Every year, roughly half of U.S. adults over the age of twenty try to lose weight. So if that’s one of your health goals, you’re not alone. Intermittent fasting can be a powerful weight-loss tool, and turning it into a consistent habit is enough to help you make significant progress.
But if you’re a Zero veteran or already have some experience under your belt, is it possible to reap even more benefits from your fasting practice? The answer is a resounding yes. Read on to learn how you can optimize your fasting window with four simple and science-backed habits.
The Magic (and Science!) of the Fasting Window
Part of the “magic” of fasting is that it ultimately results in burning fat — the stuff everyone really wants to lose when they say they want to “lose weight.” When you’re fasting, your body undergoes several important transitions to prioritize burning fat over burning glucose.
Most people will deplete their glycogen stores after 12 hours of fasting. At this point, your body shifts into burning stored fat as your primary fuel source; this transition towards fat burning is known as metabolic switching. Those 12+ hours between your last meal today and your first meal tomorrow are what unlock your fat-burning potential and enable you to experience simultaneous weight loss and health gain.
Beyond Fasting: When and How to Add to Your Fasting Routine
When it comes to losing weight, intermittent fasting has many advantages over traditional diets, like calorie counting. In addition to fat burning, fasting promotes spontaneous calorie reduction — no tedious tracking or laborious restriction required! At the same time, fasting boosts metabolic health markers like insulin sensitivity, which helps to stave off chronic disease while improving how you feel in your day-to-day life.
If you’ve already taken the foundational step to incorporate 12–18-hour fasts into your daily life, you may already be seeing results. However, if you’re experiencing a plateau or results are slow to appear, these four habits will maximize weight loss during your fasting window by getting you into Fat-Burning Mode quicker and helping you stay there longer.
4 Habits You Can Add to Your Fasting Window to Lose Weight and Burn Fat
#1) Move Your Body, Ideally in the Morning
Healthy weight loss is all about reducing excess fat mass while preserving as much lean muscle as possible. (The more lean muscle mass you have, the more energy you’ll burn, since muscle is more metabolically active than fat.)
Perhaps the most potent strategy to achieve this is to exercise regularly during your fast. Research data demonstrate that adding exercise to your daily routine, in combination with fasting, can double your total weight loss while protecting lean mass. By exercising in the fasted state, you also enhance fat burning so that you burn more fat than you would in the fed state.
The ideal time to get moving is towards the end of your fast, before your Fast Breaker. Timing your exercise this way not only supports weight loss, but it also helps to improve your circadian rhythm, which, in turn, leads to a better night of sleep.
#2) Get Enough Sleep
In the context of weight loss, sleep is crucial. Failing to prioritize your sleep puts your body in a state of elevated stress that ultimately inhibits your fat-burning potential. Moreover, poor sleep promotes cravings for high-sugar foods and contributes to compensatory overeating as an unconscious way for your body to make up for lower energy levels. If you want to maximize weight loss during your fasting window, give your body the time it needs to rest and recover — this means aiming for, ideally, 7–9 hours of sleep.
Tip: Struggling to get some shut-eye? When life makes getting enough sleep challenging (think: being a new parent, juggling work and school, etc.), consider incorporating non-sleep deep rest (NSDR) into your routine or even optimizing your mornings for smoother nights.
#3) End Chronic Stress
Not all stress is bad; in fact, certain intentional stressors, like lifting weights, can positively impact your health in big ways. However, chronic stress — or perpetually operating in a fight or flight state — is clearly linked with obesity and disease risk.
Chronic stress disrupts healthy metabolic function, contributing to excess fat storage and weight-loss resistance. Therefore, in order to maximize weight loss and fat burning, make sure you’re interrupting chronic life stressors with restorative behaviors, leisure time, and activities you enjoy.
#4) Add Fast-Friendly Thermogenics
For weight loss, the more energy you can burn (and heat you can produce, a.k.a. “thermogenesis”) during your fast, the better. Eating food is one way to increase your heat production because your body has to work — and therefore expend energy, which produces heat — to digest that food. (If you’ve ever heard of “meat sweats,” then you’re familiar with protein’s ability to produce a significant thermic effect, since your body has to use more energy to break it down compared to, say, carbs or fat.)
You obviously don’t want to amp up your heat production by consuming food during your fast; fortunately, there are several other fast-friendly thermogenics you can try, many of which you probably already have in your own home.
- Black coffee. The caffeine in coffee is a known thermogenic that increases total energy expenditure, whether at rest or during physical activity, and helps accelerate fat-burn rate.
- Green tea. While green tea contains less caffeine than coffee, it still produces a thermogenic effect, along with other synergistic effects that support fat burning and weight loss.
- Cinnamon. Daily doses of cinnamon (about 1 teaspoon) have been shown to stimulate thermogenesis and reduce visceral fat deposits. Stir some into your tea or coffee for compounding effects!
- Cayenne or chili pepper. Capsaicin, a major component of chili peppers — and also the most consumed spice in the world — has long been known for its thermogenic and weight-loss effects. Taking a capsaicin supplement can boost your energy expenditure by as much as 23%! Or, if you have red pepper in your spice cabinet, add half a teaspoon to coffee, tea, or another fast-friendly beverage to increase your feelings of satiety and reduce hunger.
- Cold exposure. Cold exposure creates a thermogenic effect as the body tries to restore its preferred temperature. If you’re not ready to dramatically change your shower experience, some preliminary data suggest you can rub menthol-containing analgesic on your skin to produce a mild thermogenic effect.
Conclusion: Accelerate Weight Loss During Your Fast by Adopting Habits That Compound Benefits
Weight loss is never easy, but it is possible. If fasting alone is not producing the results you want, there are other steps you can take to rev up your health journey. Invest in building these complementary habits, and you’ll be on your way to fulfilling your fat-burning potential and reaching your weight-loss goals.
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- Expert Insights from Sofia Cienfuegos, PhD, RD: Intermittent Fasting, Weight Loss, and PCOS - October 23, 2023