If you’ve tried every diet plan but still failed to lose weight, intermittent fasting might be the right strategy for you. Just ask Shannon Bartlett, who lost 85 pounds in 10 months while fasting daily for 16 hours after nothing else had worked. Or Jackie Wilson, who got tired of counting points and calories and managed to lose 50 lbs during quarantine through intermittent fasting. To make it a lifestyle that works for you, too, fasting sustainably is crucial, and we want to help you adopt better habits that make it easier to achieve your goals.
We invited Marisa Moon, a certified Primal Health Coach, intermittent fasting instructor, and host/producer of The Foundation of Wellness Podcast, for a live webinar to answer questions related to your current challenges with intermittent fasting. We’ve curated a list of her best tips below to help you navigate the world of fasting for weight loss, whether it’s your first fast or your hundredth. Still have questions? Get personalized coaching from Marisa using this link.
1. Take it slow
“Your metabolism [has to learn] to work in a different way when you first start fasting, and it takes time to make that transition,” Marisa says. Jumping into a 16 or 18 hour fast routine is unrealistic. You might quit or end up bingeing because you’re forcing your body to do something it’s not ready for. The best way to approach fasting for the first time is to do it gradually. Start with 12 hours and make one-hour or half-hour increments every 4-5 days if you’d like to fast for longer. If you were fasting before the pandemic but have since stopped, Marisa recommends getting back to it slowly. If you were fasting for 20 hours a day, that doesn’t mean you should start there again. “The easiest way to [restart a habit] is to take it slow,” she says. If you’re not fasting at all right now, start with 12 hours . Once you’re comfortable, try 13-14 hours. If you found your fasting rhythm during lockdown and are afraid of falling off the wagon once you go back to the office, you might need to re-adjust your schedule. If fasting for, say, 18 hours is going to be hard, settle for 16 hours or less until you get used to being in the office again. If there is always cake or pizza around, and you’re always tempted to eat, try drinking some flavored club soda, or distract yourself by making a phone call or going to the bathroom.
2. Additives in your coffee make longer fasts easier
“You’re going to hear conflicting advice everywhere [about what breaks a fast], so you have to make the right decision for you,” Marisa says. If you’re a coffee drinker, she recommends drinking coffee with cream or to drink Bulletproof-style coffee blended with butter and MCT oil. This mix is satisfying and it makes it easier to fast for longer. If you’ve already been fasting regularly for 16-20 hours a day and you’re not seeing results anymore, switch to black coffee or tea without the additives.
3. If you’re losing sleep when you fast, don’t worry— It’s temporary
Your sleep problems will usually go away after a couple of weeks of fasting consistently. Marisa explains that once you start optimizing your health with fasting, you might notice you’re more sensitive to other things, such as the light coming off of your TV, laptop, and phone, which triggers hormones that make you stay awake: Cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. Turn off the electronic devices at least 30 minutes before you go to bed or get glasses that block blue light.
4. Avoid snacking during your eating window
“Snacking turns into a habit really quickly,” says Marisa. “I think a lot of us snack throughout the whole eating window because it’s called an eating window…but this just triggers more hunger and more bad habits.” Ask yourself if you’re really hungry. And if you are, eat real food. Fasting is so much easier and so much better for you when you have a nutrient-dense diet that’s not too high in processed or inflammatory foods. If you have a spouse or a partner who is a nighttime snacker,try not watching TV in the same room. Read at night instead, watch Netflix on your own device, or try drinking herbal tea while they’re snacking. If you cook for others in the house, prepare their food either at the tail end of your fasting window, or do all the preparation the night before.
5. Distract yourself when you need help getting through the last couple of hours of a fast
Avoid looking at anything with food and to avoid social media during the last few hours of your fast. Don’t be around people with food, and get away from the kitchen, especially if you work from home. If your family is heating up their lunch and you still have to fast for 2 more hours, Marisa’s suggestion is to leave the room, make a phone call, take a walk, or come up with a different distraction . She also likes the idea of exercising during those final 2 hours as working out decreases your appetite.
6. Avoid bingeing when you break your fast
If you have a history of binge eating, you may be triggering yourself with longer fasts. If you binge when breaking a fast, it’s probably because you’re fasting too long or because you didn’t give your body time to adapt to a new fasting window. It could also be that you’re restricting yourself too much when it’s time to eat. Marisa’s suggestion: Don’t break your fast with a snack. If you are hungry, have a meal.
7. Fast during the weekend
“I think not fasting at all on the weekends is a mistake,” Marisa says. You’ll be sabotaging yourself If you are bingeing and eating sugary foods and alcohol on weekends, and then trying to get back to your normal fasting schedule on Monday. “Have breakfast on the weekend or break your fast early, but don’t have a ‘no-rules’ weekend because it makes it harder.”
8. For fasts longer than 24 hours, prep the right way
Don’t eat a lot of carbs. “The more you eat carbohydrates or sugar, the sooner you’re going to want them again,” says Marisa. For breaking a long fast, she recommends starting with a handful of berries or nuts to get the digestive juices flowing and warn the digestive system something’s coming. You can also try a veggie broth or bone broth before your first bite of food. 20-30 minutes later, eat your meal.
9. Listen to your body if you work out during extended fasts
It’s not easy to be an endurance runner or a hardcore workout enthusiast and a faster because your body will do things to get you to consume more glucose. As you’re sweating, you’re going through all your body’s electrolyte and glycogen stores and you’re requiring your body to immediately switch over to burning fat for energy. Marisa’s suggestion: Put a dash of maple syrup and sea salt in your water, so that while you’re training, you have that tiny bit of glucose and just enough sodium to get through your workout.
Dizziness is your body’s way of telling you it’s not ready to use solely fat for energy. It doesn’t really know how yet, or it’s low on electrolytes. Don’t ignore the signals your body gives you, modify your training or electrolyte supplementation, increasing your magnesium, potassium, and sodium. Marisa recommends the book Primal Endurance to help your body do endurance training while you are running on fat instead of glucose.
10. Be flexible
If you’re already in maintenance mode, you can be laid back and flexible with your window. “Just let the circumstances of your life dictate your starting time and ending time,” says Marisa. Learn what life feels like with intuitive fasting. Marisa explains that if you keep your carbohydrates under 150 grams a day, and you’re doing 12 to 16 hour fasts daily, weight maintenance should be effortless.