Imagine for a moment that you’re feasting on delicious holiday foods while still losing weight. It’s impossible, right? Not according to world-renowned intermittent fasting expert Jason Fung, MD, author of international mega-seller The Obesity Code. Dr. Fung recently shared a couple easy ways to make slimming down during this festive season both doable and even fun. “People debate endlessly about which foods we should or shouldn’t eat, but I put more focus on when we eat,” he says. “By setting a limit on the amount of time we spend eating, we free ourselves to enjoy treats and even some big Christmas meals while still losing weight at a steady rate.” And he’s got a lot of science and women like 150-pounds-slimmer Stephanie McGarrigle to back him up. Intrigued by the Dr. Fung diet plan approach? Keep reading to learn how and why it works, plus a salt hack to make it even easier.
What is intermittent fasting—and how works for the holidays
There are dozens of variations on this type of diet, but the most popular one is called ‘time-restricted eating,’ or intermittent fasting. It works like this: You establish an “eating window” for yourself — many people choose 11 am to 7 pm, for example — and then consume all your food during that designated time. Your window can range from 12 hours long to just one hour, but Dr. Fung recommends an eight-hour window for beginners. “As you get a feel for the technique, you can adjust the window until it feels comfortable and you’re getting the results you want,” he notes. Recent research shows the strategy stimulate up to ten times more weight loss, even if you don’t change what you eat at all.
To burn fat and feel energized, most of the time you’ll want to go for natural, minimally processed fare, says Dr. Fung. But that doesn’t mean you have to be all bah-humbug during holiday parties and activities. Again, it’s about feeling good while getting the results you want. So have that hot cocoa, savor a couple of the cookies. “One of the key advantages of intermittent fasting is how flexible it is,” says Dr. Fung. “During the holidays, just fast between your feasting.” You’ll still get great results.
How intermittent fasting transforms your entire body
You might think that spending 16 hours or so a day not eating would make you inclined to go overboard during your eating window. Not so, according to research conducted by University of Illinois scientists. Their study found that a time-restricted approach prompts us to consume about 350 fewer calories each day — even if we’re allowed unlimited junk food.
One reason: Short fasts help improve levels of hunger hormones by activating a “self-cleaning” mode that helps humans survive and 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 kidney specialist first became interested in fasting. Every cell, every organ, every body system is rejuvenated, including hormone regulation, metabolism, skin, mood, pain and immunity. “You get stronger and healthier as you get lean.”
How intermittent fasting lowers blood sugar
Why do so many of us develop issues with blood sugar and insulin that lead to weight gain, diabetes and other health woes? We spend so much time eating foods that spike blood sugar, and those constant spikes gradually damage cells, preventing them from properly regulating sugar and insulin.
Autophagy can help repair that damage, says Dr. Fung. And while the repairs may take time, the doc notes that going longer stretches without consuming food immediately helps reduce production of blood sugar as well as insulin — and insulin is a hormone that stores excess sugar as fat and prevents stored fat from being burned.
While you can also lower insulin by eating a healthy diet, “even when you’re not making the healthiest choices, simply changing when you eat is a powerful way to get insulin down. And when that happens, weight will goes down automatically.” In other words, your body may continue to lose weight — or at least not gain — if you only eat cinnamon buns and Christmas candy in an 8-hour window instead of nibbling on them throughout your waking hours.
Why salt makes the Dr. Fung diet plan easy
Dr. Fung has a holiday-perfect hack that makes this strategy a piece of cake. Just get a mineral-rich salt like a pink Himalayan variety or Redmond’s mineral-rich brand and “add a pinch to water and drink it any time hunger or a craving hits,” he suggests. “You’ll end up consuming the same amount of sodium as if you were eating normally and it’s a great tool.” A UC-Irvine study found the strategy prevents hunger-inducing loss of sodium and other electrolyte minerals as insulin levels fall. Stephanie McGarrigle says the 30-second strategy made it easy to lose 150 pounds: “I’d put some salt on my tongue and drink a couple swigs of water. It worked so well, I’d sometimes forget to eat!”
Dr. Fung diet plan success story: Stephanie McGarrigle
At 331 pounds, Stephanie McGarrigle suffered a near-fatal blood clot. After a months-long recovery, “I was so weak, I could barely move,” recounts the mom from New Brunswick, Canada. “I needed a way to improve my health.” She stumbled on Dr. Fung’s website. “I wasn’t a breakfast person, and the simplicity of time-restricted eating appealed to me,” she recalls. She began eating low-carb casseroles and chili between noon and 6 pm. Pounds poured off.
Did the holidays slow her down? Nope! “Dr. Fung teaches that we’re built for fasting and feasting,” says Stephanie, 45. “I stick to my eating window, but I do indulge. My husband and I make incredible Christmas recipes. This way of eating gives you freedom to enjoy yourself as weight flies off.” Stephanie lost a total of 150 pounds.
Recipes that let you indulge as you lose
Intermittent fasting leaves room for you to savor any holiday you treat you like. But sugary options and heavy meals will cause blood sugar to rise, which might leave you feeling fatigued. A better choice: Add some lower-carb treat options to your repertoire. We’ve rounded up ideas to inspire you.
Easy-make cheese ball
Mix 16 oz. room-temp cream cheese, 1 cup grated cheese, 8 slices crisp bacon, 2 tsp. any spice blend. Shape into a ball, roll in toasted pecans, chill serve with veggies
Partially cook 6 slices bacon; halve crosswise. Rinse and pat dry 12 sea scallops; wrap each in bacon and secure with toothpick. Broil until opaque, turning often, 4-5 minutes.
Pan roasted herbed nuts
Heat 3 Tbs. olive oil in skillet over medium. Add 2 cups nuts without skins; stir until toasted and fragrant. Stir in 2 Tbs. fresh thyme or spice blend tk, salt and pepper to taste; cool on baking sheet.
Keto hot cocoa
Whisk 2 Tbs. cocoa powder, 2-3 tsp. natural zero-sugar sweetener (or to taste; try options like allulose or monk fruit) , 1 cup water, ¼ cup cream, dash almond extract over low heat until smooth and hot; garnish and enjoy.
Bonus Recipe: Low-Carb Candy Cane Fudge
This guilt-free treat is easy and festive.
- 4 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
- 2 cups confectioners sugar alternative, such as Swerve
- ½ tsp. heavy whipping cream
- ½ tsp. peppermint extract
- 5-10 sugar free peppermint candies or candy canes, crushed
- Combine all ingredients except crushed candy. Gently incorporate most of the candy, reserving some for garnish.
- Press fudge into an 8×8 pan lined with plastic wrap or similar size pan with plastic wrap. Garnish, cover and chill until firm.
- Cut in small squares. Makes about 8 servings
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This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.