5 Common Intermittent Fasting Mistakes & Pitfalls
When we see videos about new or trendy diets, we’re tempted to immediately go home and try them – but it’s worth learning a bit more before you change up your entire eating routine. Not all diets work for everyone and can even be dangerous if you’re underinformed about how to execute them properly.
Curious about trying intermittent fasting? Here’s what you need to know before you jump in:
1 Fasting ≠ Starvation
Intermittent fasting (IF) is NOT about eating as little or as infrequently as possible. While there are some fat-burning benefits associated with fasting, it does not mean that eating less = healthy weight loss. In fact, not getting enough calories during the day can actually trigger your body into starvation mode and cause you to gain weight.1 Accidental dehydration2 is also a big risk for those who are new to intermittent fasting. “Carbohydrates hold onto water, so if you begin to lose your carbohydrate stores (a good thing!) and you’re not eating more, you’ll be dehydrated – which will cause you to feel more hungry, feel tired, and be less efficient at burning fat,” explained performance nutrition educator Sanjeev Javia. “So, drink up!”
2 Time is everything
Making the switch to intermittent fasting can be a difficult adjustment for your body, since you’re probably used to eating meals at specific times(not to mention snacks). Initially, you may feel more tired, lightheaded, or experience digestive discomfort – all normal symptoms associated with fasting.2 You may even experience withdrawal-like symptoms, especially if you need to change the timing of your daily coffee run. You may be able to mitigate these symptoms by starting with a shorter fasting window or easing more gradually into fasting. Cravings and binge eating3 are also major pitfalls to watch out for, as you will be initially tempted to eat anything and everything at the end of each fast. You’ll need to harness your self-control; if you don’t, you’ll only gain weight and have to repeat the same uncomfortable process to readjust to the new eating schedule.
3 nutrients support metabolic magic
Another big pitfall of intermittent fasting is poor diet. Even if you aren’t starving yourself or eating fast food every day, it can be easy to write off intermittent fasting as the perfect weight loss solution for any diet – even an unhealthy, nutrient-deficient one – because of how the process helps convert fat into energy.4 But, as we learned from Dr. Wallach, intermittent fasting can only work its metabolic magic with the right nutrients onboard. He explained during a radio show that when you’re missing the right nutrients, your body will keep thinking it’s hungry.5 “Your body keeps telling you to eat when you’re missing these nutrients; [if] you take the nutrients [the supplements], your body stops telling you to eat.” In other words, the cravings may never go away unless you also fix what you eat. Malnutrition is never good for your body, so make sure you’re eating a balanced diet and taking your supplements to stay strong as you transition into this new eating schedule.
4 Don’t Force It!
Intermittent fasting isn’t a one-size-fits-all diet. Just because your friend, or even another family member, fasts for days at a time and feels fantastic doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for you. While both alternate-day fasting (ADF) and time-restricted feeding (TRF) are both great ways to practice intermittent fasting,6 TRF may prove easier for beginners. According to Javia, easing into IF slowly is key: “Going from 16 hours to eight hours can be a shock to the system… You start off well, then have a few bad days, then do well, then more bad days. IF works when you are very consistent, so start slow, then gradually get more aggressive.” Likewise, those who exercise rigorously during the week may choose to fast differently than those who are more sedentary to ensure they have plenty of calories/electrolytes in reserve for their workouts. After all, the body will break down muscles into energy if it doesn’t have enough other carbohydrates and protein to pull from.7
Most importantly, if you are pregnant, taking medications, or have another health condition, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional before diving into a fasting routine. Certain people – especially children, the elderly, and those with a history of eating disorders – need to approach intermittent fasting with extra caution, or avoid it entirely.1
5 Be Kind to Yourself
Last but not least, you’ll need to have some patience with yourself as you explore this new eating pattern. It will take time to get used to fasting and not all days will be smooth sailing. You may not see results immediately if you’re trying to lose weight, but there are always new solutions to explore. You may even need to take a break from fasting when life throws you a curveball, and that’s okay too. Your health is the most important thing; as long as you prioritize self-care and keep providing your body with good nutrients as often as you can, anything else is just an added bonus!