27 Ways to Make Intermittent Fasting a Lifestyle
Whether you’re considering dipping your toe into the intermittent fasting pool or you’ve been fasting for a while but are looking for some fresh reasons to help you stick to it for the long haul, we’ve got you covered. Thinking of fasting as a lifestyle you plan to follow for years to come will help you change your mindset and adopt healthy behaviors that lead to weight loss and improved health outcomes.
“I have been following a 16:8 fasting diet for about a year,” says EA Stewart, MBA, RDN. “I recommend it to clients, many of whom come to me for weight loss or maybe healthy aging. I think time-restricted eating (TRE) is something that’s sustainable for a lot of people and that’s why it’s become so popular.”
“I was one of those people who never missed a meal or snack … and was probably ruled by my blood sugar somewhat, but I begrudgingly decided to try the 16:8 diet for a three days a few years ago,” says Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD, author and culinary expert. “I didn’t think I’d make it through the first day but I did. I was surprised by how much I liked this way of eating and have been following it ever since.”
If you’re thinking of giving fasting a try, here are 27 ways to make it easier, more sustainable, and enjoyable.
Understand that you’re probably already doing it
You’re not that far off from experimenting with fasting. “When we talk about time-restricted eating, maybe a lot of us are already doing that,” says Stewart. It might not be to the same degree as fasting but many of us might stop eating or drinking in the evening and you might not eat until 12 hours later.
Ease in slowly.
If you’re new to this, try extending your time without food by maybe an hour, for a couple of days, suggests Stewart. You might want to try fasting for 14 and eating for 10 hours for a few days to push it. Once that’s more comfortable, move to a 16:8 fasting plan.
- Tell yourself that it’s not a diet.
Getting into that mental mindset of ‘this is something I’m doing for the long-term’ to keep it sustainable, suggests Stewart. Sure, you might experience some fast weight loss results depending on the fasting plan you follow, but embrace the idea that this is a lifestyle and a plan that’s good for your overall health and aging.
Experiment with zero-calorie beverages.
You can have no-calorie drinks during your fast, like coffee, tea, or seltzers. Try a few different options of your favorite beverages to see which ones you most enjoy and will look forward to during a fast. Make sure they don’t have calories or added sweeteners and seek out flavored teas, flavored coffee, specialty club soda and add in lemons or limes during a fast to stay hydrated.
- Make meditation or mindfulness a daily habit.
“I’m a big fan of meditation. I think we all should be doing it,” says Stewart. Having a regular meditation practice can be a relaxing way to pass the time while fasting. If you try a yoga nidra practice in the evening, it may help you fall asleep.
- Change up your first meal of the day.
If you’re following a time-restricted eating plan, eat different types of meals for that first meal of the day a few times a week. Stewart says that when she breaks her fast at 11 a.m., sometimes she has breakfast foods and other days, she pulls from a lunch menu.
Use it for any diet you follow.
Whether you’re a plant-based eater, omnivore, vegan or if you are gluten free, this is something that you can do in addition to that, says Stewart. It doesn’t require any extra food shopping, special recipes, or modifications to a lifestyle you’ve already embraced.
Be aware of triggers that might make you think about food.
If you find that watching the Food Network at night or certain channels with lots of food advertisements makes you want to give in and break your fast, change the channel or find a new activity during that time. The same holds true for your social media channels. You might find it relaxing to “pin” recipes you want to make for another night’s dinner or save a food how-to video on Instagram, but if these images make you long for food and feel unhappy or deprived, limit your consumption (pun intended) of these mediums while you’re fasting.
- Don’t think of your eating window as a free-for-all.
You do need to put some thought into what you are eating, suggests Stewart. She still recommends her nutrition clients stick to three meals a day.
- Write down a list of ‘fasting activities.’
Boredom, restlessness and fatigue can often plague someone during their fasting hours—especially if they’re feeling hungry or missing the social aspect of eating—so you’ll find it helpful to have a few interests jotted down ahead of time before you’re hungry. The list can include podcasts you want to catch up on, websites and online articles you’ve been meaning to read (bookmark a folder with these), an album you’ve been waiting to listen to, TV shows to binge watch, or movies you never seem to have time to watch. Make the experience feel ‘special,’ and tell yourself, I deserve this break.
- Creating a fasting activities box.
Add your list above to the box. Then include a deck of cards, a book you’ve been wanting to read, a manicure kit, a face mask if you’re into spa treatments, magazines you’ve been meaning to read, a puzzle, a craft, mindfulness coloring books, sewing or an art activity. Perhaps keep a gratitude journal and use a nice pen to jot down things you’re grateful for that day.
- Take time to truly enjoy eating.
Perhaps one of the nice side effects of fasting is that by the time you get to eat, it can feel “special” again instead of a rushed, on-the-go, or distracted meal. Plate your meal, light a candle, sit down, use a nice napkin and fill a pretty glass with water while taking your time with your meal. Set your fork down in between bites to slow down. Turn off distractions, taste your food, engage with your dining guests if you have them, and enjoy the experience.
- You might be surprised how long you go without eating.
While you might think you’ll be standing in the fridge waiting for the clock to click over to your feeding window, you might not notice that the fasting time is up if you’re busy doing other things.
“When I was at an office and following a 16:8 plan, it was easy for me to look up and it would be 2 o’clock and I was like, ‘Wow, I’m three hours past when I was going to eat!’” Williams says. Now that she’s mostly working from home, she says that doesn’t happen as often and she’s looking forward to her first meal promptly at 11 a.m.
- You probably won’t gorge during your feeding window.
“Before I tried fasting, I thought, ‘I’m probably going to go crazy with my first meal when I finally hit my eating window,’” says Williams. “But the part that blew my mind is that I was much more thoughtful about my choices. It wasn’t like I was starving and couldn’t wait to eat. I was able to make rational, smarter choices because I wasn’t ruled by my blood sugar.”
Try to move for five every 45.
“I have a practice I follow called five in 45,” says Stewart. “Every 45 minutes, I encourage my clients to get up and move for at least five minutes.” This can just be some light stretching, walking around the house, going outside for five minutes or even cleaning or doing a chore if you’re home. “Spreading that movement out throughout the day works really well for a lot of people,” Stewart says. Set a notification on your phone or smartwatch to get up every 45 minutes or hour to get movement in.
Be mindful of the ‘see it and eat it’ mentality.
You might want to move tempting foods out of sight so they’re out of mind when you’re fasting, or if you’re following a fasting plan with calorie restriction, like alternate day fasting or the 5:2 diet. If every time you walk into your kitchen to refill your water glass, you’re glancing at a cookie jar or snack bag, you’ll be doing a number on your willpower and have to make the decision every time to skip that food. That can be mentally draining and seeing these tempting foods often could set you up for failure.
- Power up productivity during your fast.
“I feel like I get more done in the morning before I have my first meal, says Stewart. “I’ll work on that those tasks that I need to focus on the most, or that I really don’t want to do, but that take a lot of concentration first thing.”
- Eat protein throughout the day.
Getting in protein is important for any diet and Stewart says she tells her clients to spread this macronutrient throughout the day. “Don’t try to just get it all in at dinner time or breakfast,” she advises. You’ll feel more satisfied if your meals or snacks contain healthy proteins.
- You’ll notice how often you used to eat BLTs.
No, we don’t mean the delicious bacon sandwiches. We’re referring to bites, licks, and tastes. You might have dabbled in this habit throughout the day before starting a fasting plan and all of those nibbles add up to significant calories. “Even being around while your child is eating can trigger you to grab something that would bump you out of your fast,” says Williams. A fast can help you set boundaries so you aren’t tempted to help a child finish off their breakfast or grab a handful from your partner’s snack bowl. Eliminating these alone could add up to hundreds of calories each week and effortless pounds lost.
- Consider drinking bulletproof coffee or tea for a brain boost.
“Sometimes when I’m really needing some satiety during my fast, I’ll make a bulletproof coffee with two teaspoons of butter, two teaspoons of MCT oils, and a splash of unsweetened almond milk,” says Williams. MCT oils are medium-chain triglycerides, fatty acids found in coconut oil. Drinking this coffee is believed to enhance your thinking and focus, says Williams. She hasn’t seen concrete studies that show those results but does feel like she’s able to power through her morning fast when she drinks this beverage. “Maybe it’s a placebo effect. I don’t do it every day but it’s a nice little perk,” Williams says. (Some fasting purists might be against drinking bulletproof coffee so try experimenting with it if you’re interested to see if you’re still seeing the same weight loss results.)
- Experiment with carb intake at night.
If you’re following an intermittent fasting plan where you’ll be fasting overnight into the next morning, test your carb intake during those last hours of feeding. “If you’re going to do more of a carb-heavy meal, I would say do it in the evening because the carbohydrates can aid in serotonin production and help you get sleepy,” says Stewart. For Williams, she says she notices that if she has more carbs at night or a sweet treat before cutting off feeding for the day, she tends to be a little hungrier in the morning during her fast.
- Aim for quality hours of sleep each night.
“I think people feel like it’s self-indulgent to get seven or eight hours of sleep,” says Williams. “But it’s so necessary. Whether you’re fasting or not, you need adequate sleep and adequate rest for optimal hormone regulation.”
- Find your ideal time to workout.
Although it’s not a required part of following a fasting plan, the nutritionists we spoke to say it’s important to get exercise in for overall health and to help with weight loss. “Find the time and activity that works for you,” suggests Williams. Stewart plays tennis in the morning during her fast. “I feel like I have a little bit more energy playing in the morning than when I do in the afternoon after I’ve eaten my first meal. That’s just my personal experience. I think it’s one of those things that people need to try both ways and see that works best for them.”
- Don’t have an “all or nothing” mindset.
If you only make it 12 hours one day, that’s not a failure, says Williams. “From a metabolic standpoint, that’s still great.” Resolve to eat healthy meals the rest of the day and try again the next day. It’s not the end of your fasting lifestyle just because you need a day to adjust.
- You’ll be a more intuitive eater.
“If fasting helps me eat more intuitively, it also tells me to listen to my body better,” says Williams. “I’ve learned what impacts me the next day, so it’s not really hunger. It’s just helped me see those cues a little bit more, which then has helped me make better choices.”
- Tell yourself that you’re creating mental space.
“Thinking about food all the time can be psychologically draining,” says Stewart. “I find that taking your mind off of food for a while is freeing and liberating.”
- Work your favorite foods into the plan.
The best thing about following a fasting plan is that you’re allowed to eat whatever you want when you’re in your eating window. So yes, pizza, Chinese food, cupcakes, a specialty margarita, sugary coffee, and family favorite comfort food recipes can be worked in. “I still try to encourage mostly healthier foods, you know, kind of the 80/20 rule is when I go by 80% of the time with the healthier foods 20% of the time are the fun foods. [Allowing all foods] makes it easier, psychologically, to stick with the program,” says Stewart.