Intermittent Fasting (IF)… you keep hearing people talk about it. You’re interested in giving it a try, but you don’t know exactly where to start. You’re also not sure you can go that many hours without eating. If this resonates with you, keep reading and I’ll fill you in on How to Determine Your Best Intermittent Fasting Schedule.
I will start by saying that I’m not a doctor. You should always consult with your doctor when considering a major dietary change.
That being said, my experience with IF has been great! I’ve lost 23 lbs. by changing some habits (you can check those out here), but IF has been the biggest life changer of all.
About a year ago, I started looking into it after reading The Obesity Code. That led me to implement a 16:8 intermittent fasting schedule and I’ve been consistent with it ever since.
To me following an IF regimen is a very personal decision. You have to be ready to follow the chosen protocol consistently (not necessarily every day) to feel the benefits. The type of regimen you follow can also vary greatly. So, you have to choose the intermittent fasting schedule that works best for you, based on your lifestyle.
After publishing this post about what intermittent fasting is and my experience with it, people started asking me questions. “How should I set my intermittent fasting schedule?” has been the most frequently asked question I’ve received. Keep reading for the answer.
TYPES OF INTERMITTENT FASTING
But before we move forward, here’s a quick review. Feel free to skip to the next section if you already know this.
Intermittent fasting is following a regimen where you fast (or don’t eat) for a determined extended period of time followed by a shorter feasting (or eating) period. Btw, feasting is not defined by eating everything in sight, including a bunch of unhealthy foods. 😉
While following a low-carb high-fat diet is very common and recommended for faster results, you don’t really need to restrict food groups if you don’t want to. This post goes into more detail about what to eat during Intermittent Fasting for weight loss.
There are many IF regimens or protocols that people can follow. Some people complete as little as 12-hour daily fasts. Others may complete a 72-hour fast once every quarter. Others fast for two weeks or more.
I’m only going to talk about the common shorter duration regimens here because they are easier to manage if you’re just starting to implement Intermittent Fasting:
- You can fast for 14-16 hours and eat during the remaining 10-8-hour period. (This is the one I follow.)
- Fast for 24 hours a couple days a week. Eat a normal healthy diet the remaining days of the week.
- You can fast for 20 hours every day (with a small fruit and veggie allowance during the fast) and feast during the remaining 4-hour period.
In this post, I’m mostly referring to the first intermittent fasting protocol (16:8, or Leangains).
RELATED POST: What to eat during intermittent fasting to lose weight.
HOW SHOULD I SET MY INTERMITTENT FASTING SCHEDULE?
The simplest response to this question is that your intermittent fasting schedule should begin when you are most likely to follow it. It doesn’t make sense for me to say that you should fast from 7:00 PM to 11:00 AM if your schedule is not conducive to it.
There are several factors you can take into account when scheduling your fasting period.
#1 YOUR SLEEP HOURS
Consider scheduling the fasting period around your regular sleep hours. If you’re asleep, you’re not hungry. That makes it easy to knock off 6-8 hours of the fasting period without effort.
If you happen to work the night shift or unconventional hours, scheduling your fast around sleep hours makes this protocol more feasible.
I would suggest, though, being as consistent as possible for extended periods of time. For example, if you only have to work the night shift once a quarter for one month, then shifting your fasting schedule is fine. This assumes that you’re doing a daily fast.
However, if your schedule changes several days a week, I would try to keep your fast consistent or explore longer fasting periods with less frequency.
#2 DINNER SCHEDULE
Take into account your usual dinner schedule. You should be eating enough to feel satisfied for a few hours. Then, you’re ready to go to bed for a number of hours. This makes it easy to put in a good 12 hours of fasting before you even wake up in the morning.
Again, try to maintain consistency.
If your usual schedule leads to late dinners, consider batch cooking and healthy meal planning. Cutting down on the time it takes to put dinner on the table can make a significant difference in your fasting and feeding schedule.
Of course, there may be special events that lead to later dinners. But, that should be the exception. For those days, you can adjust your feasting time. Then, go back to your normal schedule.
#3 BUSIEST TIME OF THE DAY
Another factor to consider is the busiest time of the day for you. If your busy time is in the morning, then you’re in luck! When I’m really busy, I’m too focused on the task at hand to think about food. Does the same happen to you? Hunger is mental most times. That’s the reason we don’t think of food when we’re distracted.
Pairing your fasts with the time of day when you’re most distracted is another method of making them easier to handle. This comes in handy if you have a hard time adjusting at the beginning.
Remember, you can also drink non-caloric or high-fat (bulletproof) coffee or tea during your fast. And definitely, you should hydrate, hydrate, hydrate while you fast. Drinking water, plus tea or coffee, helps curb your appetite during fasting periods.
So, take a look at your schedule, and analyze it to see what hours seem the easiest for you to fast. I also suggest downloading the workbook below to come up with your schedule. You’ll get a big picture look and have a visual representation of what your fast and feasting periods will look like. You’ll also receive weekly email updates with resources to help you with your IF protocol.
WHAT IF I CAN’T GO THAT LONG WITH A FAST?
Let’s say you decide to follow the 16:8 protocol, but you’ve been used to eating every 2 – 4 hours. This is common because we’ve been told for years that eating every 2 – 4 hours keeps our bodies from going into starvation mode. I get it, I’ve been there.
First of all, the whole idea of starvation mode is true. But, it pertains to your body burning fewer calories when you reduce caloric intake over the long term. Your body is not going to hold on to fat because you let more than a few hours go by without eating. In fact, the opposite happens. By fasting, you allow your body to access and use stored fat for energy.
So, try to ease yourself into it. Start with a 12-hour fast that begins after your last meal and ends when you wake up. Maybe all you’re doing here is replacing an evening snack with decaf tea or coffee.
As your body adjusts, you can extend the fasting period until you reach 16 hours. When you’re accustomed to fasting 16 hours, feel free to extend the fast further. This is only if you want to, it’s not necessary.
My point is that you will benefit more from starting small and being consistent, than from going full throttle and failing to follow through.
Following Intermittent Fasting is a very personal decision. If you decide to start IF, consult with your doctor to ensure it’s right for you. This is even more important if you have a medical condition, an eating disorder, or take medications that may be affected by IF.
Personally, IF has been excellent for me. Not only has it helped me lose weight, but it has also helped reduce my sugar cravings. There’s just something about starting my day with tea and water that sets me up for better eating decisions throughout the remainder of the day.
The Intermittent Fasting protocol you choose to follow is a personal decision too. If a 16-hour fast is too difficult to accomplish, start with a shorter fasting period. Move up as your body adjusts.
Ultimately, weight loss is not the only positive effect you’ll get from IF. In fact, I would say that effects such as mental clarity, heart health, and increased human growth hormone are even more important in the long term.
Read How Intermittent fasting Helped Me Lose 23 Pounds and What to Eat During Intermittent Fasting to Lose Weight to learn more about Intermittent Fasting.
Comment below and let me know what IF regimen works best for you.