Intermittent Fasting: How to Get Started
Make your intermittent fasting journey successful by following these steps & tips!
You've probably already heard about all the reasons to try intermittent fasting - Maybe through a friend or maybe you just read my post that talks about the benefits of intermittent fasting. Either way, you know how great it is for fat loss, and how it can help with insulin resistance, inflammation, brain function and even increase energy. The health benefits are endless! But this time approached eating pattern (it's not a diet) is not for everyone.
If you don't know anything about fasting and whether it's safe for you, then read my article Intermittent Fasting: What to Know Before Getting Started. I go through research based information on IF, the benefits, and a few commonly asked questions so you can make an informed decision on whether intermittent fasting is safe for you.
For those who are ready and want to start fasting, I have a few steps and tips that I want to share with you - They are to help make your intermittent fasting journey successful!
How to start
There are two steps to follow that will help you set up your own intermittent fasting plan.
Here they are: Identify your goals with fasting (personal or fitness related) and pick a fasting method that works with your lifestyle. Once you have those two steps done, you have the information you need to set up the perfect intermittent fasting plan based on your goals and fasting schedule.
Step 1 - Identify your goals
First thing you need to do is identify and be aware of your goals. Why do you want to start intermittent fasting? For weight loss, to break sugar cravings, to feel more focused, or maybe it was recommended to you by a dietitian or doctor. Whatever it is, keep that goal in mind. It will help you determine how to approach fasting and what fasting method to try.
If your goal is to lose weight or build muscle - Calculate and track your macros! Your feeding window is going to be smaller than it usually is, so you need to know how many calories and nutrients you need to eat to reach your goals.
Step 2 - Pick your fasting method and stick to it
You must set a fasting schedule that works around your life! Keep it simple, don't overcomplicate it. The key is to pick a fasting method that works best with your lifestyle and schedule. There are so many, but I'll breakdown the most popular ones:
- The 16/8 method
This method is actually known as the "Leangains protocol", popularized by Martin Berkhan (fitness expert). This is probably the most popular form of fasting because of how simple and effective it is. It involves fasting for 16 hours and having an 8 hour eating window. For example, one of the most common time frames is from 12-8 p.m. Essentially you skip breakfast and have your first meal at noon, then your last meal is at 8 p.m.
Pros: It's the best starting point for beginners. Flexible, allows you to choose any 8 hour eating window that suits your schedule. There are more variations to this method like 18/6, 20/4 (aka warrior diet).
Cons: It can take a little while to adjust to eating large meals in a smaller time frame than you're used to.
- Eat-Stop-Eat method (Or alternate-day fasting)
This method involves fasting 24 hours at least once or twice a week. For example, if your last meal is at 8 p.m. then your next meal will be until the following day at 8 p.m. By doing this twice a week you reduce your calorie intake by 10%.
Pros: Only have to fast twice a week. Can be easily worked into hectic schedules.
Cons: More advanced, not beginner friendly. If this is the method you are interested, but never tried fasting before then try the 16/8 method first.
- The 5:2 fast
This fasting schedule involves eating normally 5 days a week, followed by two days of eating a maximum of 500 calories. This can be one 500 calorie meal or two small meals broken into two. For this method, have one regular day of eating in between the 'fasting days'.
Pros: Great starting point for beginners. You don't have an extended fast and are eating everyday.
Cons: Your body won't be fully adjusted to fasting. A 500 calorie restriction (opposed to fasting completely) on your fasting days can spark cravings or cause you to eat more later.
Recommended intermittent fasting schedule for beginners: The 16/8 method, it's the most popular, easier for beginners to adjust to, and best for those who have fitness goals in mind.
That's just the method I've personally practiced for several months and would recommend for those barely starting out. Pick the method that seems would best fit your lifestyle, goals, and preferences. Then stick to it for a few weeks or at least a month to see how you feel and see if you're getting the results you want. But if you are new to fasting, and you like another method better, like the alternate day fasting method - I'd still suggest you start with 16/8 fast at least for two weeks. Just to help get your body adjusted to fasting.
How to do intermittent fasting successfully
Now that you know your goals and the fasting method you want to try - It's time to set up your intermittent fasting plan. Here are a few tips that will help set you up for success...
Tip #1: Ease your way in
Once you've found the method you want to try, ease your way into it. If you're completely new to fasting, or haven't fasted in a while then start by fasting 12 hours a day then increase an hour each day, working your way up to the 16/8 method. Try the 16/8 method for at least 2-3 weeks to see if you're feeling or getting results. Then you can work your way up to longer fasts or switch to the eat-stop-eat method.
The first few days should look like this:
- Day 1: Eat as you usually would, but stop eating after your last meal.
- Day 2: If you started your fast at 8 p.m., end it at 8 a.m. to complete 12 hours.
- Day 3: 13 hour fast (8 pm-9 am)
- Day 4: 14 hour fast (8 pm -10 am)
- Day 5: 15 hour fast (8 pm -11 am)
- Day 6: 16 hour fast (8 pm -12 pm)
Those times are just an example, the point is to add an hour each day until you're comfortable completing a 16 hour fast. Also in those first few days, try to snack less in between meals. Snacking usually triggers hunger, so on day 3 or 4 make a commitment to not snack after lunch - That way you go 4-5 hours in between your two meals. This will help you get even more comfortable with not eating for long periods. Plus once you're adjusted to being in a fasted state you'll naturally be reaching for snacks a lot less throughout the day.
For those doing the 5:2 fast, ease your way in by slowly reducing the calories on your 'fast days'. So instead of starting at 500 calories, start at 800-1,000. Also make your schedule effective. Don't schedule your 'fast days' close together. A good schedule is to fast on Monday and Thursdays and eat normally on the other days.
Tip #2: Watch what you eat
Intermittent fasting works best when paired with a healthy diet. Eating junk food all the time will cause weight gain and trigger cravings that can lead to a failed fast.
Even though intermittent fasting is not considered a diet, most people that practice this form of eating tend to eat a relatively healthy diet in order to reap the benefits like - fat loss, increased energy & productivity. So if you are going to practice fasting then make sure you're making healthy food choices! It's better for your health and it will help you stick to your fasting plan!
One way to help make sure you're getting the most out of fasting is by setting a healthy meal plan. Base your meal plan around your fitness goals - weight loss, increase muscle mass, maintain. Calculate your macros to know exactly how many carbs, fats, protein, and calories you need to eat to reach your goals. Then set up a new meal plan every week to help keep you on track!
Just a note: The keto diet is often paired with intermittent fasting because of the fat burning capabilities. Although fasting does work really well with keto, it's not necessarily needed for fat loss or for any of the other benefits. The key is to eat mostly whole foods (unprocessed) and minimize the amount of processed carbs and sugars.
Tip #3: Track your fast
Yes, you can track your fast manually. But sometimes, a little help from technology can help us stick to our commitments. Fortunately, there are so many great apps out there designed to track fasts. Having one of these apps will help make your life easier by tracking your fast and by giving you the option to set up reminders to start and end your fast!
Here are a few of the best ones available on the App Store or Google Play:
- LIFE Fasting Tracker
- Simple Fasting Tracker
Tip#4: Stay busy
Many people find it easier to fast by staying busy during their fasting period. That's why most people plan their fasts after dinner because they usually sleep a few hours after and have a busy morning routine that helps keep them distracted. But it really all comes down to your schedule.
The point is, stay busy while fasting. If your fast is during a non-hectic period, then find something to do like...
Workout! Exercising while fasting is completely safe, in fact, it's even better for you! Being in a fasted state can increase your energy and focus so you can crush your workout without any pre-workout or energy drinks (black coffee is OK). Plus one of the benefits of fasting is being able to burn more fat, so if you workout in a fasted state your body will naturally use up the fat stored in your body as energy. Combine intermittent fasting with my weekly goal-focused workouts and you'll be on the path to success 😉
Tip #5: Give yourself a break
It's important to stay disciplined when it comes to commitments. But just like with any diet or workout plan, not giving yourself an occasional break is going to burn you out.
If you really want to make sure that you stick to fasting in the long term, then learn to give yourself a break and be kind to yourself. Not every fast is going to be perfect, or successful, but at least you tried. Instead of getting frustrated and quitting, just be happy that you tried and give it another shot the next day!
This shouldn't happen if you follow my tips, but they are important to know so.... Here are a few common intermittent fasting mistakes:
- Rushing into intermittent fasting - You have to gradually implement intermittent fasting into your life. Rushing into a long fast without easing your way into it might make you end up hating it and never trying it again.
- Binge eating - Food is usually what we think of after fasting for long periods of time. It's our natural tendency to eat everything in sight when we're hungry. But doing that after a fast is just counterproductive. You're simply eating back the calories you would've eaten if you didn't fast. You'll just end up fasting for no reason!
- Not eating healthy - Fasting on a highly processed carb diet is not effective. Fasting after eating an unhealthy meal and sugary foods will drop blood sugar levels significantly, which will leave you in an irritable mood during your fast.
Possible side effects
Most healthy individuals won't feel any, but it's important to be aware of the very few, but possible side effects...
- Hunger - This one should be obvious. You might be very hungry starting off, but just stay strong, stay busy, and drink water. The hunger usually subsides once your body is adjusted to fasting.
- Headaches/Brain fog - One of the long term benefits of fasting is increased energy, focus, and productivity. But that might not kick in until your body is adjusted to your new fasting schedule. So in the beginning you might experience some fatigue, headaches, and brain fog. Just stick with it, these side effects usually subside after 1-2 weeks!
- Constipation - Some people may experience constipation or going to the bathroom less than usual. It could be because you're naturally eating less by having a shorter feeding window. The longer you fast, the less you eat, so the less you'll have to go. BUT it could also be what you're eating and staying hydrated. If you have a shorter eating period then make sure to prioritize foods high in fiber, vitamins, and protein; and drink lots of water!
If you do get any of these side effects, keep in mind that they will go away! It's just like dieting, when you first start you're going to experience a lot of hunger, brain fog, bowel movement issues... But eventually your body adjusts, and you feel better than ever!
Remember, although you don't have to exclude certain foods from your diet, you should focus on eating whole healthy foods in order to reap the health benefits of intermittent fasting. I hope this helps you get started with intermittent fasting and helps you set up a successful plan so you can achieve your goals!
Frequently Asked Questions
In case I missed anything, here are a few questions that most beginners have when starting intermittent fasting...
What can I drink and/or eat while fasting?
There are no foods or drinks restrictions because intermittent fasting isn't a diet. BUT as a rule of thumb, prioritize healthy whole foods and minimize your processed carb intake whilst fasting. (5:2 fast)
As for liquids, stick to water, teas, and coffee. Non-calorie drinks like sparkling water are okay, but avoid diet sodas while fasting and other drinks that might spike your insulin.
What's the best way to start and break my fast?
Before starting your fast, eat a high-fiber meal with a good amount of healthy fats, protein, and carbs. This will help keep you full and minimize cravings.
To break your fast, eat a meal filled with veggies and protein. Eating carbs and fats at the same time can spike insulin levels and affect results, so try to incorporate low carb veggies in your first meal instead of pasta or bread.
It also depends on how long your fast is. If you're doing a 24 hour or extended fast then break your fast with something small like a broth and veggies.
What types of exercises should I do during intermittent fasting?
All types of workouts are fine - cardio, strength training, etc. Like I mentioned earlier, working out in a fasted state can be very beneficial. Just pay attention to how your body reacts the first few weeks of fasting. If you are feeling more weak or tired then just adjust your workouts to make them less intense.
What if I can't stick to intermittent fasting on weekends?
Don't sweat it! Remember, set a plan that works for your lifestyle. If you want to fast everyday you can. But you can also eat normally during the weekends and still enjoy the benefits of intermittent fasting.