Fasting For Fat Loss (Part 3: Your Solutions)

Hey folks!

In the last blog we discussed the people that should avoid fasting, and the common mistakes people make when fasting that hinder their fat loss results.

If you missed it you can read that blog post HERE.  

Today we’re covering the steps you can take to avoid these common fasting for fat loss mistakes, and how to properly set up a fasting protocol for fat loss.

Again fasting will not be right for everybody, and that is totally fine.

If you have any questions consult with a health professional to make sure that you’re healthy enough to fast as it is does come with additional stress that will hurt instead help some people.  

So let’s take a quick recap of the common mistakes people make when fasting for fat loss:

  • Not Controlling For Calories

  • Chronic Dieting

  • Losing Fat, But Retaining Water

  • Fasting Everyday

Step 1: Set & Track Your Calories and Macros

If you want to lose body fat you’ll need to be in a calorie deficit, and there are a ton of different ways to create a calorie deficit with different diets like high carb or low carb, paleo or vegan diets.

Any of these diets have worked for someone trying to lose fat. No diet is magic but they all have different ways of creating a calorie deficit.  

This section of the blog will help you set your calorie and macronutrient intake for fat loss.  

Keep in mind that this is a framework for you to build off and make adjustments to, it’s not set in stone or perfect from the jump but it will be a good starting place.

If you prefer low carb or high carb or want to set protein higher or lower than is up to you.

Setting Calories:

The first thing we’ll need to find is the amount of calories you require to maintain your bodyweight. Once we know this we can figure out your calorie deficit for fat loss.

There are a lot of formulas and calculators out there to establish what your baseline calorie intake should be, but I like to keep things as simple as possible.

To find an estimate of the amount of calories you need to maintain your weight simply multiply your bodyweight in pounds by 13-17.

The reason for the wide range of 13-17 is based on a number of factors such as:  height, gender and daily activity.

If you have a pretty sedentary job that requires a lot of sitting or you’re a smaller woman choose the lower 13-15 end of the spectrum.

If you have a high output like a manual labor job, or lead a really active lifestyle with 3-5 trips to the gym week, I’d go with the higher end of the spectrum 16-17.

Example:

If you’re a 165 pound male who works at a desk all day and isn’t all that active but goes to the gym to train 3 times a week multiply your bodyweight by 14-15.

165 lbs X 14-15 = 2,310 - 2,475 calories for maintenance

Now a 165 pound male who works an intense manual labor job and trains 4 times per week would use 17.

165 lbs x 17 = 2,805 calories for maintenance

A  woman who’s 125 pounds and works a job where she’s on her feet all day and trains 4 times a week should go with 15.

The reason why she would go with 15 instead of the 16-17 range is because she has a lower body weight and as a result her basal metabolic rate (BMR) would be lower.

125 lbs x 15 = 1,875 calories for maintenance

Conversely a woman who’s 125 lbs works at a desk job for the majority of her day and hits the gym 2-3 times per week would would go with 13.

125 lbs x 13 = 1,625 calories for maintenance

Setting A Calorie Deficit:

In the beginning a good start is to reduce calorie intake by 20% so you can get some initial fat loss.

Moving forward after you’ve set the initial calories and hit a legitimate fat loss stall  you’d reduce your calorie intake by 5-8%. The goal is to always eat as much as possible while losing at a steady rate.

Let’s use our 165 pound male who works an intense manual labor job and trains 3 times per week as an example here.

165 lbs x 17 = 2,805 calories for to maintain body weight (maintenance)

2,805 (maintenance cals) X 0.20 = 561 calories

2,805 (maintenance cals) - 561 (cals) = 2,244

Calorie intake for fat loss: 2,244

Putting It All Together:

To help put this all together in an example let’s use a 165 pound male who works at a desk all day and isn’t all that active other than going to the gym to train 3 times a week.

Your Macro Breakdown:

For the sake of making things simple let’s use some easy ranges:

Protein: 1 gram per pound of bodyweight

Fats: 30%

Carbs: Remainder of calories

If you need to adjust the macros for your own taste/preference or needs  just follow the steps below and make changes where it applies.

You’re getting the step by step process on how I’m doing it all below so you can make the changes based on your needs.

If you need help understanding something below please hit reply so I can help you, but I don’t have the time to calculate everyone’s individual macros for them.

An important thing to keep in mind is the different caloric content of the macros, which comes into play below:

1 gram carbohydrates = 4 calories

1 gram of protein = 4 calories

1 gram of fat = 9 calories

We’ll need to go through and do some math to figure all this out.

165 Lb male with a desk job who trains at the gym three times per week:

165 lbs X 14 = 2,310 calories for maintenance

Now we’re going to find how many calories he’ll need to eat to lose body fat.

2,310 (calories for maintenance) x 0.20 (20% calorie deficit) = 462 calories

2,310 (calories for maintenance) - 462 calories (creating a calorie deficit) = 1,848

Calories for fat loss: 1,848

1. ) Configuring Protein

165 lbs = 165 G

165 x 4 (calories per gram of protein) = 660 calories

Grams of Protein: 165 G

2.) Configuring Fats:

Fat loss calories: 1,848 x 0.3 (30% fats) = 554.4 calories from fat

Now to see how many grams of fat that translates into we need to divide those calories by 9 because that’s how many calories are in each gram of fat.

554.4 (calories from fat) / 9 ( 9 calories per gram of fat) = 61.6 ( 62 G )

Grams of Fat: 62 G

3.) Configuring carbs:

Add protein and fat calories together and subtract from total fat loss calories to find calories from carbs.

660 calories (protein cals) + 554 calories  (fat  cals) = 1,214

1,848 (fat loss calories)  - 1,214 calories = 634 calories from carbs

To see how many grams of carbs that translates into we need to divide those calories by 4 because that’s how many calories are in each gram of carbs.

634 (calories from carbs) / 4 (4 calories per gram of carb) = 158.5 (159 G )  

Grams of Carbs: 159 G

Our example 165 lb male’s calories and macros for fat loss would be:

Calorie Intake: 1,848 calories per day

Carbs: 159 gram per day

Protein: 165 gram per day

Fat: 62  grams per day

Step 2: Have Spike Days and Diet Breaks

Your body is especially good at adapting for survival so when it’s put in a controlled state of starvation, which dieting for for fat loss is, it will create shortcuts necessary to conserve energy.

These shortcuts come in the way of making you burn fewer calories, increasing your hunger, causing hormonal dysfunction and slowing down thyroid function.

For those who have been in an aggressive calorie deficit consistently for 8-12 weeks; implement spike days and diet breaks.

Spike days and diet breaks help restore hormones levels, prevent some metabolic adaptations and give you a psychological break from dieting.

A spike day is once or twice per week purposefully increasing your calories by 300-600. Depending on how lean you are and how long you’ve been dieting.

This is not a “cheat” day because you’ll need to keep fat intake lower, and have the majority of these calories come from carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates are the most effective macronutrient at boosting leptin and thyroid levels, which mitigates the metabolic adaptations that make fat loss more difficult.  

A full diet break is returning your calorie intake to a maintenance level for 1-2 consecutive weeks after an 8-12 week block of fat loss dieting.

You will likely gain a few pounds of weight when on a diet break, and this especially true for people who have been using a low carb diet.

This is not a cause for concern as most of the weight will be from water storage and increased muscle glycogen (carbohydrates stored in the muscle).

You will be eating more for so there will also be more food in the digestive system as well.

Step 3: Track Your Progress Other Than The Scale

When someone’s dieting it’s a  form of stress on the body. Add to the fact that most people are sleep deprived and have other psychological or physical stressors it’s easy to put the body in an overly stressed state.

This overly stressed state causes people to retain excess water, if someone is losing fat but highly stressed it can easily be masked by water retention on the scale.

This isn’t to say that the scale is worthless because it can provide helpful feedback, but you need more information than just scale weight to make the best decision possible.

If you’re using the system detailed below for measuring progress you’ll be able to better identify true fat loss stalls or just water weight that’s sticking around.

As an example I had a who’s check in last week showed that she was one pound heavier on the scale, but lost 3.5 inches off her hips and 1 inch off her thighs. She also looked leaner in her mid section in her progress pictures.

If we just used scale weight to gauge her progress we would have missed those other crucial signs that she’s losing body fat at a good pace.

Something you’ll need to know is that fat loss plateaus and stalls will happen to anyone who’s trying to lose body fat. Some people will experience longer or more frequent stalls but it’s highly individual.

Tracking Your Progress:

Here is how I would recommend you measure and gauge your progress:

1.) Weigh Yourself:

For some people the scale becomes a slippery slope and they get too caught up in the number. If that sounds like you it may be time to put the scale away and use the other two methods we’ll be discussing.

Typically if you’re losing fat then the number on the scale should trend downward on a weekly and month basis.

Keep in mind this doesn’t mean you should expect to see a lower number on the scale every day, and some days you may see a spike in your weight, which is normal.

Look at the overall trends of your weight for weeks and months, don’t obsess over day to day changes as daily fluctuations can be influenced by:

  • Carbohydrates intake

  • Bathroom frequency

  • Hydration

  • Fiber intake

  • Menstrual Cycle

  • Salt

  • Stress

  • Sleep

  • Time of day you weigh yourself

As you can see there’s a number of factors to account for. Make sure to weigh yourself at the same time each morning and compare numbers week to week, and month to month.

For women you’ll need to compare your weight from the same week of your cycle otherwise it can interfere with accuracy.

2.) Take Circumference Measurements

This is useful because sometimes your weight may go up, however if your waist measurement goes down it’s a sign that things are moving in the right direction.

Maybe your weight drops but your measurements maintain that’s also a good sign, as with weight sometimes a measurement will stall only to drop by a significant amount a few weeks later.  

Take a circumference measurement at each these points with your muscles tensed every two weeks and write the numbers down. You may need some help with a few of these, but most can be done on your own.

Shoulders: Put both your arms down at your side. Measure at the widest point from shoulder to shoulder.

Chest: Put both your arms up in the air and wrap the tape measure around the chest. Just a little bit above the nipple, then put your arms down and take the measurement.

Waist: Right at the belly button, wrapping the tape measure around until it gets back to the belly button.

2” Above/Below: Also measure 2 inches above and below the belly button using the same wrap around style measurement.

Hips: Measure the widest part of your hips going all the way around.

Thighs: Measure around the widest part of both your left and right thighs, but use the same body landmark to keep measurements accurate each week.

3.) Progress Pictures

Get into a bathing suit or your underwear, and use your cell phone to take a picture. If you have someone who can help you take pictures even better, if not a mirror picture will work.

Take a picture facing forwards towards the mirror unflexed, then turn sideways and take another side profile picture. Make sure these pictures are in the same lighting as well.  If you have someone who can help you, take a picture of your back profile as well.

We have a hard time noticing any changes on a day to day basis, but if you have a new set of pictures every month you’ll be able to better notice the changes that are taking place.

Step 4: Take Breaks From Fasting

This one is more based off my own personal experience and clients I’ve worked with and folks I’ve spoken with who used fasting as a tool for their fat loss.

We covered this in depth earlier so no need to beat a dead horse, but anyway you look at it fasting is a form of stress.

Stress in of itself is not harmful, but chronic unrelenting stress can be deleterious to your health and well being.

Not to mention significant sources of stress can make your  dietary adherence much more difficult and cause more stalls and plateaus.

Many people are sleep deprived which is a stressor on the body, and when you add to that dieting for fat loss, financial stress, work, relationships and other forms of stress the burden quickly becomes more than many can healthily handle.

If you’re overly stressed and don’t have the resources to recover from stressors, that’s  when your body will start to make negative adaptations to compensate.

These compensations come in the form of hormonal dysfunction and metabolic adaptations that can negatively impact your energy, mood, digestion, libido and training in the gym.

My first recommendation would be to start slow with fasting. People have a tendency to get excited and overdo new things.

“If a 16 hour fast is good I’ll try a 72 hour fast my very first day..” Slow your roll there my friend.

You don’t head into the gym fresh off the couch and try to back squat 375 pounds on the first day, you have to let your body adapt, and I’d advise you to treat fasting in a similar fashion.

Start by skipping breakfast or fasting for 12 hours to start with. You’ll be asleep for most of it so it won’t be that bad, and when you wake up just have coffee and go about your business for a few extra hours before eating.

There will  be some initial hunger, and that’s a normal part of the process as you retrain the hormone ghrelin that signals hunger.

Once you’re comfortable with a 12 hour fast then move it up to 14 or 16 hours. Give fasting a try for a few days to start with and have it be on days where you’re going to be more chilled out and relaxed.

If you’re feeling especially stressed, not getting enough or really fatigued from training don’t fast on those days. The extra stress is likely to to be more harmful than  helpful.

Again this is highly individual and you will need to find what works best for you. If you choose to do a 16 hours fast 3-5 days is plenty to get some of the benefits you’re looking for.

Personally I prefer to do a 24 hour fast once per week if I’m using fasting, but this is my personal preference and doesn’t work well for everyone.