 months of IF, I lost even more, most of which was fat -amazingly,
And I could see my abs for the first time in my life; even considering the time when I played sports back in school!
So if I could point anyone in the direction of what I’ve found to have the best results,
It’s those two things, hopefully together.
But since the scientific study results were so good, you might consider starting out just with IF.
-Especially since most people hate complication and IF really only asks you to make one change.
Not only that, but if you look at the 2012 results, Satchin Panda’s lab at the Salk Institute was able to put mice in one trial on a pretty low-quality diet equivalent to the modern Western Diet and achieve the same great results.
Now, that’s not a recommendation to eat bad food, just an indicator of how small most people might be able to start and still get Salk-like results!
As a side-benefit, the IF mice in the study also got the following bonuses:
1) Reduction in Cholesterol
2) Elimination of Fatty-Liver Disease
3) Elimination of Pre-Diabetes
4) Increased Energy
5) Decreased Signs of Aging
-So IF seems to go a lot deeper than just weight-loss, but we’ll get to that later.
Now if you want to read more on Intermittent-Fasting, the main entry for that is here.
But all you need to know is that if you change the amount of time you spend eating in the day to 10 hours long,
Instead of what you’re doing now, the chance is that you might start losing a bunch of weight and also get healthier.
As a matter-of-fact, IF has also been shown to increase lifespan; probably through several pathways related to inflammation.
But the trick to get that result is that the fasting period MUST be done when you are asleep.
-Which brings us to the next point: How do you set your eating window?
There are 2 answers:
1) Try to make your last meal of the day (end-time) no closer than 4 hours to bedtime if you can.
1a) Then, your start-time will just be whatever is 10 hours earlier.
1b) So if you have to be up at 7AM & you go to bed at 10PM, then the last time you eat should be 6PM.
1c) Therefore, your first meal of the day can be as early as 8AM.
2) You could look at it the other way around and start with the latest time in the day you think you can eat.
2a) However, since the life-extension benefits of IF only extend to test subjects who were not eating at night.
2b) You may want to use the last food of the day method of setting the window.
2c) It may also disturb your sleep if you eat too late.
2d) There are some stories about Sumo wrestlers gaining so much weight at least in-part because they eat a big meal and then get to sleep as soon thereafter as possible.
2e) No word on whether or not there is scientific evidence to back up those anecdotes.
Now how can you go through this change if you’re not a crazy health-nut who writes a whole website on it?
One word: Tapering.
Okay, two more: Incremental-Progress.
So, if you don’t think you can jump-in whole-hog and be successful, you’re probably very clever.
Not a lot of people can succeed on the Gung-Ho cold-turkey program.
So introduce change slowly.
Let’s say for example, your eating window is currently all 16 hours that you’re not asleep.
If you use the incremental-tapering method, and just shorten your eating window by 15 minutes/week (which is very slow change),
You will be officially Intermittent-Fasting after 6 months; without even realizing it!
It will feel like you did almost nothing.
Now if you feel you can make a bigger change that is faster, taper by 15 minutes/day and you’ll be IF in 24 days!
That incremental-tapering is one of the things I discovered during my weight-loss experience before IF that made everything that was previously-difficult into something easy.
And I’ve been at this for a long time; so don’t you go expecting yourself to be Super-Yoda on your first day either, OK?
The other great part about Tapering is that it gives you & your body a -very- long time to get used to things,
And you can also check-in with your doctor more frequently to make sure you’re on the right plan for you and it’s going well.
Funnily enough, Tapering works really well for other changes that are good ideas, too.
-Like getting as much sugar & fast-carbs out of your diet as you can.
Because whether it’s the work of Dr. Robert Lustig or the study on how sugar-intake can actually worsen depression and SAD,
Getting those things out of your diet can really improve your health,
Even just by avoiding a lot of Reactive Oxygen Species that would otherwise be in your body as the result of sugar-metabolism and to a slightly lesser-extent that of fast-carbs.
A simple outline for this might be something like the following:
1) Just get some kind of basic idea of how much of added-sugar, bread, pasta, rice, pastries, sweets, white potatoes, chips, crackers, cookies, cakes, pies, baked-goods, etc. you eat each week.
1a) Jot those numbers down in a notebook or app.
1b) -Because if you measure it, you know where you’ve been, and how much progress you’ve made.
1c) That process also engages the reward-circuit in your brain, btw.
1b) Then just slowly try to get less of what you’ve been having by some reasonable percent over a slow time-period.
1d) Ex 1: For Coffee. Put 25% less sugar in and stick with that until you get used to it.
1e) Then after that becomes normal, try to put in 25% less than that.
1f) Do that until it seems normal to you.
1g) Repeat the process until you’re at the lowest amount of sugar you can possibly stand and stick with that.
1h) You can do the same with the amount anything else you eat.
1i) Ex 2: How about reducing your intake of each of the other fast-carbs by 5%, or some small reasonable amount like Slice | Tbsp | 1/4Cup, every 2 weeks?
1j) Ie: Look at how much you have, think of areas you can save in, and reduce by a small amount you can tolerate, get used to that level until it seems normal, and then reduce by a small amount again then. Repeat the process until you’re eating as little fast-carb items in the day/week as you can.
1k) So you don’t feel like you’re cheating yourself, you can feel a little more free to add back some calories in the form of Fruit, Veg, Lean Meats, and better stuff if you feel like you’re not getting enough to eat.
1l) Because THE LAST THING you want to do is make drastic changes that will agitate some part of your psychology too much and set up a Frustration-Binge.
Note: I’ve tried this with sugar in coffee, milk in coffee, slices of bread/day, and added-salt on food; and it really does work!
You can do it too!
Now a short note on the subject of 1l) above.
Every now and then a certain craving or frustration builds-up and we all need a “Cheat Day”.
But here’s the big secret that will save you from the dreaded Frustration-Binge.
Make them –Structured Cheat Days-.
And just so you don’t get the wrong kind of foods at the wrong part of the day, namely fast-carbs right before bed,
1) Make your Cheat Day a thing only after you’ve started losing weight.
1a) Wait as long as you can to do one.
2) Put your cheats right in the middle of the day
2a) So you don’t blast your blood-sugar first thing before you’ve even gotten any fluids.
2b) So you have a chance at burning some off and not getting fat like a Sumo Wrestler (if there’s any truth to that story)
Some other key ideas for a Cheat Day might also include:
3) Do it on the weekend, when you’re feeling more free and the day is a little bit more special to you.
4) Plan it ahead of time, get -exactly- what you want.
4a) But only get a certain fixed number of calories that you decide on ahead of time.
5) Make sure you subtract this amount from your daily allowance.
6) -Very Key: Get ready with some very-filling, low-density food after your cheat, because cheat-foods are often very high in calorie-density.
6a) This way, you’ll still feel full on the day.
7) Just as with the Tapering idea, try stretching them out over time so they’re not 1x/week, but maybe 1x/2 weeks or 1x/month.
7a) You will have to optimize this by how frustrated you get and how much you eat when you tend to cheat.
7b) If stretching them out over time means you cheat more, then the benefits might be reduced so balance both food amount & frequency of cheats.
And now a special word on Cheats, or really, what motivates them.
You may be craving them because of Inflammation.
Recently, doctors have found that inflammation makes its way into your brain, which can cause depression-like symptoms at a variety of levels of severity.
There is a possibility you are craving sugar & fast-carbs because you are actually feeling somewhat depressed.
Because when you’re down what do you want? -A boost.
And you instinctively know that anything with sugar or fast-carbs will give you that mood-boost.
It’s one of the reasons nobody can eat just one potato chip, besides fat & salt.
And the boost you get from sugar is like dietary-cocaine.
The only problem is that sugar & fast-carbs make your blood sugar go up quickly, which then gets your Insulin to over-correct quickly,
Then as a result of that, you store bodyfat; which creates more inflammation because of the excess hormones it puts out.
Several posts on HT also discuss studies that show how sugar in the diet can cause premature aging, too.
But anyway, the key is to –know that this is happening– and resist the urge to use sugar/carbs to improve your mood.
You can instead use food to improve your mood by eating both something that is high in tryptophan like Chicken or Turkey.
And then getting some Fish Oil (if you are not on anything that thins the blood otherwise, even including some meds like some anti-depressants/anti-anxieties, because there could be an interaction there, check with your doctor or pharmacist)
You could alternately have Salmon, though it’s lower in mood-boosting tryptophan than chicken.
But either way, other studies have shown that Fish Oil reduces inflammation in the brain, and also lowers symptoms of depression.
So having Fish-Oil might actually be a great antidote to inflammation-based Sugar & Fast-Carb cravings without all the problems!
That clever substitution idea actually leads to another point, one that I first heard from nutrition-superstar Diane Sanfilippo,
Eat This Not That.
The process of losing weight is easier if you have something to substitute for the bad foods you just cut out.
And that is (simply enough): More of the good foods.
So things like:
1) Lean Meats
10) and Mixed Nuts
-are all viable alternatives for those erstwhile sugar & fast-carbs.
Now if you’re trying to lose weight & fat, be at least a tiny bit careful with fruit, as you can overdose and get too much fructose.
The average person’s liver will only process 50g of Fructose per day into energy before it converts the rest to fat.
So just know that there may be a limit out there.
Similar cautions exist for too much starch from potatoes, which can be converted to sugar.
Also, Mixed Nuts are a super-nutritious and filling way to get something to eat. But just know they can be fairly high in calories.
So Yes, eat them. But not with reckless frat-boy abandon.
For example, 1 cup of Walnuts or Almonds has about 800 calories, so try to keep it to smaller & more-manageable blocks like 1/4 cup of about 200 calories.
One other note in using food as medicine for Mood as above: You can also subtract Ultra-Processed Foods as much as possible from your diet for a host of reasons,
Most of which lead to Inflammation, but also because it gets a lot of Omega 6 oils out of your diet (several sketchy processing additives, too).
These oils are not bad by themselves, but in-excess, they are.
We are supposed to get a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio of 6:3, but because of modern food-processing, most people’s current ratio of 6:3 is more like 18:1 or 20:1.
So getting more Omega 6 out of your diet in terms of that balance is similar to getting more Omega 3 into it!
Almost-Finally, one of the most difficult things to do because most people hate math is: Calorie-Counting.
If you go to TDEEcalculator.net, or install MyFitnessPal on your phone, you can put your personal variables, such as Age, Weight, Gender, & Activity-Level, into a calculator, and that gives you a number.
Now here’s the bit where I make calorie-counting at least a somewhat less-brutal experience for you.
Just. Get. Close.
You don’t have to be math-genius exact.
Just get a rough idea of how many you’re having at each meal, and either write that down in a small notebook like a Moleskine, or put it into a Notes app on your phone.
Because another of the studies out there shows definitively that people who just Attempt to count calories, but are still inaccurate, -end up losing weight anyway. (ka-boom!)
-Because close turns out to be good enough.
Not only that, but many of us are overeating so much, that even getting close to what we’re supposed to have constitutes a major change.
Here are 3 more tips that will make your life a little easier when it comes to tracking & counting calories:
1) Round Down what you’re allowed to have.
1a) Ex: If you can have 2144 calories/day. Just plan on 2100 or 2000 instead.
2) Round Up what you’ve eaten.
2a) Ex: if the nutrition facts on the Panera menu says your sandwich was 623 calories, just pretend you ate 650 instead.
3) Secret Sauce Bonus Points: Build in a “Fudge Factor” that nutritionists call a “Calorie Deficit”. Plan on giving yourself an allowance of slightly-less calories than you’re allowed.
3a) You’re trying to put yourself on a plan that is as close as possible to “the right way” of eating, and not some one-time celebrity crash diet, so make it a reasonable deficit.
3b) In my personal experiments, I’ve found that a 10% deficit is about the most I can do before I start going crazy.
3c) It’s a nice round number and shouldn’t get you into too much trouble, so you may consider using that as a rule-of-thumb.
3d) DO NOT go too big on a Calorie Deficit.
3e) If you do, it can be hard to get the RDA of many macronutrients, micronutrients, vitamins, & minerals and you could end up getting sick or looking like the crazy old coot on SciAm Frontiers.
Finally for real this time, one last idea that might help you once you get established in your new routine.
One of the things you find out if you put yourself on a plan to lose weight & correct your eating mistakes as I have over the long-haul, is Managing Fullness.
At the beginning, you might feel either stuffed or starved based on the difference between how you were eating and the number of calories the calcs you can have in your Food Journal.
And that’s an interesting clue. Because as you go through the program over time, a lot of what you end up doing is just plain Managing Fullness.
So, in the spirit of Diane Sanfilippo’s “Eat This Not That”, just have a list of High-Density & Low-Density foods at-the-ready, so you can balance things out if you need to.
1) Vegetables & Leafy-Greens are super low-density.
2) Olive Oil and Peanut Butter on the other hand are very high-density.
So on any one day, you may be starving and need to eat 100 calories of steamed spinach or broccoli to get so full you don’t even want to eat for the next 4 hours.
On an opposite day you may feel terribly stuffed, but you’re supposed to eat,
So maybe have a peanut butter sandwich on the smallest amount of bread you can manage (remember: minimizing fast-carbs), and maybe a few pieces of the darkest chocolate you can stand (also minimizing sugar).
WebMD will give you a quick list of all variants of one food that instantly lists calories for each.
CalorieKing is really big on details, doesn’t seem to have those quick lists, and makes you wade through things to find the exact match.
Note that next up on the Calorie-Density Scale between those 2 extremes are:
1) Fruits (but don’t drink the juice)
2) Starchy vegetables
3) Lean Proteins
-In that general order, so that should give you an idea of where many foods tend to fall in their average calorie-densities.
So in-summation, this is a huge list of different factors you might take into consideration.
But you don’t have to worry about all or even most of it at first.
You just have to get started. And the best thing I’ve seen so-far is Intermittent-Fasting.
It works like magic, and every new study on it makes it look even better; especially the part about Zombie-Cell cleanup.
Then once you get good at that, start swapping out as much of the bad stuff in your diet as you can,
And keep the good stuff at-the-ready for when you get hungry.
But start simple & small, just keep making continuous incremental progress, and you will reach your goals. I promise!
Just to keep everyone safe out there, please remember:
Please check in with your doctor at the start of any proposed change in diet & exercise plans.
Only your MD knows all the risks, quirks, & complex factors that pertain to you specifically.
Especially in terms of genetic heritability of some diseases/tendencies that may run in your family on one side or the other.
(actually, people who see the same doctor also live longer, btw)
Because if we check-in with Harvard Health’s page on it we see the minimum restrictions for the IF plan are people with the following issues:
1) Diabetes/Blood-Sugar Issues
2) Eating Disorders
3) Medication Plans That Mandate Food-Intake
4) Kids Who Are Still Growing
5) Women Who Are Pregnant Or Breastfeeding
So if you’re otherwise pretty healthy, you might be good. But it’s always wise to check-in with the right doctor first!
I hope this mega-post of my experience & research can help some of you out there,
And that perhaps just the process of slow-tapering into Intermittent-Fasting can help you realize some of your health & weight-loss goals in the future.
Be well & Keep On Trekkin’!
PS: I don’t recommend the “no exercise” part I mentioned earlier. It keeps you healthy, can be a key signal to retain muscle mass and is well-supported by a Danish Study for that.
The point I made about going through the process with no exercise just illustrates that overwhelmingly nutrition is king when it comes to weight-loss.
• Sources: Salk-2012, Drug-Free Intervention | Salk- 10 Hour Window
• More Coverage: HT- Intermittent Fasting | Harvard Health – Intermittent Fasting
• Source Studies:
•Cell – Time restricted feeding without reducing caloric intake prevents metabolic diseases in mice fed a high fat diet
•Cell.Met. – Time-restricted feeding prevents obesity and metabolic syndrome in mice lacking a circadian clock
•Nature – Circadian autophagy drives iTRF-mediated longevity