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If you’ve heard people or the internet talking about “intermittent fasting”, you might be wondering if it’s a good fit for you. People have sung its praises, and others see it as a kind of self-deprivation. Like many things when it comes to weight loss, though, intermittent fasting is a tool to help move you from where you are to where you want to be.
That said, let’s tackle the most obvious question first.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern marked by a certain window of time where you’re “allowed” to eat and the remaining time is your fasting period. Eating like this has been proven by multiple scientific studies to assist in weight loss and helps with loose skin.
When you only eat for a short window of time during the day, it allows your body to go into a process called autophagy, which is “[…] the body’s way of cleaning out damaged cells, in order to regenerate newer, healthier cells […]” (Healthline, Autophagy: What You Need to Know)
In Rachel Gregory’s book, 21-Day Ketogenic Diet Weight Loss Challenge, she lists some of the benefits of intermittent fasting:
- Stimulates brain function and enhances mental clarity
- Improves blood glucose control and insulin sensitivity
- Boosts ketone production
- Saves time with meal planning and preparation
- Accelerates weight loss and fat-burning
- Reduces inflammation and potentially slows aging and disease processes
Since IF is a pattern, it makes sense that there can be multiple different variations on that pattern. And indeed, there are.
Different Types of Intermittent Fasting
The most common one for folks to start out with is called 16/8, which means you fast for 16 hours and eat for 8. For some, skipping breakfast is the way to go, so their eating window is in the late morning through the afternoon.
For others, like me, I need to eat in the morning. I’ve discovered through trial and error that my blood sugars will rise overnight if I eat anything after about 3 or 4 PM.
My eating window is in the morning, generally between 7:30 AM and 12:00 PM, sometimes to 1:00 PM. The math for this fasting pattern is close to 20/4, meaning I eat for a window of 4 hours and fast for 20.
There’s also 23/1, OMAD (one meal a day), alternate day fasting, 5/2 (eat normally 5 days a week, limit calories to 500 twice a week on non-consecutive days), and a whole host of other patterns.
Some say that the shorter your window, the more benefits you get from autophagy and fasting.
The caveat as a Type 1 Diabetic is that I sometimes need to correct a low blood sugar. If I do this with a roll of Smarties, it likely kicks me out of the fasting state, but you gotta do what you gotta do.
So, let’s move on to some tips to figure out if intermittent fasting is right for you. Full disclosure—it’s not for everyone!
Tip 1: What is Your Food Mindset?
How’s your relationship with food? If you see food as a reward or comfort, then intermittent fasting will feel like deprivation. How you feel about food will determine how you’ll feel about fasting for most of the day (or night).
It might take practice with changing your relationship with food before you can feel comfortable trying IF.
The mindset switch here is to identify food as fuel, not as a reward or comfort or whatever identity you assign to it. This is how I can walk past the tray of doughnuts at work and not even take a second glance. I know that those won’t fuel me—plus my blood sugar would revolt after the first bite.
Tip 2: Is it Compatible With Your Social Life?
Because intermittent fasting is an eating pattern based on the time of day, you have to consider how your social life plays into it. Do you go out to dinner or brunch with friends every week? Does your family expect dinner on the table at a certain time?
You’ll need to decide if your chosen pattern is compatible with those things.
I’ve recognized that there will be times when we have dinner with family and friends. I know in advance that this will mess up my routine, but I consider it worth it for family—but it doesn’t happen on a regular basis, so I don’t let it affect my chosen pattern.
You can also incorporate different patterns across different days—you’re not stuck with just one eating pattern. If you want to do a 16/8 in the morning but know you’ll be getting dinner with family in a couple of days, you can incorporate a 24-hour fast in between.
Tip 3: What Food Lifestyle Are You Following?
I’m not gonna lie. Intermittent fasting is almost absurdly easy for me paired with keto (low-carb). The whole premise of keto is that you’re fuller for longer because you’re eating mostly high-fat and moderate protein, without the carbs that are responsible for “sugar crashes.”
But that’s not to say IF + Keto is the only way to do it. Plenty of people eat their “normal” way on IF and still enjoy most of the benefits. I also know that keto is not for everyone, for different reasons.
It’s worth considering, though. If your current diet plan has you eating 3 meals a day, 2 snacks, and makes sure you’re putting something in your body every couple of hours… Intermittent fasting won’t feel comfortable straight out the gate. You’ll be hungrier than expected because your body is used to eating so often.
Because my intermittent fasting eating window is in the morning, it’s common for me to tell people that I’m “done eating for the day” or “I don’t have dinner” and then explain my eating window to them. Most people are astonished that I don’t get hungry in the evenings—at least not hungry enough to break my fast.
It does take practice and commitment to stick with it long-term, and your food lifestyle will have an impact.
Tip 4: Do You Have a Medical Condition?
This is a biggie. Some medical conditions involve the digestive tract, blood sugar (like both types of diabetes), energy, and a bunch of other things that are directly affected by when and how much you eat.
It’s always a good idea to discuss your plans to try intermittent fasting with your doctor first. Many more doctors and health professionals nowadays recognize the many health benefits that come from fasting, but don’t be surprised if your doc is a staunch 3-meals-a-day kinda guy.
If you really want to try it, the one person fully responsible for you and your health is not your doctor—it’s you. So it’s better to inform your doc that this is what you’re doing and ask for any advice to remain within the acceptable bounds of your condition. Doing it on the sly could lead to mistakes that your doc could have warned you about.
For diabetics—type 1 in particular—it is essential that you do not force yourself to fast when you are experiencing low blood sugar. Turning off your insulin (if you’re on a pump) only goes so far. The fast is not worth the risks of not correcting a low. See this post for more information about Type 1 Diabetes.
Tip 5: How’s Your Discipline?
And finally, are you up for the challenge of avoiding or turning down food when it’s not in your eating window?
Times are plentiful when extra food goes into the lunchroom, someone brings around a plate of brownies, or my lovely coworker tells me there’s bacon upstairs… But I’ve already eaten all my food for the day.
Do you have the mental fortitude to resist such temptations? It won’t be easy, at first. You’ll want to partake in those goodies outside your eating window, and it’s easy to tell yourself that you’ll just fast again tomorrow.
Willpower is a finite resource, but it’s also like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the better you get until it becomes a habit—which no longer drains the resource. Building up that willpower is difficult, but not complex.
Want to know what’s better than willpower? Discipline.
Merriam-Webster lists self-control as another definition of discipline. Are you self-controlled enough to walk past the brownies without letting your hand snatch one?
If you can think of discipline and self-control as a commitment to yourself that is unbreakable, then you won’t have a problem breezing by the brownies.
Interested in all the studies on intermittent fasting? Check out Chris Kresser’s article, Intermittent Fasting: The Science Behind the Trend, which is packed full of scientific and scholarly references to studies done on intermittent fasting.
- “Intermittent fasting: the science of going without”, Roger Collier. 2013.
- Early Time-Restricted Feeding Improves Insulin Sensitivity, Blood Pressure, and Oxidative Stress Even without Weight Loss in Men with Prediabetes, Elizabeth F. Sutton. 2017.
Are You Going to Try It?
Interested in trying intermittent fasting? What about it gives you pause? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!