The theory behind intermittent fasting is that it takes your body about 6-8 hours to metabolize stored carbohydrates. Once your carbohydrates have metabolized, your body is in the position to used stored fat for fuel. Coupled with healthy eating and consistent exercise, your body has the potential to burn more fat than if you ate throughout the day from the time you wake up until you go to sleep. On the most basic level, intermittent fasting (IF) is a period of time with very few to no calories. IF can be done every day or only a few days a week. And let’s be SUPER clear about one thing: intermittent fasting is not self-starvation or going excessively long time periods without sustenance.
One of the most common methods of intermittent fasting involves an eating window of eight hours during a day; all calories are consumed from the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. What and when you eat during your window of eating opportunity should depend on whether or not you are working out that day. On days you exercise, carbs are very important; we discussed here that carbohydrates provide our body with the energy we need to function and burn calories. On rest days, your healthy fat intake should be higher than carbohydrates. Healthy fats are slower burning energy sources and they also help us stay fuller, longer. Every day, your protein intake should be relatively high to promote muscle repair and growth.
Whether you typically eat 3 larger meals day or 5-6 small meals throughout the day, intermittent fasting can cater to both lifestyles. If you are a relatively healthy eater, you may find that practicing intermittent fasting only changes the time in which you eat: you still are consuming the same amount of calories you would on a “normal” day, but doing so within your feeding window of opportunity.
After years of experimenting with meal plans and different nutritional habits, I unknowingly fell into an intermittent fasting lifestyle Monday through Friday. (Obviously, all bets are off on the weekends.) My typical weekday schedule is to eat my first meal around 10 a.m. I’m a fairly early riser, and I work out and teach in the morning. Personally, I feel the best working out and training classes on an empty stomach. I eat primarily whole unprocessed foods from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (my 10-hour eating window opportunity), and go without a calorie intake from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m.-ish.
Like everything, moderation is key, and not all regimens are for everyone. If you decide that a method of intermittent fasting may be for you, follow the tips below to set yourself up for general success:
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water to flush out your system
- Fast overnight. This is an easy 8 hours if you’re committing to a 14-hour intermittent fast.
- Mental attitude. Think of this fast as a nutritional routine, not deprivation
- Timing is everything. If you have family or friends visiting, are taking a vacation, or are about to depart on an extensive work trip, it may not be the best time to start an IF regimen
- Stay active. Continue to exercise, even if it is a yoga class or half-hour total body strength session. You may find that you have more energy than you think. As always, listen to your body and don’t overextend yourself.
Intermittent fasting requires a lot of self-awareness. It takes our bodies time to adjust, so start slowly with a shorter fasting period and always evaluate how you feel. If you don’t feel better following a certain type of lifestyle, it may not be for you—and that’s OK!
Quick reminder: I’m not a dietitian or nutritionist, and I am speaking from research and personal experience. If you’d like to read more about the IF lifestyle, check out the sources here, here and here.
Image via Food Network.