When I first started intermittent fasting (IF) a few months ago, I originally thought I would only do it for about a month. I wanted to lose a few pounds and get a flat belly for a special event, but what started as an experiment actually turned into a way of life that's helped me take control of my emotional eating habits, lose weight, and feel amazing all around.
I subscribe to the 16:8 method of IF. The premise of this fasting method is that you fast for 16 hours and eat during the remaining eight-hour window. You can choose which eight-hour window works best for you. Some people like to fast during the first half of the day and only eat between, say, 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. That's not me, though. I lift weights in the morning and can't imagine going without a hearty meal after my workout is over, so I eat between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Additionally, while IF is meant to be done every day, I only fast Monday through Friday.
As we approach the holiday season, I can already see that the habits I have gained from following the IF diet are going to come in really handy. It's the time of year when we are surrounded by sweet treats, good cheer, and lots and lots of family and friends (which can be both a blessing and a curse). All the distractions can make it hard to think actively about what we're eating and truly enjoy it.
If this sounds familiar, I recommend giving IF a shot before the holidays are upon us. Here's how it could help you enjoy the food you eat, while also staying fit and healthy.
You Don't Have to Eliminate Specific Foods
Diets are nearly impossible to follow during the holidays. Can't have dairy? No sugar? OK, well that probably rules out 90 percent of the spread. Go ahead, have a bread roll — with no butter. Sounds pretty morbid. When you're practicing IF, you don't have to necessarily eliminate things from your diet, so you can still enjoy the stuffing and pumpkin pie — as long as you eat a reasonable portion within your eating window. This will ensure you still enjoy every moment of your holiday meals with your loved ones.
You'll Be Less Likely to Overeat
Many people who fast find that they naturally consume less calories than when eating throughout the whole day. For example, if you have a holiday brunch to go to at your friend's house, even if you eat to your heart's content, that will likely be only one of two full meals you're eating during the day. Even if you do decide to pack a lot of food into your eating window, the amount of calories you eat will likely be around the same or even less than your normal diet of eating all day long.
On the whole, fasting is less about calories in and calories out and more about the effect it has on insulin levels in the body. IF gives your body a longer window to digest and recover. "When your body is done processing [food], it can begin to burn fat because insulin levels are low. We enter a fasting state after 12 hours [of not eating], which is the ideal for fat burning," Dr. Luiza Petre, board-certified cardiologist and weight-management specialist, told POPSUGAR. So even if you are digging into big meals during your eating window, that fasting period will give your body the chance to burn fat, preventing weight gain.
You Can Eat Bigger Meals
One of the first things you'll notice when you start IF is that you can make your meals a little bigger than they normally are. This is because your body has been in fasting mode for 16 hours straight, so it's ready for a hefty serving of food. I can't think of a better time to put this into effect than Thanksgiving or the winter holidays! You walk into a party or family gathering with a growling stomach, and your body really needs the sustenance. So soak up all that good food!
You'll Learn to Enjoy Every Bite of Your Food
I've noticed that when I'm constantly eating without taking any breaks, particularly during the holidays, I end up not really enjoying my food so much. It's almost like my senses have been dulled. But when I have my first meal of the day after not having eaten since 4 p.m. the previous day, my breakfast tastes unbelievable. I can only imagine that feeling translates well to Thanksgiving dinner after having skipped lunch.
So when you've gone half the day without eating, that plate of turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing will taste like the most heavenly food you've ever had in your life. Your taste buds will be dancing around and having the time of their life.
You Can Be Strategic About When You Eat
You don't have to follow a certain window just because someone else does. Think about the holiday events you have on your calendar and just plan your fasting window accordingly. If you know you have a big friendsgiving dinner coming up, maybe adjust your eating window to later in the day so you can eat with everyone. That's the best part of IF — you can always switch things around depending on your schedule. It's a diet that allows you to enjoy your lifestyle, not be punished by it.