Intermittent Fasting Not Working: What Am I Doing Wrong?

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Not getting results with intermittent fasting? Learn what you could be doing wrong and how to fix it!

Intermittent fasting, or IF, is the practice of choosing to go without food and/or drink intermittently or for varying periods of time.

We’ve already explored the pros and cons of intermittent fasting in detail, so make sure to check that article if you need a more detailed examination of IF.

Many individuals appreciate the simplicity of IF, which requires no calorie counting, no expensive speciality foods, no membership fees, and no regular commitment to difficult exercise programs. All you have to do is commit to only eating during a certain time period – no carb-cutting or keto-commitment required.

Today we’re going past the basics and exploring some common troubleshooting issues users may come into contact with when IF-ing. If you’re wondering why you’re still not losing weight or find yourself starving all the time, even several weeks in, we’ll help you figure out what roadblocks you’re hitting on your road to fasting freedom. 

What If Intermittent Fasting Isn’t Quite Working For You?  

You’ve been fasting for a few weeks, maybe a month or even longer and you’ve seen no noticeable results. What could you possibly be doing wrong?

Let’s look at some of the reasons fasting might not be working for you:

1. Length of Fast

The length of your daily fast can have a significant effect on your results.

The benefits of of fasting are only realized through the discipline of an uninterrupted period of going without food, and sometimes lengthening that period is necessary.

IF window time

Based on your schedule, the time of day you choose to eat may not be as important as making sure you have maintained one consistent length of fasting time. In other words: two stretches of eight hour fasting time does NOT equal one stretch, 16 hours long.

And some people may need an even longer stretch to see results. Read on!

Problem: If you’re not seeing results, it could be that the length of your fast is not long enough for your body to switch over to fat-burning mode.

Many IF plans suggest you practice a 14:10 or 16:8 hour pattern. The first number represents the fasting hours and the second number represents your “eating window” (or the hours you will be in a “fed” state).

According to Dr. Ted Nalman, board-certified medical physician, many fasters misjudge how long it really takes to be truly in a fasted state.

From the time you begin fasting, your body spends at least the first 3-5 hours, digesting and absorbing nutrients from the last meal you ate. For many people, it can be closer to 8 hours.

During this time, insulin rises and turns off any pathway to fat-burning and also tells the body to store excess calories as fat.  It isn’t until several hours after this time, closer to the 12 hour mark, that you are truly in a “fasted state”.  

While in the fasted state, the body goes to town depleting your glycogen stores for energy. As long as you don’t add any more food into your system, you will eventually deplete all your glycogen stores and turn to your fat storage for energy. When this switch-over actually occurs can vary for each individual, but over days of consistent fasting, you will get there more and more quickly with each fast, and become a fat burner.

So when someone starts a fast after their last bite of food at 8pm, they really may not be in a fasted state, where the true benefits kick-in, until after 8am the next morning.  

Possible Solution: While the 14:10 and 16:8 setups work well for beginners getting the hang of fasting, you may need to gradually extend your fast beyond 16 hours so you have more hours of fat-burning potential beyond that 12-hour mark.  Close your eating window earlier whenever possible, and stretch your fasting time to 18, 20 or more hours, to maximize the power of the fasted state.

2. Quality of Fast

How you fast matters!  Fasting “clean” is the only way to be sure you are truly benefitting from fasting.  

Problem: You may inadvertently be breaking your fast, setting off an insulin response without even knowing it. During your fasting hours, do you allow for a dash of cream in your coffee or tea? Do you drink naturally flavored La Croix? Do you close your eating window at 7pm, but then allow one piece of fruit before bedtime or sip on a glass of wine?  Swallowing your toothpaste, sucking on a cough drop or mint, or licking the peanut butter knife when making your child a sandwich are all ways we may unknowingly break our fast.

Each of these actions could be causing a spike in your insulin, shutting down the pathway to fat-burning and pretty much starting your fasting clock all over again. 

Possible Solution: Not everyone in the fasting world agrees that things like artificial sweeteners or lemon in your tea will break a fast. But if you aren’t seeing results and you are doing any of these things, perhaps it’s time to see if a truly “clean fast”, as Dr. Gin Stephens explains, could make the difference.  

Some people commit to an ultra-strict fasting system and won’t even brush their teeth while fasting, for fear of triggering an insulin response. While most experts don’t believe the quick act of brushing could set off an insulin response, swallowing any paste could be a problem. 

Check a few things and clean up your fast! I don’t know about you but if I’m going to go to the trouble of eliminating all food and flavored drinks from my life each day, I certainly don’t want to sabotage my efforts with a small glitch!

3. Quality of Food & Drink During Eating Window

How you feast matters. When your goal is to maximize weight loss, it’s important to make good balanced food choices during your “eating window”.

Problem: The types of foods you are eating may not be the best for maximizing weight loss and allowing a quick transition to the fasted state.

Some methods of intermittent fasting suggest that once your eating window opens you can indulge in whatever foods you enjoy, with no boundaries.

This thinking works well for many who naturally experience something called appetite correction. In Dr. Bert Herring’s book by this same name, and his many YouTube videos, he explains that through fasting, we regulate our appetite and learn to eat according to our bodies’ needs rather than our wants. 

We eventually start to crave healthier foods in our eating window and become satisfied more easily.. But for many, appetite correction is not an immediate or easy process.

For some people, every day becomes a fast food fiesta when their eating window opens! 

Foods higher in carbs and sugar can wreak havoc on our bodies because they raise both glucose and insulin higher than other nutrients. Many fats, perhaps surprisingly, elevate glucose and insulin the least.  

Our body will always choose to burn carbs and sugars for energy first because it likes to work with what is already in its blood stream (the food you just ate) rather than switch over to stored fat.  If there is a surplus to work with, it will take its time burning through it all. 

More carbs & sugar = More hours of fasting time to burn them for energy 

A word about alcohol

Health expert and author, Thomas DeLauer, gives us an incredibly in depth explanation of how alcohol is metabolized in the human body, but he also addresses its effects on the fasting process.

Simply put: when we drink alcohol in our eating window, it moves to our liver which must address and metabolize this alcohol before it can even begin to work on any carbs, proteins, or anything else.

Alcohol goes to the front of the line and everything else takes a back seat, extending the hours needed to reach the fasted state.

Possible Solution: Perhaps you are one of those people who is happily losing weight and still enjoying crackers and chips, breads, sugary sodas, and desserts for 4-6 hours of the day, while fasting the other 18-20 hours.  But if you are NOT seeing results it may be time to clean up your menu. Stick with low-carb, high-healthy-high-fat choices.  Dark green vegetables, avocados, real butter and olive oil for cooking, are some great choices. Limit or eliminate sugar and processed foods.  See if these changes makes a difference!

4. Quantity of Food During Your Eating Window

How much you feast matters. 

When your goal is to maximize weight loss, it’s important to make sure you are eating until you are full, but not stuffed during your “eating window”.

Problem #1: Eating Too Much. Especially when you first start fasting, you may be extremely hungry once your eating window opens. It’s easy to ravenously eat huge amounts of food to make up for those fasting hours. You may indulge in copious amounts of food to reward yourself for the great fast you just completed. Or your fear of the next impending fast, just a few short hours away, may throw you into binge-mode. 

Problem #2: Eating Too Little. On the other hand, you may still have a diet-mindset and think that restricting calories and quantity of food in addition to fasting, will speed up your weight loss. You may be so used to counting calories and living on lettuce that you fail to take in the nutrients your body needs. It’s important to break out of this diet mindset when IF-ing. Your body needs fuel, don’t leave your engine empty!

Possible Solution #1: The Gentle Approach. Relax and be sensible. When your eating window opens, aim for hefty portions of vegetables first, followed by healthy fats like avocado, butter, or some cheeses. Add in just moderate amounts of protein from lean fish, chicken, beef, or eggs. Keep carb intake to a minimum. Listen to your body and try this intuitive approach. You should feel full and satisfied, but not stuffed.  

This will take several days or even weeks to figure out.  Trial and error will tell you if you’re getting it right.

One clue you are on track? Your fast should be much easier the next day, if you’ve eaten correctly.  

Possible Solution #2: The Intense, More Detailed Approach. Until you figure fasting out, you may need to implement some of the strategies in this video clip from EdwardV over at Fledge Fitness.

Edward explains that if you aren’t one of the lucky ones, enjoying effortless weight loss while IF-ing, you may need to get more in tune with your calorie and nutrient intake -at least for a short time.

He suggests understanding your BMI as well as your TDEE; two indexes used to determine the right proportions of macronutrients (carbs, proteins, and fat) appropriate for your current age, height, weight, and activity level. 

5. Water Intake

Proper hydration is crucial to successful fasting.

Problem: Many of us don’t drink enough water during our fasting hours. We may get caught up in the idea of the fast and forget that water is the one thing we should be putting in our systems. During our fasting and feasting hours, water is never off limits. 

Without proper water intake, we can easily become dehydrated during a fast. 

fasting water

Headaches, fatigue, and even perceived hunger can set in if we aren’t taking in enough water. These symptoms can be mistaken as a sign that fasting is just too difficult or even dangerous and may lead us to give up – when we simply need more water. 

Furthermore, Intermittent Fasting expert, Max Lowery explains that while in the fasted state, without higher amounts of water intake, your body won’t be able to flush out the toxins that are released during the fasting process. Proper hydration aids in the use of fat as our energy source to release that weight as well.

Possible Solutions: Increase your water intake during both your fasting hours and in your eating window. For the average person not practicing IF, the rule of thumb is to take your body weight and divide it in half. That number equals the number of ounces of water you should consume each day. But for IF-ers the amount should of water consumed should be doubled! 

Body weight in pounds should actually be equivalent to ounces of water consumed per day (150 lb person should try for 150 ounces of water per day).

Sparkling water (plain-no flavoring) counts as a great water source and provides an extra little sense of fullness to help you reach your fasting goals and stay hydrated at the same time.

6. Varying Your Intermittent Fasting Plan

Our bodies are amazingly intelligent and adaptable. It is important to vary some aspects of our intermittent fasting lifestyle to keep our bodies from adapting completely to our patterns.

Problem: Many IF-ers gradually work up to fasting 16 hours a day and then eating within an 8 hour window. At first, this method may work well and offer some weight loss, but after a short time you find yourself hitting a plateau. You are “clean fasting” and eating the right quality and quantity of foods during your eating window, but nothing is happening on the scales and your clothes aren’t any looser! What gives?

Possible Solution: Be sure to change things up! Dr. Gin Stephens discusses the importance of variety in her blog post. If we do the exact same thing each day, our bodies can and will catch on to our pattern and adapt to operate as efficiently and easily as possible. Keep your body guessing by trying one or more of these change-ups.

Fasting Change-Up Ideas:

  • Vary the amount and types of food you eat in your eating window. Eat much more one day and then scale back the next. Don’t fall into the habit of eating the exact same thing every night. By changing your caloric intake or the types of foods you eat, your body won’t be able to operate on autopilot.
  • Vary the number of hours you fast each day. There is nothing wrong with fasting for 16 hours one day and then 20 hours the next. Or even occasionally extending your fast to a full 24 hours to maximize fasting benefits. Don’t get in a fasting rut!
  • Try a different style of intermittent fasting.  Perhaps once or twice a week, try the One Meal a Day method where you truly have just one meal in a 4 hour window. Or try the 5:2 plan, eating normally 5 days a week, and eating less than 500 calories the other 2 days. Another popular approach is ADF, or Alternate Day Fasting, also referred to as Up Day / Down Day eating. With this approach you eat regularly the first day (up days) and then fast after your last meal and throughout the entire next day (down day). On the morning of the 3rd day you enjoy another up day, and so on. Check out all the Intermittent Fasting variations and give one a try to jumpstart your weight loss.

7. Metabolism Issue

Our metabolism absolute does come into play when looking at weight loss and intermittent fasting.

Problem: A sluggish metabolism could be part of the reason you aren’t seeing results from intermittent fasting. Perhaps you have spent years and years on the diet-roller coaster and your metabolism has become very efficient, slowing down to accommodate excessive calorie restriction diets. Intermittent fasters who suspect this problem may think they’re eating too much in their window or are fasting incorrectly. 

You may have gotten yourself into this mess by assuming the way to lose weight is to take in fewer and fewer calories, but we all know this just causes our body to slow down and learn how to operate on less. Enter sluggish metabolism. 

So how could fasting (aka eating nothing) possibly be the answer?  Wouldn’t that just slow things down even more? The solution is really the opposite of what you might think. 

Possible Solution: Dr. Jason Fung explains that a sluggish metabolism isn’t really a calories in/calories out problem. It is an insulin problem.  He compares our calorie/energy intake to the food in our refrigerators. As long as we keep the fridge full (carbs, sugars, and other foods stored as glycogen) we have no reason to use the reserves in the basement freezer (our body fat).

Furthermore, insulin is the means used to send leftover supplies to the basement freezer as more fat. If our insulin levels become elevated, insulin-resistance sets in and more and more fat is stored.  

By fasting, we train our body to look for a new source of energy that Fung calls “unlocking the basement freezer”.

fridge

When we keep the fridge empty (complete absence of food), insulin is lowered and the basement freezer is unlocked so its stores can be used. Then our metabolism revs up with this new energy source!

Healing your metabolism can take time and patience. Trust the process and eventually you will see results.

8. Medical Conditions

There are medical conditions which could hinder your results while practicing Intermittent Fasting.  

Problem: A pre-existing medical condition, a hormone or thyroid issue, pregnancy, diabetes, heart conditions, stress, and more could all play a role in your ability to succeed with an intermittent fasting lifestyle.  Intermittent fasting puts stress on your digestive and metabolic systems. Though this is primarily thought to be positive stress (much like exercise), there could be instances where the added stress raises cortisol levels or affects your thyroid negatively.

Possible Solution: Of course everyone should check with their doctor before trying a new eating plan, but particularly if you have a medical condition, be sure to get professional advice.

Could There Another Reason IF Isn’t Working For You? 

Possible Solution: Sounds cliche but listening to your gut, both literally and figuratively is the answer. If you have been practicing IF for at least 6-8 months and have done a thorough inventory of all the other reasons weight loss may not be happening for you, you may have to look even harder at our own complicated body.

In a recent Facebook post in the Delay Don’t Deny: Advanced Book Support Group, Dr. Gin Stephens suggests that only you can ultimately uncover a specific reason your body might not be releasing weight. 

Food sensitivities, thyroid issues, medications, menopause, lack of sleep, and more could all be a part of the puzzle. 

Keep in mind that weight loss is only a side effect of an intermittent fasting lifestyle that has many other benefits.It is possible that your body is healing internally while fasting and needs lots of time for that process to take place before it is ready to release weight too.


Troubleshoot your intermittent fasting issues and give one of our solutions a try. Let us know if any changes you make improve your intermittent fasting lifestyle!

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