Some of you may be fasting but not losing weight.
This could be simply because you are focused on improving body composition (fat to muscle ratio) rather than losing weight as such. In which case, high five! Keep up the good work.
Or you may be trying to lose weight but are finding the scales aren’t moving.
It’s this latter scenario we’ll be looking at here.
If you have been trying Intermittent Fasting for several weeks or more and nothing seems to be happening, a few things could be going on:
1. You are already chronically stressed and/or have adrenal fatigue
2. You are doing a programme that is too easy for you
3. You are doing a programme that is too hard for you
4. You don’t have weight to lose
5. You are growing!
Let’s get number 5 out of the way first. If you are a child or pregnant, chances are you shouldn’t be fasting. If you are one of the few who have been advised by your medical or health practitioner that fasting is right for you at this time, keep in mind any weight loss may be offset by growing up or growing a baby so weight maintenance may be a more appropriate goal. Fasting for most children or during most pregnancies is not recommended. Instead it’s more likely that focusing on three nutrient dense meals a day, ideally within a 12hour window, would be a better approach.
Next up number’s 1 (chronic stress/adrenal fatigue) and 3 (programme’s too hard). Remember that fasting and intermittent fasting are mild stressors. Other mild stressors include exercise, the polyphenols in FASTING+, exposure to heat (sauna’s) and cold (cold showers). A key reason why these things work is that they provide a challenge or a mild stress to the body, which the body then adapts to. If you are already chronically stressed for any reason, including by having a fasting regime that’s too hard for you, adding more stress on top could be making things worse rather than better with regards to weight loss and overall health.
Stress can come from many sources (emotional, physical, lack of sleep, bad diet etc.) and although stress can be good (eustress), too much can, of course, be bad. If this seems to be your situation, work on reducing stress and building the body back up with lots of nutrient dense foods for now instead. You can always come back to fasting later on.
Instead, for you consider some of these classic techniques to minimise the impact of stress in your life and achieve balance once more:
- Reduce it- by reviewing the sources of stress and removing, reframing and taking back control where possible. If you are simply doing a fasting regime that’s too hard for you right now, try a shorter fast to help your body adjust and work up from there.
- Manage it- by doing something that works for you such as yoga, spending time with friends or something else that makes you happy
- Restore balance– by doing restorative activities such as sleep, Epson salt baths, meditation, deep breathing exercises. And by taking a long hard look at your diet. Standard recommendations for supporting stress include eating a diet based on wholefoods (good quality protein, a rainbow of veg ideally including mushrooms, some domestic fruit such as berries and apples, wholegrains etc.) and reducing stimulants (caffeine, sugar, alcohol etc.)
Until you have recovered from chronic stress/adrenal fatigue, fasting and intermittent fasting is not recommended for you. Instead focus on three nutritious meals a day ideally within a 12hour window which may help your work through any insulin resistance you may be experiencing.
If you have recently recovered from stress, the other angle to consider is electrolytes as you may be more sensitive to an imbalance and this may making Intermittent Fasting harder for you. One of the hormones that can get imbalanced during stress is aldosterone. Aldosterone plays a role in salt/water balance and when it is imbalanced you can lose too much salt which can lead to lethargy, muscle cramps, sugar cravings, headaches, dizziness (as blood pressure lowers) and water retention (as the body clings to the salt it has left). When you fast, you also lose water and salt by these two mechanisms:
- As you use up your glycogen stores for energy, water is released into the body and excreted. This happens because each glycogen molecule is stored with water molecules and when these are metabolised, the water is released. Salt follows water which lowers your sodium levels.
- Your insulin levels go down – Insulin has a role in sodium reabsorption (helps the body hold on to salt). As insulin levels decline so does it’s influence on the kidneys to retain sodium. More sodium is excreted with more water.
So, if you have chronic stress in your recent history, be more aware of whether you need to add an extra tea spoon or so of salt to your fasting days and ensure you are drinking enough fluid. Pink Himalayan salt is ideal but a good quality sea salt is great too. For everyone else, sodium is still important for you on fasting days so consider adding some in, especially if you are getting any of the symptoms listed above, live in a hot climate or are exercising to the point of sweating. Sorting out your electrolyte balance will make sticking with your fasting regime easier and any weight loss goals more achievable. Salt is the key one for fasting days (assuming you aren’t doing an extended fast such as one for 5 days or more…)
On none fasting days or within your eating window, eating a nutrient dense diet will ensure you get some sodium plus the other electrolytes. Dark green leafy veg, nut and seeds and seasoning your food properly are particularly good additions.
If you are not sure where you sit on this electrolyte continuum, check your urine. You are ideally looking for a straw colour or slightly darker on fasting days. If it’s completely clear, you may have drunk to much liquid and/or need more electrolytes. If it’s on the darker side you may need more fluid.
Alternatively, you may not be losing weight because you are following a programme that’s too easy. If you are doing Time Restricted Eating and your eating window is 12 hours, this programme, although useful in many ways, is not associated with weight loss. Try and get your eating window down to 8 hours instead.
Also consider if you are cheating. I speak to many people who say they do the 16:8 plan but when asked when they start and stop eating, it becomes apparent that they aren’t really achieving it. If you are closer to the 12hour mark on a regular basis, you are unlikely to be losing weight.
If you are doing the 5:2 diet and progress isn’t happening, consider your routine on your fasting days and none fasting days. On your fasting days you are better off eating all of your calories in one meal (FASTING+ calories are exempt from this) rather than sprinkled through out the day. In addition, if most of your calories are carbohydrates you may consider adjusting the ratio to be higher in fat and lower in carbs.
Then review your none fasting days. Are you dramatically over compensating by eating or drinking far too much or too many refined carbohydrates on those none fasting days? After all, the festive season is in full swing! If this is you, consider ways you can make meals more satiating to reduce the likelihood of this happening moving forward. A simple trick is to add more high-quality fats to meals such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocados etc. And keep an eye on alcohol intake especially the carb laden choices such as beer.
Finally, number 4. Maybe you are looking to the scales but you don’t have weight to lose. Maybe you’ve already achieved an ideal weight for you. Alternatively, you may be underweight or have very low fat levels. Either way maybe losing more weight isn’t a helpful goal for your right now. Instead, focus on getting the other benefits from Intermittent Fasting (better energy, triggering repair mechanisms) and achieve this by making sure you are eating enough good quality calories in your eating window or none fasting days. Electrolyte imbalance may be affecting you more than most (see the section above on aldosterone). Also consider whether taking a break from fasting may be useful.
Good luck with your journey to profound health, whichever path you take.