You might think there’s not much to figure out when it comes to intermittent fasting. At first glance it seems the only decision to make is when to eat. But, there’s much more to it than that.
In fact, there are several “protocols,” i.e. methods, by which one may reap the benefits of fasting such as daily fasting and alternate day fasting. By the title of this website you can guess that I’ve adopted the daily fasting option, but even that isn’t so cut and dry. There are choices to make regarding how long to fast, during what hours and what to eat within your eating window.
All of these considerations can either maximize your efforts or make fasting practically impossible to sustain. Like many people, after I made the decision to fast daily, I scoured the net for personal accounts of how to do it. If you’re doing the same, you’ve found my two cents. Here’s what’s working for me.
1. My fasting schedule fits my lifestyle. Typically, I eat only between the hours of 5:00 PM and 10:00 PM, fasting daily for 19 hours before. Many people skip breakfast and break the fast at lunch time. Being a night-owl, I knew that wasn’t going to work for me. I’m usually up late and the temptation to snack beyond my eating window would likely be problematic if I began fasting too early in the day. I find it easier to break the fast at dinner time, still giving me enough time to stop eating two hours before going to sleep. I am not painstakingly exact with times; however, I’m consistent with eating with a 5 hour window. It’s important to maintain a balance between commitment and flexibility.
2. I drink only water and tea during my fasting hours. I know there are many who swear by coffee during their fasting time; however, I prefer tea. In particular, the nominal amount of caffeine in white tea is just enough to give me a boost without giving me the jitters. I’m a tea enthusiast, so the process of steeping and savoring tea is an enjoyable activity that is a good replacement for eating and snacking when I can’t do so.
3. I’m mindful. There are very few things that have taught me more about myself than daily intermittent fasting. I feel differently about hunger, thirst, food, and just about every aspect of my nutrition. Daily intermittent fasting encourages one to slow down and pay attention not only to the body, but long-held beliefs about food, nutrition, and social conditioning.
I break my fast, wait 20 minutes, then eat again. I’ve made it a rule to break my fast with the most nutritious meal possible. For me this means my plate has mostly vegetables, a lean protein and good fats such as coconut oil and butter. After eating my dinner, I wait at least 20 minutes. Then, if I’m still hungry, I eat more. Although this rule might imply I overeat after my initial meal, most of the time that pause before eating more is enough to chase away feelings of being “starved” and the desire to overeat as well as any cravings for “bad” foods. I’m most mindful before I break my fast. This just means that I slow down and think about what and how much I’m about to eat, particularly when I first break my fast. It would be easy to overeat at this point, but simply slowing down and thinking about what you’re about to eat is often enough to stop the urge to overdo it. Keep in mind the words of Mahatma Gandhi , “More caution and perhaps more restraint are necessary in breaking a fast than in keeping it.
5. I eat as healthy as my budget permits. My diet is simple. I focus on lean proteins and seafood, nutrient-dense vegetables, and other foods that are minimally processed, and pair these with healthy fats like coconut oil, avocado oil and butter. I keep carbs relatively low, but I don’t deprive myself of any food or food group. Intermittent fasting has enabled me to be able to eat anything I want in moderation although most of the time what I want is super healthy food.
6. I don’t use fasting as an excuse. If there’s one thing I’ve learned since beginning intermittent fasting it’s that friends, loved ones and colleagues aren’t going to tolerate your using fasting as an excuse for doing (or not doing) anything. After all, this is your choice and you have to find the way to meet all your obligations while staying committed to your new lifestyle. There are times I’ve sat drinking tea when others are eating. On most days I cook dinner for my family before I can break my fast. After a while what seemed like torture, becomes second nature.
7. I make it a point to learn the science of IF. The human body is a truly amazing machine and few things teach you that better than fasting. I’ve found it highly beneficial to learn the science behind intermittent fasting. For example, it certainly helps keep me motivated to know that, although I don’t get to enjoy eating lunch everyday, while others are replenishing their body’s glycogen stores, my “fat-adapted” machine is using stored fat as fuel. The knowledge of how IF works is a tremendous motivator to stay on track.
8. I know slow and steady wins the race. My weight-loss with IF has been more of a gradual, jagged decline with ups and downs, and plateaus followed by sudden drops. There are a few theories about why this happens with IF (water-weight fluctuations, for example); but, regardless of the reason, it was very comforting to know that such a pattern is normal. As long as the bottom line is moving in the right direction and you’re looking and feeling good, you can rest assured you’re on the right track.
9. I eat anti-estrogenic foods. There are numerous health benefits to anti-estrogenic foods and their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects are just the beginning. If you’re going to spend the majority of your day without food, you want to eat the right foods when you break your fast as opposed to those that counteract the benefits of fasting. You can read this post for more about anti-estrogenic foods.
10. I don’t overeat. Even during my eating window I don’t eat nearly as much as I used to. I used to feel the need to pack in as much as I could within my eating window in an effort to hold myself over during my fasting hours. However, I soon learned that no matter how much you eat (and you may be tempted to eat a lot at first) your digested food and the nutrients drawn from it will be long gone 8 hours after you’ve eaten. Instead of focusing on quantity, it pays to consider the quality of your food. Nutrient dense foods such as vegetables and healthy fats help your body to operate at it’s most efficient level for long periods of time.
There are several protocols for intermittent fasting and probably just as many individual preferences and variations of those protocols. In the end, it comes down to finding what works best for you considering your health goals, personality and schedule. With a little planning and perhaps some trial and error, you’re certain to find the method that’s right for you.