Along with the quality time that will soon be spent with family and friends this holiday season, we spend a lot of time with food. Individuals generally gain between one and seven pounds during the time period between Thanksgiving and New Year's. Since the average weight gain during adulthood is about one to two pounds per year, much of the weight that we gain in our adult lives can be attributed to holiday eating. We gain a few pounds each holiday season; fail to burn off the excessive calories that were consumed, and each calendar year we tip the scales weighing just a little bit heavier. The good news is that holiday weight gain is a well-documented phenomenon. The problem is simply an overconsumption of calories during the holiday season, partly explained by the large feasts generally served at holiday parties. The solution to the problem is caloric restriction. In this article we'll present a dietary strategy known as intermittent fasting (IF) that may help to keep the weight off during the holiday season.
Intermittent Fasting (IF) What is it?
Intermittent Fasting is the name some nutrition experts have given to the practice of temporarily going for extended periods of time without eating. IF is not a new idea and is practiced during times of food scarcity, religious events, and during our overnight period of sleep. We've all done it, since by definition all we need is a period of time that we eat and a period of time that we fast. There are countless models of IF being followed by fitness and weight loss enthusiasts including 12 hours of feeding followed by 36 hours of a fast (Alternate Day Fasting), 4 hours of feeding followed by 20 hours of a fast (The Warrior Diet), and 24 hours of fasting performed one to two time per week (Eat Stop Eat). While all of these IF strategies have worked for some, the overwhelming majority of successful IF eaters feed for an 8 hour period and fast for 16 hours (Lean Gains). This strategy tends to be most sustainable because it can be easily accomplished if the IF eater skips breakfast. Skip breakfast in the morning and start your feeding period at noon. You can then eat as often as needed until 8:00pm. Sleep will generally account for 6-10 hours of your 16 hour fasting period. You aren't left with many waking hours to battle with the psychological desire to eat.
What are the benefits?
There is a long list of possible benefits to IF, some of which are supported in research such as:
-Reduced blood lipids (fat), blood pressure, markers of inflammation, oxidative stress, and risk of cancer
-Increased cellular turnover and repair, fat burning, growth hormone release, and metabolic rate
-Improved appetite control, blood sugar control, cardiovascular function, effectiveness of chemotherapy, and brain function
Why can IF be beneficial during the holiday season?
IF works for body weight reduction primarily because of caloric restriction. When we are limited to an 8 hour feeding window during each day, we generally consume fewer calories throughout a day than in traditional eating. The current recommendation for smaller more frequent meals throughout the day (known as grazing) is valid, however many individuals distort the portion size of meals. This can often lead a dieter to consume a high daily caloric intake. IF eating can be successful because even if the portion sizing of meals is grossly distorted, it is still unlikely that more calories will be consumed in the 8 hour feeding period compared with the amount of calories consumed in the 16-18 hour period involved in traditional eating. If you adopt the IF eating strategy on days during the holiday season that you know will involve big eating, you might stand a better chance of keeping your daily caloric intake at a reasonable level.
Let's illustrate an IF example on a typical holiday party day:
Meal Log (Typical Day)
Breakfast 7:00am- 600 calories
Morning Snack 10:00am- 400 calories
Lunch 12:00pm- 600 calories
Holiday Feast 3:00pm- 1500 calories
Evening Snack 7:00pm- 400 calories
Total Daily Caloric Intake- 3500 calories
Meal Log (Intermittent Fast)
Fast from 8:00pm the prior evening
Break the 16 hour fast for Lunch 12:00pm- 600 calories
Midday Snack 3:00pm- 400 calories
Holiday Feast 5:00pm- 1500 calories
Evening Snack 7:30pm- 400 calories
Total Daily Caloric Intake- 2900 calories
In this example you can see that all the meal sizes are the same, but when following an intermittent fasting eating strategy you limit the amount of meal opportunities. Limiting eating to the 8 hour feeding window between noon and 8:00pm decreases the time available to squeeze in additional meals. The fewer meals that you eat, the less likely you are to eclipse your normal daily caloric intake and you may make it through the holiday season without additional weight gain. This is clearly not a ground breaking approach. Any form of caloric restriction can accomplish the same end goal. However, the growing obesity epidemic in the country illustrates that we are not doing a good job at restricting calories following a traditional eating strategy. Intermittent fasting is not the only approach to caloric restriction, but one that is currently popular and yielding impressive results for many people. If you have a problem with packing on too many pounds over the holidays and your current system of eating is broke, intermittent fasting could be your fix.