If You Want to Try Intermittent Fasting to Lose Weight, Do These 7 Things

You've been hearing all about the reasons to try intermittent fasting (IF). There are so many benefits, including weight loss, especially belly fat, reduced sugar cravings, more energy, and decreased belly bloat — and you're psyched to give it a try. Here's what you need to know about how to start intermittent fasting so you can do it safely and have the best success.

Get the Green Light
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Get the Green Light

Before beginning this new eating lifestyle, it's best to get approval from your doctor. If it's been a while, now's a good time to have some blood work done, get an all-around checkup, and chat with your practitioner about your plan, making sure they're on board with you doing it. Aside from feeling good about knowing that you're healthy enough to start IF, it'll be great to go back for a follow-up appointment and be able to compare your blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, and other numbers to see how much they've improved.

Pick a Plan
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Pick a Plan

Just because the 5:2 plan worked for your friend doesn't mean it's the best plan for you. Research all the protocols, and find the one that best suits your lifestyle and is sustainable. There is no one plan that's best or the most effective — it's whichever plan is best for you. Here are the different types:

  • 12:12: You eat for 12 hours of the day and fast for the other 12. For example you'd eat from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. every day. This is perfect for IF newbies as it's consistent every day, you can eat three regular-timed meals, and it can help those who tend to overindulge with bedtime snacks.
  • 16:8 or Leangains: Probably the most popular form of IF, you eat eight hours of the day and fast for 16. An example would be eating from noon until 8 p.m., basically just skipping breakfast. This is something you can do every day, and still be able to enjoy dinner with the family or out with friends. If you're a morning eater, you can eat from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. — you can make the eight-hour eating window work for you.
  • 5:2 or Fast Diet: Twice a week (nonconsecutive days) you restrict calories to around 500 calories a day (600 calories for men), and on the other five days, you eat as if you are not on a diet. On the fasting days, you can eat three small meals or two slightly larger meals (lunch and dinner).
  • Eat, Stop, Eat: Once or twice a week, you fast for 24 hours — you never go a day without eating. Eat dinner Monday night, finishing by 7:00 p.m., fast all day Tuesday, then eat dinner at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday night. Choose the one or two days that work with your schedule. This might be a good option if you've tried 16:8 or 5:2 and have hit a plateau.
  • Alternate Day Fasting: You fast one day (or in a modified version, eat up to 500 calories that day), then eat normally the next day, and repeat. You essentially fast every other day. Alternate-day fasting might be a good plan if it fits your lifestyle, if you have a lot of weight to lose and want to see quicker results, or if you've tried 16:8 or 5:2 and have hit a weight-loss plateau.
  • 20:4 or Warrior Diet: You fast for 20 hours out of the day, then have a four-hour eating window. An example would be eating from 2:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. This is an advanced method of IF, but some people with busy schedules or issues with eating all day prefer this method.
Take a Look at Your Diet
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Take a Look at Your Diet

Although some of the benefits of intermittent fasting are the flexibility and leniency it allows in being able to eat what you want and to eat larger meals in one sitting, you're not going to feel very well if you fill up your eating window with crap.

So before you even think about intermittent fasting, take some time to clean up your diet. Focus on eating whole foods — including healthy fats, enough protein, and complex carbs — and limiting the processed carbs and sugar. This will make your transition to IF so much easier, because if you're fueling properly during your eating window, you won't feel hungry or low-energy when you're fasting.

Start Off Slow
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Start Off Slow

Even if you're a jump-straight-in-the-pool kind of person, it's better to take a one-step-at-a-time approach when intermittent fasting. If you go from eating three meals and three snacks a day to eating only 500 calories a day (5:2 plan), you're more likely to have terrible side effects, including headaches, dizziness, and even nausea.

There's no rush! Take several weeks to ease into the plan you've chosen. If you're especially hungry on a certain day or not feeling well or expecting your period, listen to your body and eat if you need to. You may also need to modify your workout routine in the beginning — hunger from intense workouts will make it much harder to stick to your plan.

Helpful Tips in Dealing With Hunger
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Helpful Tips in Dealing With Hunger

  • Keep in mind the reason you are fasting: If you summon that big reason when hunger pangs strike, you can just embrace them — a positive attitude goes a long way.
  • Drink tons of water! Staying hydrated will help prevent hunger as well as the headaches dehydration can cause. When you're hungry, pound 12 ounces of water; it helps fill you up.
  • Caffeine is another faster's friend: go for black coffee or green tea. Herbal tea and sparkling water are other zero-calorie drinks that can help curb hunger. Just stay away from the zero-calorie sodas and other beverages made with artificial sweeteners.
  • Keep busy: working, taking a walk, doing a hobby, spending time with friends, cleaning the house . . . doing anything that occupies your brain away from food is a plus!
  • Stay away from food: when you first start fasting, the temptation to eat is huge. Don't make it harder by grocery shopping, walking past your favorite bakery, fasting during your friend's birthday dinner, or preparing food for other people. With time, your mental willpower will strengthen, but at first, go with the motto: "If I don't see it, I can't eat it."
Avoid This Big Mistake That Can Cause Weight Gain
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Avoid This Big Mistake That Can Cause Weight Gain

It's natural that after feeling so hungry while fasting, once your eating window begins, you're going to want to gorge yourself with all your favorite foods. Eating too much too soon is bound to make you feel sick, cause bloating (or worse digestive issues), and, like me, end up causing weight gain.

Have your first meal planned out so the minute your eating window begins, you'll have a healthy, perfectly-portioned meal waiting for you. Make sure it includes your favorite foods so you're not left feeling unsatisfied.

Also avoid these mistakes when intermittent fasting:

  • Giving up too soon: Intermittent fasting takes a certain amount of discipline and a period of time where you may not feel good or see results. Unless you're experiencing medical issues, stick with it for at least a month before throwing in the towel.
  • Eating too little during your eating window: If you don't eat enough, you'll feel especially hungry the next day, which can cause you to overeat.
  • Eating the wrong foods: Skip the junk and get your fill of protein, healthy fats, fiber, and complex carbs. This will satiate you longer, continue to help you build muscle, maintain a healthy brain, and just make you feel more energetic and happier overall.
Track Your Progress
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Track Your Progress

Keep a journal and write down your thoughts and how you feel emotionally and physically; you can also track your weight here if you hop on the scale. Take photos at the beginning of your journey, too. Sometimes it won't seem like your body composition is changing (especially if the numbers on the scale aren't budging), but when you look back at a photo from a few months ago, you'll be able to notice how far you've come.