If you’ve been wanting to try intermittent fasting (IF), but you’re used to eating 6 meals a day or can’t imagine not eating breakfast or dinner, this one’s for you. Starting (and maintaining) a new habit can be tough, but by easing your way into it, it can feel like less of a shock to the system.
The 16:8 method
There are many types of fasting, but for today I’ll look at the daily 16:8 schedule that many fitness lovers stick to. The 16:8 or 'Leangains' method supports your body's internal clock, the circadian rhythm. This means that you’re fasting for 16 hours, and have an eating window of 8 hours. Essentially, you’ll be either skipping breakfast or skipping your dinner. To explore a couple of other popular methods, check out this article.
Think about what is most suited to your schedule. Let’s say you wouldn’t mind saving some extra time in the morning, so you’re happy to let go of cooking your breakfast. You'll start your first meal at 12, and stop eating by 8pm. Do you turn into a hangry beast if you don’t eat? Though your hunger hormones do get adjusted to fasting, you may be wondering, how can you go from being used to eating all the time to suddenly nothing?
1. Try a modified fast
A strict fast would be nothing but water (some people even do a dry fast!). However, for us mere mortals, this may be quite a mental and physical stretch when we have reminders of food everywhere. Though some purists will say strict fasting is the only way, know that there's a continuum, and you can choose where you want to sit.
The next strict option would be black coffee or tea only (hold the sugar and cream!). This way, you're not ingesting any calories, and thus avoiding a blood sugar spike. If you're not quite ready to take the plunge, you can ease into it with some help:
Consume quality fats (with or without coffee):
One of the reasons to fast is to not spike your blood sugar. By consuming particular fats, you can stave off hunger and keep energised. MCT (Medium Chain Triglycerides) oil is a tool that athletes and keto adherents use for this purpose. If you’re keeping to a keto diet during the day, it can help ketone production but otherwise, it’s an excellent way to keep your modified fast going. You’ll find MCT in the famous 'Bulletproof cofffee', and if you don’t mind a bit of butter in your brew, then this can be a way to start your day.
You'll also find it in products like:
Coffee Switch by Switch Nutrition (enter your e-mail to be notified - the official release is coming up very soon!)
MCT oil has calories, so it will technically break your fast, but it is processed differently to regular fats (by the liver), ready to be used as energy and also taking away some of the pressure on digestion.
Want a non-stim pre-workout that will keep your tummy from rumbling? Try Amperage by ATP Science - it contains a combination of plant-based oils that will help you last longer between meals. It's the new version of ATP's AMP-V, so keep an eye out for it in the coming days!
Have these low-calorie drinks:
Enjoy gut-friendly collagen like Marine Collagen + by Genetix Nutrition - though it will have a minor effect on blood sugar, marine collagen peptides may make you more insulin sensitive overall. Though it does contain calories, it can also help keep you going until you have a proper meal. If you're a purist, go for the unflavoured, otherwise, the Chocolate Delight is a real treat!
Sip on some amino acids like BCEEA Ultra by Body Science BSc - these will give you a sweet drink option that can fend off hunger and help preserve lean muscle when dieting.
Have a mind focus nootropic like Attention by Faction Labs. This product contains a comprehensive blend of nootropics designed to support your cognition - especially important while fasting! It's a no-calorie drink that you can also enjoy instead of your coffee, with 100mg of caffeine. For a heftier energy punch, try a pre-workout or fat burner.
Sip on an energising yet hydrating drink like Essential Amino Energy + Electrolytes by Optimum Nutrition - it will give you the caffeine kick to start your day, with the muscle-sparing BCAAs and electrolytes that will provide you the much needed hydration to your cells. Electrolytes would be the closest thing to sticking to a proper fast.
Think about how strict you want to go, and what your purpose is for. If blood sugar is your concern, or you’re looking to stimulate autophagy (stimulate your longevity pathway), then you should really just go for water. Are you looking to lose some body fat? The most important thing is to keep to a calorie deficit. If you're just trying out fasting because of the potential weight loss benefits, then these supplements can help you get better results overall!
2. Make sure you have enough calories for your last meal
Not only enough calories, but make sure that your meal is actually going to make you full! If you eat slow-digesting fats, volume with fibre and satiating protein, you’ll find you can go a lot further than if you just ate carbohydrates (say a huge pasta meal wiuth lots of tomato-based sauce or a big bowl of cereal). If you're looking to break your fast at noon, try a hearty dinner that will help keep you going, so you don't wake up starving. Note- that doesn't mean eat until you burst! If you eat too much, then you'll be setting yourself up for poor sleep - and no one wants to be hungry AND tired.
Some easy and filling dinner options:
BBQ chicken thighs with mashed potatoes
Salmon and roast vegetables
Blackbean and mushroom burger
Lentil dahl with vegetables
3. Treat it like an experiment
When something is an 'experiment', it takes away some of the severity of starting a routine that might last forever. Instead of approaching it with anxiety and a sense of duty, you can instead look at it with curious eyes. Now you can finally take all your research and put it to the test - people say they feel great fasting, but how will you feel? Only doing it will show you! When you're curious, you can enjoy the process more and look it at it like a fun investigation rather than something you think you 'have' to do (which you don't, by the way).
Do you journal? Journaling is great for many purposes but in relation to intermittent fasting, it can be useful to track your energy levels, mood, sleep and how you feel after you eat certain foods. That way, you can make the adjustments needed. If you find what you're eating is leaving you hungry an hour later, experiment with different foods to make sure that you can last without the urge to snack. Using a journal can be a useful way to monitor your thoughts and keep yourself motivated when times get tough.
4. Focus on the benefits
If you’re already aware of the general benefits of fasting (and that’s why you’ve started it), start imagining how great you'll look and feel once you've completed your goal.
- Think about how much clearer your mind will be
- How you'll save time (and maybe money) on food
- How your meals will be more structured
- How you can stabilise your blood sugar
- How IF will support your health and longevity
- If you’re looking to lose weight, then restricting the time eating can help you stick to your allotted calories (provided you don’t binge during your eating time of course!)
Whatever is the most important to you, take the time to focus on it to feel that drive and motivation to reach the place where it becomes effortless.
What are the biggest benefits of IF to you?
Whether or not you decide to do IF, know that you don't have to jump straight in if you don't want to. By focusing on your diet habits, you're already on the way to a fitter and healthier you. Use these tips to ease into your new lifestyle, so you can keep focused and maintain your routine for the long run!
A word to the wise: As always, consult your health practitioner for the right advice for you. This article is intended to be for educational purposes only. Fasting is not suitable for everyone – for example, if you're a woman trying to conceive, or you’re pregnant, then the advice is that IF is a no-go. Of course, you know your body best, but it’s always wise to work with a health professional to ascertain the best diet for you. If you have a past of disordered eating, mental health issues or chronic health concerns then again, make sure you do your research and consult a medical practitioner before considering IF.
Antoni, R., Johnston, K., Collins, A., & Robertson, M. (2017). Effects of intermittent fasting on glucose and lipid metabolism. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 76(3), 361-368. doi:10.1017/S0029665116002986
Klempel, M.C., Kroeger, C.M., Bhutani, S. et al. Intermittent fasting combined with calorie restriction is effective for weight loss and cardio-protection in obese women. Nutr J 11, 98 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-11-98
Gibas MK, Gibas KJ. Induced and controlled dietary ketosis as a regulator of obesity and metabolic syndrome pathologies. Diabetes Metab Syndr. 2017;11 Suppl 1:S385-S390. doi:10.1016/j.dsx.2017.03.022
Moro, T., Tinsley, G., Bianco, A. et al. Effects of eight weeks of time-restricted feeding (16/8) on basal metabolism, maximal strength, body composition, inflammation, and cardiovascular risk factors in resistance-trained males. J Transl Med 14, 290 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12967-016-1044-0