Intermittent fasting has many health benefits, including weight loss. However, the results you get from an intermittent fasting routine depends largely on how you fast.
Many who are new to a fasting lifestyle want all of the dirt on dirty fasting. After all, eating small amounts of food during your fasting window seems like the easy route. But is it?
Keep reading to learn everything you want to know about dirty fasting, including what constitutes a dirty fast, if it’s effective for weight loss, and the best ways to dirty fast.
Before we get into all of the dirty details of a dirty fast, let’s talk about time-restricted eating – also referred to as TRE.
Time-restricted eating is a type of intermittent fasting where you eat within a specified time period each day. This typically starts at 12 hours for beginners, while advanced intermittent fasters may push their fasted hours up to 20 hours or more each day.
Fasting schedules vary depending on your goals and experience with remaining in a fasted state. The ultimate goal with a TRE plan is to eat as close to zero calories during the fasting window as possible. Once the fasting period ends, participants are told to eat their chosen diet to satiety.
What Is Clean Fasting?
Another important term to understand is a clean fast. More specifically, a Gin Stephens Clean Fast, since Gin is the fasting expert who popularized this term in intermittent fasting circles.
Clean fasting is when participants only consume the basics during their fasting window, such as plain water, plain mineral water, black coffee, and some teas.
Beyond the minimal calories found in a cup of coffee, there is a complete absence of calories or sweet tastes in a clean fast. Therefore, you should save all caloric foods or sweetened drinks for the eating window.
You can also use electrolytes during a clean fast, as long as they don’t contain any artificial sweeteners. A teaspoon of sea salt in water is a good example of acceptable electrolytes; store bought electrolytes with a berry flavor are not.
What is Dirty Fasting?
On the other hand, proponents of dirty fasting believe it’s OK to eat a small amount of food during a fast. They also say it’s fine to indulge in low-calorie drinks.
Examples of dirty fasting include:
- Adding MCT oil or other healthy fats to coffee or tea.
- Using a little bit of coffee creamer in coffee.
- Adding zero-calorie sweeteners to drinks, such as stevia.
- Drinking herbal teas with a sweet taste.
- Consuming diet soda.
- Drinking bone broth.
While a clean fast allows for practically zero calories during fasting hours (beyond a few calories found in black coffee), most dirty fasting plans allow for a limited intake of calories during your fast. You also get to drink diet soda until your heart’s content.
Every intermittent fasting diet expert has her own take on what you can consume in a dirty fast. The range of advice includes:
- A few cups of coffee with a little cream.
- Foods under 50 calories – including a variety of veggies.
- Foods less than 100 calories.
- High fat foods that don’t spike insulin.
- Any low calorie food that doesn’t contain protein.
- Any low calorie food that doesn’t contain carbs.
Whoa – that’s a whole lot of conflicting advice.
Speaking of conflicting, there’s even a Fast Bar group that claims you remain in a fasted state when you eat their Fast Bar. Since a single bar contains 200 calories, 13 grams of carbs, and 5 grams of protein – I’m not sure that’s a good idea, even on a dirty fast.
Still, a lot of people believe dirty fasting is a great option compared to traditional fasting. They think instead of starving most of the day while waiting to squeeze all of your calories into an eight-hour window, you’ll feel better by sneaking in a few calories every so often until your fast is done.
Does It Work?
While some people swear adding a little cream to your coffee is OK, or that drinking diet soda won’t hurt weight loss – is dirty fasting really the best approach? That depends on who you ask.
When you ask an expert who has something to sell, the answer is yes. If you ask someone who’s only followed a dirty intermittent fasting plan, and never tried a clean fast – the answer will also be yes.
Now if you ask an experienced intermittent faster who’s tried both forms of fasting for weight management, following a clean fast is the clear winner every time.
While you may end up eating fewer calories on a dirty fasting plan as compared to a traditional diet, calories isn’t where the magic of intermittent fasting is. Keeping insulin levels low and ketone levels high is where the magic happens. This is when you feel less hunger. It’s also when your body has the ability to tap into stored fat.
See – magic!
That’s not to say that you won’t experience some fat loss following a dirty fasting plan. Plenty of people do. And while shrinking fat cells is a terrific benefit, how long will you stick with your intermittent fasting plan if you’re so freaking hungry that you want to gnaw off your hands? Because that could happen too.
Dirty Fasting vs Clean Fasting
How A Dirty Fast Can Backfire
The reason dirty fasters may experience so much hunger during the fasting window is all of those small dirty fasting allowances. Every single one of those cheats creates an insulin response.
When your insulin rises, your body expects nutrients to follow. When you promise your body nutrients but never deliver, your insulin remains spiked while waiting for the food to come. This can send some fasters straight into fat storing mode.
This is also the reason that even when some people cut calories very low, they end up gaining weight.
With frequent dieting, your body learns to expect very little nutrition to come in. This means your body is required to perform necessary functions on less calories. It has to conserve what it has coming in order to perform life sustaining tasks, like breathing. Your metabolism downshifts, and voila – you can do more on less calories.
When you trick your already confused body by sending small amounts of insulin spiking foods all day long, as can happen with a dirty fast, your body could believe you’re back in famine mode. This can lead to a downshift in your metabolism in order to conserve nutrients.
While a minor insulin spike here and there may not affect weight loss in everyone, if you have any form of insulin resistance – even a small number of calories during a fast could be wreaking havoc on your entire plan. This is because even minor insulin spikes may be too high for your body to handle.
Why A Clean Fast Works Better for Weight Loss
When you spend the entire day fasting without small cheats, most people agree that it’s actually easier to make it to the end of your fast. This is because your insulin remains stable and you don’t experience even small spikes that come with eating the dirty fast approved foods.
In fact, even minor insulin spikes can make you ravenously hungry. This is because your body prepared for nutrients – but you never delivered.
Fasting won’t work long term if you force yourself to suffer through a fast all day, everyday. After all, how long will you actually stick to a new approach if it makes you feel like crap? And even if you could stick out the misery, constant hunger signals is a new source of stress – which is another fat loss killer.
Furthermore, according to Dr. Jason Fung, any excess circulating insulin will hinder or stop fat burning.
When you eat something with calories or drink something that tastes sweet, this tells your body to release insulin. Heck, even the simple act of chewing begins the digestion process – which leads to an insulin release.
Since even small amounts of circulating insulin can stop fat burning, this should encourage you to change your dirty ways.
Can You Lose Weight?
Maybe you don’t care that a clean fast works a whole lot better – maybe you just want to know does dirty fasting work for weight loss?
Yes – some people do lose weight with dirty fasting. It’s not always easy, it’s not always fun – but it does happen. On the other hand, incorporating dirty fasting can stall some intermittent fasters completely. (Been there, done that!)
If you believe a dirty fast is right for you, and you’re getting results – then get dirty! But if you test out dirty fasting and get zero results – well, I guess you have your answer.
Best and Worst Ways to Dirty Fast
If you insist on keeping dirty fasting as part of your plan, let’s talk about some of the best and worst ways to incorporate dirty fasting into your lifestyle. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you about how much easier a clean fast gets once you practice.
Best Ways to Dirty Fast:
Bulletproof Drinks: You can add healthy fats, such as MCT oil, butter, or coconut oil, to coffee or tea. Since these are all made from pure fat, they will cause less of an insulin spike. Once your body burns the incoming fat, it may be able to slip right back into fat burning mode.
If you experience a weight loss stall past a few weeks, this is likely the culprit!
Bone Broth: While protein ceases autophagy (which is where a lot of the health benefits of fasting comes from), and bone broth is a good source of protein, some people choose to drink it during their fast because of all of the nutrients.
If you choose to sip on bone broth during your fasting window, add a small amount of fat to help keep the insulin spike lower. Butter is my favorite fat to add since this combo is delicious.
Avoid carbs: Avoid carbs at all costs, since this is a surefire way to spike insulin. Liquid carbs are the worst offender, so definitely steer clear of the juice found in a traditional breakfast.
Don’t Do It: OK – so I had to try again. But seriously, the bottom line is you get so many more benefits from a clean fast. Give it a try – even if you can only make it 12 hours at first. Plus, the more you practice – the easier it gets to extend your clean fast even longer, especially if you focus on a healthy diet once you break your fast.
Worst Ways to Dirty Fast:
Sweeteners: Even though most artificial sweeteners are calorie free, that doesn’t mean they won’t spike insulin. Adding a sweetener to a drink while fasting is one of the fastest ways to become ravenously hungry.
Diet Drinks: Again – most of these drinks are calorie free – but that doesn’t stop them from leading to even more weight gain in obese people. Even though the carbonation may help you feel less hungry at first, the fact that these sweeteners can keep your insulin spiked will cancel out this effect quickly.
While some experts claim you can eat up to 50-100 calories, the honest answer is any amount of calories breaks your fast. Coffee is an exception since it only has 2-3 calories per cup and has a bitter taste.
Yes, artificial sweeteners cause an insulin spike while in a fasted state. Most intermittent fasters will feel hungry after consuming artificial sweeteners during a fast, which means an insulin response took place.
Some people do report losing weight with a dirty fast. If dirty fasting is too stressful for your body, or causes too many insulin spikes, then you will not lose weight with this method.
The Dirty Intermittent Fasting Wrap Up
When most people wonder about dirty fasting, they ask what they can get away with and still lose weight – aka, how can you cheat on your diet?
If 20 years of yo-yo diets taught me anything, it’s that finding ways to cheat only leads to another failed diet. The good news with swapping out a dirty fast for a clean fast is it isn’t that hard. When you have patience and give yourself time to adapt, clean fasting is so much easier. Plus, it always yields better results.
Ready to give clean fasting a try? Read all of my favorite clean fasting tricks.
After 20+ years of a failed weight loss journey, I finally reached my goal! When I stopped calorie restriction and followed these tips, it became much easier to maintain a healthy body weight.
If you want to take this one step further and get the bonus health benefits of combining intermittent fasting with a keto diet, don’t miss our free Keto Masterclass.
In less than 60 minutes, you’ll learn 3 BIG mistakes most dieters make. Plus, we’ll show you how hundreds of women finally lost weight with our Ready, Set, Keto! Method – even when every other plan failed.
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