In today’s world, we are inundated with all the latest diet and food trends no matter where we look or go. Gluten-free this, paleo that, keto friendly, the list goes on and on. But there is one hot “trend” that is actually not a trend at all. We’re talking about intermittent fasting. (You might see it as “IF” in some places.)
There are many religious people who use this in accordance to certain religious holidays, etc., but intermittent fasting has been practiced since the beginning of time. And no, cave women weren’t trying to watch their weight. They did this because that’s usually the amount of time it took them to score their next meal, and they also didn’t have refrigerators way back when.
The idea is this: it’s not so much what you eat, but more so when you eat.
Now, that’s not to say that you should go and gorge yourself on McDonald’s during your eating window. Focus on real foods that are packed with vitamins and minerals, and don’t overdo it with the carbohydrates, starchy foods, and sweets.
Here we’ll break down for you the tips and tricks to master intermittent fasting so you can reap its powerful benefits.
Okay, so this goes without saying. I discovered intermittent fasting about 6 months ago, and I’ve sworn by it ever since. Traditionally speaking, most people practice intermittent fasting two days per week. I personally do it more, but that is entirely your personal preference. But when I know that I am going to fast, I plan ahead! For myself, I have never been a breakfast eater, ever. When I eat breakfast, I will often feel sluggish and instantly tired. Which makes it hard to focus while sitting in front of a monitor typing for hours on end. When I know I am going to fast, I will be conscientious about exactly what time I’m eating dinner. For example, if I know that I am fasting until noon the next day, I will not eat a single thing past 8 PM the evening before. The 16-hour fasting window is standard, although some deviate slightly and might go just 14 hours or longer with 18 hours, though a 16-hour window is ideal for me. The standard “8-hour window of eating” recommendation for intermittent fasting is really the sweet spot. See, it’s when you eat, not what you eat.
I’ve practiced keto successfully for 4 weeks, and I will tell you that personally it’s not for me. When intermittent fasting on keto, I really felt my energy depleted due to the lack of carbohydrates in my body. I’m a mother of 3, I work out often and stay active, and living in the south, I sweat a often, so I think my body needs just a bit more carbohydrates than 20g a day. But to each their own, if it works for you, fantastic! I am only mentioning keto because many keto advocates swear by intermittent fasting. And if you’re going to do keto, that’s a WHOLE lot more planning ahead.
Do this for your intermittent fasting plan: know that you will have a meal/snack ready once your fasting window is over. I go for something with a good protein, fat (avocado usually), and some light carbs. You’ll honestly be surprised because you won’t be as hungry as you think, I promise! Remember, mind over matter goes a long way.
“It’s important to remember that with intermittent fasting, you do typically get to eat at least a little bit every day,” Dr. Krista Varady says. “There’s also no limitation on types of food or number of calories you eat during your feeding windows or ‘feast’ days.”
(Please note: If you are a person who suffers from low blood sugar, please consult a medical professional before attempting intermittent fasting.)
- The 16/8 method: Also called the Leangains protocol, it involves skipping breakfast and restricting your daily eating period to 8 hours, such as 1–9 p.m. Then you fast for 16 hours in between.
- Eat-Stop-Eat: This involves fasting for 24 hours, once or twice a week, for example by not eating from dinner one day until dinner the next day.
- The 5:2 diet: With this methods, you consume only 500–600 calories on two non-consecutive days of the week, but eat normally the other 5 days.
The Many Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
One of the very first things you’ll start to notice once you’ve mastered intermittent fasting is that your stomach area seems less bloated. I’ve had three cesarean sections and have had issues with bloat ever since. When I do intermittent fasting and stick to it, I literally feel lighter and less heavy around my midsection. Not sure about you, but that’s always an awesome feeling! Another benefit I’ve noticed is that my appetite seems to be less “oh my god I’m starving” and more on balance and suppressed if anything.
Some of the other key benefits of intermittent fasting include:
- Human Growth Hormone (HGH): The levels of growth hormone skyrocket, increasing as much as 5-fold. This has benefits for fat loss and muscle gain, to name a few (4, 5, 6, 7).
- Insulin: Insulin sensitivity improves and levels of insulin drop dramatically. Lower insulin levels make stored body fat more accessible (8).
- Cellular repair: When fasted, your cells initiate cellular repair processes. This includes autophagy, where cells digest and remove old and dysfunctional proteins that build up inside cells (9, 10)
- Gene expression: There are changes in the function of genes related to longevity and protection against disease (11, 12).
In addition to the amazing benefits listed above, many studies and individuals have reported weight loss over time with the help of intermittent fasting. (Like I mentioned above, these individuals were not chowing down on fast food in times of non-fasting!) You are what you eat has been proven many times over, so rely on intermittent fasting for its many incredible health benefits, and also reach for those better food choices in times when you are in your optimal eating window.
Results From A Recent Study Surrounding Intermittent Fasting:
A 2014 review study found that this eating pattern can cause 3–8% weight loss over 3–24 weeks, which is a significant amount, compared to most weight loss studies (1).
Another study showed that intermittent fasting causes less muscle loss than the more standard method of continuous calorie restriction (16).
And to help you out, I’ve included a few commonly asked questions with answers so you don’t have to search Google yourself!
Can I have a cup of coffee or tea while I’m doing a fast?
Yes! In fact, I definitely do this. (YOU. DO. NOT. WANT. TO. SEE. ME. WITHOUT. MORNING. COFFEE.) While it is considered intermittent fasting safe to have a cup of tea or coffee during your fast, you cannot go adding sugar, sweetened creamers, or anything like that. You can, however, add a dash of plain creamer without sugar added to it as long as it’s deemed under 50 calories. This way, your body will still remain in fasting state. Here are your intermittent fasting safety beverages: water, black tea, coffee, green tea, and diet soda if you absolutely must. Be smart and go for the water, your body will thank you for it.
Do I Start My Mental Timer For Fasting When I Start Or Finish My Last Meal?
Your mental intermittent fasting clock begins the second that last bite of your food is swallowed. Then–and only then–can you truthfully begin your fast. Remember, no cheating!
There’s No Way I Can Go That Long Without Eating. Will I Pass Out?
No, you won’t. I’ve done it countless times now, and I promise you’re not going to keel over dead. Yes, it takes commitment, but there are so many benefits that you should keep them in mind and push past it. It’s VERY important to choose the time that works best for you. If skipping dinner works better for you, do that! The great thing about intermittent fasting is that you can tailor it based off your schedule. My mornings are hectic as heck so I usually don’t even have time to eat until lunch anyway, see? Problem solved!
Remember: Intermittent fasting is not a diet. It is a timed approach to eating. It takes some commitment, but the benefits far outweigh the 16 hours you’ll go without eating food.