Intermittent fasting is one of the best things out there, but the term fasting can be intimidating and it's hard to know where to start. Jumping right into a fast without know the deal can be catastrophic, so whether you just want to try it out or you're ready for the real deal, here are 3 different ways to try it out.
The Basic Rules
When the 5:2 diet came out, it quickly became famous for being able to 'eat whatever you want' on the 5 days you weren't fasting. This, unfortunately, is never true (if any diet is claiming this.... run for the hills!) and is why people have such mixed results on it. One of the most important parts of fasting is to take the burden your system and restore insulin balance, so going crazy with croissants & candy once you've made it through the fast will defeat the purpose (and, I must say, make you extremely moody throughout the process). No matter which level you try, here are the base rules for getting it right.
- Always break your fast with a balanced meal - high fibre carbs, lean protein, and veg.
- Never have alcohol the night before or during a fast
- Avoid sugar on fasting days as well as the day before. In general, you should aim to cut all refined sugar throughout the process.
- Avoid diet coke or other chemically sweetened drinks that will oppose insulin balance.
- Hydrate obsessively - if you're dehydrated, you'll feel it!
- IF is all about digestive rest, so you want to avoid snacking - stick to real meals with good quality food and let your digestive system do it's thing
- If you want some help with supplements, a probiotic and Vitamin C will help the process.
The First Timer: 10 Hour Eating Window
This is a great introduction to resting the digestive system, and easy to implement if you’re intimidated by a full IF program. The rules are simple - you need to consume all your food within a 10-hour window. Aim to finish your evening meal by 7pm, that way you have ample time to digest before going to bed. Upon rising, have water & Apple cider vinegar or lemon, and wait until after 9am to have your breakfast. You can shift this to 8pm and 10am if you need to depending on your lifestyle, just keep the food window to 10 hours.
- Considerations: none, this is a simple way to boost your digestion.
- Do it: 4 days per week for 4 weeks
- Level of difficulty: easy
- Results: sleep & energy should start to pick up quickly, but if you’re looking for weight loss results will be slower.
The Seasoned Healthista - Morning IF
If you’re ready to take it to the next level, this is it. Doing IF in the morning means skipping your breakfast – YES, you heard me. The ‘most important meal of the day’ In this version of IF you need to allow a minimum of 14 hours between dinner and the next meal. Dinner should be finished by around 8pm, and your next meal should be from 12pm. Make sure your meal is balanced, with some low GI carbs, lean protein and veggies.
- Considerations: we are most insulting sensitive in the morning and also dehydrated, so it’s essential to hydrate almost obsessively if you are going to try this. Caffeine is out (until food!), but you can sip on water, lemon & cayenne or apple cider vinegar. If you’re a sugar baby, spend a week cutting out sugar before you try this one, otherwise you may suffer from major energy swings and the odd bout of hangry behavior before normalizing. If you train in the morning, switch to lunch or evening sessions on days you do this otherwise you’ll end up blowing through a jar of peanut butter in the afternoon. One of the most important things for this one - don’t have alcohol the night before a fast, it completely negates the point.
- Do it: 3 x per week for 4 weeks and then 2x per week after that. This is most effective if you do it on consecutive days.
- Level of difficulty: moderate. The key here is hydration. If you’re a coffee addict this will make it harder but that’s the caffeine withdrawal talking, not the IF.
- Results: sleep & energy will improve quickly, and your body will start to change by the second week. The key is consistency and breaking your fast with a balanced meal.
The Dedicated Wellness Warrior - Overnight IF
This is the holy grail of IF, and is a more therapeutic approach to getting results because of its longer fasting window. Breakfast and lunch should be as usual - finishing lunch by 2:30pm. Instead of the evening meal, you have a bowl of vegetable broth (make Sure this is high quality - no added sugar or msg) and then ‘fast’ until the morning. The broth has little nutritional value and no real calories, so is just a helper. Breakfast should be from 8am, which leaves you a solid 17-18 hours of fasting.
- Considerations: This one isn’t to be played with, and is usually the best thing for a week or 10 day long therapeutic approach to healing (digestive issues, weight loss, skin issues, fatigue, injury, etc). Make sure you adjust your lifestyle over the period to ensure you can handle the effects. You’ll go through typical detoxing effects – headache, furry tongue, mood swings and low energy – until you start to normalise. But it’s well worth it. You need to be super aware of how you’re eating. After a 18 hour fast, you need GOOD quality food – eating sugary low fiber foods will make this type of IF extremely emotional and far less effective.
- Do it: for 1 week straight as a therapeutic approach or If you are doing it casually, 2 times per week on consecutive days for 4 weeks.
- Level of Difficulty: Hard. If you do it for a week you need to adjust your lifestyle. Avoid heavy weights, get to bed early, zero alcohol or sugar and plan to rest in the evenings.