12 Things You Need To Know Before Trying Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting, or time-restricted eating, was one of the buzziest diets of 2019—and for pretty good reason. We've talked a lot about it, so we rounded up the top tips for helping you start a fasting routine and to successfully use it to boost your health:
1. Identify your goals before you start.
With the many potential benefits of intermittent fasting, there are plenty of reasons to try. It's important to ask yourself what your individual goals are for the diet before you start. Are you looking to promote healthy aging, kill cravings, or to use this as a way to reach a healthier weight? Different goals will lend themselves to different plans, so knowing what you hope to get from fasting will help you pick the best plan.
2. There is no one plan that works for everyone.
With at least five major types of fasting, and different options within those, intermittent fasting can work with almost any routine. That being said, it's important to also know that what may have worked for your friend or colleague may not work best for you.
While some people thrive with a plan that involves an entire day of fasting per week, others are more successful setting up an 8- or 12-hour fasting period.
3. There may be some trial and error.
Even if you do all your research, you may find the plan you land on just doesn't work for you. Going too long without eating may leave you irritable or may not work with your hours. It's important to be aware of how your routine and IF will work together—and adjust accordingly.
It could also be helpful to reconsider the things you're eating when you aren't fasting—nutrient-dense foods, high in protein and healthy fats, and vegetables are best. You should try to avoid too many carbohydrates, especially when breaking the fast because that can cause glucose spikes and crashes.
4. You should probably work your way up.
You may have heard about great benefits that come with a 16-hour fasting period, but you may not want to jump into that immediately. Reports have found that the best way to nail your fasting plan is to ease into it rather than diving head-first into an aggressive plan. This gives your body important time to adjust to the new routine, which may be drastically different from your eating habits before. Start with a shorter or less frequent fasting plan, with the intention of working up to a more intense program, if you hope to succeed with IF in the long run.
5. Herbal tea & black coffee are often permitted during fasting.
This one varies depending on who you talk to, but many intermittent fasting plans allow more noncaloric drinks than just water. Black coffees and herbal teas are the most frequent exceptions, but they usually must be consumed without any milk or sugar. Some research has even suggested that coffee may be a useful tool for fasters.
6. Fasting isn't a magical "cure-all."
While there can be plenty of benefits to adopting a regular fasting routine, it's important to remember that it's not going to immediately solve every health concern. Like any other diet change, it should be looked at as a tool, but you may also have to wait a bit to see the benefits.
7. Pay attention to your body.
One of the most important parts of addressing health concerns and healthy weight loss is making sure to tune into the way your new routines are making you feel. For some people, intermittent fasting may not be the best choice, and there are a few easy traps you can fall into that could trigger other health problems.
8. Stress can undo positive effects, so do only what's comfortable.
Any change to routine can create stress, and starting intermittent fasting is definitely a change in routine. According to some research, hunger may trigger the stress hormone cortisol. The concept of "stress eating" may have some truth behind it, and it can derail your fasting plan.
It's better to make sure you adhere to a plan that's comfortable for you rather than shoot for the stars and catch yourself bingeing every time you reach an eating window.
9. Try keeping a journal.
Keeping a record of what you do eat can help you keep better track of how different foods make you feel, and it has been shown to be a potential route for boosting the weight loss benefits of fasting. But you shouldn't just record the food you eat; it can be helpful to also track your mood and other factors, as it can help you see the progress you're making by forcing you to tune into your body's natural indicators. This is a great way to make sure you avoid falling victim to some of the most common intermittent fasting mistakes, by simply making yourself more accountable.
10. Women have different needs when it comes to IF.
Intermittent fasting can have an impact on hormones for men and women, but women's hormones are particularly sensitive to signals of external starvation, which can result in increased levels of hunger signals. It's no mystery that this makes staying with your plan harder, so it's important to be aware of these effects. For this reason, some doctors recommend that women in particular go with a plan that involves a steady increase in fasting rather than an abrupt start to the plan.
For women there's also another way to be sure you're optimizing your fasting plan to match up with your body's needs, and it actually involves ditching your plan in the week before your period. Because of a drop in estrogen, women tend to be more sensitive to cortisol. For that reason, it may be best to skip the routine of fasting (but there's a healthy way to fast during your period).
11. There is a best way to plan your workouts when intermittent fasting.
If you're wondering what to do about your workouts, there's good news: There's a way to plan your gym or class schedule to go with your new meal plan. Some people actually prefer to work out during their fast while others feel they need the fuel of a meal to get their best workout. Like many of the other tips on this list, the most important component of how you work out when you're trying intermittent fasting is about paying attention to your body's needs.
12. Remember: Fasting doesn't give you carte blanche to eat whatever you want.
Some people seem to think that applying a rigid fasting program means you can eat whatever you'd like during your eating periods, but the truth is it's still extremely important to pay attention to how you fuel your body.
If you've got "try intermittent fasting" on your 2020 to-do list, remembering these tips will hopefully help make the transition a bit smoother, but you should also read more about the diet overall to get the most out of fasting.
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