Intermittent fasting is an incredible tool that can help you lose weight and be healthy.
It’s also called time-restricted eating/feeding.
In this post, I want to share how I’m using intermittent fasting to lose weight and become healthier. Before I get to that, though, it’s important that we’re on the same page, and that you have a basic understanding of some of the key concepts.
- What is intermittent fasting?
- Why you should try intermittent fasting
- The optimal number of hours to fast AND the best time of day to fast
After I explain the basics, I’ll talk about the method I use and how I apply it to my life.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
In its very simplest terms, it means that periodically, you fast for chunks of time. Fasting, in this context, is a period in which you are not eating.
A natural fasting period of the day is when we sleep. That’s why we call the first meal of the day, breakfast; we are breaking our fast.
We can add on to the hours we fast during sleep by fasting during our normal day.
So, what does that look like?
During the time you choose to fast, you drink only water. Some people consider things like herbal teas or coffee ok to have during the fasting period.
When they do so, it isn’t true fasting; however, having calorie-free or low-calorie beverages like herbal tea or coffee (not loaded with cream and sugar) during your fasting time can encourage you to not eat.
In that sense, I consider it part of intermittent fasting. If I have coffee or tea during my fasting period, I still consider it a fasting period, as I am not eating.
How can you add fasting hours to your natural fasting during sleep?
Let’s say you eat dinner at 5:30 pm, and you have a snack at 9:00 pm. You take your last bite at 9:30 pm. At this point, you eat nothing else before you go to bed.
You are starting to fast (go without food) at 9:30 pm. After you go to bed, you might drink some water during the times you wake up, but you are not having any midnight snacks.
In the morning, you take your first bite of food at 7:30 am. This means you’ve ended your fasting period.
The number of hours between 9:30 pm and 7:30 am is your fasting window. In this case, that’s 10 hours.
The flip side is the number of hours in a day in which you are eating. In this case, your eating window was between 7:30 am and 9:30 pm, which is a total of 14 hours.
If you repeat this pattern on a regular basis, in a 24 hour period you’re fasting within a 10 hour period and you’re eating within a 14 hour period on a daily basis.
10 hours fasting and 14 hours eating would be considered an intermittent fasting ratio of 10:14 (the fasting period is listed first).
With intermittent fasting, the goal is to have more fasting hours than eating hours. In the example above, there are more hours of eating during the day than there are fasting; not the way we want to go.
There are a variety of ratios you can try with intermittent fasting: 12:12, 14:10, 16:8, 18:6 and so on.
Some people tighten their eating window even more, as is the case with the 20:4 fasting routine. OMAD is an eating routine that involves one meal a day.
There are still other ways people apply intermittent fasting, such as eating for 6 days in a week, and fasting for 1 day; some people fast 2-3 days per month. You’ll find many other applications of intermittent fasting when you start to look.
For the purposes of this blog post, I won’t get into the stricter intermittent fasting routines or the weekly/monthly methods as I’m not currently incorporating them into my mission to lose 40 lbs by July 1, 2022.
Feel free to investigate them and give them a try. I might change things up down the road. Just be weary, though. Try not to start out an intermittent fasting routine with one that’s too strict; doing so might make it harder to sustain long term.
Intermittent fasting isn’t about dieting; it’s about establishing enough fasting time in the day so your body can be healthy, long-term. It can greatly help with weight loss, but I don’t believe it’s a good idea to use it for only that purpose.
Why you should try Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is beneficial because it…
- Limits your food intake to a determined time window, which will likely contribute to the decrease of your total calorie intake for the day
- Reduces the number of hours your body expends energy to digest food
- Gives your body more time to do the repair and maintenance needed on a daily basis
- Physically renews your body
When you eat a meal, it can take up to several hours for food to move through your stomach and your small intestine. A lot of energy is required for this process, which also involves other organs like the pancreas, kidneys, liver and gallbladder. Then it passes into your large intestine for the final stages of digestion.
How quickly a meal passes through you depends on many factors that affect whether your waste comes out 24 hours, 36 hours, or 48 or more hours later (that’s a topic for another post). The main difference in how long this process takes is how much fiber and water you get in your diet.
For a more detailed understanding of the digestion stages (anabolic: eating vs catabolic: repair and expelling toxins, etc.), check out the first six minutes of this video with Dr. Joel Fuhrman (I reference him later in this post). It provides a clearer understanding of why we need to have long, uninterrupted periods of fasting for our health.
Looking again at the previous example I gave of a 10:14 day, if you start eating at 7:30 in the morning, and finish at 9:30 in the evening, your body is basically digesting food the whole day. It never gets any rest.
Plus, that last bite of the day continues digesting for several hours while you’re sleeping (assuming you’re not up till 2 am). When that happens, your body is actually getting only a few hours a day when it is not digesting food (most of that time is during the last few hours of your sleep).
A few hours is not enough time for all the work your body needs to do to maintain and repair all the cells and processes in your body. During the fasting stage, your body also gets rid of toxins and breaks down unneeded fat, abnormal cells, etc.
We need long periods of time for the body to function properly. The idea behind intermittent fasting is to give your body the time it needs to do its job, while also naturally decreasing your food intake throughout the day.
The one misconception out there about intermittent fasting, however, is that you can do the fasting hours at any time of day. You can do that, but it is not optimal for health or weight loss.
The Optimal Number of Hours to Fast AND the Best Time of Day to Fast
An expert in the area of nutrition and fasting is Dr. Joel Fuhrman. His book, Fasting and Eating for Health, has been around for almost 30 years, and has served as my bible when it comes to fasting.
Dr. Fuhrman recommends we fast from 12 to 18 hours a day. This means you’re eating within a 6-12 hour window.
As I mentioned, it takes several hours for your body to digest the food you give it. Some foods, like fruit, are digested more quickly, while heavier, richer foods like processed foods, meat and dairy take longer.
This means that if you eat your last food shortly before bed (especially heavier foods), then your body has to work at digesting your food while you’re in the early stages of your sleep.
Since sleep is an extremely important time for your body to repair and maintain itself, it is more ideal to including some of your fasting hours before bedtime.
This leads us to the optimal time of day to start fasting. Your fasting window should begin a few, to several, hours before you go to bed.
Remember, we eat food for energy. We don’t need energy when we go to bed; we need it throughout our day. Finishing eating earlier in the day is best. Dr. Fuhrman recommends we finish eating by 5 pm.
5 pm might seem crazy, right? Most of us are eating until much later.
Instead of trying to change your eating patterns overnight, challenge yourself. Start with one day a week where you end your eating by 6 pm. Then build up to 5 days a week. If you want to step up your challenge a bit, then move to 5 pm as your deadline for eating.
It seems impossible at first; I know! But once you apply intermittent fasting to most days, you’ll be amazed at how awesome you feel and how naturally easy it becomes.
How and Why I use Intermittent Fasting
I want to share what I’m doing because I believe it’s helping me lose weight, and I’m feeling healthier. Think about how you can apply some of these ideas to your own life.
When you try intermittent fasting, it’s important not only to do it in optimal ways for your body, but also in a way that will work for your lifestyle.
6:00 pm Rule, with Training
My current daily goal is to not eat after 6:00 pm. I’d like to work towards Dr. Fuhrman’s suggestion of finishing my last meal at 5:00 pm, but I’m not there yet.
If you’re thinking of trying to end your eating by 6 pm, start with a time you can be successful with. You might not be ready for the 5 or 6 pm challenge right now.
If you’re snacking most nights at 8:30, make 8:00 pm your deadline for a week or two. Then move it to 7:30 pm. Stick with that for a while until you’ve mastered it, and then move your eating deadline to 7:00 pm.
You can train yourself using the gradual approach until you’re where you want to be. I’ve used this method in the past, when I used to snack a lot in the evening, and I found it highly effective.
Warning: Don’t push yourself too hard too soon; you can set yourself up for failure. If you snack often at night, and then set a 5:00 pm food deadline, you’re likely setting yourself up to fail, or you’re setting yourself up for only short-term success.
Your ultimate goal is to develop your intermittent fasting habit in a lasting way for long-term success.
Something important to mention is that none of us are going to be perfect. Please don’t aim for perfection; shoot for personal progress.
The best way to think about intermittent fasting is to do it as best as we can for most of the time. My goal long-term goal is to do 18:6 at least 5 days a week. I’m happy with where I started, where I am and with the progress I’ve made because it’s about me, and not something out there to achieve.
Right now, I have an alarm that goes off at 4:00 pm to remind me to eat before 6:00 pm. When the alarm goes off, I can think about what I’m going to eat for dinner, and I have the time to prepare a meal if I’m not eating leftovers or something simple.
I try to sit down by 5:00 or 5:30 to eat. Your schedule will be different, so you’ll need to adapt intermittent fasting to your routine.
Building from 14:10 to 18:6 with the Zero App
Most people can start with 14:10 when it comes to intermittent fasting. It’s a good place to begin. A tip to get you started, or to at least make you more aware of your eating and fasting windows, is to use an app.
After I take my last bite of food of the day, I open a free app called Zero. I click on Begin Fast, and the app calculates how many hours until my next meal. The time for my next meal is determined by the number of hours I’ve selected as a fasting goal (you can choose count down or count up as your timer).
After fasting through the evening and night, I use my app again, and click on End Fast when I eat my first meal the next day. That’s how the app keeps track of my fasting times.
The app reminds me of my goal and helps me stay focused on my goal. The app doesn’t mean I meet my goal every day though.
When I began my mission in early January to lose 40 lbs by July 1, 2022, I selected 14 hours as my fasting goal. I loved the idea of eating before 6 pm, but it wasn’t a real focus. I wasn’t there yet. I just wanted to successfully fast for 14 hours.
As the days passed, I built up my fasting hours. I next selected 16 hours as my fasting goal, and now I’m at 18 fasting hours.
Over time, I could see I met my goal more and more often because I consciously worked toward it and used the app to help me.
For the last three days, I’ve been successful at 18:6 or better, but I won’t be disappointed if there are days when my fasting hours are fewer than 18. I’m developing a long-term habit, so all I need is progress and success for most days of the week.
Here’s a screenshot of my January progress, as of Tuesday, Jan. 18/22 around 4 pm. The grey days show I did not meet my fasting goal, and the green show the days I reached or exceeded my goal.
Another thing the app does, is send me a recap of my progress for the previous week. I just received mine a couple of days ago. I like seeing my progress. 🙂
A note about the Zero app. You don’t have to worry about recording your fast start or end times, on the spot. You can edit the times. If you stop eating at 7:00 pm, but forget to Begin Fast, you can edit your start time when you remember to start it later.
I’m sure there are tons of fasting apps out there, but Zero is the only one I’m familiar with. It is very easy and convenient to use.
I use intermittent fasting because it helps me feel lighter when I go to bed. In addition to the better food choices I’m making, when I go to bed I don’t feel bloated or full. I love that feeling.
When I wake up, I feel good too, because I am living my life aligned with what I believe in. I am living my life taking one step at a time toward my goal of losing 40 lbs by July 1, 2022.
I also use intermittent fasting because it controls how much food I eat, indirectly. If I make a rule not to eat after 6:00 pm, then I won’t be snacking in the evening, which has been a habit in the past (popcorn!!).
Ultimately, I’m an intermittent faster because I know it’s good for my body, it feels good, and it’s helping me lose weight.
If you’re struggling with your weight and want to take steps towards a healthier lifestyle, intermittent fasting is one tool that can help get you there.
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