The time-restricted eating method isn’t a diet as it doesn’t require you to eliminate your favourite foods, restrict your calorie intake or purchase a range of expensive supplements. Instead, it schedules periods of time where you can eat and times where you avoid consuming any calories.
If you’re new to intermittent fasting, doing your research before you begin will help you succeed long term and enjoy the health benefits. We’ve put together practical advice to help get you started.
Choose the Right Fasting Method for You
When it comes to intermittent fasting, there is no way to do it or one way that offers health benefits. Consider which method would work best for you in terms of your family and work commitments and your eating window preferences.
Some of the most common fasting methods include:
- 16:8 – fasting every day for 16 hours and enjoying an 8-hour eating window.
- 5:2 – eating normally 5 days a week and restricting your food intake to 500-600 calories 2 days a week.
- 20:4 or Warrior diet – fasting every day for 20 hours and eating in a 4-hour window.
- Alternate day fasting or 24-hour fast – avoiding food for 24 hours once or twice a week.
If you’re starting out, one of the most popular fasting plans is the 16:8 as it can easily fit into your lifestyle without too much disruption.
Schedule Your Eating Window to Fit Your Lifestyle
If you are choosing a shorter fast such as the 16:8 or 5:2, scheduling your fast days and eating window to fit with your lifestyle.
For example, one of the most common fasting schedules for the 16:8 is skipping breakfast and enjoying eating your last meal at dinner with the family before starting the fasting window in the evening.
However, if you eat breakfast with your family or it’s your favourite meal of the day, simply switch the time around.
Likewise, if you’re going to try the 5:2 fasting method and you schedule your highest training load on Mondays and Wednesdays, it may be best to set your fasting days on Tuesdays and Thursdays initially.
Plan What You Can Consume in Your Fasting Periods
What you can consume in a fasted state will depend on the intermittent fasting plan you choose.
For example, during Ramadan, no food or beverages are to be consumed from sunrise to sunset. Whereas on the 5:2 diet, your calorie intake is restricted to 500-600 calories during the two fast days.
Generally speaking, most fasts allow the following:
- Water – it is recommended you drink water throughout any fast to avoid dehydration. Adding a slice of lemon, a dash of apple cider vinegar or Himalayan salt to your water may help with blood sugar levels and electrolyte balance.
- Tea – herbal or black tea is allowed on most fasting plans. Green tea, cinnamon or peppermint tea may also help overcome those hunger pangs. Avoid adding milk, cream, sugar or artificial sweeteners.
- Coffee – most fasting diets will permit coffee. Some may allow the addition of cream or butter to create a bulletproof coffee which is good news for people on a keto diet. However, keep in mind this is technically breaking a fast and may impact the benefits of intermittent fasting.
- Bone broth – homemade bone broth or vegetable broth is often an acceptable beverage to drink throughout a fasting day. These can be a great way to remain hydrated, particularly if you struggle to drink water, and increase your overall nutrient intake.
Try These Strategies if You Get Hungry
One of the big concerns about any intermittent fast is being overwhelmed with hunger. Yes, during the initial fasting periods, you will experience some feelings of hunger and a desire to eat. These will pass as your body becomes accustomed to fasting and starts to burn stores of body fat.
Putting some strategies in place can help you initially as your body adjusts.
- Keep busy: keeping busy can help speed up the hours of fasting and help prevent you from thinking about snacking and when your first meal is coming.
- Drink water: keeping hydrated can help to prevent hunger and may actually prevent you from overeating when your eating window commences.
- Drink black coffee or tea: these beverages can help suppress your appetite and even stimulate your metabolism, boosting your fat-burning ability.
- Plan: plan the meals and snacks you are going to be eating in your restricted eating time frame to ensure you’re eating a nutrient-rich and filling diet. Eating carbs and empty-calorie foods are only going to leave you feeling hungry as you enter your fasting period.
Consider Your Exercise Regime
Exercise is encouraged while fasting and may actually enhance the benefits of intermittent fasting long term.
It is a misconception that you need to eat food before you fast to energise your workout and maintain your muscle mass.
By intermittent fasting, you’re training your body to switch from a sugar-loving machine to an efficient fat burner.
When you’re in a fasted state and there is no source of glucose from carbs you’ve consumed, the liver converts stored glycogen into energy. During longer fasting periods, your muscles will use fatty acids as a direct fuel source.
You’ll also be experiencing an increase in adrenaline levels and growth hormone which can actually improve your physical performance and promote muscle mass growth.
However, if you have an existing medical condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure and taking medications, it is recommended you speak with your GP, dietitian or nutritionist prior to fasting and working out. You may experience changes in your insulin levels that could cause unwanted side effects.
Break Your Fast Gently
Cycled calorie restriction can take some adjusting and the temptation of overeating can be great.
It’s not necessarily the overwhelming feeling of hunger that draws people to eat a large amount the next day or after the fasting period. It’s more a psychological desire.
Eating too much following the period of time fasting can lead to gastrointestinal upset including bloating, diarrhea or constipation.
It can also lead to disordered eating behaviour where you are choosing foods based on cravings and less on nutrient value. This can counteract many of the health benefits of intermittent fasting and over time lead to weight gain.
Opting for a small meal or snack to break your fast can be helpful, especially if you are trying a long fast. Adopting a low-carb diet every day can also help you maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet outside of your fasting times.
Keep Track of Your Progress
At the core of any diet or eating plan is tracking your progress whether that’s keeping a food diary or jumping on the scales.
In order to establish when the intermittent fasting method is right for you, keeping a track of your health markers and your food intake can be helpful.
- Identify your goals.
- Determine what measurements or health markers you need to track.
- Set a baseline.
- Track your progress on a weekly or monthly schedule.
- Review to assess progress.
Explore in more detail
- A Beginner’s Guide To Intermittent Fasting
- A Guide To The 16:8 Fast
- A Guide To The 20:4 Fast
- A Guide To The 5:2 Fast
- Intermittent Fasting And Exercise
- Intermittent Fasting And Hormone Balance
- Intermittent Fasting And Keto
- Intermittent Fasting And Type 2 Diabetes
- Intermittent Fasting And Weight Loss
- Intermittent Fasting: Tips To Starting Your First Fast
- Side Effects Of Intermittent Fasting
- Tips For Intermittent Fasting Success
- Top FAQs Of Intermittent Fasting