Struggling With Intermittent Fasting? These 21 Expert Tips Are Bound to Help!
- May 30, 2021
Intermittent fasting for weight loss is trending in a major way these days. As Liz Weinandy, a registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, describes it, “eating for a set period of time and then fasting for a set period of time.” Everyone from Kourtney Kardashian to Hugh Jackman and Gisele Bundchen are fans. But does that mean you should hop on the bandwagon? Parade surveyed some experts to bring you the answers and tips on intermittent fasting (IF).
1. There are many different IF methods.
When it comes to intermittent fasting, Weinandy says that there is no concrete way that you have to do it. “I just tell people to play around with the windows, see what works for them, and make it your own,” she says. But here are some of the most common practices:
- The 12/12 method: With this method, you would eat for a 12 hour window and fast for a 12 hour window, says Samantha Presicci, the lead registered dietitian at food delivery service Snap Kitchen. A good way to try this one out is to stop eating after dinner and then eat breakfast 12 hours later.
- The 16/8 method: This, according to Amy Pleimling, a registered dietitian with Allina Health in Minneapolis, Minnesota, involves building up to 16 hours of fasting each day, with an 8-hour window to eat. “For example, if you eat at 9 am, you wouldn’t eat anything after 5 pm,” she says.
- 5/2 method: Those following this method typically eat normally for 5 days a week and then practice calorie restriction the other 2. “They would just really bring calorie down to like around 500 for women or 700 for men,” says Weinandy.
- 24-hour method: This method, per Weinandy involves abstaining from food for one entire day a week.
According to Erik Levi, a functional nutritional therapy practitioner, 16/8 is the most popular method. “15/9 or even 14/10 are options but most experts agree that 16 hours is where you start to see the benefits,” he says.
2. You can tell if intermittent fasting is working by paying attention to how your body feels.
“If you’re really hungry during your fasting time, eat earlier than you planned and re-evaluate how much you’re eating throughout the day. You may need more protein and fat in the meals you are eating,” Presicci says. And if you are sleeping great, performing well in workouts, have good energy, and feel satisfied, chances are it’s working for you!
3. Approximately 8 hours after your last meal, depending on how big it was, your body completes the process of digesting, absorbing and assimilating it.
So says Alejandro Junger, MD, founder of international health and wellness company CLEAN. This, according to the expert, is when the body refocuses from digestion to other vital matters such as detoxification. “Detoxification doesn’t stop while digestion is taking place; it is simply slowed down, just as thinking and moving are,” he says.
4. But 8 hours is not enough time for the body to enter into the fasting mode, which takes approximately 12 hours to begin to set in.
“So, in terms of fasting, a window of 12 hours between the last meal of one day and the first meal of the next is the minimum required to give your detox processes the time and energy to catch up with the necessary work of maintaining inner cleanliness,” Junger says.
Related: Is Intermittent Fasting Bad For You?
5. Intermittent fasting is not for everyone.
While the practice is generally acceptable for most adults, there are some people who shouldn’t fast for prolonged periods of time. Pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding, for instance, require continuous nutrients and should be eating more continuously. Those with conditions like diabetes that requires them to be on insulin and the elderly who are at risk of getting dizzy and falling should also refrain. “Check with your doctor before starting a fasting plan,” says Weinandy.
6. Women should also get their doctor’s OK before starting.
“Restricting calorie intake can disrupt hormonal balance, leading to lower levels of estrogen and progesterone. And this can affect menstrual periods, fertility and mood,” cautions Megan Wong, a registered dietitian.
7. If you have a history of disordered eating, intermittent fasting is probably not a good idea for you.
8. A good starting point for IF is to cut down on late-night eating.
This, per Weinandy can make a huge difference. “I’ve seen this benefit so many people. Maybe it’s not even necessarily the fasting as much as they’re just not eating a lot of calories at night—cause at nighttime people are usually eating ice cream or cookies or chips or something usually not so healthy,” she explains. Thus, her recommendation is to dial back the eating after 8 p.m. “If you’re eating dinner earlier, like six or seven, maybe just stop eating after that time,” she adds. This can be enough to experience some of the benefits of the program.
9. There can be several side effects to time-restrictive eating.
Dehydration can be one of them, since when you’re not eating, you might not be thinking about drinking water. Thus, it’s important to keep sipping on some H2O, even when you’re restricting your food intake. It can also, per cardiologist Adam Splaver MD, cause constipation. To combat this, increase your fiber content.
10. If you’re new to intermittent fasting and jump in too fast, you may notice excess hunger, irritability or nausea.
Presicci notes it’s best to ease in.
11. Depending on how small your eating window is, you may also find that you struggle to get in enough calories or nutrients to meet your needs
12. Yes, you can have water.
“To get the full benefits of fasting, it’s important not to consume any food during your fasting window but you can drink water, black coffee and tea,” says Pleimling. “Be aware that caffeinated drinks can dehydrate you when your body is already depleted of energy though,” says Carrie Lam, a family medicine doctor in Loma Linda, California. She also says alcohol is off the table during the fasting window.
13. IF is not a free pass to eat whatever you want.
Yes, you are restricting your eating window, which can sometimes lead to weight loss, but this doesn’t mean that you can go crazy on ice cream and processed foods. “As a general reminder, individuals practicing intermittent fasting should be mindful of the food choices they make during the hours they are eating. The quality of food is important when it comes to health,” says Lindsay Malone, a registered dietitian and adjunct professor of nutrition and wellness at Case Western Reserve University.
14. During your eating window, fuel up with lean proteins, lots of vegetables and whole grains.
15. It’s important to be realistic with yourself on whether or not this lifestyle will work for you.
Jessi Holden, a registered dietitian nutritionist with the Team Lead Weight Management Program at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, warns that this type of eating might not always be sustainable. It can make dining out with friends difficult, for instance, if their dinner window doesn’t quite align with your eating hours.
16. Be careful of overeating.
That’s a situation that RD Natalie Allen, an instructor of biomedical sciences at Missouri State University, often sees with her clients. “People know they’re getting ready to fast, so they load up and consume as many calories as they would in a normal day, in just a few hours,” she says.
17. Fasting gives your body a resting period.
“And when the body is not busy digesting food and using those nutrients, it has this rest period to really kind of go in clean stuff up, get rid of junk, so to speak,” says Weinandy.
18. Intermittent fasting has shown to have a positive impact on the ability to increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
“Basically it’s like miracle grow for your brain,” Weinandy says.
19. And yes, intermittent fasting can help to foster weight loss.
A Harvard article says, “The entire idea of IF is to allow the insulin levels to go down far enough and for long enough that we burn off our fat.”