Thinking about trying intermittent fasting? This popular diet trend, often referred to simply as IF, has been scientifically demonstrated to promote numerous significant health benefits. By resting your digestive system periodically, you allow your body to enter into repair and recovery mode, which can trigger positive effects related to hormone levels, metabolic function, and other processes throughout the body. This in turn may help improve persistent health conditions such as chronic inflammation, insulin resistance, and difficulty losing weight. Thinking about trying intermittent fasting? This popular practice has been found to promote numerous health benefits.
As with any other major dietary change, it’s important to learn what to expect — and what to avoid — before diving into the world of intermittent fasting. It may take some experimentation to find the right fasting protocol for your goals and your schedule. Always talk to your doctor before starting a fasting program or implementing other major dietary changes, especially if you have a chronic health condition or are taking any medication.
To get started on the right foot and increase your chances of success with intermittent fasting, familiarize yourself with the following common IF mistakes:
1. Choosing the wrong plan
When you hear the word fasting, you may think of having to endure long periods with nothing but water, but intermittent fasting is more flexible than you may realize. Several various fasting approaches have been found to offer health benefits, making it fairly easy to find one that works with your schedule.
For example, alternate-day fasting, commonly known as the 5:2 diet, involves limiting your food intake to 500 – 600 calories on two non-consecutive days of the week. During the rest of the week, you can eat your normal diet. If your schedule changes from week to week, this may be a good option for you, as you could plan to fast on days that are less demanding or on days that you don’t work.
Another approach is time-restricted feeding, in which you limit your food intake to a period of 8 hours or less, such as 10am to 6pm, or noon to 8pm. The remaining 16 hours of the day are devoted to fasting. If you tend to not have time for breakfast, this approach would fit into your schedule perfectly.
A somewhat more stringent method of fasting, known as prolonged fasting, involves reducing your caloric intake significantly for at least 5 consecutive days. To experience health benefits from prolonged fasting, you should plan to do it several times a year or as often as once per month.
No matter which fasting plan you use, it will take time to experience significant results. Make sure you choose an approach that works with your schedule so that you can stick with it.
2. Attempting too much too soon
Any fasting routine requires an adjustment – and some of it is mental. If you’re used to eating a large breakfast every day, it may be difficult to suddenly switch to a fasting diet where you don’t eat until noon. Instead, start with a fasting period of 13 hours — for example, 8pm to 9am — and gradually increase your fasting period as you become adjusted.
You may see fasting devotees on social media who are completing fasts of 24 hours or more. While this may be an admirable goal, don’t attempt too much before you’re ready. Like anything else, fasting tends to get easier over time, so work your way up to more prolonged fasts — if you decide to do them at all.
3. Giving up too soon
Fasting may be difficult in the beginning — especially if you’re used to eating as soon as you feel the slightest pang of hunger. It’s also common to experience negative side effects when you first start out — you may feel lightheaded or tired or get headaches. Intermittent fasting is a significant physical adjustment, and your body will most likely protest the changes. But most people find that once they’re adjusted, they have more energy, they sleep better, and their mental focus improves. Just be prepared for some challenges in the beginning. If, however, you find yourself still struggling after a week, consider changing your approach or making an adjustment.
4. Eating too much in between fasting periods
One of the benefits of fasting is that it has the potential to change your relationship with food. Rather than reaching for something to eat out of boredom or due to other emotions, you can start to learn what true hunger feels like, and how much food you actually need to feel satisfied.
But in order for this to happen, you have to allow yourself to break old habits. If you come out a fasting period and immediately start binge-eating, you could undo some of the benefits you’ve gained — not to mention put yourself at risk of digestive problems or stomach pains. In addition, your appetite is likely to change after you start fasting — you may find that you feel full with less food, so make sure you aren’t eating more than you actually need simply out of habit.
5. Eating unhealthy foods
It’s easy to use fasting as an excuse to eat whatever you want during your non-fasting periods. After all, you’re consuming fewer calories overall, so shouldn’t you be able to indulge when you do eat? But the quality of the food you eat always matters, and nothing — not even prolonged fasting — makes up for a poor diet.
You’ll experience the best results if you combine your fasting practice with a diet high in anti-inflammatory fruits and vegetables, quality proteins, and healthy fats. Avoid sugar, processed foods, and artificial ingredients. This isn’t to say you can’t have pizza or cake every once in a while, but these types of meals should be the exception, not the rule.
6. Not keeping busy
Boredom is a common cause of mindless snacking. If you’re sitting around not doing much of anything — or engaging in activities that commonly involve food, such as sitting in front of the TV — you may find yourself tempted to eat when you’re supposed to be fasting. Try to keep yourself busy during your fasting period, ideally with activities or events that don’t revolve around food. Tackle a big project you’ve been putting off — like cleaning out the garage or painting the bedroom — so you aren’t distracted by thoughts of food.
7. Obsessing over the clock
Another benefit of intermittent fasting is the freedom it provides. You aren’t constantly thinking out what or when you’re going to eat next, you don’t have to prep multiple meals in advance, and you may even save money on groceries. All of this may free up time and energy to devote to other things.
But if you’re constantly watching the clock and thinking that you have to follow your fasting schedule down to the minute, it eliminates some of that freedom. If your schedule makes it hard to fast for 16 hours exactly, don’t sweat it — you’ll still reap the benefits if you’re eating according to your plan the majority of the time. Similarly, if a schedule change or special event requires you to eat later than usual, don’t obsess over it. Even a healthy way of eating can become an unhealthy lifestyle if it assumes too much control over your daily life. Allow yourself some leniency with your fasting plan and do your best.
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