Losing weight is not your full-time profession, but it is an investment in your future.
You need a strategy that pays off on the scale that doesn’t waste your time and energy.
Fasting at night is a weight loss strategy that pays a high dividend for minimal effort.
Fasting is already something you do on a nightly basis; you call it sleeping.
By extending your natural nightly fast a few hours before bed and a couple of hours in the morning, you create a time-restricted eating pattern that encourages your body to burn fat without the need for strict dieting during the day.
Can You Lose Weight without Dieting?
Fast at Night to Create a Time-Restricted Eating Pattern
You have probably always known that late-night snacking was bad for your waistline, but until recently there hasn’t been a lot of research to support this theory.
A series of studies done by scientists from San Diego’s Salk Institute for Biological Studies found that restricting eating times for mice prevented obesity and the health problems that come with it, like diabetes, fatty liver, and metabolic problems.
In the study, one group of mice was allowed to graze all day and eat whenever they wanted. A second group was fed the same amount of calories but was restricted to an eating window of nine, 12 or 15 hours.
During the nine-month study, some of the mice in the time-restricted eating group were allowed to loosen up their eating briefly on the weekends and eat whenever they wanted a snack.
By the end of the study, the all-day grazers were obese and showed signs of metabolic illness. But, the time-restricted eaters were healthy and maintained their lean bodies, even if they took some time off on the weekends.
Even more encouraging, when mice in the free-to-eat-anytime group were switched to the time-restricted schedule, they lost weight.
How to Schedule Your Nightly Fast
The goal for a nightly fast is to create at least a 12-hour window of no eating.
One theory as to why fasting at night and then through the night works is because it follows the body’s natural circadian rhythm. (I touch on why fasting at night works in the next section.)
With your body’s natural active-rest cycles in mind, it’s helpful to start your fast three hours before your usual bedtime.
Do you typically close your eyes at 10:30 PM? Then your fast starts at 7:30 PM and goes until at least 7:30 AM.
(By the way, stopping eating three hours before bed is one of my 4 habits for faster weight loss. If you haven’t watched my free video series and downloaded the checklist at the end, go here.)
Why Does Fasting at Night Work?
Tapping into Body Fat
As I shared in How the Body Burns Fat, your body needs energy, which it gets by burning either sugar or body fat.
Sugar is easy to burn, so your body keeps some sugar in your blood, muscles, and liver for easy access. The problem with burning sugar is that you don’t store much of it, so it runs out quickly.
Body fat is a great source of stored energy, and there’s a lot of it, but it’s hard to get to.
The analogy that is usually used to describe how your body gets energy is a fire. Sugar is the kindling. It lights up fast but burns out quickly. Body fat is “the big log”. It’s hard to get burning, but when it does, it provides a lot of energy.
Your body is always using energy. Even when you lie down on the couch and watch TV at night, your body is burning fuel to keep you warm, pump your blood, and breathe.
When you fast at night, it gives your body time to burn off all of the sugar in storage. So, you burn fat as you sleep because it’s the only fuel available.
If you have a midnight snack, and then eat breakfast at 8 AM, your body is still running on sugar, and your fat storage goes untouched.
Fasting at Night Satisfies Your Primitive Fat-Burning Body
Fasting at night fits in nicely with the primitive part of our brains. When our ancestors were hunting for food, fasting was a normal part of their day.
Running to the frig at 11 PM to grab a snack is a modern-day phenomenon that confuses the body and messes with your metabolism.
In the study I talked about earlier, the eat-all-day grazers not only gained weight; they developed problems with their metabolisms, including insulin resistance.
Insulin is a hormone that is secreted into your blood every time you eat carbohydrates. Its job is to move sugar out of the blood so that it can be used as energy.
If you eat carbs too often, your body becomes resistant to insulin, so the sugar you ate at dinner just sits there in your blood. Your body responds by pumping out even more insulin.
This high insulin state blocks your body’s ability to burn fat, so an insulin-resistant body is a poor fat-burner.
Fasting for 12 hours or more restores insulin sensitivity and makes you a better fat-burner 24/7.
Fasting at Night Reduces Binge Eating
According to a study published in the Journal Obesity, late-night snackers added an average of 248 calories to their total daily caloric intake.
The foods you choose to eat late at night tend to be high in carbohydrates and fat, partly because you’ve exhausted your willpower reserve for the day.
Willpower is like a muscle; it gets tired the more we use it. As you make decisions and deal with pressures during the day, you fatigue your willpower muscle, leaving few defenses against the chocolate cake on the kitchen counter.
By committing to fasting at night, you give yourself some eating freedom during the day, which preserves your willpower muscle.
A nightly fast makes a busy life more relaxed, and also cuts out empty nighttime calories that prevent fat burning while you sleep.
Fasting at Night Makes The Most of Your Circadian Rhythm
You’ve heard of your circadian rhythm before, but what you might not have known is that all of your body organs follow a natural rhythm.
Your digestive system is programmed to be more efficient during the day and rest at night. When your digestive system is resting, the door to fat-burning is opened.
The circadian rhythm also regulates the function of many genes that influence metabolism.
Fasting at night allows your body to follow its natural cycle, further enhancing your fat-burning potential.
Can You Have a Midnight Snack and Forget Breakfast?
With our goal of creating a 12-hour window of no eating, you might be wondering if you can eat until bedtime, and then skip breakfast.
The research so far indicates that this might be possible, but if weight loss is your goal, you might be shooting yourself in the foot.
Your defenses are down at night, which makes it more likely that your food choices will be high calorie, low-nutrient snack foods.
Late-night eating also goes against your body’s natural fat-burning cycle, so you’re more likely to store fat than to burn it.
Fasting at night allows your body to tap into stored body fat for energy.
Even if your life is too chaotic to watch every bite of food that goes in your mouth, a nightly fast can turn you into a better fat burner.
Stop eating three hours before you go to bed, and don’t take another bite of food for at least 12 hours.
Of course, ending your eating day three hours before bed will require some conscious thought.
Late-night snacking is often looked at as a reward for the day’s work, so you will want to make fasting at night a “no-exception rule”. To learn how to do that, see my 4 daily habits for faster weight loss.
About the Author
Dr. Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.