Before trying intermittent fasting, set yourself up for success by following these steps.
1. Decide on the TypeIf your goal is weight loss, consider how much weight you want to lose. If it’s significant, it may make more sense to start with alternate-day fasting, though it’s more challenging, says Varady. This way, you can lose a good amount of weight in the first couple of months, which can keep motivation up. Then you may switch to time-restricted eating because it’s easier to stick with longer term, she says.
2. Set Your WindowIf you’re going to try time-restricted eating, you’re going to have to decide on your eating window. This can be done by preference. Some clients tell Bauer that they simply don’t need to eat in the morning, so they’ll start their eating window with lunch, have a snack, and then eat dinner. Others will scrunch all three meals into the smaller eating window.
Not ready to go all the way? Try a 12-hour fast, which is the most natural pattern for people to fall into, says Bauer. It’s not as stringent, but it stops nighttime eating, which can help you lose weight and decrease heartburn or sleep problems caused by consuming food too close to bedtime, she says.
3. Plan Fasting Days StrategicallyFasting may trigger unpleasant emotions like “hanger” (anger caused by being hungry), as well as fatigue and headaches, Susie says. She recommends looking at your week and being mindful of the days that you need to perform especially well, like a day when you have a presentation for work. Those are not the days to plan a fast.
Similarly, if you have an important social function (a birthday party or another celebration), it can be really tough to fast on days when special foods are a big component. Looking ahead to fit IF around your lifestyle, not the other way around, is key to making this work for you long term.
4. Still Reach for Nutritious FoodsThe belief that during feasting periods you can eat what you want is not quite true, especially if you want to do this healthfully. “Fasting is not a replacement for healthy eating,” says Bauer. To get the nutrients you need, focus on foods with lean protein, fiber, and low-GI carbohydrates, fruits, and vegetables, she says. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. This will ensure that you don’t get dehydrated, which only exacerbates side effects like headaches.
5. Slide Your WindowAgain, if you’re following time-restricted eating, know that you don’t have to keep the same eating window every day. You can adjust it depending on your commitments. For example, if you have special brunch plans, then slide your window up so that you can participate — and feel happy and satisfied (not deprived) while intermittent fasting.
6. Consult a Healthcare ProfessionalYou might have a lot of questions about if IF is right for you, what to eat, or how to make it work in your own life, especially if you have underlying health conditions. In that case, it’s best to reach out to a registered dietitian nutritionist for guidance on how to do this safely, says Susie. You can find one in your area using the nutrition expert finder tool from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics at EatRight.org.
Resources We Love: Intermittent FastingFavorite BooksFast. Feast. Repeat.
The New York Times bestseller is a go-to guide for a reason: It details how to craft your own IF schedule to fit your life, as well as how to get out of the dangerous dieting mindset that holds you back from your goals. How? With her “delay, don’t diet” approach — meaning you eat the delicious foods you like but delay them to a specific time frame, which may help increase satisfaction and eliminate feeling restricted.
When you’re not sure what to eat to maximize your nutrition — no matter if you’re doing 5:2, 16:8, or 24-hour fasts — this book delivers 100 delicious recipes (such as breakfast chia bowl and chicken breasts stuffed with spinach and feta) to keep you on plan and healthy.
The Every-Other-Day Diet: The Diet That Lets You Eat All You Want (Half the Time) and Keep the Weight Off
Count this book by IF researcher Varady as your how-to guide for successfully following an alternate-day fast. She takes knowledge gleaned from what worked for participants in her studies, outlines exactly how to follow an alternate-day fasting plan that aims to help you lose weight, and shows you how to keep it off.
Complete Guide to Fasting
An extremely popular read by Jason Fung, MD, a popular proponent of intermittent fasting and low-carb eating, this book dives deep into what you can expect when you start fasting — the good and bad — including how to do it, benefits, and how to track your progress.
A team of nutrition scientists at Precision Nutrition, a private nutrition coaching and education company, compiled a very thorough (and free) e-book on everything you need to know about IF, including benefits, weight loss, choosing an IF schedule, and exactly what to do to put it into action.
Favorite PodcastThe Human Upgrade With Dave Asprey
Not sure where to begin? Science author and podcaster Dave Asprey has a list of nine must-listen episodes that cover IF in depth, making it a good roundup when you want to take a deeper dive. The episodes will walk you through some of the more scientific topics, such as how fasting improves metabolic flexibility, why fat is your friend, and how fasting affects women’s hormones.
Favorite AppsEatWise — Meal Reminder
iOS, Android; free
Don’t get off track. This app allows you to set how many meals you’re eating, track the time between meals, and get reminders on when to eat. There’s also an area to track weight loss progress.
Fastic: Intermittent Fasting
iOS, Android; free, in-app purchases (memberships start at $11.99/month)
You’ve got everything you need to make the practical side of IF work for you: A fasting timer, water tracker, and nutrition plans, plus you can connect with other people doing IF to swap fasting hacks.