When I started on my journey towards eating more healthfully this year, something I started to practice without much thought is to stop eating after dinner and then not eat again until I got to work in the morning. Prior to this, I would often snack (and binge, tbh) after dinner on sweets or chips, when I wasn’t truly hungry.
I didn’t realize until recently that the way of eating I had adopted is actually a form of intermittent fasting (read more about intermittent fasting here). There are many different types of intermittent fasting, but the one I follow is very simple –I go about 13-14 hours without eating, and this includes the time I’m asleep at night. There are numerous health benefits to doing this, including giving your body the energy to focus on restoration instead of digesting food that sits in your stomach all night – read more here and here and listen to this episode of The Skinny Confidential podcast.
I don’t recommend or condone any other types of intermittent fasting such as plans where you eat normally one day and then strictly limit the next. Just like with exercise, doing something that is sustainable is much more important than doing something that gives “fast results.” This article recommends starting with a 12:12 plan and then moving to a 16:8 plan, but I can’t skip breakfast, so it’s not for me – again, do what works for your lifestyle (for example, I eat a little earlier in the morning on weekends because it fits better with our family’s schedule).
I never consciously decided to intermittently fast – it just kind of happened to be a good fit for my lifestyle and schedule. We have dinner as a family at around 6 p.m. (including dessert!) and after this, I don’t eat again until about 8:45 a.m., when I have breakfast and coffee at work. During my “waking hours” I eat regularly, including three full meals and snacks. Then, I stop eating after dinner, where that mindless “I’m not really hungry” snacking can happen.
The caveat here is that I believe in intuitive eating, so if I feel genuinely hungry after dinner or a workout, I will have a snack, but this is rare because I’m eating filling meals and focusing on eating a lot of fiber and protein. Because I’m no longer dealing with sugar crashes and spikes, I feel I’m able to better recognize when I’m truly hungry and when I’m just bored or “feel like eating” (and this is OK sometimes too – I have a very 80/20 philosophy).
Intermittent fasting isn’t a free pass to eat anything you want all day, as long as you don’t eat for a certain set of hours. You still have to consume a balanced diet and make good choices and not go over your ideal caloric intake for the day (consult with your doctor or a registered dietician if you are uncertain of how many calories you should be eating). I find counting calories to be a little overwhelming, personally, so I just focus on eating lean protein, veggies and fiber and limit processed foods and added sugars.
Cutting extra sugar out of my diet was a huge step in regulating my appetite and not having the crashes I was experiencing – you can read about ways to cut added sugar out of your diet, here. I still eat sweets every single day (whether it’s my favorite raspberry chocolate, Trader Joe’s “gone bananas” bites or Halo top) I just watch my portions and this has been a happy medium for me. Depriving yourself of foods you love is no way to live.
Here is what a typical day of eating looks like for me:
BREAKFAST (8:45 or 9 a.m.)
2 or 3 GG crackers with Trader Joe’s peanut butter with chia and flax seeds (these have extra fiber) and one Nespresso latte made with Silk or Trader Joe’s brand unsweetened vanilla almond milk and cinnamon powder. Note: I always used to have a mid-morning snack before lunch, but since I started focusing on eating fiber and protein at every meal, I feel truly satisfied until lunch time.
LUNCH (Noon or 1 p.m.)
Two chicken breasts (I like them on the thinner side because they’re easier to cut through) and a mix of sautéed veggies cooked in olive oil (this usually includes red and yellow bell pepper, cauliflower, broccoli, snap peas and/or asparagus and zucchini). I eat a ton of veggies with my lunch to stay full.
After lunch I drink another Nespresso latte made with Silk or Trader Joe’s brand unsweetened vanilla almond milk and cinnamon powder. I add the cinnamon powder directly to the Nespresso milk frother so that it gets steamed into the milk – it’s delicious! I do not use any kind of sweetner or sugar in my coffee.
SNACK (Around 3 p.m.)
A handful of almonds or an apple. Occasionally I will have Trader Joe’s plantain chips or Boom Chick Pop popcorn if I’m wanting something salty.
DINNER (6 p.m.)
I often have a large salad for dinner – my favorite is a huge bowl of arugula lettuce with sliced chicken breast and blueberries, raspberries or strawberries. I use a homemade dressing that is a mix of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and honey. Other favorite dinners are turkey meatballs with tomato sauce over zoodles. Most of my dinners are protein and veggie based (I don’t usually have bread or pasta at dinner time unless I’m eating at a restaurant). If you’re going the salad route, make sure you are really doing a dinner-sized salad – I use a really large bowl to ensure I’m packing in enough calories to keep me satisfied – and always add protein.
After dinner I always have either my favorite dark chocolate raspberry bar (usually 3-5 squares) or a serving of Trader Joe’s gone bananas bites (so good!) I love sweets (they’re my weakness) and allowing myself to have some daily helps me stay on track. I try not to eat sweets during the work day, but if it’s someone’s birthday or we get a cookie delivery, of course I partake – I just watch the portion and only eat something if I truly want it.
If you’d like to try intermittent fasting, you can start off with 12 hours (ex: 7 p.m.- 7 a.m.) but I recommend doing whatever works for your day-to-day schedule to give you a higher chance at succeeding. If you’d like to read some more articles with both pros and cons/risks of IF, visit here, here, here, here, here and here. I think the takeaway here is that intermittent fasting comes in many formats and that you should consult your doctor about what might be the right fit for you and your lifestyle.
Disclaimer: this post is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your physician regarding any changes to your diet or supplements.