Health

How To Actually Get Started With Intermittent Fasting

I recently wrote How 23-Hour Intermittent Fasting Saved My Life, and the response has been staggering.

Initially, I set out to share my personal experience with IF in the hopes that someone else might find inspiration; instead, tens of thousands of people have read the article with hundreds engaging positively.

I had no idea so many people were interested in IF!

But I do now.

So, let’s assume that you have done your research and decided that intermittent fasting might be a good choice for you.

“Alright Wes, we get it. I want to fast to feel better and look better. You hyped us up by talking about all the benefits in your last article, but then you left us hanging!”

I know… And I’m sorry. But I want to make it right.

If you truly feel that intermittent fasting might be a good fit for you, let’s talk about how to get started.

If the first article was a “call to adventure” then consider this a rough, hand-drawn roadmap. And by the way, a disclaimer: Please consult your board-certified physician before making any major changes to your diet or exercise routine. As you’ll see below, IF isn’t suitable for everybody. And I want you to be healthy.

I am not a doctor; I just play one on TV.

Me today (left) and me in 2017 (right)

People Taking Prescriptions

Many of today’s prescription medications were developed in a specific way so they could be tolerated by a large percentage of the population. Because most people eat three square meals a day, these drugs are engineered to maximize efficacy in people who eat several times per day.

This is especially true for diabetes medications.

If you are taking a prescription, you absolutely must discuss intermittent fasting with your doctor. Dosages may need to be adjusted.

Some medications may not work as well on an empty stomach. Others may work too well or release too much of the drug. You may still be able to fast but will need to do so under medical supervision, depending on the medication.

People Under 18

Ah, the joys of adolescence…

Personally, I couldn’t wait to “grow up.” I had a rough childhood [but that’s a story for another time].

If you are under the age of 18, your body needs the nutrients derived from food to develop properly. Heck, emerging science about brain development suggests that most people’s brains don’t reach full maturity until the age of 25. I believe it! The Wes before 25 was a totally different person than the Wes after.

Still, if you are under 18, intermittent fasting might not be a good fit.

People Who are Pregnant or Breastfeeding

If I would have suggested intermittent fasting to my wife when she was pregnant with one of our three kids, she would have murdered me in my sleep… Or worse.

I would hazard a guess that most, if not all, obstetricians would strongly advise against intermittent fasting for their patients. The mother’s body needs nutrients, fiber and calories not just for proper development of the fetus, but to maintain strength for her own body as well before, during and after childbirth.

I know… I’m a man. And how dare I presume to tell women what they can and can’t do with their bodies… Look, all I’m saying is to run it by your OB-GYN. I want you and the baby to be healthy.

People Who are Underweight (BMI < 18.5)

When I was 80 to 100lbs overweight, my body could tolerate fasting because body fat is simply food energy that has been stored away. At the time I could live off “the fat of the land” so to speak…

Insulin is the key hormone involved in the storage of food energy. When we eat something, insulin helps carbohydrates get broken down into glucose units and then glycogen. This, in turn, is stored in the liver and muscles.

However, there is very little storage space for carbohydrates in the human body. Once that limit is reached, your liver starts converting excess glucose into fat.

People who are underweight may not have excess fat to burn as energy during a fasting period.

People Who Have Serious Medical Conditions

Serious conditions such as liver disease, kidney disease or heart disease are not good candidates for intermittent fasting.

If you suffer from one of these conditions, no doubt you are under the supervision of a medical provider. Consult with him or her prior to any changes in diet.

“Wes, we came here to get inspired and you’re bumming us out with all this negative stuff!”

I know, bear with me… This stuff is important.

There are a couple of side effects that I need you to be aware of before we talk about getting started.

First up, let’s talk about poop…

Constipation

I have a hard time classifying this side effect as “constipation.” I simply don’t have a bowel movement for a few days because there is far less food going in. Less going in = less coming out.

Going number 2 once every two or three days is completely normal on an extreme 23-hour daily fast like mine. If for some reason you do feel significant bloating or cramping, you may want to check in with your doctor.

In the meantime, prepare to go to the bathroom a lot less frequently. Think of all the money you’ll save on toilet paper!

Hunger

I know what you’re thinking… No shit Sherlock, of course, there will be hunger. Just know that hunger will subside after a few weeks.

I am at a point where I don’t get hungry at breakfast or lunch anymore, although I must admit that smelling food does trigger hunger occasionally.

Imagine the bummer of getting out of your car at Target and smelling the exhaust from the Texas Roadhouse steakhouse next door, with their delicious, buttery rolls, only to realize “Oh yeah, I’m fasting.”

Headaches

When you first start an intermittent fasting schedule, headaches are common. Again, they will subside after a week or two. Until then, over-the-counter pain relievers work fine.

I avoid ibuprofen because it’s hard on the stomach, especially an empty stomach. But use whatever normally works for you.

“Okay, geez, can we talk about how to get started finally?”

Thanks for hanging in there folks. When you finally decide to start intermittent fasting, there is no ceremony or pomp. You just wake up one day and do it. That’s it.

Of course, certain considerations should be weighed: Are you about to go on vacation? Is there a big life event happening that might make fasting socially awkward? The best time to start an intermittent fasting program is when you’re in the middle of plain, simple daily life.

Let’s talk about the different schedules you can try:

16/8

Arguably, this is the most popular fasting schedule currently out there. Many people are on this schedule and are experiencing great results.

The 16/8 fast means you abstain from food for sixteen hours a day and only eat in an eight-hour window of time. Bonus: You get to count the 6–8 hours per night that you sleep as part of your sixteen-hour fast. Some people will eat two or three meals within their eight-hour window; however, I would suggest one or two meals instead.

20/4

Just like 16/8 but with a longer fasting window and shorter eating window. You would be eating one meal or two smaller meals in that four-hour window of time.

5:2

“Wait, 5 and 2 don’t add up to 24 hours. What gives?” Very astute observation, my friend. 5:2 actually stands for five regular eating days and two fasting days. Dr. Michael Mosley popularized this variation of intermittent fasting in his book ‘The Fast Diet’.

In the 5:2 you are permitted to eat 500 calories on each of the two fasting days.

Personally, I hate counting calories.

Alternate-day Fasting

Just like it sounds. Eat today, fast tomorrow.

Extended Fasting

For fasting 36 hours and beyond, I am afraid I am woefully ill-equipped to discuss. There can be medical complications with extended fasting, and I don’t have enough experience with extended fasting to speak intelligently about it. Seek medical advice before you start.

Obviously, you can’t eat thousands upon thousands of calories in high-sugar, high-fat junk food when you are in your eating window. The quality of the food matters.

Granted, I put no restrictions on myself when I first started my 23-hour fast. I would eat whatever I wanted for my one meal of the day. I even had a bowl of ice cream every single night for a year after my meal and I still lost weight.

Photo courtesy Thought Catalog on Unsplash

The fact is that what I was doing wasn’t healthy. Even though I was losing weight, I was clogging up my arteries with bad food choices. I might have looked good on the outside, but I was dying on the inside.

Since then, I have cleaned up my diet significantly, however, you have to give yourself permission to cheat once in a while. Indulge in a decadent chocolate cake so corrupt that it would make Richard Nixon look like a saint. Without releasing the endorphins in your brain occasionally from a truly bad food choice, you will be setting yourself up for failure.

It’s like releasing a little bit of pressure [eating bad] every once in a while or risk an explosion [failure to maintain the fast].

Intermittent fasting is more than just the most recent fad diet. Your goals now should be to choose what schedule of fast you want to adopt; decide on the length of time you want to fast and get started!

Make sure to continue all your regular daily activities during your fasting window. Staying busy will keep your mind off hunger in the early days.

Remember, even though you’re not eating, your body is still feeding… on fat!

That thought alone was enough to keep me going in the times when it became socially awkward or difficult to continue.

You can do this; you have my love and support.


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