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Reader Q&A: Paleo vs. Intermittent Fasting for Fat Burning, Calculating Weight Loss

Melanie Avalon Reader Q&A Weight Loss

Today’s questions comes from What When Diet reader Paul:

Loved your book.  It reminded me of why I loved doing primal a few years.  The steakssss and going to farmers marketsss… Ok basically, I’m a musician and gained some pounds after moving to LA. But this last year I’ve been trying to shed off those pounds.  And being semi- successful. But I was so sick of eating the same meals 3 times a day… that I took a break and started looking for alternatives that would still be effective, but I would get to actually eat something different and not leave me feeling like I’m “dieting.”  OK so now for the questions (these are questions that I was thinking while reading your book and doing a bit more research afterwards online): 

1.  How much weight loss can you expect from doing intermittent fasting and paleo vs just doing paleo?

And….

2.  How can you calculate that? (if its possible)

Even though calorie counting or being super obsessed w numbers isnt “the point” of doing paleo, for me at least, it’s super motivational to have an ‘in general’ idea of what and when I’ll see “x” results.

Side note…  I started doing paleo and intermittent fasting this week …. and went down 5 pounds!  which is a little  surreal… since I was expecting more like half of that.  But yay!  It works 🙂 Anyways,  thanks for trying to help people be healthy (and to also drink at the same time) hah..

Paul’s question is tricky, with a less than definite answer. I feel like I’m about to give a long-winded answer that probably won’t even answer the question. Sorry in advance!

Let’s look at how Paleo and IF spur fat loss individually, in order to understand how they maximize fat burning together.

HOW PALEO BURNS FAT
Paleo encourages weight loss by priming your body to run on fat as fuel, rather than sugar, like the typical grain-based Standard American Diet. By taking in low carb, higher fat whole foods, you teach your body to use fat as the “go-to” fuel, 24-7. This includes dietary and body fat. This lower carb approach also regulates insulin, so you don’t go into crazy fat storage mode all the time. (Carbohydrates raise insulin, which encouragers the body to store food as fat.) As such, you begin naturally tapping into your fat stores with ease.

The rate of fat loss from this fat-as-fuel approach depends on your own metabolism and energy expenditure, as well as how much food you’re taking in, in general. While “calories” mean very little in the grand scheme of things, you will still likely lose more weight if you’re doing a “lower calorie” Paleo approach, rather than a “higher calorie” Paleo approach. (By priming your body to burn fat as fuel, you don’t have to worry about metabolic adjustments to a lower calorie intake, since your ample, available body fat assures your body there is adequate energy available.)

But while Paleo is awesome for entering a fat burning mode, and likely will yield weight loss, it isn’t a guarantee. You could in theory maintain weight hemostasis, if you are taking in enough fuel each day so that there is never any deficit. In this “worst case scenario” for Paleo weight loss, you would likely just lose around 5lbs in water weight, and gain a more “toned” appearance from the lack of water retention in general. (Sugars are stored with water in the body.)


HOW INTERMITTENT FASTING BURNS FAT
While Paleo encourages fat burning (and thus weight loss) by teaching your body to burn fat as fuel, IF kinda jump starts and maximizes the whole thing by “forcing” your body to burn fat. When you wait long enough between meals to enter the fasted (fat burning) state, your body has NO CHOICE but to use body fat for fuel. It’s like waiting out the crying baby until it stops crying.

Intermittent fasting also up regulates hormones thoughout the body to free up fat for fuel. In the fasted state, your body breaks up your fat stores into free fatty acids, which then run around the blood stream for instant use as energy. As such, you’re guaranteed fat burning of your literal fat stores. Furthermore, the longer you fast, the more your body ramps up fat burning hormones. This means you get more energy to burn even more fat.

Intermittent Fasting also goes beyond Paleo in regards to tapping into “stubborn” fat. If you’re just doing a Paleo approach in which you eat meals throughout the day to satiety, you will likely never “force” your body to tap into the especially stubborn fat reserves saved for “starvation.” That’s where IF comes into play – it tricks the body into a temporary starvation mode, freeing up the especially difficult fat stores. Since you consume adequate calories in your eating window, your metabolism does NOT ultimately lower to compensate. Such lowering of the metabolism occurs with calorie restriction, not calorie timing restriction.

So To Answer The Question….

Paleo puts you into a fat burning mode, but doesn’t necessarily guarantee you’ll significantly tap into your fat stores (though you likely will). Intermittent Fasting, on the other hand, essentially guarantees that you’ll tap into your fat stores, including more stubborn ones. Of course, if you eat a high carb, non-Paleo, highly palatable diet in your eating window, you’ll likely lose weight at a slower pace, and retain more water, than if you eat Paleo in the eating window. Doing IF + Paleo, guarantees fat burning during the fasted state, and then minimizes fat storage during the eating window. Couple that with the fact that a Paleo diet is highly satiating, so you’ll likely eat less in your eating window (“calorie wise”) than if you were eating a SAD diet, and you’ll understand why Paleo + IF = Fat Burning Heaven.

CALCULATING WEIGHT LOSS
As for calculating how much weight you will lose…. you can’t really.

I know that’s a less than satisfying answer. I kind of feel like a fail. I could say “determine your basal metabolic rate and count calories and calculate the deficit”… but it just doesn’t work like that. If it did, then calorie counting would actually work all the time. The body is far more complicated than calories in/calories out, and we have little control over adjustments in basal metabolic rate, energy expenditure, and use of different fuel substrates (which is why simple calorie restriction is a ridiculously silly means to get to weight loss). Just consider something like NEAT.

The best you can do is ASSURE a fat burning state, no questions asked, through dietary choices and timing. This occurs when you’re running on fat from a low carb diet, and fasted. (No where else to get fuel from, but body fat!)

Here are some methods to completely maximize fat burning/ weight loss that you can try, while doing Paleo + IF:

  • Eat *especially* low carb Paleo (Say no to Paleo-friendly starches and fruit.)
  • Lengthen your fasting window and shorten your feeding window
  • Throw in some High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) during your fast
  • Use supplements like caffeine or ginseng (smartly), at the beginning of your fast
  • Consider lowering your food intake a smidge. (I’m hesitant to write that one, because I’m not talking counting calories. I’m not talking restriction. I’m saying just don’t go super overboard on stuff like nuts and Paleo snacks. Or perhaps you could just eat fats in the “natural” form of meat or avocado, rather than adding huge amounts of oils.)

THE TAKEAWAY
In the end, both Paleo and Intermittent Fasting “teach” your body to use fat as fuel. As such, they yield effortless weight loss, since you are no longer fighting your body to burn fat – you’re teaching it to choose to do that on its own. That being said, Paleo doesn’t necessarily guarantee substantial weight loss, while coupling it with IF is the surefire way to guarantee speedy fat burning. While you can’t necessarily calculate the rate of weight loss, you can take measures to put your body in a state where fat burning is inevitable.

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