One of the biggest crazes to sweep the fitness and nutrition spheres the past couple of years is intermittent fasting.
Proponents of the eating protocol claim it helps everything from weight loss to muscle growth (“lean gains”) to longevity.
While some of the benefits may be a bit more embellished than others, the reality is that limiting the eating window during the day is a very effective tool for helping many individuals control their calorie intake -- which ultimately helps them stick to their diet, lose weight, and get results during a transformation challenge.
If your interest has been piqued by intermittent fasting, and you’re thinking of giving it the old college try.
Here are 6 common mistakes to avoid when intermittent fasting.
6 Intermittent Fasting Mistakes to Avoid
#1 Fasting Too Aggressively
The #1 reason most diets fail is that they are too extreme compared to what an individual is used to doing.
Instituting such a massive overhaul of one’s diet and lifestyle may work for a select few individuals, but for the mass majority of folks, it’s a recipe for disaster.
When dieting for fat loss, individuals commonly adopt such extreme diets as keto, carnivore, or paleo, and while they might be able to stick to it for a few weeks, they ultimately return to their previous habits, and in doing so undo all of their hard work.
This is because the diet wasn’t practical or sustainable.
Applying this extreme protocol to intermittent fasting, if you’re someone who has typically eating every 3-4 hours from the time you wake up until the time you go to sleep, it can be daunting and downright disheartening to jump straight into a 16/8 or 20/4 fasting/feeding protocol.
If you want to give intermittent fasting a try, make it a transition to the new way of eating, not an about face.
So, if you’re used to eating every 3-4 hours, start by doing a 12 hour fast and 12 hour feeding window and then gradually increase the length of your fast until you reach the 16/8 or 20/4 window.
#2 Choosing the Wrong Fasting Window
Building off the previous point, the reason most diets fail is that they are unsustainable. Conversely, that means that the main factor that dictates a diet’s success is adherence.
If you choose a diet that you cannot adhere to, then you will not stick to it long term, ultimately not getting the results you want.
Many individuals who adopt intermittent fasting simply choose a feeding window that doesn’t fit their lifestyles.
For instance, if you are a night-owl, it doesn’t make much sense to have your feeding window end at 4PM or 5PM as this means you’ll still be awake for several more hours, yet not in a position to eat.
To make intermittent fasting more successful for your circumstances, structure your feeding and fasting windows to your lifestyle.
Using the previous example, if you’re a night-owl who goes to bed at 11PM each night, have your feeding window end around 10 or 11PM, which means it starts around 2-3PM in the afternoon (assuming you are following the typical 16/8 intermittent fasting protocol).
#3 Eating Too Much After Your Fast Ends
Going for long periods of time without eating will make you very, very hungry -- so hungry that you might end up overeating during your feeding window the first few days of experimenting with intermittent fasting.
Remember, at the end of the day, calories still reign supreme (despite what the fasting “gurus” will tell you).
What this means is that if your maintenance calories are 2000 calories per day, if you exceed this amount, no matter when you eat them, you will gain weight.
So, while you may be using intermittent fasting as a tool to help control your calorie intake by limiting how long you are “allowed” to eat each day, you still need to be cognizant of how many calories you are actually consuming during your feeding window.
#4 Drinking the Wrong Fluids
Beverages are “hidden” sources of calories in many individuals’ diets, regardless if they are practicing intermittent fasting or not.
During your fast, you are only allowed to consume beverages that contain zero (or virtually zero) calories.
This includes water, unsweetened black coffee, unsweetened tea, and diet soft drinks.
Drinking high-calorie beverages -- juices, smoothies, gourmet coffees, etc. -- can easily lead you to consume too many calories as well as unknowingly break your fast.
At the same time, make sure you are still taking in enough zero calorie liquids during the day (i.e. water) to stay properly hydrated.
Dehydration can lead to headaches, irritability, muscle cramps, fatigue, and hunger pangs.
So, make sure you’re always hydrating during your fasts and your feasts.
#5 Ignoring Food Quality
Another common misconception with intermittent fasting is that so long as you eat in your confined eating window, you can eat whatever you want.
That’s not really the case.
Sure, you can subsist on a diet of twinkies, ho-hos, and ding-dongs (and still lose weight if you’re in a calorie deficit), but the quality of the weight loss will not be great (meaning you’ll lose fat and muscle).
You also need to consider the implications your diet has on your overall health too. Aesthetics are great and all, but if your arteries are clogged full of sludge, it doesn’t really matter how great you look -- you won’t live long enough to enjoy your newfound physique.
So, as focused as you need to be on how many calories you eat each day, you should also focus on the composition of those calories -- what foods are you eating to reach your calorie and macronutrient goals.
Treats and indulgences can have their place in any healthy, well-rounded diet, but the foundation (i.e. majority) of your diet should consist of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats.
#6 Letting Your Diet Rule Your Life
Social engagements will come up while you’re intermittent fasting, forcing you to choose between breaking your fast prematurely or not going to the engagement at all because it doesn’t “fit” your fasting window.
While intermittent fasting can be an effective strategy to help you control your calorie intake, don’t let it become the epicenter of your life so much so that you can’t function normally if something comes up that doesn’t exactly fall into your eating window.
For example, let’s say it’s your mom’s birthday and she wants to have a family get-together to celebrate. Lunch is schedule for 12PM, but your eating window doesn’t start until 3PM.
Do you cancel on your mom?
No, not even close.
Do you show up to the party but sit awkwardly at the table telling everyone you can’t eat because you’re “fasting” for another 3 hours?
You could, but that’ll inevitably lead to some awkward family moments.
If you have a healthy relationship with food and understand that life happens sometimes, you’ll be ok opening up your feeding window a little earlier so that you can enjoy some meaningful moments with family, friends, and loved ones.
You can easily end your feeding window earlier on days when you’re forced to start it earlier, and you can go right back to your regular feeding/fasting windows the next day.
Fasting can be useful, but don’t let it rule your life.