A Beginner's Guide to Intermittent Fasting

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Intermittent fasting has been around for ages. I first heard of it in 2013 when a girl in my office started shedding pounds like crazy and said it was a mixture of the 5:2 diet and a Jillian Michaels workout plan. For a long time, the 5:2 diet was popular. Here’s how it works. You eat “normally” for five days of the week and on two days, you eat 500 calories. I tried it and got depressed by trying to eat 500 calories. I quit after day 1.

Intermittent fasting is alternating periods of fasting with periods of eating (something we almost all do). As a diet plan, fasting is regarded as a period of 12 hours and more. Intermittent fasting works for weight loss in two main ways; helping you eat less overall by restricting your eating to specific times and giving your body room to perform its digestive functions properly.

To get started, study your current habits and pick an eating window that works with your lifestyle. When I’ve suggested to people that they should start with twelve hours, the overwhelming response is “I already do that”. Chances are, you probably don’t. And if you do, might as well record it for a week and then work from there. I’ve written before about setting yourself up to succeed rather than fail. People always think their habits are already great, but that their life or body conspires against them. Trust me, I’ve often felt that but tracking stuff shows you the true picture. For example, if I didn’t start tracking my reading, I would have sworn I was reading 100 books a year- turns out, without deliberate effort to that, I wasn’t.

Say you wake up at 5 everyday and have a long commute and get to the office at 7. It might make sense to make your eating window 7am- 7pm so you don’t get to work and start feeling depressed because you can’t eat. If you wake up later and tend to have drinks and dinners, or go to bed really late, maybe your eating window becomes 10am-10pm. Until you track your habits, you’d be surprised that while you don’t eat a full meal till 12, you’ve tasted forks of your colleagues breakfast or had a mindless snack or had Nigerian tea aka tea with a 5:1 ratio of milk and sugar to tea.

If you’re a woman that’s fasting, you have to be a little more aware of how your body responds to fasting and longer fasting periods may de-regulate your hormones. The recommended longest fasting window for women is 14:10 but it depends on your own personal experience. So as you gradually increase your fasting windows, keep track of how you’re feeling.

People argue that your fasting window has to be the same everyday. I disagree. While it’s good to have a routine (your body craves and thrives on routine), I think it’s important to build flexibility into any long term plan. If you’re in bed by 10 on weekdays but you’re out all night on weekends, you might change to a 12:12 window. I use the app zero to track fasting windows whenever I fast.

Intermittent fasting, like anything else may or may not be suited to you, no matter what all the biohacking posts on medium say. If you’ve tried it, how did you find it?