The Biggest Mistakes People Make When Intermittent Fasting

After dabbling in intermittent fasting (IF) for over six months, I've experienced some tremendous benefits including weight loss, improved digestion, increased mental clarity, better sleep, and getting a handle on my sugar cravings. But it wasn't without making a few errors along the way. If you're thinking about trying intermittent fasting, avoid these mistakes.

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Choosing the Wrong Plan

There are so many different forms of intermittent fasting, so be sure to choose the one that works with your schedule, needs, and lifestyle. One type called 5:2 involves eating 500 calories a day (600 calories for men) twice a week. If you have a demanding full-time job, an active family, and an intense workout routine you want to stick to, eating that few calories will feel impossible on those days. So the 16:8 plan, where you fast for 16 hours every day, will probably be easier to maintain; it allows you to just skip breakfast and have a feeding window from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Do your research and choose an IF plan that makes the most sense for you so you're able to stick with it.

Doing Too Much Too Soon

If you're the kind of person who's used to eating every two hours and needs to eat first thing in the morning, give your body time to adapt. Allowing time to get used to this new eating protocol is optimal to your success. Start with a simple 12-hour fast where you stop eating at 8 p.m. and start eating at 8 a.m. the next day. Gradually extend your fasting window 30 minutes every one to three days, until you've reached your goal.

The same applies to your exercise routine. While your body is getting used to not eating in the morning, you might not be able to stick with your usual morning workouts. You may find better success moving your workouts to a time after you've recently eaten, or maybe you'll just need to do less-intense workouts for a couple weeks. Or some people skip workouts altogether until their body gets in a rhythm.

The key here is to be patient and see this as a lifestyle change, so it's OK if it takes some time to adapt. You might even find that some days you're more famished than others, so it's OK to eat earlier than you planned.

Giving Up Too Soon

Intermittent fasting takes a certain amount of discipline, but as mentioned above, it also takes time to get used to. The first four to five days are definitely the hardest. You will feel hungry. You might feel lightheaded or exhausted or get headaches. Know that those feelings quickly pass and by the end of the first week, your body will start to adapt. Your hunger will actually diminish and you'll start to feel more energetic and more focused. If you don't feel better after the first week, you may be doing too much too soon, or you may have chosen a plan that doesn't work for you.

Eating Too Much During Your Eating Window

One benefit I found to intermittent fasting is being able to sit down to larger, more satisfying meals without feeling like I have to strictly count calories. And I feel more freedom in being able to eat whatever I want, within reason, of course.

One reason you may overeat is if you enter your feeding window completely famished. This goes back to the above mistakes of not choosing the right IF plan for you and/or doing too much too soon. If done correctly, you'll hardly feel hungry during your fasting window, and once you hit the time when your feeding window starts, you won't feel so hungry that you want to inhale the entire contents of your kitchen.

Eating Too Little

Fasting affects the hormones that regulate your appetite so much that you don't feel that hungry, and when you eat, you feel full with a small amount of food. But you want to be careful not to consume too few calories — never dip below 1,200. If you don't eat enough, you'll feel especially hungry the next day, which can affect your ability to perform at work and at life in general, and you may end up needing to skip fasting that day.

Eating the Wrong Foods

Intermittent fasting does allow you a little wiggle room in your diet, which is why people love it so much. But a woman cannot survive on french fries and pizza alone (even though she may want to!). Be sure to 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.