The Dos and Don'ts of Intermittent Fasting

Have you tried intermittent fasting? It's a pretty buzzy topic in the diet and health industry these days! And while it's always nice to think that there could be a quick or easier to way to drop our unwanted pounds than actually sticking to a healthy diet, I hope by now (or if you've recently decided to follow me) that you understand that the way to FEEL and look your best is by making consistently healthy choices that align with the lifestyle you want to be leading.

So where does intermittent fasting fit into this? If you've worked with me, you know that I am open to most natural approaches to weight loss - Weight Watchers, Whole 30, or shake plans - my job is to help you make a choice that works for you, help you stop hemorrhaging money into random weight loss efforts, and help you approach your weight loss in a healthy way that will get you to your goals. 

And  intermittent fasting is definitely natural! Or it can be. I am a fan when done properly but there are definitely some dos and don’ts so let’s take a look.

When does intermittent fasting not work? 

For many, the idea of skipping a few meals sounds like an ideal way to drop some weight. And a lot of people I see have been skipping meals and snacks regularly to no avail (and sometimes even try to justify it with "fasting"). What ends up happening in these cases is a willy nilly approach to hoarding calories so they "have room" to eat what they want. This is not intermittent fasting.

With this approach, we do not get the benefits we're looking for because our bodies get stressed and we release hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that start putting our bodies into more of a survival mode, at which point, we really lose control over our intake and our more primal urges take over. 

Often we see a weight gain or a one step forward (weight loss) two steps back (weight gain) situation. Someone who does this is likely a "chronic dieter" as they create an almost binging and purging effect which never gets them to their goal. They go through life consistently unhappy with their weight and kicking themselves for not having the self control of discipline they feel they are lacking. 

But if this sounds familiar to you, it's not your fault. With a few tweaks, we can get you back in the driver's seat. 

So what is the best approach to intermittent fasting ? 

The best way to try out intermittent fasting is to find a program that works for you and have a trusted friend or coach who understands that program help guide you. I can't refer you to any specific plans, but I can lay out a few of the most common approaches to intermittent fasting here:

Daily Fasting - Some people believe that giving their bodies a long fasting period every day will create a healthier digestive system. Often this also helps people create the sustainable caloric deficit they are looking for to lose unwanted weight or even to just stop gaining weight. Some people are also just not breakfast people (like me!) so something like this sounds really do-able.

With this approach, you will start the fast at night and continue to take in nothing with calories until 10 or 11am. Coffee, tea and water a plenty, though! Once it's time to break the fast, start with a small, protein and nutrient dense snack and a large glass of water. Then proceed with the rest of your day's meals and snacks as planned.

The 5:2 approach - With this plan, there will be two days a week where you will fast until around 2pm and take in 600-900 calories (this is where it's important to have someone helping you tailor the plan to your needs!) between 2pm and 7pm. The other 5 days of the week, you will take in your nutrition as planned according to your goals. 

Once a week full day fast - This one can be a bit less comfortable, but you will fast for a full 24 hours. For some it's easier than others! Water is key and an occasional bone broth to get you through the day is often allowed. Break the fast the following morning with a nutrient dense breakfast!

There are a lot more plans and programs out there! It’s best to do your research and look for one that not only feels like it could work for you but that you understand the process behind it. Again, this is where a friend or a coach can really come in handy to help ensure that you are doing your body GOOD!

Rules to remember across the board for whatever program you decide to try out:

  • Break the fast with something small and high in nutrients! Do not dive right into a big meal as you are likely to go overboard and take in more than you need. 

  • Stay hydrated! This is key to keep your body working properly and to keep you from feeling signs of hunger when you may actually just be dehydrated.

  • This is not something to do without making other healthy changes to your diet (if you need to clean up your intake!). Eating fast food and other processed foods or not being mindful of your intake during the non-fasting periods will leave no health benefit to your fasting. Your digestive system will continue to be blocked, your body won't actually be nourished, and you will continue to build cortisol and deplete your adrenaline as your body tries to make it through the day without enough nutrients.

Won't we mess up our metabolism by skipping meals?

Nope. When you have a consistent routine and you are taking in enough nutrition to fuel your body, gaps in intake will not cause your metabolism to "slow down." It is the fight or flight response and taking in too few calories over a long period of time that will cause your body to react and change the way it's processing your caloric intake. This is a big deal - resulting usually from actual starvation or disordered eating.

The idea that skipping meals slows your metabolism is not a correct statement. But what does happen when you skip meals and push your hunger beyond it’s comfort zone is you go shooting out of the driver's seat of your intake - you make poorer choices, take in too much when you don't need it because you're more hungry than you should be, and create a lack of proper mineral balance which will lead your body to crave greasy, salty foods and sweets to regain the energy and the minerals it feels like it's missing from the skipped meals. 

It will also affect your sleep quality, which, in turn, causes you to crave sweets and raises your cortisol levels, too. It's all a vicious cycle.

So step in and take back control. It's not as hard as you think and you don't even really have to fight!

Don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions or to get started working on a plan that will get you back in the driver's seat! This is your health and your future, after all!