Intermittent fasting (IF) is one of the most powerful ways you can lose fat, gain muscle and live a generally healthier, more productive life. Sounds too good to be true, huh? Well, it's not. By simply restricting the times you eat and eating a mostly healthy foods when you do eat, you can get into the best shape of your life.
But you already know this. That's why you're reading this article. (If you don't know about IF and want to learn more, read this.) You're here because you want to learn about how to IF. The best way is to embrace it as a lifestyle change, as opposed to a diet. We know, we know: everyone flogging any type of dietary change says this and the phrase has lost all meaning.
Here's what we mean when we say IF is a lifestyle. It means you're not going to IF all the time; there are days you're going to eat outside your feeding window, because you have to or are just too damned tired, stressed, and human to be perfect all the time. And that's cool. You don't have to IF every day to lose weight. In fact, people see results intermittent fasting as little as two days a week.
What embracing IF as a lifestyle also means is that you don't have to restrict the foods you eat unless you want or have to. You can eat meat. You can eat carbs. You can eat chips and cookies and cake. As long as you eat mostly healthy foods (80%+ whole, healthy), you'll see results. A flawlessly clean diet isn't necessary. A balanced diet is.
So, you're going to make a lifestyle change and you're going to do it gradually. The most common (and our preferred) kind of IF is 16:8. This means you fast 16 hours a day, and eat for 8. During the periods of fasting, you can drink water, black coffee or tea, but you cannot eat or drink anything with caloric value or anything that can affect your blood sugar levels. It's easier than you may think, especially because most of us sleep for at least half of the 16 hours of fasting.
How to Start Intermittent Fasting
Step 1: Find Your Windows
First thing you have to do is find your feeding and fasting windows. They can be whenever you want. That’s right: whenever. There’s no proof eating late at night causes weight gain unless you are eating too many calories in general, so, as long as you are limiting your feeding window to 8 consecutive hours a day, it doesn’t matter when the window is open.
Our best advice for finding the right windows for you is to take a good, long look at your life and decide what would work realistically for you. For example, if you are a night owl and rarely go to sleep before midnight (or later), your fast could start around 10pm and go until 2pm the next day. If you are getting a decent sleep, this only gives you approximately 6 hours when you’re awake the next day and not eating. That’s it.
Another example: you go to bed each night around 9pm. In this case, you could stop eating at 6pm and eat the next day at 10am. Again, you get to pick your fasting and eating slots to suit your life.
Step 2: Stagger Your Start
While a good many people do IF every single day (or close to it), you don’t have to IF every day to see results. In fact, if you have never fasted before (beyond the usual overnight fast when you sleep), it’s a good idea not to throw yourself into IF. Instead, try IF for one or two nights, then take a night off. See how you feel. Adjust times if necessary. Some studies suggest that because of hormones, women may have a harder time fasting for 16 hours. Try for 14 hours if you’re feeling really hungry and agitated or lightheaded. Or 12. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with working your way up to 16. Or sticking to 14. Or sticking to 14 most of the time and pushing to 16 once or twice a week.
If you are having no trouble fasting for 16 hours off the hop, go for it! But keep reading: the next step is crucial.
Step 3: EAT During Your Eating Window
You only have 8 hours to eat, and while this may seem like a lot of time, it isn’t. You’re going to have to make sure you eat frequently during your feeding window. Because you want to get in all your macronutrients and micronutrients during this time, it’s important to eat predominately whole, clean foods. These are the foods full of the fibre, whole grain carbs, proteins and healthy fats that will keep you fuller, longer. Yes, like in any balanced diet there is room for treats, but again, these should constitute a small percentage of your overall diet.
There is no prescribed number of times you should eat during your feeding window. Two snacks and one big meal. Five little meals. Three medium sized meals. The choice is yours.
Step 4: Get Your Mind Right
One of the most challenging aspects of IF is learning the difference between real hunger and psychological hunger. Psychological hunger is a conditioned or external response rather than a real, physiological need. You want to eat because you've been conditioned to eat at a certain time or because you're sad or tired or angry or happy or just because there's delicious food in front of you. But what you are not is truly hungry.
When you IF, and if you are doing it properly and eating enough good, clean food during your feeding window (and yes, an indulgence now and then), you will never go hungry. However, you may feel hungry — especially during the first few days of IF while your body adjusts. But it will adjust. Thank increased willpower due to clearer cognitive function and a change in your body’s secretion of ghrelin, the hunger hormone. The more you can avoid answering the urge to eat, the more your ghrelin timing and production will adjust. As a result, you’ll condition your body and brain to embrace the new fasting schedule.
Step 5: Stick to HIIT
HIIT and IF are a match made in fat loss heaven. Any healthy lifestyle necessitates activity. IF is no exception. What is different about IF is the intensity and type of activity that best compliments the practice — and this difference is refreshing. Unlike other programs that call for rigorous, prolonged activity almost every day of the week, the exercise that best suits an IF lifestyle is wonderfully minimal and rewardingly effective.
3-4 days a week
That’s all you need to do. Three or four days a week of short, intense periods of training. No cardio sessions necessary. We’re talking HIIT. HIIT workouts and intermittent fasting work beautifully together to help you lose fat, gain muscle, increase aerobic and anaerobic capacity, and keep your hormones in check.
Ready to start? Of course you are — and we’re here to help. Soon we are launching our NEW Fasting Guide, where you'll be able to find all this information. It’ll be everything you need to help transition into a long-term IF lifestyle, offering recipes, guidance, tips and the science behind IF.