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Intermittent fasting has been a hot trend for years, with fans swearing it does everything from helping them lose weight to helping them stay healthy. There’s research to back up the benefits of intermittent fasting, too.
A new scientific review published in the Annual Review of Nutrition analyzed 25 studies on intermittent fasting and found that people lost anywhere from 1% to 8% of their baseline weight on this type of eating plan. Intermittent fasting can also have a positive impact on many metabolic health markers, like blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and the associated weight loss—especially if you add a good exercise regimen—can result in reduced risks for weight-related diseases. Basically, there’s a lot intermittent fasting can do.
Of course, there is a range of options with intermittent fasting and the type you choose is ultimately up to you. One of the most popular forms is time-restricted eating. With this type, you fast for a certain period of the day and have a specific eating “window.” For example, you may fast for 18 hours and eat for six. Other options include alternate date fasting, which flips between having a day of fasting (where you try to limit yourself to 500 calories or less) and a day of eating, and the 5:2 diet, which involves two fasting days and five eating days per week.
No matter what type of intermittent fasting you choose, this eating plan requires discipline and a little background knowledge before you jump in with two feet. That’s why we spoke to several intermittent fasting vets. They shared their tips on getting started on the diet and sticking with it, so you’ll have the best chance of success with IF.
Editor’s note: If you are pregnant, have a chronic condition, are underweight, or feel like you have an unhealthy relationship with food, connect with a healthcare professional before starting IF.
1. “Start slow.”
Lori G., 46, has been intermittent fasting since February 2020. “I’ve lost approximately 40 pounds and have mostly maintained that,” she says. Her advice for newbies: “Start slow.” For example, you might start with a 12 hour fast and have a to 12-hour eating window and then build up to a 16:8 schedule (where you fast for 16 hours and have an eight-hour eating window). From there, you can transition to a smaller eating window if you prefer. “I gradually transitioned to [fewer meals per] day, approximately four to five months after I started intermittent fasting,” she says.
2. “Use Fast Bar.”
Elise B., 59, has been doing intermittent fasting since December 2020. She typically fasts for 16 to 18 hours a day. “I’m usually pretty good about it,” she says. “But sometimes I stay up late working or have mornings where I just can’t make it.”
When those moments happen, Elise will have a Fast Bar, a plant-based protein bar that has been clinically developed to trick the body into thinking it’s still fasting. “I know that if I have a Fast Bar, it keeps my body in a fasting state,” Elisa says. “It gives you what your body needs so you’re not in distress and uncomfortable, but you still get the health benefits of fasting.”
3. “Clearly define the reason you’re doing it.”
Chiropractor Kira C., 29, has been doing intermittent fasting for about three years. She typically fasts once a week, and Kira says she decided to do intermittent fasting knowing it could support her gut health.
Kira points out that intermittent fasting can be tough to stick with if you don’t have a reason in mind for following the eating plan. “Clearly define the reason that you are doing it,” she says. “Certain hours get very challenging and you can feel pretty terrible at the moment. Let your ‘big why’ drive you to push through the tough times. For me, that was improving my gut health.
4. “Eat breakfast as late as you can.”
Brisco points out that it’s easier to fast overnight and then push back your breakfast time. “If you usually eat breakfast at eight, try to push it to nine or 10,” she says. “Then, you can gradually push it to whenever you want, like 12 or 1 o’clock.” Brisco says it’s helpful for her to be busy in the morning so that she’s not thinking about food. “Once I get to the office, I forget about food,” she says. “Eventually I’m like, ‘Oh! I need to eat!’ I was surprised at how long I could push back my first meal.”
5. “Drink a lot of water.”
Weird but true: Your body can confuse you being thirsty with feeling hungry. That’s one of the reasons why plenty of people who do intermittent fasting recommend staying hydrated. “One tip that helped us control our appetite and stick with fasting is drinking a lot of water. A gallon a day is our goal,” says Alexia B., 33, who started doing intermittent fasting, along with a “dirty keto” diet, with her wife in April 2018. (Dirty keto, in case you’re not familiar with it, is a more flexible form of the keto diet that allows for some processed foods.)
6. “Find something that sticks with your schedule.”
Choosing an eating window that falls during your hectic workday, when grabbing food is tricky under the best of circumstances, isn’t exactly ideal. That’s why Lori recommends that you “find something that sticks with your schedule.”
“I like having dinner with my family. So I normally break my fast around 4:30,” she says. Still, she’s flexible around her fasting when she needs to be. “I allow my schedule to be lenient when there are celebrations or lunch with friends,” she says.
7. “Don’t compare yourself to what others are doing.”
Kayla G., a 33-year-old registered dietitian, has been doing intermittent fasting for more than a year and says she’s a “huge fan” of the eating plan. “Intermittent fasting has allowed me to lose that stubborn last five pounds and, more importantly, maintain it,” she says.
She usually stops her fast between 12 and 1 p.m. and finishes her last meal between 6 and 8 p.m. “My best advice would be, ‘Don’t compare yourself to what others are doing,’” she says. “Find a regimen that works best for you.”
Everyone has a different metabolism and goals, Kayla points out, adding, “Don’t be afraid to use trial and error to see what works best for you and your body.”
8. “Drink ginger tea.”
Rachael H., 29, started intermittent fasting three years ago and says it has allowed her to “maintain lean muscle mass” and “maintain a healthy weight.” She aims for a 18:6 schedule but allows herself some flexibility on when her eating window will be.
“I tend to reach for real whole foods,” Rachael says. She usually breaks her fast in early- to mid-afternoon with a fruit and protein smoothie. “For dinner, I almost always have chicken and avocado with a mix of different veggies,” she says. “I usually have a protein shake for a snack when I get a craving for something sweet.”
To handle cravings during fasting periods, Rachael says she reaches for ginger tea. “Drinking ginger tea at night and in the mornings always helps with cravings and keeps me satisfied during the fasting hours,” she says.
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