Intermittent fasting is the practice of consuming your daily calories during a shortened eating window. Doing this helps you stabilize blood sugar levels and naturally reduce your calorie intake, leading to more efficient weight loss.
The challenge is that to get the benefits, you have to train your body to comfortably go for long periods without food. That is not a small obstacle, given today’s 24/7 access to highly appetizing foods. But anyone can achieve it with the right approach. This blog post shares four things that must be in place for fasting to work for you.
Fasting Doesn’t Work (Without) – At-A-Glance
- Eliminating Craving Triggers: Eating refined foods during your eating window stimulates hunger during your fast.
- Proper Hydration: Dehydration can mimic hunger. Water and electrolytes are needed to stay hydrated.
- Exercising Your Fasting Muscle: Jumping into an extended fast can backfire. Slowly increase your comfort with fasting by starting with a 12-hour fast.
- Understanding Hunger: Hunger ebbs and flows throughout the day. When hunger strikes, wait 10 minutes before taking action.
Fasting Doesn’t Work [Without These 4 Things] [Video]
In this video, you’ll learn…
- The challenge of intermittent fasting.
- Four things you need to get results from fasting!
- Tips and strategies to help you master intermittent fasting.
The Challenge (and The Paradox)
Food and food reminders in the form of commercials and ads surround us at all hours of the day and night. This constant barrage has made an impact, and science shows that more than half of adults eat for 15 hours or longer every day (1).
This continual grazing from sunup to sundown keeps insulin levels high, which is a state that promotes fat storage and blocks fat burning. And ironically, the more frequently you start eating, the hungrier you’ll be throughout the day because even a few bites of food will activate the parts of your brain that drive hunger, making you want to keep eating.
The paradox is that the more you practice intermittent fasting, the easier it gets to control hunger because fasting reduces hunger signals and stabilizes blood sugar levels, reducing the blood sugar crashes that make you feel that you must eat something immediately.
The trick is getting to that point of automatic hunger control while you fast. To achieve that, the work starts during your eating window.
1. Elimination of Craving Triggers
I mentioned that the mere act of eating stimulates your appetite. But some foods are more likely to crank up your cravings than others. By omitting them during your eating window, you make fasting much easier and need to rely on willpower much less.
“Craving triggers” are foods that light up your brain chemistry in an area referred to as the pleasure center (nucleus accumbens). This is the part of your brain associated with addictive substances like drugs. But tasty, highly palatable foods cause a similar release of the feel-good chemical dopamine in this area of the brain.
Did you ever eat a piece of stale chocolate and think, “This doesn’t taste good,” yet go on to eat the entire chocolate bar? That was a craving trigger of the worst kind because you didn’t get the pleasurable taste, but your brain got the message that this feels good, keep eating it.
To prevent getting caught in this predicament, avoid refined foods, especially those that combine refined carbohydrates (or sugar) with fat and salt, a highly addictive combination of ingredients.
The unfortunate reality is that you cannot eat these foods during your eating window and expect your brain to forget about them when you decide it’s time to fast. Your brain likes them, so it will ask you to keep eating them.
To be specific, craving triggers include potato chips or any other chip in that grocery store aisle, cookies, cakes, candies, muffins, pastries, pancakes with syrup, bread, sweetened energy bars, pasta, and sugary soda, juice, or tea. And that’s just a few; 60% of the calories we consume are made up of these ultra-processed foods.
Research suggests that receptors in the pleasure center of the brain down-regulate when they are repetitively exposed to these junk foods and drinks (2).
That’s not good because it intensifies cravings. And that explains why fasting doesn’t work when you eat these foods during your eating window. At least it doesn’t work without a tremendous amount of willpower.
Knowing that so much of the food supply has this appetite-stimulating effect feels like a lot to be up against. But you can eliminate these problematic foods with relative ease by cooking at home. Within a week of eating whole-food, home-cooked meals, you’ll feel in control of hunger so you can fast comfortably.
2. Proper Hydration
With the elimination of refined carbs and a growing sense of comfort with fasting, your blood sugar and insulin levels stabilize. This is an effect you want because it frees you from blood sugar crashes that drive cravings and puts your body in a state that allows fat release from fat cells.
However, insulin also influences hydration through its action on the kidneys, causing your kidneys to flush out water and electrolytes when insulin is low (3).
There is a type of fasting called dry fasting, which restricts both food and water. This is practiced by people who fast during Ramadan, and you are starting to see it showing up in the research. Recent studies point toward health benefits, which creates intriguing headlines that can overshadow potential consequences, primarily dehydration.
There are many reasons why it is important to stay hydrated during your fasting period. From a discomfort standpoint, dehydration can mimic hunger and cause headaches, fatigue, and muscle cramps, making you very uncomfortable.
Proper hydration is a two-step process. You must drink water and replace lost electrolytes like sodium, magnesium, and potassium.
Electrolyte supplements, sea salt, and certain foods, such as salmon, spinach, asparagus, avocados, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds, help you replenish electrolytes.
How much electrolyte replacement you need depends on your diet and lifestyle. Fasting, eating a low-carb or keto diet, sweating, and avoiding processed foods are things that lower our intake of electrolytes or cause them to be flushed out of the body. The degree to which you do these things is what determines how much you need to replenish.
Try Bubbly Water
Being mindful of hydration will make fasting more enjoyable. Water is part of that equation. But, if you are bored with plain water, a trick worth trying is to drink unsweetened carbonated water. These bubbly waters are available in different forms, including club soda, seltzer, and sparkling or mineral water. They have a more substantial feel than plain water, which you may find satisfying as you progress through your fast.
Carbonated water will help you stay hydrated. It is fine to drink during your fast because it is simply water that contains dissolved carbon dioxide gas, which causes the bubbles to form. It comes in cans or bottles from your local grocery store, or you can make your own at home using a sparkling water maker.
If you are having trouble letting go of cravings for soda, either regular or diet, try carbonated water. You will still get that fun effervescent fizz, which may help you escape your soda habit.
3. Exercising Your Fasting Muscle (Short Fasts)
For many of us, deciding to lose weight or improve our health has a trigger. Something catches our attention, and we mentally declare that NOW is the time to act. There is nothing wrong with that mindset, and it can be a great motivator. However, it can also cause us to attempt a giant leap into fasting that can backfire, leading to a binge.
To bring fasting up to the level you want for weight loss and health benefits, you have to exercise your fasting muscle. It’s no different than physical muscle. If you haven’t been to the gym for a while, you must start slowly to build your strength. Gaining comfort with fasting works in the same way.
I recommend starting with a short fast and then adding hours as you progress through the following weeks. By doing this, you work with your body instead of against it. You want your body to be your ally because it has hormones on its side that can quickly overtake willpower.
Start with a 12-hour fast and work up from there. Tonight, stop eating after dinner and note the time. You can break your fast after 12 hours have passed. Many of you will find that you can make it 12 hours easily, and in a few days, you can lengthen your fast to 14 hours, 16 hours, or longer without hunger overwhelming you.
4. Understanding Hunger (10-Minute Timeout)
Of course, even with the right diet, proper hydration, and a workup period, that doesn’t mean hunger will not present itself during your fast. Hunger is a fickle thing. It will rise and fall throughout your day based on hormone and blood sugar levels as well as environmental cues. The clock on the wall says noon; you think about lunch. You smell french fries, and out of the blue, you could really go for some fries.
Because of its come-and-go nature, you can expect to experience peaks of hunger during your fasting hours, but you can also count on them to lessen. A great trick for understanding your hunger pattern is to take 10-minute timeouts.
For example, when you experience hunger, look at the clock and tell yourself that you’ll wait and decide whether or not to break your fast when 10 minutes have passed. The beauty of this trick is that most of us are easily distracted.
By declaring to yourself that you’ll pick up this eating topic later, your brain naturally moves on to something else. Because hunger naturally ebbs and flows, you’ll often feel under control when that time has passed, or, like I usually experience, a half hour or more goes by before you even remember the deal you made with yourself, making it easy to continue fasting.
Practicing intermittent fasting is a great way to accelerate weight loss or get your weight loss plan back on track. However, thinking about going without food for 16 or more hours can be intimidating.
The keys to getting fasting to work for you are eliminating the refined foods that trigger cravings, staying hydrated with water and electrolytes, starting with short fasts, giving your body time to adapt to your new eating pattern, and understanding that hunger is a fickle thing.
There are many external cues in our world that remind us to eat. It’s up to us to determine if we really need to feed that hunger. The 10-minute timeout exercise will help you make that determination.
Thank you for reading and have a wonderful day!
(1) Gill, Shubhroz, and Satchidananda Panda. “A smartphone app reveals erratic diurnal eating patterns in humans that can be modulated for health benefits.” Cell metabolism 22.5 (2015): 789-798.
(2) Rada, Pedro, Nicole M. Avena, and Bartley G. Hoebel. “Daily bingeing on sugar repeatedly releases dopamine in the accumbens shell.” Neuroscience 134.3 (2005): 737-744.
(3) Tiwari, Swasti, Shahla Riazi, and Carolyn A. Ecelbarger. “Insulin’s impact on renal sodium transport and blood pressure in health, obesity, and diabetes.” American Journal of Physiology-Renal Physiology (2007).