How to Start Intermittent Fasting in 5 Non-Intimidating Steps
In the world of behavioral change, simple works. ~ Tim Ferriss
It’s daunting, isn’t it?
- Someone online is poised to finish strong on day 2 of her 3 day fast because she’s not even hungry. But instead of getting motivated you say “It’s only 10 AM and I’m already hungry as a ravenous beast, I won’t last the whole day, I can’t do this today.”
- Hunger pangs and cravings were so strong you didn’t make it. “It’s easier to fast when you’re fat adapted,” the experts say. But that takes several weeks on a very low carb diet and you don’t want to wait that long.
- Maybe you haven’t tried it, but you’ve thought about it. “Oh, I can’t do that.”
What if there was a calm and confident way to get started? And what if your current abilities were enough?
Instead of seeing it as another difficult duty you owe to your health, make it a self-experiment.
- Break it down into small but easily doable step-by-step actions that guarantee you will finish,
- observe and analyze what you discover,
- draw your conclusion: Is fasting right for you?
So you’re not committing to it, you’re here to learn about it. Because like most people, you learn by doing. Doesn’t that sound easier already? But…
Before you get started
- Talk to your doctor before you start. Especially if you have any medical condition or if you’re on any medication. Stop if you feel sick.
- Keep it simple. Fasting (in this experiment) is defined as consuming only plain water (flat or carbonated), or black coffee, or unsweetened tea.
- Keep it easy. Eat your usual meals during your eating window. In my personal experience, intermittent fasting works best when combined with a low carb-high fat diet of real, whole foods. But launching the perfect combination to get the best results is not your goal right now…it’s to finish a fast.
- Time (i.e. 7 PM) is mentioned for simplicity. You don’t have to follow them. You may adjust the times according to your schedule.
- Which days of the week? In my experience, fasting on weekdays are more convenient because they’re more structured and have less variables. But that may not be true for you. What you’re looking for are those days where you’re more likely to say, “Where’d the time go? I forgot to eat!”
- Slip ups are okay. First, forgive yourself. You may pick up where you left off or start from Day 1. Do what’s easiest to get you back on track. Next…
Zero in on your purpose
Why do you want to try intermittent fasting? What’s in it for you?
- Weight loss, weight maintenance. Fasting reduces hormones such as insulin, and increases HGH and norephinephrine which makes stored body fat more accessible to burn for energy, so you lose fat.
- Avoid medication, relieve symptoms. Fasting helps you prevent diabetes, heart disease, reduce inflammation.
- Prevent serious disease, longevity. Studies show fasting may provide protection against Alzheimer’s, cancer, and may help you live longer.
Think about the reasons why you made this choice when you feel “deprived”.
Address your worries
What will make you nervous about intermittent fasting that it causes you to stop?
- It’s okay to skip breakfast. It’s not the most important meal of the day, it’s a neutral meal, there’s nothing precious about it. In reality, skipping breakfast won’t make you gain weight and eating breakfast won’t fire up your metabolism.
- It’s okay to avoid snacks. Snacking won’t help you lose weight because it doesn’t boost your metabolism. In fact, this study shows snacking contributes to obesity and fatty liver disease.
- Your metabolism won’t slow down. Fasting actually increases your metabolism and helps you retain more muscle while losing weight.
There’s no reason to be apprehensive because it’s not hazardous to your health.
Ready? Let’s begin…
The temptation to quit will be greatest just before you are about to succeed. ~ Chinese Proverb
Day 1, Don’t eat after dinner
Eat your usual meals throughout the day, but stop eating after dinner.
It’s unlikely that you’re really hungry around 8–9 PM after you ate dinner at 7 PM. But it’s when you lounge on the couch, watch TV, or spend time with your loved ones to unwind. And it usually comes with popcorn, chips, or ice cream.
Tips to help you through the night:
- Have a glass of water or a warm cup of calming herbal tea instead of eating food.
- Brush your teeth. The minty taste can help curb cravings. It also sends a subliminal message that you’re done eating for the day or you’d have to brush your teeth again. It’s enough of a barrier that can keep you from eating.
- Sleep it off. It’s okay because you ate all day and you had dinner.
Day 2, Delay breakfast
Good morning! You just did a 12-hour fast.
Your last meal was at 7 PM last night, and it’s now 7 AM. That’s 12 hours. You didn’t eat for half a day. You’ve balanced eating and fasting to a ratio of 50:50… 12 hours of eating and 12 hours of fasting. This is a good thing.
That wasn’t so hard, was it? All you had to do was stop eating after dinner. Time flies when you’re sleeping!
But now it’s the morning rush. You need to get out of the house asap or you’ll be late. So you eat as fast as you can or grab something on the go to eat in the car. But why?
Delay breakfast today. Eat it when it’s convenient. Have water, coffee, or tea instead.
There’s nothing extreme about delaying your first meal of the day until it’s convenient. Like after you’ve arrived at the office or the kids have been dropped off to school instead of amidst the mad morning rush.
After you get to work, settle in. Check your email, look at your calendar, plan your day. You don’t have to sneak in breakfast before or have breakfast while you’re doing all this.
- 10 AM. It’s time to enjoy your breakfast without the chaos.
- 12 noon. Lunch time. You’re probably not hungry because you just ate. The clock says it’s lunch time but your body doesn’t say so. It’s okay to wait to eat until you feel hungry again.
- 2 PM. You’re hungry now, have a nice lunch.
Eat dinner at 7 PM.
Build up on the prior steps: Don’t eat after dinner, delay breakfast until 10 AM.
Day 3, Don’t snack
Well done! You just did a 15-hour fast.
You had dinner at 7 PM last night, stopped eating after dinner, and delayed breakfast until 10 AM.
After lunch today, don’t eat until dinner.
Tips to help you avoid snacking:
- Dinner’s only a few hours away. You know you will eat soon. All you have to do is wait.
- Hunger comes in waves. It’s temporary, it won’t get worse as time goes on, it will subside.
- The hunger may not even be real. Maybe you’re thirsty. Maybe it’s an afternoon snacking habit. Maybe you’re stressed, anxious, worried, sad, or bored so you’re compelled to eat. Drink water, coffee, or tea instead.
- Stay busy. Do some work, a chore, take a walk, or call a friend. Before you know it, it’s time to head home to the dinner that awaits you.
Have dinner at 7 PM.
Build up on the prior steps: don’t eat after dinner, delay breakfast until 10 AM, don’t snack in between meals.
Day 4, Skip breakfast
You did it! You did a 15-hour fast — and you didn’t snack.
You had dinner at 7 PM last night, stopped eating after dinner, delayed breakfast until 10 AM, and you didn’t snack between lunch and dinner.
Skip breakfast today by waiting 1 more hour to eat. This makes lunch your first meal of the day at 11 AM.
Repeat the skills you’ve learned:
- You practiced mindful eating when you didn’t eat while doing another activity.
- You avoided eating out of thirst, habit, or emotion when you waited to eat until you truly felt hungry.
- You felt hunger as short-lived. Do the tricks that helped you ride hunger waves until they went away.
Eat dinner at 7 PM.
Build up on the prior steps: don’t eat after dinner, skip breakfast, don’t snack in between lunch and dinner.
Day 5, Repeat
Congratulations! You just did a 16-hour fast.
You had dinner at 7 PM last night, you skipped breakfast by eating your first meal at 11 AM, didn’t snack, didn’t eat again until 7 PM.
It’s an intermittent fasting protocol called the 16/8 Method popularized by Martin Berkhan. It has several variations. It’s popular because most of us aren’t truly hungry in the morning so it’s easy to skip breakfast.
Your eating window is reduced to ⅓ of the day (8 hours). You’ve tipped the scale toward a greater fasting window of ⅔ of the day (16 hours). The therapeutic effects kick in.
Repeat: skip breakfast, no snacking between lunch and dinner, don’t eat after dinner.
(Optional) Progress to other extended variations of intermittent fasting. Apply the principle of breaking down the fast into small but easily doable steps over a period of time and work your way up until you get there.
Is intermittent fasting right for you
Fasting, like eating a low carb-high fat diet, is another tool for weight loss and improving your health. But the effectiveness of these tools rely on whether you can do them consistently over the long run.
Here are some pros and cons to help you decide:
- It’s simple and easier to stick to because you simply skip a meal(s) when you’re not hungry or too busy to eat.
- You can fit it into your lifestyle, i.e. schedule around special occasions, Holidays.
- However, there’s the hunger (real or not). You need to develop the skill to ride the ebb and flow of hunger by being more mindful about why you eat. But because it’s a skill, you can learn it.
What if you achieved the health benefits you want from intermittent fasting?
How will that change you?
You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. ~ Martin Luther King Jr.