Some of the most common weight loss recommendations are connected to the ideas that you shouldn’t go hungry and shouldn’t skip meals. Conventional wisdom says that these practices slow down your metabolism and can also lead to overeating and even weight gain.
But, how accurate is this view? Is going hungry or skipping meals really such a bad thing for weight loss?
One specific diet that has emerged and directly contradicts these ideas is the 16 8 diet. This post takes a look at what that diet involves and, most importantly, considers the question: Does the 16 8 diet work?
What is the 16 8 Diet?
The 16 8 diet is a form of intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting has become pretty popular recently and it refers to diets where you intentionally go hungry at some points in time. In some ways, this is the reverse of approaches where you are eating many little meals throughout the day.
The term 16 8 (or 16:8) directly refers to your eating pattern on the diet. Specifically, this means you fast for 16 hours and eat for 8.
I know, that sounds horrible.
But, fasting for 16 hours isn’t as hard as it might seem.
For example, one common approach is fasting from 8pm to noon the next day. You could also fast from 7pm to 11am or whatever variation suits. Essentially then, you’re just missing one meal and possibly some snacks.
With the timing I mentioned above, you’d be skipping breakfast. However, the diet is flexible, so you could do something like eat from 6am to 2pm and skip dinner if you wanted to do it that way.
So, does the 16 8 diet work?
At face value, the idea flies in the face of conventional advice – particularly the idea about never skipping breakfast. Yet, there is a surprising amount of evidence that supports this diet.
Plus, the idea does make a certain degree of sense. After all, only eating for 8 hours is going to decrease your calorie intake by default. Even if the practice did slow your metabolism (like so many people claim), you’d still probably come out ahead.
Does the 16 8 Diet Work? The Science
Intermittent fasting, along with the 16 8 version specifically, isn’t just a fad diet. Instead, this is an idea that has a strong merit and has been the subject of scientific research as well.
In particular, research has highlighted the importance of fasting as a therapeutic tool and illustrates how it can offer a range of health benefits that go beyond weight loss (1). For example, fasting has been promoted as a tool for disease treatment and prevention (2,3).
One reason for these benefits comes from the idea of autophagy. This is a biological process that occurs in the cells and can be promoted by hunger.
Some theories suggest that higher levels of autophagy can contribute to better health overall.
Yet, modern eating practices mean that many of us are rarely hungry and we typically eat as soon as we are.
Much more research is needed before we know what benefits come from promoting autophagy.
Nevertheless, this mechanism alone acts as important evidence that being hungry may be good for health.
Now, these outcomes refer to fasting as a whole, rather than the 16 8 method specifically.
However, they are important to consider. After all, conventional wisdom and advice tend to view fasting as an unhealthy practice, particularly for weight loss. Yet, the evidence in these studies suggests that this isn’t true at all. Instead, fasting offers a range of biological benefits.
For that matter, the 16 8 diet will also share some benefits with low-calorie dieting, simply because the diet tends to reduce calorie intake.
Research studies that focus on intermittent fasting have also shown that there are some health and weight loss benefits (8,9). However, this research is still in its early stages, so the results are not conclusive.
There are also many people who have seen benefits from intermittent fasting in their own lives. For example, one of the writers at Precision Nutrition talks about the topic extensively, as does James Clear.
Research supports the idea that fasting offers health benefits and may also help with weight loss
Research is also interesting when it comes to skipping breakfast.
This area is particularly relevant because, in most cases, a 16 8 diet does tend to involve skipping breakfast and having your first meal at lunch.
Despite conventional wisdom, the link between breakfast skipping and weight gain is actually minimal (10). In fact, that connection is mostly based on observational research, which is problematic.
In practice, people skip breakfast for all sorts of reasons, particularly if they are in a hurry or focused on their weight. In many cases, skipping breakfast would be associated with other unhealthy practices, which may be why people believe that skipping breakfast will cause weight gain.
But, these studies don’t show whether the practice of skipping breakfast in isolation is healthy or unhealthy.
Research on the topic has been varied, with some studies finding that skipping breakfast can lead to lower calorie intake and potentially weight loss (16,17,18), while other studies haven’t found that outcome (19,20).
In many ways, these outcomes reinforce the idea that diet and weight loss is an individual process.Realistically, some people will respond well to skipping a meal, while others won’t.
Additionally, the impacts of skipping breakfast may be connected to the reasons why people choose to do so.
After all, if you intentionally skip breakfast as part of a healthy diet plan, then the results will tend to be more positive than if you skip breakfast because you’re in a hurry.
Overall, these outcomes support the idea that skipping breakfast can be healthy. Certainly, there is little evidence that missing out on breakfast directly hinders weight loss in any way.
Instead, choosing to miss breakfast can be a useful strategy for weight loss, as long as you plan effectively.
Skipping breakfast isn't as unhealthy as most people assume and may even be a useful tool for losing weight
Advantages and Disadvantages of the 16 8 Diet
My initial question was ‘does the 16 8 diet work?’ and the simple answer to that is, yes. But, that doesn’t make it a good diet choice for everyone.
Instead, there are various advantages and disadvantages of this diet type that make it a better choice for some people.
Key Advantages to Consider
Unlike most diets, the 16 8 diet is incredibly simple.
All you’re worried about is when you eat. This means that you don’t have to count calories (or points, like in Weight Watchers) and you don’t have to avoid specific types of foods (like you would in a low carb or ketosis diet).
But, even with that, the diet is incredibly easy to follow.
Because your eating times are so constricted, people tend to find that they naturally lose weight – without making dramatic changes to their food. That’s no surprise, because you may end up missing one meal entirely or (at the very least) missing a number of snacks.
Another advantage of the 16 8 diet is flexibility.
As I mentioned before, you can choose the hours that you don't eat based on what works for you. Likewise, you can even just follow the diet some days and eat normally others. As you might expect, the diet is more powerful if you follow it every day but that certainly isn’t the only option.
More than anything though, the flexibility about food is great.
This means that you can actually go out for dinner or spend time with friends, without having to worry about what you eat.
The standard recommendation for following the diet is to stick with the same eating hours each day. However, the diet does still work if you change those hours from time-to-time, such as if you plan to go out for a late dinner with friends.
One final advantage is that the diet helps to break the cycle of constant eating.
In our modern society, we’re exposed to food in some way most of the time. Indeed, the standard eating pattern often involves three meals, along with a number of snacks throughout the day.
This makes it extremely easy to overeat. For that matter, many people don’t fully realize how much they eat in a given day.
Dramatically restricting your eating hours makes it much easier to control the food you’re eating and also tends to mean that you enjoy your meals more when you do eat.
In fact, many people find that a 16 8 diet helps to restrict their appetite.
As such, they may end up eating smaller meals when they do eat. This also helps with weight loss and reduces the chance of overeating.
The 16 8 diet is less complicated and more flexible than many other diet options and also helps to break some unhealthy habits
Disadvantages of the Diet
The biggest disadvantage of the 16 8 diet is the obvious one – you’re going 16 hours without food. That’s a fairly big change for most people, especially if you plan to follow the diet on a daily basis.
The diet structure means that you’re spending a considerable amount of time hungry. Now, that aspect does get easier over time, especially when you factor in your sleeping schedule.
Nevertheless, some people find being hungry to be an incredibly difficult process. So, you might find that it is simply too difficult to go so long without eating. Alternatively, you may find that you eat too much in the meals that you do have, simply because you are so hungry.
Likewise, some people may find that they cannot concentrate well during the periods where they aren’t eating and they may have headaches or low energy.
Realistically, these disadvantages are more profound for some people than for others.
In particular, many people adjust fairly well to the diet and may even find that they have more energy, rather than less.
One other disadvantage is simply that eating is a social activity. This type of diet doesn’t restrict what you eat but it does influence when. This can be a problem in some social situations, especially if your friends don’t understand.
For example, if you fast from 8pm to noon, going out for breakfast isn’t going to be an option. It’s easy to see how that could be frustrating.
Nevertheless, this challenge isn’t so different than what you face on other diets. For example, many diets involve avoiding specific foods and this can make it hard to eat out as well.
The 16 8 diet does mean that you're hungry, which is difficult for some people, especially early on
Should You Use the 16 8 Diet?
The 16 8 diet can work well for relatively fast weight loss or for long-term sustainable weight loss, partly depending on what food you consume. This alone makes it a powerful tool.
It is also something that you can tweak as you go along until you find a variation that works for you. At the same time, you could follow the diet every day or just pick a few days each week. So, there is a lot of flexibility and the diet itself is much less complicated than most other diets out there.
Really, you need to ask, does the 16 8 diet work for you?
At the end of the day, this approach is incredibly easy and simple for many people but can be almost impossible for others.
Certainly, it’s not a great choice if you hate being hungry or find that you have low energy and get crabby when you miss a meal.
But, that being said, the diet is easier to follow than it sounds like. Personally, I recommend giving the approach a try for a while and see how it works for you. You might be pleasantly surprised.
You can also make the diet a little easier by relying on high protein foods when you do eat. Doing so can increase how full you feel and may reduce hunger somewhat.
If not, there are other lifestyle options that you can follow in an effort to lose weight, such as Paleo, low carb and ketosis diets. Additionally, you can take a look at why you aren’t losing weight, to figure out stumbling blocks that may be getting in your way.
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What do you think? Does this diet sound like a good way to lose weight or would it simply be too difficult?