When I started intermittent fasting in November 2017, I just … started. I set a timer for 18 hours, powered through the fast, and took the consequences. For me, consequences came in the form of hunger, low energy, and grumpiness. I almost quit.
It was a rough start, but the benefits have kept me going. In addition to looser clothing, I’ve seen faster workout recovery and greater immunity. Plus, it’s the lowest-maintenance maintenance stage out there!
I did it the hard way, but you can be smarter than I was. Transitioning to an intermittent fasting (IF) lifestyle doesn’t have to be miserable. You can be kind to yourself while you’re adjusting and still reap major health benefits along the way.
Here are a few ideas that will help you ease into IF gently. You can pick and choose what works for you, or try them all.
1. Educate yourself.
You probably already know at least a little about IF since you’re reading this, but when it comes to knowledge about what’s going on in our bodies, more is more. Every little bit helps, and you may learn something that encourages you or helps you find the best fit for your body.
A book called The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss by Dr. Jason Fung is a great place to start. This foundational book explains how IF works and how to do it. Dr. Fung is an expert on IF, and this readable book will give you the tools you need to succeed.
Interested, but not ready to commit to a book? The Intermittent Fasting Podcast by Melanie Avalon and Gin Stephens is full of information backed by scientific studies plus their years of personal experience with IF. The website has an extensive list of IF resources under “Stuff We Like” that includes everything from books to breath spray.
It’s always a great idea to talk to a doctor before changing the way you eat, and some people should not try IF at all. It could be harmful if you:
- Are pregnant or breastfeeding
- Are under 18
- Have struggled with disordered eating in the past
- Are diabetic
- Take medication that requires food
There are plenty of other ways to get the benefits of intermittent fasting, please choose one that’s safe for you.
2. Start with a short fast and increase it slowly.
You already do a short fast every day while you sleep. Let’s say you eat your last bite at 8:00 p.m., then have breakfast at 6:00 the next morning—that’s a 10-hour fast already. The next day, add 30 minutes to your fast and wait to eat breakfast till 7:00 a.m. If that goes well, you can try for 7:30 the day after that, and so on.
Add 30 minutes to your fast every day, and in less than three weeks you’ll be able to fast for 16 hours. A 16-hour fast and an eight-hour eating window is a common IF pattern and it’s called 16:8. Many people find 16:8 to be enough to reach their goals.
There’s no need to rush, it usually takes at least three weeks for your body to get used to burning fat for fuel, anyway. Since IF is a lifestyle and not a 30-day fad diet, you have plenty of time to give yourself the best chance for success.
3. Open your eating window with something low carb.
If you’re practicing IF with a daily eating window, you shouldn’t have to follow a keto diet. That’s the beauty of it. Once you adjust, you’ll get into ketosis during your fast every day without following a restrictive eating plan.
However, a keto breakfast or snack might be helpful while your body is still getting used to IF. The idea is that you can stave off hunger by eating something filling, but still keep burning fat a little bit longer.
Here’s what it could look like: you wait till 10:00 a.m. (or whatever your goal is that day), then open your eating window with a low-carb snack like beef jerky or hardboiled eggs. Or both, if you’d like. Eat a normal lunch, a normal dinner, and do it again the next day.
Eventually this won’t be necessary. One of the big draws of IF is that you can eat till you’re full during your window without counting anything. Starting with a low carb meal could help you avoid some of the discomfort of the adjustment period, though.
4. Fast clean.
Avoiding sweeteners while fasting is called “clean fasting”. It’s not mandatory, not everyone who practices IF fasts clean, but it helps a lot of people. If you’re concerned about hunger during your fast, it’s definitely worth a try.
Why does it matter? Imagine telling a sweet little two-year old they’re about to get a snack, and then never giving them a snack. First of all, that’s not very nice. You wouldn’t do that. Second of all, there’s a good chance it will lead to a lot of whining and complaining about the snack that didn’t materialize. It’s a temper tantrum that could have been avoided easily by just not tricking them.
Research indicates that our bodies respond to any sweet taste kind of like a toddler responds to being told a snack is coming. We release insulin so we’re prepared to handle food the moment it hits our bloodstreams. It’s a great system that helps keep our blood sugar at a safe level. If your body is prepared for food and none comes, though, it throws a tantrum in the form of serious hunger pangs.
You can avoid these serious hunger pangs by not tricking your body with artificial sweeteners during your fast. Training your taste buds to put up with a little boredom during your fast can make a huge difference in how easy fasting feels. Seriously.
So there you go. Hopefully, these tips will make your first few weeks of IF much better than mine!