Intermittent Fasting: My Top Tips for Beginners

Sarah Cann

My initial experience with Intermittent Fasting was a total fail.  I was ill-prepared, had too much coffee, and that shortened eating window sent me into what became a 3 day long binge episode.  Not pretty. Here’s the thing, I enjoy eating. I do not see it as inconvenient. And I have never in my life ‘forgot to eat.’ That experience with IF (intermittent fasting) two years ago left me with a bad taste in my mouth.  

Thankfully since then I’ve learned more about how to prepare your body for a fasting period and various ways it can be adapted to meet your lifestyle demands.  Today I want to share a bit about what exactly IF is and you’ll learn my top tips to make the transition to IF easier!

First let’s address what Intermittent Fasting is:

✔️An Intermittent Fast is where for 12-16 hours or more you don't eat anything except water (there a just a few exceptions). It's really easy to do when you take into account that you're fasting overnight when you sleep. So instead of breakfast upon waking, you'll wait and start eating at 11am or later.
✔️No calories are to be ingested during the fasted phase, though coffee, calorie free sweeteners, diet soda and sugar free gum are ok (even though they might contain trace amount of calories). A tiny splash of milk in your coffee won’t affect anything either (½-1 teaspoon of milk per cup at the most - use sparingly and sensibly if you drink a lot of coffee). Neither will sugar free gum in moderation (~20 g).
✔️The feeding (eating) window is kept somewhat constant due to the hormonal signs of meal patterns. We tend to get hungry when we're used to eating and maintaining a regular pattern makes diet adherence easier. If you're used to breaking the fast at 12-2 PM and ending it at 8-10 PM, then try to maintain that pattern every day.

Here are my best tips for beginners wanting to start an intermittent fasting practice:

  1. Slowly lengthen your fasting window.  For many breakfast eaters it can be a rude awakening to not eat upon waking.  This was my issue with IF. I wake up hungry! To combat this, I decided to slowly lengthen my fasting window instead of immediately aiming for 16 hrs.  Here’s an example: On Sunday night I stop eating by 8pm. Then the next morning on Monday, I wait and eat breakfast at 8am instead of 6am when I normally wake up.  That gives me a 12 hour fast. Then slowly each day, I’d wait an hour longer to eat. So Tuesday eating at 9am, Wednesday 10am, and so on until I hit noon for my first meal on Friday.  This is a great way to ease into a IF practice!

  2. Limit your caffeine intake during your fasting period.  Many times people will try to offset their hunger cues by having an extra cup of coffee or tea.  Bad idea. That extra caffeine may increase your hunger and more often leaves you a little dehydrated potentially giving you a headache in addition to being hungry.  Instead, stick with your normal coffee/tea routine. And drink plenty of water throughout your fasting period.

  3. Keep busy.  The best way to get through the first few days is to keep busy. Start intermittent fasting on a day or week that you're on the go.  Don't torture yourself by doing things that involve food. Stay out of the kitchen and away from grocery stores and restaurants. Avoid watching other people eat, preparing food, or scrolling through Pinterest recipes for tomorrow's dinner.

I encourage you to utilize these tips on your first day/week implementing intermittent fasting. If you're doing intermittent fasting to lose weight, some of the research you'll come across might say that you can eat whatever you want and you'll still be able to lose weight. Having fewer hours in the day does make it easier to create a calorie deficit, which is what you need in order to lose weight, but it's not automatic. If you skip breakfast, but then eat three huge meals during your eating window, you're probably still eating the same number of calories — or more.

Personally, I found that if I didn't monitor my macro intake, I'd end up gaining weight, even though I wasn't eating breakfast. So be sure to track your daily macro goals. You can use an app or a food journal; just be sure to stick with your macros if losing weight is your goal.

What is your experience with intermittent fasting?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on it!