Simple Habits That Boost Weight Loss and Fat Burning During Your Eating Window

Written and medically reviewed by Katya Meyers, RD

When most people say they want to lose weight, what they really mean is that they want to lose  body fat. Fortunately, fasting is a simple, straightforward method of losing body fat and improving body composition that replaces the endless possibilities of what to eat with the simpler decision of when to eat. 

Your fasting practice can do most of the “heavy lifting” when you’re getting your weight-loss journey underway; however, there are times it’s useful to take a closer look at your eating window as well. Engaging in some simple habits during your eating window can help you break through a weight-loss plateau and accelerate your journey towards burning fat, losing weight, and gaining health.

Your Fasting Window Sets You Up for Success

If you’re already fasting for 12–18 hours most days, you’re making tremendous strides towards improving your metabolic health. Fasting has been shown to spontaneously reduce caloric intake, promote weight loss, and reduce risk of cardiovascular disease without the headache of counting calories and macros. (Simplicity is what makes it so sustainable!)

Importantly, fasting also sets up your body to burn fat as fuel, which is how you’re able to maintain or even increase lean body mass while losing weight — because you’re losing fat! Lengthening your overnight fast to 12–18 hours is the crucial first step to achieving this fat-burning state.

Once you’ve started to fast regularly, the next steps are to optimize your fasting window with healthy habits, like exercising right before you break your fast, sleeping well, and even drinking coffee. Finally, after you’ve built the habits that will get the most out of your fasting window, it might be time to look at your eating window.

6 Simple Habits You Can Do During Your Eating Window

Here are several options that can help push you into fat burning earlier in your fast and keep you there longer.

#1) Be Intentional with Your “Bookend” Meals

The foods you eat at the end of one fast and at the beginning of the next can significantly influence the effects of those fasts. Choosing the right Fast-Breaker meal is important because as you break your fast, your body is often especially sensitive to carbohydrates. Launching into your eating window with a sugary cereal, donut, or other high-carb choice can send your glucose through the roof, whereas you want to keep your glucose levels as steady as possible for optimal weight loss, fat loss, and long-term metabolic health. Therefore, choose a meal that will minimize the glucose spike, namely one centering easy-to-digest protein like grilled fish, eggs, or chickpeas; healthy fats; and some fiber.

The pre-fast meal is another opportunity to set yourself up for fat-burning and weight-loss success. When you choose a meal that pairs low-glycemic carbohydrates (like non-starchy vegetables) with protein, fiber, and healthy fats, you’ll be able to enter fat burning earlier in your fast. The quicker you get into fat burning, the more time you’ll spend there and the more fat you’ll burn during your fast!

#2) Emphasize Protein

No matter what meal you’re eating, protein packs a powerful punch. Recent clinical trials have shown that consuming more protein than the standard recommended dietary allowance can help with fat loss. Protein boosts feelings of satiety and reduces food cravings by increasing the hormones GLP-1 and cholecystokinin and reducing the hunger-inducing hormone ghrelin. In addition, protein helps to maintain fat-free mass (like muscle!) during weight loss, yielding improved body composition and helping your body fight the natural weight rebound that often accompanies rapid diet-induced weight loss.

#3) Choose Unprocessed Foods

Ultra-processed foods have been linked to a dizzying array of adverse health outcomes, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and many other chronic diseases. In fact, these hyperpalatable and calorically dense foods have even been shown to cause weight gain as compared to a calorie-matched, minimally processed diet. (In other words, if you ate the caloric equivalent of chips and potatoes, the chips might make you gain weight even if the same amount of potatoes did not.) By instead choosing a wide range of minimally processed foods, such as whole fruits and vegetables, meats, fish, and nuts, you naturally choose foods that are higher in the macro and micro nutrients your body needs to thrive at its optimal weight.

#4) Follow Each Meal with an Exercise Snack

Snacking isn’t just for meals. As it turns out, you don’t need to spend hours in the gym to lose weight and burn fat. Little nibbles of exercise — as short as 20–40 seconds of high-intensity cycling or stair sprints scattered throughout the day — have been shown to elicit big benefits. They can improve glucose metabolism by lowering your insulin response to a meal, and they can also enhance cardiovascular health.

If HIIT isn’t your thing, another option is to pair short sessions of gentle movement with your meals. One study comparing the effects of a single 30-minute walk to three 10-minute walks following meals showed that the shorter post-meal walks improved glucose control more significantly for subjects with diabetes than the single longer walk. This was particularly true after the evening meal, when carbohydrate intake was highest and subjects were normally the most sedentary. So whether you have a dog, a kid, a partner, or a podcast, find a reason to spend ten minutes moving outside after dinner!

#5) Practice Mindfulness

In the very short term, a moderate amount of stress (like an endorphin-boosting HIIT workout or a few minutes in a cold plunge) is actually a good thing for weight loss. In the long term, however, chronic stress (like days or weeks of agonizing over a problem at work, home, or school) can make it more difficult to lose weight. This is because chronic stress can raise circulating cortisol levels and encourage emotional eating, both of which are associated with increased BMI.   

While no one can (or should!) eliminate stress entirely, developing stress-management tactics, such as a few minutes of mindful meditation, or adopting mindful eating practices, such as slowing down when you eat, can help reduce chronic stress, cue you into your body’s physiological hunger, and make it easier to burn fat and lose weight.

#6) Drink Enough Water

If your goal is to lose weight and burn fat, keep reaching for your water bottle. Research shows that optimal hydration leads to body-weight loss — yes, mostly by keeping hunger at bay, but also by increasing lipolysis, the breakdown of fat. Conversely, chronic under-hydration has been linked to obesity, diabetes, and other metabolic diseases. Stay hydrated with plenty of water, tea, and cruciferous vegetables.

Conclusion: Enhance Your Fasting Window by Improving Your Eating Window

By fasting regularly, you’re already making major strides towards better health. Quite often, one healthy habit begets the motivation for more healthy habits. If you’re looking for simple ways to double down on the health improvements you’re seeing from fasting, try weaving a few new habits into your eating window.

Katya Meyers, RD
Posted in Health & Science

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