Intermittent Fasting Is Confusing: Here's Exactly When To Eat
As a functional medicine practitioner, I see a wide range of health problems that all stem from chronic inflammation. And while acute inflammation is a natural and healthy response to help fight off pathogenic bacteria and infections, ongoing chronic inflammation that doesn’t subside when the threat is gone can contribute to everything from autoimmune conditions to cancer.
There are many amazing natural remedies to drive down inflammation, but intermittent fasting is one of my all-time favorites. Intermittent fasting is when you go without food for a certain amount of time.
The benefits of intermittent fasting.
Now, I know what you're probably thinking: What’s wrong with eating whenever you want as long as your meals are from healthy, whole-food sources? Well, giving your body a break from food allows your gut time to rest and inflammation to cool down, thus producing some amazing benefits to your overall health:
1. Lowers cancer risk.
Multiple studies have shown a link between intermittent fasting and a reduced risk of breast cancer.
How to schedule meals: Intermittent fasting for beginners.
Before you start your IF plan, it's important to talk with a professional to make sure it's right for you. Women should be especially cautious as there are some mixed opinions on whether or not certain fasting protocols are healthy for female hormone balance. In addition, if you have adrenal fatigue or gut health issues you'll want to proceed with caution. If you have a history of disordered eating, you'll probably want to avoid fasting altogether..
Once you start your IF journey, you’ll most likely find that you feel fuller longer and can keep the meals you do eat very simple. There are a few different ways you can fast, so I broke up each of the different plans below into beginner, intermediate, and advanced along with a typical meal plan for each day. The combination of nutrients will give you the energy you need to enhance the benefits of your fasting journey. Just make sure to take into account any individual food intolerances, and use this as a guide for your particular health case, and adjust from there.
1. The 8-6 window plan for beginners.
Eat only between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. This is a great way to dip your toes in the fasting waters because it allows you to eat every meal plus some snacks but still get 14 hours of fasting within a 24-hour period.
Breakfast: Green Smoothie at 8 a.m.
After fasting, I like to ease into my day of eating with a smoothie since it is a little easier for my gut to digest. You’ll want to go for a green smoothie instead of a high-sugar fruit smoothie to avoid starting your day on a blood-sugar roller coaster. Add in lots of healthy fats to keep you going until lunch!
- 1 avocado
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1 small handful blueberries
- 1 cup spinach, kale, or chard
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds
Add all ingredients into blender, blend, and enjoy!
2. Intermediate fasting plan: 12-6 window plan.
This is the same as the 8-to-6 window plan, but you are extending your fasting time an extra four hours. I personally practice this plan during the workweek. I'm not a breakfast person, so I just enjoy a few cups of herbal tea to start my day. With this plan you will be eating only between the hours of 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. for a full 18 hours of fasting within a 24-hour period.
Even though you aren’t eating breakfast, it's still important to stay hydrated. Make sure to still drink enough water. You can also have herbal tea. The catechins in tea have been shown to enhance the benefits of fasting by helping to further decrease the hunger hormone ghrelin, so you can make it until lunch and not feel deprived. Since you’ve increased your fasting period an extra four hours, you need to make sure your first meal (at noon) has enough healthy fats. The burger in the 8-to-6 window plan will work well, and you can add more fats in with your dressing or top with an avocado!
Nuts and seeds make great snacks that are high-fat and can be eaten around 2:30 p.m. Soaking these beforehand can help neutralize naturally occurring enzymes like phytates that can contribute to digestive problems. Eat dinner around 5:30 p.m., and just like the 8-to-6 window plan, a dinner with some sort of wild-caught fish or other clean protein source with vegetables is a great option.
3. Intermediate fasting plan: The modified 2-day plan.
For this plan, eat clean for five days of the week (you can pick whatever days you want). On the other two days, restrict your calories to no more than 700 each day. Calorie restriction unlocks a lot of the same benefits as fasting for an entire day. On your non-fasting days, you’ll need to make sure you're getting in healthy fats, clean meats, vegetables, and some fruits, and you can structure your meals however best works for you. On restricted days you can have smaller meals or snacks throughout the day or have a moderate-size lunch and dinner and fast in the morning and after dinner. Again, focus on healthy fats, clean meats, and produce. An app like MyFitnessPal can help you log your food and keep track of your calories so you don’t go over 700.
4. High-intermediate: The 5-2 plan.
On this plan you'll eat clean five days of the week but will not eat anything for two nonconsecutive days of the week. For example, you can fast on Monday and Thursday but eat clean meals on the other days. Food on these five days will look just like the rest of the fasting plans—healthy fats, clean meat sources, vegetables, and some fruit. Keep in mind that this plan is not for beginners, and you should always talk to your doctor before starting any fasting regimen, especially if you are on medication or have a medical condition.
5. Advanced: Every-other-day plan.
Even though this plan is advanced, it's very simple. Don't eat anything every other day. This is the most intense form of fasting but can produce amazing results. Every other day, eat healthy fats, clean meat sources, vegetables, and some fruit, and then on your fasting days, you can consume water, herbal tea, and moderate amounts of black coffee or tea.
With this information in hand, you should know exactly how to schedule meals when starting an intermittent fasting plan. And while it might seem complicated at first, once you get into the habit of fasting, it will feel like second nature and fit pretty seamlessly into your days. Just remember to always start slow and gradually work up to more advanced plans.
Want more fasting info? Here's our definitive guide to fasting.