Intermittent fasting has become one of the buzz phrases these days in the health community. People are actively designing their lives around starving themselves, in a good and healthy way. And I’m one of them!
I became obsessed with intermittent fasting a few years ago. I had practiced it irregularly while I lived in Thailand, and thankfully was unaware of it when I lived in Italy—so much delicious food, all the time! But it wasn’t until I had a “Come to Health & Nutrition Jesus” moment after moving back to the states that I realized I needed to focus more on creating a healthy lifestyle.
Having struggled with an eating disorder since high school I have rarely held a healthy relationship with food. I was prone to overeating from an emotional or scarcity mindset, or becoming addicted to Oreos and peanut butter (what a dangerous combination) for multiple periods of my life. I also found times when punishing myself around food was the only way I had any control in life—I controlled how much, or little, I put into my body.
Needless to say, intermittent fasting (intentionally “starving” your body) is not something I take lightly; I am constantly vigilant about the line between health and eating disorder. I make sure that I check my motives for my fasting and I don’t get carried away. Any time I recognize restrictive eating as a punishment, I realign and force myself to eat.
I regularly partake in intermittent fasting, however, many health professionals discourage anyone with a history of an eating disorder to do so. Make sure you check with your health provider to see if this would be something to support your health and wellness, rather than detract from it.
So how exactly does intermittent fasting work and why should you care?
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is essentially what it sounds like: not eating for specific periods of time, either daily or a few times a week. There are different plans out there, such as the familiar 16:8—you fast for 16 hours of the day and eat for eight, making sure not to binge eat or overindulge in unhealthy foods.
Another choice is the 5:2—you eat regularly five days of the week and pick two days to eat a meal that is only 500-600 calories. If you have tried intermittent fasting in the past and can’t seem to stick to a daily schedule, the 5:2 method might be best for you.
There are other methods out there, such as alternate day fasting, but the 16:8 and 5:2 plans are two of the most popular ones that aren’t a full day or more fast. You can do more research to find the best version for you. Remember, you want to find something that encourages a healthier lifestyle and that you can be consistent with. Your body and future self will thank you!
As with any healthy addition to your routine, intermittent fasting is a lifestyle choice. This means there will be necessary adjustments to make since you’re altering something that already exists, but the benefits are well worth it.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Depending on your reasons for intermittent fasting, you might be attracted to different methods, however, the benefits are extremely beneficial.
The Mayo Clinic states:
Some research suggests that intermittent fasting may be more beneficial than other diets for reducing inflammation and improving conditions associated with inflammation, such as:
- Alzheimer's disease
- Multiple sclerosis
Other positive suggested findings of intermittent fasting are that it can help to prevent type 2 diabetes as well as induce weight loss.
While any diet where you restrict your calories is going to be effective, the difference with intermittent fasting is that it’s a lifestyle, not a fad. With most diets, you undergo restrictive eating for a period of time, desperately waiting to get back to a regular schedule with your old food intake. This is an unhealthy cycle that results in constantly needing to go back on diets. Not only does that take a toll on your body, but it also affects your self-esteem.
Intermittent fasting provides a healthy choice to lose weight that is sustainable. However, if weight loss is your main objective, you should understand that you need to also eat healthy during your eating window. You can’t fast and then eat piles of junk food and expect to lose weight or be healthy. Instead, you are committing to a healthy lifestyle change that your body and mind will appreciate.
If you find that you are looking to lose weight, this is a great way to incite weight loss and also receive the other health benefits. Look great, feel great!
Of course you always want to check with your doctor whether intermittent fasting is healthy for you before trying it out. But once you get the all-clear, you can use the five tips below to jumpstart you into a new lifestyle.
5 Tips on How to Start Intermittent Fasting Today
I have the most experience with daily 16:8 fasting:eating, so that is what the following advice is based around. However, some of the following tips are helpful with other types of fasting as well.
If you’re going to be intermittent fasting for 16 hours, you need to work around your schedule so you can plan out what eight hours you will eat. In our work-centric society, we have grown accustomed to late dinners, however, depending on your schedule, that means you might not get your early breakfast before work.
But what if breakfast is more important to you? Then you’ll need to skip dinner and enjoy your morning breakfast. If dinner is more important to you, you’ll skip an early morning breakfast. You can still enjoy a natural tea or unsweetened coffee. You just want to make sure there are no sugar or calories added to either of these since that will shift you out of your fasted state.
If you’re anything like me, there will be great resistance at first. I used to love my early breakfasts, but after years of implementing this, I have learned to just enjoy a delicious breakfast at a later time. Again, it’s a lifestyle change so there will be sacrifices, but I believe the benefits of a healthy and happy present and future are well worth it.
In case you need some encouragement, here are five tips to help you start your intermittent fasting journey.
1. Allow time to adjust.
You’re changing the way your body has been functioning for a while, so there’s going to be some growing pains. You may experience growls from your stomach as you adjust your eating schedule. Your body has expected food whenever it wants, so it’ll be like a petulant child during the adjustment period.
Hunger pains and increased fatigue are entirely normal. You will eventually “grow out of this” and your body will become accustomed to your eating window and you’ll find that you aren’t even hungry when you used to be.
I find fasting and intermittent fasting to be more of a mental struggle than a physical one. This means that you’ll be fighting with yourself about whether or not you can keep going. From my own experience, I can attest that you can! I find if I’m not spiritually fit I will struggle more with fasting because I will want to use food to cover up what I’m not wanting to face.
There’s a spiritual element to fasting, which is why so many religions have been fasting for as long as religions were around. Starting your new intermittent fasting lifestyle can be a great gauge of where you’re at in finding spiritual balance. Do you rely heavily on food as a distraction? Are you eating your feelings? Use this new adjustment period as an opportunity to see the ways in which you can grow and expand.
Just like with starting any new habit, you are going to want to go slowly at first. As the trite saying goes: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Intermittent fasting is a lifestyle change (if you are doing it regularly) and therefore you will need some time to acclimate.
2. Get rid of late-night snacks.
We all have our go-to craving after meals are done for the day. Maybe it’s a late-night dessert while watching your favorite TV show. If you no longer have that dessert in your house, you won’t be able to snack on it.
In order to set yourself up for success, you need to design the environment around you to succeed. If you have access to an unhealthy treat, chances are you’re going to eat it. You can make your unhealthy treats rare and only when you go out to eat. Treat yourself to an experience on the weekend, rather than a regular late-night carb load.
If your temptation to eat late is something healthy, great! Save it for tomorrow. Reassure yourself that you’ll get to enjoy the yummy treat during your eating window and give yourself something to look forward to. Intermittent fasting can teach us to appreciate our food. It’s a great tool for mindfulness and finding gratitude in our lives.
3. Go to bed earlier.
Now this one may seem silly at first, but it works. If you go to bed earlier (or wake up later) you have less time to crave food or allow your boredom munchies to take hold. This is also another win, as getting plenty of sleep is incredibly beneficial to your health.
Whenever I’m doing extended fasts (a full day or longer), I actually try to sleep more. This allows my body to use the energy in healing my body by eating the bad cells (autophagy) and I get to rest. As you start your new journey of intermittent fasting, in the beginning you might find it helpful to sleep more.
Since it’ll take some time for your body to adjust to your new eating schedule you can support yourself by making it as easy as possible. The less time you’re awake, the less time you have to be hungry. If you’re used to eating right when you wake up or right before bed, you can also drink lots of water to fill yourself up. A lot of times we think we’re hungry, but in fact, we’re just thirsty.
Try sleeping more in your first week or two that you switch over and you may find that you love feeling rested so much during the day that you’ll permanently want to get that much sleep!
4. Be gentle with yourself.
As someone who has struggled with starving myself out of punishment, I make sure I am aware of what my body needs. In my eating disorder recovery, I have learned to care for and love my body since it is the only one I have and if I feel good in my body, my mood is much more likely to be positive.
If I’m intermittent fasting but I can tell that I’m really hungry before the 16 hours are over, I allow myself to eat. It’s unhealthy staying too stringent to a plan to the detriment of your body. Intermittent fasting is like yoga, both are healthy and can become lifestyle choices, but you should only push yourself as far as feels safe and is the right choice for you.
I have also found that I like to “cheat” at times. If I’m too strict with my diet, it can start to become dangerous. With clear boundaries about what is acceptable to me, I can feel like I’m cheating without going overboard.
For instance, I will sometimes eat a late meal or early breakfast if I’m going out with friends. Since I’m not doing this everyday, I allow myself to view the experience as a special treat. Similarly, if it’s a special occasion, I may break the 16-hour guideline. However, I try to ensure that I don’t eat when I’m not hungry. I listen to my body and create a mind-body connection that serves me along my health journey, and also in other areas of life.
Having flexibility is good for your brain, body, and soul. And self-love is even more beneficial to treating yourself right and creating a truly, well-rounded healthy life.
5. Find what works for you.
Everyone is different and therefore, there is no one prescription that works best for everyone. Find your own blueprint on how you want to approach your health and wellness.
Maybe intermittent fasting everyday doesn’t work for you. That’s okay. There are still other ways to achieve health in your life. Instead, perhaps you could do a three-day fast once a month and receive tremendous benefits and then eat however you want the rest of the month—remembering to still eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.
Find what works for you.
I find intermittent fasting to be my main pillar of health. Currently, I still struggle with exercising regularly, but am working to change that. My passion towards health and nutrition allow me to implement intermittent fasting with a sense of happiness because I know I’m working to ensure that I live healthy and happy decades from now.
The only way you’ll be able to sustain something long term, is to find something that you’re passionate about and are choosing for you. Choose you, choose love, choose a healthy present and future.
Intermittent Fasting with a History of an Eating Disorder
Since I had other primary addictions, eating disorders never took over my life in the way alcohol and drugs did. I believe this contributes to my ability to be able to intermittently fast without detrimental consequences. However, I dissuade anyone from trying intermittent fasting if it is a cause for concern. Again, always check with a professional before making any big health changes.
I encourage anyone making a big lifestyle change, especially in regards to your health, to do as much research as possible. This article is a jumping off point, but I suggest reading as much as possible as you can about intermittent fasting to make sure it’s right for you. I believe the more you know the better you can make a great decision about designing your best life.
Remember, self-love and self-care always come first. There are so many diets and approaches out there. If you find intermittent fasting not to work for you, look into other ways to receive similar benefits or implement fasting only every so often. It’s your life; decide who you want to be, how you want to live, and then go make it happen. Best of luck along the way!
Brittany Noelle Roa is an interdisciplinary artist with an MFA in Physical Theatre who uses her art and creativity to heal herself and others. She loves learning about health and wellness so she can optimize her human potential to live a full and happy life.