I started practicing intermittent fasting about 14 months ago, and I’ve never looked back. I wrote this post just 4 1/2 months after starting, and looking back I was still pretty new at it. So I wanted to put together a comprehensive “user manual” for anyone thinking about or new to intermittent fasting.
There are many schools of thought when it comes to the fasting window. I have heard anything from 12 hours to 24 hours. Because this was a complete shift in my way of eating, starting slow was critical for me. I started with a 12-hour window. I would eat dinner at 7pm and not eat breakfast until 7am the next morning. At first it was hard to not snack after dinner, but once I got used to it I realized I was snacking out of habit instead of actual hunger. Once I was comfortable with the 12-hour fast, I slowly started increasing that number. The best way I found to do this was to make a protein shake and bring it with me in the morning. This way I could break my fast whenever I felt I needed to. This method took a lot of stress out of it as well. Not I have settled into a 15-16 hour daily fast, with occasional longer stretches depending on the day.
Make sure you are eating enough for dinner
Back in the day of watching calorie intake and trying to keep portion sizes small, I would eat jusssst enough dinner to fill me up. I suppose this was the reason I was hungry 2 hours later and found myself gorging on sesame sticks, tortilla chips, or pretzels at night. Today I eat much larger dinners, making sure to get the appropriate ratio of protein, fat, and carbs. I usually leave the dinner table full (not stuffed, but definitely full) and my desire to snack at night has gone away. If you are going to go 12-16 hours (or longer) without eating, you need to make sure your last meal before your fast is satisfying.
Drink enough water
I’m sure you’ve all heard about the importance of drinking water. And there are plenty of people who will say “if you think you’re hungry, drink a glass of water and re-evaluate.” For me I focus on drinking a ton of water, especially during the morning hours. I usually drink 64oz before I break my fast, and I truly believe this helps keep me full. It also takes my mind off the fact that I “should” be eating breakfast.
Plan out your first meal after your fast ahead of time
There is no doubt that in the beginning, the last hour or two before you break your fast will be painful. You will daydream about food. You will think about all the foods that would be so satisfying at the time – pancakes, a burger, an ice cream sandwich. So naturally when you do finally break your fast you may find yourself reaching for those very foods, therefore defeating the purpose. I always make sure my meals are prepped ahead of time, so there is no excuse not to eat the planned meal. For me this is almost always a protein shake, which I make in the morning and bring with me (as I’m usually at work or out and about with the kids when it’s time for my first meal).
Your daily calorie consumption shouldn’t change
Don’t mistake intermittent fasting for a diet (although you will probably naturally change the foods you eat when you start). I consider intermittent fasting to be a lifestyle change. I still consume the same number of calories, just in a more condensed “feeding window.” I need those calories to function, especially if I want to get the most out of my gym workouts.
Coffee, tea, and lemon water will be your friend
I was never a coffee drinker until a few years ago. I would drink water or tea, but never coffee. Nathan and I started drinking coffee after Reagan was born, and it’s become more of a ritual for me than a need for the caffeine. When I started intermittent fasting my morning coffee became more important as it gave me a distraction and kind of tricked my mind into thinking I was taking in calories. And 14 months later, I still look forward to my morning coffee. I also think the caffeine suppresses your appetite a bit.
Pay close attention to your protein and fat intake
I’m sure this doesn’t come as a shock, but I am not afraid of a little fat! We consume raw milk, full fat bacon, whole milk cheese, regular butter, and even cook our veggies in bacon grease. When I started intermittent fasting I became even more aware of the fact that my body needed fat. On a daily basis I eat almond butter, half an avocado, raw milk in my coffee, pistachios as an occasional snack, and butter and coconut oil with my dinner. We eat grass-fed beef that’s probably 15% fat? So embrace the fat – your body will thank you for it!
Say goodbye to snacks
When I first started intermittent fasting, my biggest question was “when am I going to eat all of my food?” As someone who was used to eating 3 meals plus 2 snacks each day, you can see why I was confused. Well, I have simply increased the size of my 3 meals and eliminated snacks. Now that’s not to say I never eat a snack. On a gym night I might eat a handful of almonds and raisins before the workout. A Larabar while hiking. But for the most part I eat 3 times each day and that’s it. And let me tell you – leaving the house without worrying about having enough snacks is quite liberating!
There will be times you don’t eat 3 meals a day
There are days when a 14 hour fast is a struggle for me. However, there are also days when I breeze past 16 hours and I still don’t find myself hungry. On those days I will skip my protein shake and go straight to lunch (or vice versa). I usually eat a larger lunch at that point, and dinner is usually bigger as well. But don’t be surprised if there are days when you can’t get in all 3 of your meals. Trust me – your body will make up for it the next day!
BCAA’s will be your friend (if you are a morning exerciser)
BCAA’s (branch chain amino acids) are all the rage right now. Nathan and I always drink them after a workout. However, once I started intermittent fasting I became even more aware of the importance of BCAA’s. When I workout in the morning, I am technically still in a fasted state. Sometimes that means it’s harder for me to get moving. And sometimes I feel a bit sluggish during my workout (I generally do my gym workouts in the evening). BCAA’s help me in a few ways. First, they give me something to drink besides water that kind of “tricks” my mind into thinking I am taking in calories. They also give me energy to ensure I get the most out of my workout. And lastly, they allow me to become anabolic (muscle building) rather than staying in a catabolic (or breakdown) state. If I’m going on a morning run, I always put some of the powder in a hand-held water bottle to carry with me. And if I’m working out in the basement, I sip on the BCAA’s before, during, and after my workout.
Your turn. Have you tried intermittent fasting? What was your biggest struggle? Any tips for beginners?