Intermittent fasting has been going well. You’ve nailed down your fasting window and feel pretty good about the foods you’re fueling with. Now to throw you a curveball: It’s the holidays.
One of the trickiest things about this time of year — aside from the family drama — is navigating what and when you’re going to eat while staying with friends or family. You don’t exactly have full control over what’s on the menu or when dinner is served when the kitchen isn’t yours. You also may not want to be left out of family breakfast or skip a later dinner if they fall outside your eating window. And who wants to ditch the family to eat by themselves, anyway?
You can let loose (well, looser) this time of year, and it’s actually helpful to do so. “I’ve found that being too rigid with an IF schedule during the holidays can actually work against your weight loss or wellness goals by not being sustainable,” says Autumn Bates, a certified clinical nutritionist and personal trainer who specializes in creating intermittent fasting programs. If intermittent fasting becomes unenjoyable this time of year or holds you back from truly celebrating with loved ones, then you’re more likely to give up and say you’ll try again in the New Year.
So, as long as you’re willing to embrace flexibility, there are a few tweaks you can make while still holding onto your goals and following IF. Here’s how:
PRACTICE “WINDOW SHIFTING”
Typically, you’ll run into meals being pushed later than you normally eat, says Bates. “I’ve found that the ‘window shifting’ strategy is a great tool to still follow an intermittent fasting schedule while enjoying meals with loved ones,” Bates says. To put it into practice, start and end your eating window later to allow for that holiday dinner. For example, if you normally eat from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., then shift to 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. (or later, if needed). That said, holiday brunch is a thing, and your aunt may be talking up her French toast bake. You can use the same technique here. Rather than a noon to 8 p.m. schedule, you’d bump it up to 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. to accommodate the earlier meal.
Holiday meals are known for their high-carb fare, whether it be pancakes at brunch or potatoes, rolls and stuffing at dinner. One smart strategy is to eat the protein first, says Bates. So, if you scoot up to a plate of ham, green bean casserole, and mashed potatoes, dig into the protein before everything else. “By eating the protein first, it helps to raise the satiety hormone peptide YY. This is crucial for preventing cravings and hunger after your adjusted eating window has ended,” she explains. What’s more, consuming protein (and veggies) before carbs can also help lower your blood sugar response to that meal, suggests a small 2015 study in Diabetes Care. With more regulated appetite hormones and blood glucose levels, you may just find that it’s also easier to stick to the amount of dessert that best aligns with your goals.
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When it comes to between-meal bites, aim to create snacks rich in protein and fat for satiation, says Bates. Happily, some of the best appetizers have this appetite-control combo. She recommends meat and cheese boards or deviled eggs and baked cheese crisps. If you’re in charge of whipping up an app, choose something you can confidently chow down on.
RELAX IF YOU “MESS UP”
Let’s say you totally blow your eating window. You had all intentions of shifting your window up to accommodate brunch, but something came up and you ate a late-night dinner, too. It’s OK. Your progress is not ruined. It’s tempting to try a stricter fast the next day — some people even report aiming for a 24-hour fast after a big eating occasion. Though it’s fine to listen to your hunger the next day, “I never recommend longer fasts the day after a treat,” says Bates. Doing so can amplify cravings. Stick to your normal fasting window the next day and break your fast with a meal packed with protein, fat and fiber. Bring on the leftovers.
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