Proponents of intermittent fasting claim it helps with weight loss and can boost energy and mood levels. But if you’ve decided to try limiting your eating to a certain timeframe and are having trouble adjusting to the plan, it may be because this eating style is vastly different from your previous eating habits. You may also inadvertently be making mistakes which can make your transition more difficult.
Here are six common mistakes people make while trying to adopt intermittent fasting and how to fix them:
If you normally eat every 3–4 hours and then suddenly shrink your eating period to an 8-hour window, you’ll likely feel hungry all the time and discouraged. “Some people quit if they start out by fasting for too many hours without an adjustment period from a previous eating style,” says Krista Varady, PhD, associate professor of kinesiology and nutrition at the University of Illinois at Chicago and author of “The Every-Other-Day Diet.” It may take 10 days to two weeks until you stop feeling hungry when you’re fasting.
The fix: Gradually stretch out the number of hours you go between meals until you reach a 12-hour eating window, suggests Varady. Then move to a 10-hour eating window and reduce by small increments until you reach your goal.
“It can be easy to overeat when a fast ends either because you’re feeling ravenous or you justify to yourself that you’re making up for lost calories,” says Dr. Jason Fung, co-author of “The Complete Guide to Fasting: Heal Your Body Through Intermittent, Alternate-Day, and Extended Fasting.” But this can backfire if you’re fasting for weight loss and also cause other problems like stomach aches, notes Fung.
The fix: Plan ahead. Prepare a healthy meal that’s ready for you when your fast ends and make sure to eat whole ingredients when possible including healthy carbs like whole grains, lean protein and plenty of veggies, says Fung.
Most people drink water, black coffee or tea while they’re fasting. If you can’t stand your coffee black, you might add a splash of milk or a packet of sugar without considering that these things break your fast. “Keep the butter and coconut oil out of your coffee,” says Gin Stephens, author of “Delay, Don’t Deny: Living an Intermittent Fasting Lifestyle.”
It’s also important to “avoid any protein-filled liquids such as bone broth, because that can halt autophagy [the cellular process that breaks down and recycles damaged molecules], which you want to promote while fasting,” explains Stephens.
Similarly, you should also give up diet sodas. “You don’t want anything heavily sweetened, even if it’s calorie-free,” says Fung. “Zero-calorie sweeteners still have a negative effect on insulin levels, stimulating the appetite and making you want to eat.”
“Intermittent fasting focuses on when to eat but largely overlooks nutrient quality of foods,” says Whitney Linsenmeyer, PhD, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Those experimenting with intermittent fasting still need the same essential nutrients.” In other words, if you stick with processed foods in lieu of whole foods that comprise a well-balanced diet, intermittent fasting won’t help you reach your health goals.
The fix: “Gradually change your diet along with your eating schedule by incorporating healthier foods slowly,” suggests Stephens. This prevents you from trying to overhaul everything at once, which is more sustainable.
If you’ve always had a pre-workout snack, exercising while fasting may seem foreign. But “your body has plenty of energy stored in your body fat to use when there’s no food,” explains Fung. As with any diet or exercise plan, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor first, but exercising can be safe with intermittent fasting.
The fix: Keep up with your usual workout routine or try something low-impact like walking. If you fast overnight and exercise in the morning, “you can eat a protein-rich meal after, which helps you increase the rate at which you build muscle,” says Fung.
“You might be inclined to opt out of dinner with friends or say no to birthday parties because you’re fasting,” Linsenmeyer says. “In that case, it might not be enjoyable or sustainable long-term.”
The fix: Shift your schedule forward or backward by a few hours on days when you’ve got plans with friends so you can still enjoy socializing. “It’s a lifestyle, and it has to fit into life’s special occasions,” Stephens says. “Intermittent fasting can be flexible.”