The 72-hour water fast has been making its rounds on the Internet and social media and while I’m incredibly excited to see more people recognize this practice and give fasting for weight loss a try, I’m also concerned that there’s not enough prevention talk in this movement.
Done correctly, fasting for weight loss may have amazing results that extend far beyond the scale. But fasting can be harmful if you don't go in with the right information. So, while we're focusing on fasting weight loss success stories, let's not overlook the basics.
This one is pretty straightforward, so I'll dive right in. These are some of the most common and dangerous mistakes anyone can make while trying intermittent fasting for weight loss, and how to prevent them.
#1 Not Drinking Enough Water
A common mistake people make when fasting for weight loss or trying intermittent fasting is to think they shouldn’t drink anything, or consume anything, on fast days.
This is not true at all. In fact, water is vital when it comes to keeping your body functioning and helping to flush out toxins. Fasting weight loss and your health both benefit from proper hydration.
What to do?
Make sure you’re giving yourself enough water to stay hydrated on fast days and drink as you usually would - as soon as you feel thirsty have a sip!
Hydration actually helps ease hunger spikes the first couple of fast days; it helps you feel satiated and curve cravings (which is great for fasting weight loss). Additionally, black or green tea and even some small amounts of coffee (without sugar, milk, creamers or artificial sweeteners) are OK to consume. I personally like to have green juice ;)
#2 Working Out Too Hard
You want to shed pounds! But you also want to be mindful. Exercise is excellent and a vital part of our lives, you don’t want to skip it just because you’re fasting for weight loss!
In fact, when you don't exercise while on an energy or calories restriction program, you're more likely to lose some muscle mass and experience an unwanted drop in your metabolic rate so, by all means, keep at it!
Fasting weight loss is aided by exercise if done in moderation. Since you’re on an energy restriction schedule, your energy levels will naturally fluctuate. Strenuous workouts coinciding with fast days, and even eating days, may burn even more calories that dramatically decrease your overall weekly intake and you’ll end up experiencing burn out.
What to do?
Do some light aerobic exercise on fast days, like LISS cardio, yoga or pilates, and some moderate weight training on eating days, studies show if you have a meal planned for your fast day, you should have it 35 to 45 minutes post workout.
You don’t have to exercise heavily while doing intermittent fasting, but you’ll feel great if you do.
#3 Not Getting Enough Rest
Recovery is an essential part of any weight loss program and a fasting weight loss one is no exception. A study found that sleep deprivation can reduce weight loss as fat by 55% on subjects who slept 5.5 hours instead of 8.5
What to do?
Aim to get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. If you just scoffed at that and thought “that’s impossible” you may need to look into the causes of your poor sleep. What you should be looking for is quality sleep and not just adding hours of rest.
#4 Not Reducing Stress
Hello, cortisol my old friend…
Actually no. You’re not my friend, not in excess.
Cortisol is a good hormone, just as any other when your body needs to kick into action and get you to a safe place. However, when you’re chronically stressed, cortisol may trigger food cravings. And that’s not all, it doesn’t only increase your need for sugary, fatty and carb-filled comfort food, it also raises insulin levels, thus preventing you from burning them off.
What to do?
Do as Frankie says and Relax! Try to combine your intermittent fasting schedule with a meditation challenge, some yoga (this could double as your low-impact exercise!), dancing and/or anything that helps you unwind. Fasting weight loss is promoted when you feel good, and cortisol takes a break.
#5 Not Prepping The Body
If you’re trying fasting for weight loss for the first time or haven’t done so in a while, it’s likely you’ll try to prepare your body the wrong way: by eating a big meal the day before your fast.
What to do?
To get your body ready for the fast and to reap the health benefits of intermittent fasting for weight loss try eating smaller meals, so you don’t get extra hungry on the day of the fast. Reducing energy intake sets the tone for the fast.
In fact, you can activate fasting weight loss by eating:
- Fewer or smaller amounts of food you often find hard to digest (for example red meat).
- Little to no processed sugar or white and plain carbohydrates. Go for simple, natural, organic, one-ingredient foods instead.
- Food that went through a long cooking period; they preserve energy longer (beans, legumes, etc.)
#6 Fasting for Too Long in One Go
You’re not supposed to starve; you’re supposed to restrict energy intake to an intermittent schedule. We recommend the 5:2 and 4:3 methods for beginners (eat five days and fast for two, or eat for four days and fast for three). If you forgo food entirely for more than three days a week, you’ll likely feel weakened and exhausted on the first try.
What to do?
Keep yourself at 500 to 600 calories even on fasting days to reap the health benefits and avoid stress or starvation. Even religious fasting introduces some water, fruit or nuts intake.
Choose an intermittent fasting schedule that works for you and start small. A juice fast might be an accessible way to ease into intermittent fasting. The goal is to boost your immune system and metabolism for fasting weight loss, not to feel tired, cranky and potentially in pain!
#7 Binging On Eat Days
It’s very easy to overeat when you’re hungry; you get yourself a large portion of food thinking you could “eat an elephant” and then you eat it really fast. So fast that by the time your stomach signals your brain the cue for ‘satisfied’ you already overate and feel too full.
What to do?
Avoid temptation and keep eating healthy portions that satisfy your needs, but are still within reason. The overall goal is to be at caloric deficit per week and portion control will help you get nourishment and stay within an optimal energy intake for fat loss.
Slow down when you eat and drink a glass of water before each meal to help curve your hunger and usher that fasting weight loss progress you so want!
#8 Breaking Your Fast Incorrectly
Intermittent fasting for weight loss is different from dieting because it restricts energy intake periods and not calories or food groups, but if you want to succeed you can’t leave your eating days to satisfy pizza, waffles, and donuts cravings.
Fasting weight loss is achieved when you’re not only fasting but breaking that fast with nutritious foods that work for you. Yes, you can have a little pizza and pasta, but you won’t get balance or lose fat if you eat a lot of them or do so very often.
What to do?
Break your fast with protein, healthy fats, some fiber, cruciferous vegetables, and complex carbs. This will not only keep you satiated longer but help you build muscle (if you’re exercising), keep a clear mind and make you more energetic.
Follow up with complete health supplements that have all of the macro and micronutrients that help your gut and mind thrive. A fast has enormous health benefits and can be a great routine to kickstart your weight loss journey, but it can also deplete your energy levels, and you’ll need all the help you can get.
#9 Not Eating Enough
On the flip side, many intermittent fasting beginners are so determined to lose weight that they don’t eat enough when they are supposed to. The goal is to reduce energy intake and be at a caloric deficit overall, but not to the point where you’re starving or becoming malnourished.
Don't think that eating will "ruin" your fast.
What to do?
Try to eat healthy portions of all the food groups on your fast-breaking days, at intervals. Making five small meals may help you consume enough calories and nutrients to feel positively energized.
Use an app like MyFitnessPal or FitBit to have a general idea of the macro and micronutrients you’re getting and listen to your body: sharp pain in the legs, constant headache, heartburn or excessive lethargy may all be signs of lower than necessary food intake. Fasting weight loss with this method should be challenging, but not harmful.
#10 Choosing the Wrong Intermittent Fasting Schedule
The key to Intermittent Fasting is in the name: intermittent.
On and Off.
There various IF schedules that you can follow, but the best one will be one that effortlessly marries your work and personal life. You know you’ve chosen the wrong program when you feel irritable and tired all the time.
What to do?
Go incremental! Try the 16:8 (fasting 16 hours, eating during an 8 hour period) or 5:2 first (2 days fasting, 5 eating), or start with a juice cleanse. Make sure your fasting periods are comfortable for you and don’t interrupt your regular work or life schedule dramatically.
For example, if you go to the gym on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, leave fasting for Tuesdays and Thursdays. If the busiest day of the week at work or with the kids is Thursday, reschedule for Sunday.
The idea is that you find a schedule that makes you feel comfortable and powers your fasting weight loss journey.
BONUS! #11 Giving Up Too Soon
Fasting weight loss is a fantastic alternative to those who really hate counting calories, struggle with yo-yo dieting and have hectic lives that make strict meals difficult, but it does require a certain amount of discipline.
Because this is likely new to your lifestyle, it will take time to get used to; your body might feel off for a few days, and people often find the first four to five fasting days the hardest - I know I did!
You will definitely feel hungry, there may be times when you feel a little weak or light-headed, there will be times your coworkers are off to tacos and margaritas and you’ll bite your lip in exhaustion. There may even be headaches, everybody is literally different.
BUT, after that first week, your incredible body will adjust.
You’ll start to see how quickly you recover and adapt, you’ll see the energy you didn’t know you had in you kick in and, even better, as your body builds a new immune system and rocket-fuels your metabolism: that fasting weight loss will start to be visible.
Consistency. Discipline. Self Love.
That’s all you need!
Fasting weight loss is possible and it will happen for you if you give it a chance, believe me; I did it! Find your groove and try different variations of intermittent fasting for weight loss until you meet your match, you’ll be glad you did.
When you do, tell me how it went here or on social media. I can’t wait to hear your success story!