If you’re thinking about giving intermittent fasting (IF) a try, you might want to know what a normal day is like on an IF eating schedule. There are a lot of ways to make it complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. You just…don’t eat.
There are so many variations of good IF eating patterns. The best one is the one that feels like a lifestyle to you. Every person is different. Every day is different. If the first pattern you try doesn’t feel good or isn’t getting you the results you’d hoped for, you can always change it.
IF eating patterns mainly fall into three categories: Two-Meals a Day (TMAD), One-Meal a Day (OMAD), and Alternate Day Fasting (ADF). I’m not going to touch on Alternate Day Fasting here because it can be a difficult and discouraging place to start. It’s something interesting to try after you’re very fat-adapted.
You should choose your eating schedule based on when appetite correction happens for you.
Appetite Correction Is the Goal
Dr. Bert Herring coined the term “appetite correction” in his excellent book AC: The Power of Appetite Correction. Appetite Correction means finding that sweet spot where the amount you want to eat and the amount of fuel you need are the same. Where having the right amount of food leaves you feeling satiated and you genuinely don’t want to eat more than you need.
The cycle of doing an unsustainable diet, losing weight, then putting it back on slows down metabolisms. It’s no wonder our appetites are out of whack. If yours is, too, I don’t blame you. We got bad information and did our best with it. There’s better information available now, and there’s no time like the present to set ourselves up for a better future!
Intermittent Fasting helps create appetite correction. People find appetite correction at different lengths of eating windows. If your window is too long for your appetite, it’s easy to eat much more than you need. If your window isn’t long enough, you may feel uncomfortably stuffed after you eat.
A Two-Meal-a-Day Schedule
Fasting for 16 hours, then eating for 8 hours (16:8) or fasting for 18 hours and eating for 6 hours (18:6) usually leaves time for two distinct meals. If you’re just getting started, 16:8 is the perfect way to ease yourself in.
You’ll wake up and start your day with black coffee, unflavored tea, or water. If you’re a morning exerciser, you can go ahead and get your workout in. As long as you have adequate protein within 24 hours, there’s no need for a “recovery meal”.
Around noon, you’ll open your eating window with a normal lunch. Love vanilla lattes? Stevia-sweetened tea? Raspberry sparkling water? Now that your window’s open, go for it! Once you open your window, flavored and sweetened drinks are fair game.
Depending on what your goals are, you may or may not want to snack through the afternoon. It’s really up to you.
At six or seven, have dinner. If you’re a dessert person you can squeeze something sweet in, then close your eating window by eight. Congratulations, you’ve just completed a day of classic 16:8 IF!
TMAD works well for people who
- Have recently started an IF lifestyle and are still adjusting to producing enough hormones and enzymes to make fasting easy
- Are very active
- Have a metabolism that’s on the faster side
- Just want the health benefits of IF and aren’t interested in losing weight
Two meals a day in an eight-hour eating window is a great plan for reaping the rewards of ketosis and a bit of autophagy. Skipping breakfast streamlines morning routines and simplifies getting ready for the day. It’s also doable and sustainable for a lot of people. It’s a relatively small lifestyle change that most people feel great doing and can continue indefinitely! That’s a win on so many levels.
16 hours of fasting per day is enough for some people to achieve weight loss results, as well. You might never need to fast longer than 16 hours to reach your goals.
A One-Meal-a-Day Schedule
For females and for people who don’t have much weight to lose, an eight-hour eating window may not provide enough appetite correction for weight loss. I, for one, can definitely eat enough in eight hours to gain weight. (Don’t ask me how I know.)
Which brings us to the One Meal a Day pattern. Even on an OMAD eating schedule, there’s no need to stuff down all of your nutrition for the day in 30 minutes—unless you just want to.
You can think of it like a gourmet meal that’s split into several courses over a longer period of time. Many people enjoy spreading their “one meal” out over four or five hours.
So here’s what a day might look like:
Have all the water, black coffee, unflavored tea, and plain sparkling water your heart desires. Do a workout (or don’t) and just keep fasting.
If you’re on an OMAD schedule, noon looks just like morning. As you get used to a longer fast, you might want to pay attention to staying busy and hydrated in the afternoon. A little salt can help if you feel lightheadedness or dizziness, but if you gradually get used to longer daily fasts this shouldn’t be a problem.
Sometime in the afternoon, maybe at about 4:00 pm or whenever you get home from work, open your eating window with a snack, or the first course of your gourmet meal.
You can have anything you’d like. Some people swear by opening their window with something high in fat, like cheese or olives or full-fat yogurt. Other people focus on getting their fiber or veggies in.
You’re also free to skip the snack if you’re not feeling it that day, or if you find that snacking before dinner messes up appetite correction for you.
Whenever dinner is ready, whatever dinner is, have dinner. Enjoy it. Maybe follow it up with dessert. No matter whether you cook with micro-herbs you grew yourself or drive through Chick-Fil-A, eat till you reach satiety. If you close your eating window by 8:00 pm, you’ll have eaten in a 20:4 One Meal a Day pattern.
OMAD works well for people who
- Are already fat-adapted and feel good in a fasted state
- Have some yo-yo dieting in their past
- Have a desk job
- Don’t want to choose between Chik-Fil-A and losing weight
- Have a bit of insulin resistance
What If I Love Breakfast?
No problem! You can absolutely center your eating window around breakfast (or lunch) if that’s what works for your life.
Your one meal certainly doesn’t have to be dinner. It’s a common choice, partly because it’s easier on many people’s family and social schedules, and partly because some people don’t fall asleep well on an empty stomach. It is definitely not the only, choice, though.
Some people like to have breakfast for dinner sometimes, or adjust their eating window for the occasional weekend brunch. Choosing a dinnertime eating window doesn’t mean you can never have pancakes again!
The ultimate goal is to find a way to eat that supports your life instead of your life supporting the way you eat. Start with whatever schedule is doable for you and tweak it slowly until it feels like a lifestyle.