Please note: I am not a doctor. The views and opinions expressed in this post are mine and mine alone. Please be sure to speak with a trusted physician for any questions you may have regarding your health.
Also, I have spent the last few years learning what I know about intermittent fasting from many wonderful sources. The main source of my information comes from the book Delay, Don’t Deny by Gin Stephens and her subsequent products and podcasts. She is an excellent source for living an intermittent fasting lifestyle and I highly encourage anyone to check her out.
So far, I have shared a lot about my personal intermittent fasting journey and the effects it’s had on my life in just a short six months.
But, I realized the other day that I have yet to explain exactly what intermittent fasting is, how it is done, and why I chose it as my lifestyle.
So, in order to make amends for this error, I am going to discuss the what, how, and why of intermittent fasting.
The “What” of Intermittent Fasting
First of all – and I cannot stress this enough – intermittent fasting is NOT a diet; it is a way of eating.
Let me say that again:
Intermittent fasting is NOT a diet; it is a way of eating.
To me, a diet is a restrictive means of losing weight, restrictive being the key word. Diets focus on deprivation of so called “bad” foods. Deprivation often leads to binging, and binging leads to feelings of failure and quitting, thus perpetuating the “diet” cycle.
On the other hand, intermittent fasting is a way of eating in which you get to eat to satiety (no deprivation, just delaying) while also enjoying your favorite foods in moderation (remember, we’re aiming for balance here).
I must also add that intermittent fasting is NOT a quick fix, nor is it a crash diet. Do not begin intermittent fasting with the expectation to lose 20 pounds in your first month. You’ll be sorely disappointed.
Rather, approach intermittent fasting with the long term in mind and slowly adopt it as a lifestyle. If you can do this, your focus and attitude toward your progress will be much more positive.
Intermittent fasting, in my opinion, is the ultimate health hack for individuals wanting not only to lose weight but to also improve their overall health.
The “How” of Intermittent Fasting
This section is where we get into the technicalities of intermittent fasting. I’ll explain the basic structure of an intermittent fasting lifestyle and cover a little bit about the many different ways intermittent fasting can be implemented.
First, intermittent fasting consists of two time frames: the “fasting window” and the “feasting window”.
Your Fasting Window
First, using a 24-hour time frame, the fasting window is the time in which you consume nothing but water, black coffee, and/or green tea. Personally, because I do not drink coffee or green tea, I am limited to water during my fast. To make this a little more bearable, I have developed a fondness for Perrier Sparkling Mineral Water. The bubbles give me the sense of drinking pop, but it’s still water and does not break my fast. Yay!
Simply put, the fasting window is the time in which your body uses its own fat stores as fuel rather than relying on incoming energy from food. This fasting window begins as soon as you are finished eating and drinking anything that could cause an insulin response and, as is most often stated, should last for a minimum of 16 hours.
Now, to clarify: your fasting window should last a minimum of 16 hours, yes; however, you will not be in a fasted stated for that whole 16 hours. Depending on your physiological make up, the foods you ate during your feasting window, and/or the length of your feasting window, it can take anywhere from 8 to 12 hours to enter the fasted state. Therefore, a fasting window of 16 hours minimum allows for four solid hours (or more) of fat burning to happen. And, going even further in your fast (as long as you’re able to without feeling overwhelmed) gives your body even more time to burn through excess fat stores.
Lastly, it is my opinion that a fasting window done well is the top priority. Your fast is when your body really has the opportunity to tap into excess fat and provide you with your desired results, whatever they may be. So, focusing on completing a clean fast of 16 or more hours is essential.
Your Feasting Window
Okay, now lets talk about the feasting window (because food is life, right?) Your feasting window should be predicated upon the length of your fasting window. Therefore, using a 24 hour cycle with a 16 hour fast, your feasting window would be 8 hours (ie 16+8=24).
Please understand this does NOT mean that you should eat anything and everything you can within those 8 hours. Instead, aim to eat your desired amount of meals with a focus on satiety rather than becoming over stuffed.
Now, to answer a major question every beginner has when starting intermittent fasting:
“What do I eat during my eating window?”
The answer: “Whatever you want.”
But, there is a caveat as is always the case. Depending on your goals, you would do well to aim for healthier whole foods in order to ensure nutritional gains.
That being said, if you want that Little Debbie snack, have it! Don’t deprive yourself because you think it will undo all your hard work. It won’t! Have the treat; just don’t have the whole box of treats. Again, we’re practicing moderation in all things here, because that’s what true living is all about.
A couple of things to note before we move on:
- Ease into your new fasting lifestyle step by step. Don’t jump in head first with one meal a day, a strenuous exercise routine, and a squeaky clean menu. You’ll very likely get burned out before you really start seeing lasting results. Instead, start with a beginner fasting routine and slowly add in different steps up as you get comfortable with the previous. It will feel more like a lifestyle if you do it this way.
- For most, an evening feasting window is easiest to maintain for the fact that sleeping on an empty stomach tends to be difficult.
- Having learned from personal experience, I strongly encourage you to limit the amount of snacking you do within your feasting window. And when I say snacking, I am referring to the tendency to graze, eating little bits here and there for the duration of your eating window.The act of snacking itself can become habitual, and controlling the impulse to snack during your fast can make it harder to complete. Again, this has just been my personal experience. Play around with different things and find out what works for you.
Finally, closely following a clean fasting window in importance is your eating window. It is very important to learn to listen to your body during this time. Get to know your physical hunger cues and differentiate them from the emotional ones. Learn what it feels like to be satisfied while eating and how this feeling compares to being over stuffed. And, most importantly, pay attention to the types of foods that make your body feel good.
Intermittent fasting is an excellent tool to help you really tune into your body and learn how to care for it effectively.
Structuring Intermittent Fasting
One of the best things about intermittent fasting is its flexibility. There are numerous ways or implementing an intermittent fasting lifestyle and each of these ways works wonderfully for someone somewhere.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this part of the post because I’ve defined different ways of fasting for you already here. But, I will map out the basic template most often suggested by all of the IF Gurus out there. You can use it as a guide to develop your own intermittent fasting routine.
The very basics of intermittent fasting (in a 24 hour cycle)
12:00 am – 6:00 am Sleeping*
6:01 am – 12:00 pm Fasting (only water, black coffee, or green tea)
12:01 pm – 8:00 pm Eating
8:00 pm – 10:00 pm Fasting
10: pm – 11:59 pm Sleeping
*Sleeping counts toward your fasting window
This is the suggested plan for a beginner. However, as you adjust to an IF lifestyle, you can increase the length of your fast to keep with your needs. For example, if you want to fast for 20 hours rather than 16, you could either open your fast 4 hours later (at 4:00 pm) or close your window 4 hours earlier (also at 4:00 pm). The idea is to complete your fasting hours consecutively.
You could also aim for a long fast like 36 hours, but it is suggested to keep your feasting window no less than 8 hours with an increased focus on nutrition after such a long fast .
The “Why” of Intermittent Fasting
This is my favorite part of intermittent fasting to talk about. I could seriously talk for hours on the reasons why I intermittent fast. But, for the sake of this post, I will focus on the most common reasons as to why someone might choose to adopt an intermittent fasting lifestyle.
First, intermittent fasting is simple.
Seriously, it’s so simple! You eat for a few hours; and you don’t eat for a few more!
No calorie or carb counting (unless you want to); no “good foods” vs “bad foods”; no worrying about being able to eat every 2 to 3 hours.
It’s just plain simple.
(Please note, when I say simple, I do mean it’s very simple in concept; however, I do not mean to say it is the easiest lifestyle, especially for beginners. Simplicity begets ease, but not always immediately. Keep that in mind.)
This reason is exactly why I chose intermittent fasting for my long term lifestyle. Having tried and been unable to sustain the overly suggested “six meals a day” approach to weight loss, I was beyond excited to learn that eating just once a day was not only safe but even healthy. That was the hook that caught me. The rest just kept me on the line.
Second, intermittent fasting is flexible
Intermittent fasting can be done in so many different ways (again, as I’ve defined for you here) that it can fit into practically any lifestyle. What’s even better, you don’t have to stick to just one way of doing IF, making it even more flexible.
I, for example, follow a “one meal a day” approach most days, my one meal being dinner. However, if I have a lunch date planned with my husband, I can easily adjust my fasting routine for that day to meet my social needs. Also, every week or two, I go for a 36 to 48 hour fast just because I like how I feel during my longer fasts.
This is what works for me. As you get more disciplined in your fasting, play around with the different protocols. You may find that you have a few you enjoy and will want to implement them all at some point. That’s great!
Third, intermittent fasting is natural.
This last reason is one that I didn’t understand until I had been fasting for a month or more. But, when I finally became fat adapted and appetite correction kicked in, I noticed a significant change in myself as a result. I looked forward to my fasts each day for the energy they brought, the focus I had, and the freedom I felt from food.
Then, during my feasting window, I no longer felt as if I had to eat everything in sight; rather, I was learning to listen to my body and its natural rhythm throughout the day. My body was adjusting to its natural needs rather than being slave to mental and emotional cravings. I felt more in control of myself than I ever remember feeling.
Obviously intermittent fasting is not the panacea to all life’s problems, but it definitely does provide a major step up toward solving any potential health issues you may be experiencing due to your weight.
If you’ve ever considered giving IF a try, I would strongly encourage you to go with that urge. Worst case scenario, you find out that it just isn’t something you like and you can go back to what works for you.
More than likely, however, you’ll discover the benefits of intermittent fasting to be too great to give up.
If you have any questions about what I’ve discussed in this post or any others on karahlindsay.com, please feel free to email me and I will do my very best to provide you with a clear answer.
I look forward to hearing from you! And, as always, good luck in your efforts.