Feast on delicious holiday fare and watch spare pounds melt away? We thought it was an impossible wish-until Jason Fung, M.D., shared his weight-loss tricks with us. “People debate endlessly about which foods we should or shouldn’t eat, but I put more focus on when we eat,” he says. “If we set a limit on the amount of time we spend eating, we free ourselves to enjoy treats and even celebration meals while still losing steadily.”
Lots of science backs him up. Better yet, he has a legion of devotees using his strategies in the real world who say they enjoy all their Christmas favorites while still losing up to 15 pounds a week!
Dr. Fung is one of the world’s leading experts on time-restricted eating (also called intermittent fasting), the most popular variation of which works like this: You establish a daily “eating window” — 11 am to 7 pm, for example — and consume all your food during that time.
Looking to shed some pounds in the New Year? Check out our review of all the Best Weight Loss Programs for Women that can help jump start your weight loss journey.
Your window can range from 12 hours to one hour, but Dr. Fung recommends eight hours for beginners. “Get a feel for the technique, then adjust the window until it feels comfortable and you’re getting results,” he advises. What do you eat during your window? To rev energy and fat loss, go mostly for natural, minimally processed options. But you don’t have to be strict. “A key advantage of intermittent fasting is its flexibility,” says Dr. Fung. “During the holidays, just fast between your feasting.” You’ll still get great results.
Timing is Everything
You might think that after 16 hours of not eating, you’d go overboard during your eating window. Not so, say University of Illinois scientists. Their new study found that a time-restricted approach prompts us to consume hundreds fewer total calories.
One reason: Short fasts activate a turbo-boost mode that helped our ancestors thrive during times of scarcity. Called autophagy, “it triggers the body to purge itself of accumulated waste and replace damaged cells with new ones,” says Dr. Fung. It’s one of the reasons the Toronto-based kidney specialist first became interested in fasting. Every cell, organ and body system is rejuvenated. Benefits include better hunger control, metabolism, skin, mood and immunity, plus reduced pain. “You get healthier as you get lean.”
Dr. Fung adds that going longer stretches without food helps reduce production of insulin, a hormone that stores excess sugar as fat and stalls fat burning. While you can also lower insulin with diet, “even when you’re not making the healthiest choices, changing when you eat is a powerful way to get insulin down. And when that happens, weight goes down automatically.”
Salt Makes it Easy
Dr. Fung has a holiday-perfect hack to share. Get yourself a mineral-rich salt like any pink Himalayan variety, then “add a pinch to water and drink it any time hunger or a craving hits,” he suggests. A UC-Irvine study found the strategy prevents hunger-inducing loss of sodium and other electrolyte minerals as insulin levels fall. Stephanie McGarrigle says regular doses of salt made it easy to lose 150 pounds: “I’d just put a little on my tongue and drink some water. It worked so well, I’d often forget to eat!”
For a holiday-friendly take on Dr. Fung’s approach, simply choose a daily eating window, such as 11 AM to 7 PM, during which you can enjoy two to three hearty meals made with veggies, good fat, protein and optional unprocessed carbs. Want to indulge? Freely enjoy keto treats and add a few anything-goes treats and celebration meals. Always get a doctor’s okay to try a new plan.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.