Overwhelmed by the number of exercise tips and trends out there? Wondering why the weight isn’t coming off no matter how hard you work out? If you’re frustrated by your inability to get fit, the problem might not be what you’re doing at the gym so much as what you’re doing in the kitchen.
Intermittent fasting, or IF, has been gaining popularity in recent years, but the dietary strategy is hardly new. In fact, fasting is an age-old practice and one that’s been embraced by everyone from fitness fanatics to religious devotees. With this eating strategy, practitioners alternate between periods of fasting and periods of eating normally. Studies show that fasting can have a positive impact on health, provided that followers plan their meals effectively.
How IF Improves Health
Research shows that intermittent fasting, when practiced safely and correctly, can have a profound effect on health. According to a study from the journal Research in Endocrinology, IF can result in a host of perks, such as weight loss, enhanced metabolic health, and even extended lifespan. Further, practicing IF may reduce your risk of suffering from strokes and coronary artery disease. However, following a fasting protocol is essential if you want to enjoy the diet plan’s many health benefits.
IF practitioners can choose from a few different meal schedules. All the diet plans split the week into periods of eating and periods of fasting, and you should select the one that best fits your needs and schedule. The three most popular plans are:
- The 16:8 Method: This schedule involves fasting for 16 hours each day and limiting eating to the remaining 8. Because most of us sleep 6 to 8 hours a day, that means you only have to refrain from eating during 8 to 10 waking hours. Most people who follow this diet restrict their eating to the hours between 12 and 8 pm. You can drink water, tea, coffee, and other non-caloric beverages during your fast.
- The 5:2 Diet: With this intermittent fasting plan, practitioners refrain from eating two days a week. Most people do consume a limited amount of calories on eating days (typically around 500).
- Alternate Day Fasting: With this option, fasters eat normally for a 24-hour period and then consume a limited amount of calories for the following 24 hours. It’s important to drink plenty of water on fasting days and make sure the calories you do consume include plenty of protein.
Intermittent fasting works best and is easiest to stick to when you choose a schedule that works with your needs and goals. For example, if you regularly work out in the mornings, you might struggle with a fasting schedule that prevents you from eating until noon. Consider altering your fasting hours, so you start and stop eating earlier in the day, or move your workout to the afternoon.
Meal Planning on IF
Now that you’ve selecting a fasting schedule, it’s time to get to work planning meals. Intermittent fasters are often lured in by the promise of being able to eat whatever they want on non-fasting days. However, if you want to lose weight and achieve other health benefits, it’s important to continue to consume a healthy diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. After all, you won’t do yourself any favors by cramming 24 hours’ worth of calories into a handful of “eating” hours. Here are two meal plan options to try out during your IF eating hours:
Option No. 1
First Meal: A healthy smoothie that contains fruit, leafy greens, protein, ice, and water.
Second Meal: A lean protein such as eggs, healthy carbohydrates like wheat bread, and green vegetables such as a spinach salad. Strive to fill up half your plate with veggies, dividing the remaining half between protein and carbs.
Snack: An apple and cheddar cheese.
Third Meal: A lean protein like chicken, healthy carbs like sweet potatoes, and green veggies like broccoli or asparagus.
Option No. 2
First Meal: A protein-rich breakfast like chia pudding or a kefir smoothie.
Snack: A cup of berries or banana with almond butter.
Second Meal: A salad with spinach or kale, chicken, and a healthy fat like avocado.
Third Meal: Chili with lean, white-meat turkey or chicken.
Have fun with your meal plan and focus on variety. The last thing you want to do is create a rigid and limited eating plan that encourages cheating.
Eating Tips to Remember
Regardless of the IF schedule you choose, making it through the fasting part of the day without snacking can be difficult. Here are some tips to make intermittent fasting easier and increase your odds of success.
Stay Busy: If you’re trying to avoid snacking during fasting hours, it pays to stay busy. Make plans to call a friend, take the dog for a walk, or watch your favorite TV show.
Drink Water (and Coffee and Tea and Sparkling Water): You can and should drink plenty of water while fasting. However, you don’t have to stick to the flat stuff. Tantalize your taste buds by supplementing with herbal or caffeinated teas, coffee, and sparkling water, which offers a pleasing fizziness. If you do opt to drink coffee, just be careful not to overload your cup with cream and sugary sweeteners; these calories can add up fast.
Have an Apple: Low in calories and high in fiber, apples are a great intermittent fasting snack. The high water content keeps you full, while the flavor and crunch provides a much-needed distraction for hunger pangs.
Consider Keto: You’re unlikely to lose weight with fasting if you consume mainly cookies and chips during eating hours. Instead, think about following a low-carb diet while engaging in IF. You might even want to consider the keto diet, which involves eliminating carbs in favor of proteins and fats. The goal is to propel your body to burn fat rather than sugar, leading to weight loss and other health benefits.
Avoid Binges: If you’ve been fasting for 24 hours, you might be tempted to indulge in a giant meal once you can eat. However, such gluttony can lead to stomach upset and even reverse the good effects of IF. Instead of filling your plate with everything in sight, start small. Break your fast with a salad or apple and peanut butter and then wait a little while to see if you’re still hungry. In many cases, a small meal or snack may be enough to satisfy the craving.
Unlike traditionally restrictive diets, intermittent fasting doesn’t set limits on what you can eat—only when you can eat it. So if you’ve struggled to stick to harsh eating plans in the past, IF might be a more reasonable option. Give intermittent fasting a try and let us know how it goes.