We had an interesting discussion in our One Meal a Day Facebook group last week. In the intermittent fasting world, rumor has it that a certain fasting guru recommends against a daily eating window approach if you are trying to lose weight. The thinking is that over time, your body will adapt to the plan. If this happens, your body may decide that you have reached a state of energy balance, and therefore your body will happily settle at that point. In the diet community, we call that a plateau, and it is something we all dread.
First of all, I want to let you know that plateaus DO happen in any weight loss plan. So--of course, you should expect to hit plateaus along the way. In fact, understand that weight loss is rarely linear. Expect to see your weight zig-zag in an up, down, up, down pattern over time. The general trend should be down overall, but it will never be straight down. This is why I suggest weekly averaging in my book. When you compare your weekly averages, you can see the overall downward trends that can be masked by the daily fluctuations. Either weigh daily and only compare the weekly averages or stay off the scale and trust the process.
But--what about the body adapting to your plan so that weight loss really does stop? Can we prevent it from happening?
This is such an important point to understand. When you follow an intermittent fasting lifestyle using the strategies I suggest in Delay, Don't Deny, you don't have to worry so much about your body adapting. If, however, you are a rigid meal-timer or a careful calorie/macronutrient-counter, that can actually be a problem. Let me explain why.
The body absolutely can adapt to anything you do that's the same day-in and day-out. If you eat the same exact number of calories, as an example, or always eat a small meal in a 30 minute eating window, then YES! Your body can adapt to that pattern of intake. Your metabolic rate can adjust to match what you are eating, and your weight loss may come to a halt.
How do you keep your body from adjusting to your plan?
Good news! You absolutely CAN apply some strategies to keep your body from adapting to a specific level of caloric intake. And more good news! If you are listening to your hunger and satiety signals, and adjusting your intake based on those signals, you are already on the right track.
I don't eat the same way every day, and you may notice that I don't ever suggest that YOU should eat the same way every day, either. In fact, I say over and over again that you should learn to listen to your body and adjust intake as needed within your daily eating window.
Even though I generally eat "one meal", it's not ever the exact same size, the exact same length, the exact same macronutrients--it's not even always at the exact same time. NOTHING is the same about it from day to day. Some days, I actually eat TWO meals. On vacation, I may even eat THREE meals.
It is important that you learn to listen to your body, and don't be overly rigid in your intermittent fasting lifestyle.
Don't schedule a rigid window that is exactly the same every day. Don't count calories or macronutrients so they are precisely the same every day to hit some artificial or predetermined calorie or macronutrient target. Don't aim for some sort of dietary perfection where you can never relax and enjoy life. THAT is a bad idea.
Instead, be more flexible. Listen to your body. Eat more some days. Eat less some days. Vary your window length. Live your life.
One day your body may be satisfied with a very small amount of food. STOP EATING. Trust those satiety signals. The next day you may need a longer window because you are hungrier. EAT MORE. Trust that you needed more, rather than beating yourself up because you are "weak" or some-such nonsense.
Take a day off for a special occasion. Live a little when life allows.
This is not a rigid plan--it's a lifestyle. And now you should understand this point: making the lifestyle rigid and diet-like is actually counter-productive to your goals after all!
It's both as simple and as complicated as that.
Will you plateau and stop losing? Yes. At your body's ideal weight. Eventually. In a few years, maybe. I assume so, anyway. Even 2 years into "maintenance," I am still slowly losing, according to my changing size. Am I losing scale weight? Don't know. Don't care. I don't weigh. My clothes are looser and my body is still changing. I just had to put some pants away that I wore last spring and now they are too big.
When you do reach "your ideal weight," expect weight loss to stop. Who decides that you are now at your ideal weight? Surprise! It's not your conscious brain. It's your body. When your body decides you are at the ideal weight for the way you are living your life, you should stop losing weight and you will be at a permanent plateau. If you are lucky, it will be at a weight that your conscious-self also thinks is your ideal weight. If so, you have achieved weight loss Nirvana, which is when you feel good at your current weight, and your body is also happy to maintain that weight.
Remember: if you enjoy this lifestyle, then simply relax and enjoy the journey. You won't lose all of the excess weight quickly. You may get to a point, like I have, and stay at approximately the same size for 2 years, with a very gradual loss of extra fat over time. Eventually you should get closer and closer to your ideal weight, and your body will decide when you are there. Not you. It may be higher or lower than you thought it would be. Mine is actually lower than I thought it would be, according to my what my body has decided. And I'm not mad about it.
Gin Stephens lives in Augusta, Georgia, where she has been following an intermittent fasting lifestyle since 2014. In addition to writing the book Delay, Don't Deny, Gin is co-host of The Intermittent Fasting Podcast, along with fellow intermittent faster and author, Melanie Avalon. Check out www.ifpodcast.com or search for The Intermittent Fasting Podcast on iTunes.