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Getting Started Intermittent Fasting: Guide For Beginners And Progressing From There

So you’re thinking about getting started intermittent fasting.  Now what?

I hope you’re as sick of all this Intermittent Fasting (affectionately called IF for the remainder of this post) talk as I am.  My hope is that you will take this information and run with it.  Do your own research.  There are serious health benefits to getting started intermittent fasting.  With longer term fasting, studies have shown that the human body really thrives and longevity increases.  (which is way beyond the scope of this series of articles)

If you didn’t read them, I’d highly recommend you go back and read the first 2 articles in this series first, especially Part 1 where I discussed who should and who should not consider IF.  In Part 2 I discussed how IF is the most efficient way to both burn fat and build lean muscle mass simultaneously.

In this final article in the series I’m going to cover the basics of getting started, what to expect in terms of how you’ll feel, what to look out for and finally progressing to longer fasts, eating only 2 or even 1 meal a day.  There’s a lot to cover so buckle up – this article WILL be long – but well worth the read!  If you want a downloadable PDF version to have for reference click here–> PDF Download.  So without further ado, let’s start with 3 basics that will help you on your first day:

  1. Get rid of the crap – don’t allow temptation to ruin your efforts before you get started.  I’m talking about processed food, sweets, ice cream, cookies, pastries, etc.  You know what I mean by this.
  2. Get food off your countertops – baskets of fruit, jars of nuts, even healthy foods like these should be out of sight when you are first getting started until you’ve become adapted to using fat for energy.
  3. Plan out your day of eating – The more intentional you are with planning and preparing your meals ahead of time the better.  I’ll get into more detail on this later in the article.

Beginners – Start With 3 Meals A Day

Please avoid all the sarcastic thoughts that just flooded into your mind and hear me out for a second.  “Wow, 3 meals a day, how revolutionary!”  It might not sound very hard but for some people it’s a big deal to just eat 3 meals with no snacking in between.  Especially when you’ve been programmed to eat lots of small meals throughout the day to “keep your metabolism revved up”. (aka, keep your insulin levels high all day and force yourself to get hungry every 2-3 hours in the process.)  Do this for 2-3 days and see how you feel.  If you’re feeling good, move on to the next step.

Start Pushing Your Breakfast Time Back Later in the Morning

Simple enough.  For a lot people this is actually pretty easy because a lot of people skip breakfast anyway.  Do this for the next several days until you start getting close to hitting a full 16 hour fast.  It will look different depending on when you had your last meal the night before.  I find it pretty easy to have an early dinner around 6pm which puts you at a full 16 hour fast at 10:00am the next morning.

Note: 16 hours is the minimum amount of time to start seeing benefit and even then, it’s not a hard and fast rule.  Your body has no idea it’s been 16 hours.  What you want is elevated HGH, depleted glycogen stores and increased insulin sensitivity which, typically, at least 16 hours will do.

Things To Look Out For At This Point

Once you start getting to where you’re not eating breakfast and getting to the 14 -16 hour mark (more like 12 – 14 for ladies) without eating, you may experience pretty extreme bouts of hunger and your first 1-3 days of this you may experience some symptoms of low blood sugar because your body is used to primarily running on glucose and is also used to NEVER going without food.  Think about that for a moment and let it sink in for perspective.  If you’ve never intentionally gone without eating for an extended period of time in your life your body’s going to notice.

Some of the symptoms of low blood sugar are:

  • Light headedness or headache
  • Hunger (duh! – trust me, it passes – try to ignore it or distract yourself)
  • Cravings for sweets
  • Grouchy/Irritable
  • Lethargy/Fatigue
  • Brain Fog
  • Cold fingers and toes (while fasting only – if this happens when you’re not fasting, stop fasting altogether)

Low blood sugar symptoms are totally normal. There’s no cause for alarm.

That said, listen to your body.  If things are proving more difficult than their perceived worth, you’re probably right.  Back off a bit.  Add another meal.  Add more fat.  Drink some bone broth or just make sure to add some electrolytes back into the mix to help speed up the healing of that insulin dysfunction.  You can also add in extra potassium and B-Vitamins to help speed this up as well.  Also of note, sometimes hunger can be avoided by just staying hydrated AND making sure you’re adding adequate amounts of electrolytes.

Recommended Daily Fasting Drink and Other Fasting Approved Beverages

Speaking of adding electrolytes back in, let’s discuss a few things you can do to help mitigate some of the difficulty with beginning to fast (or the day after enjoying traditional German brats, English Toffee and Gelato like I did last Friday in Leavenworth!)

  • Morning Fasting Hydration Drink – Filtered water, 1 tbsp lemon or lime juice, 2 tbsp Raw Apple Cider Vinegar, 1/8-1/4 tsp of Himalayan Salt (or some other type of mineral rich salt), 1 tsp cinnamon (optional to help regulate blood sugar)
  • Coffee – there’s plenty of debate as to whether it’s ok or not to add 1 tbsp of heavy cream or not.  I just stick with black coffee because I find I don’t get as hungry when I do.
  • Tea – same as above with the whole heavy cream debate – technically it breaks the fast.

Outside of those 3 things, just suffice to say that it’s probably not a good idea.  I can’t emphasize enough the importance of properly hydrating while fasting and how important it is to add a high quality, mineral rich salt to your water.  If you’re drinking filtered water (which you should be) most of the time the filters remove all the junk as well as most, if not all, of the minerals in the water as well.  Adding the salt with also help with any fatigue.  I’d recommend the coffee or tea mid-morning or somewhere strategic during your fast to help mitigate hunger, especially at first.

Breaking Your Fast – 5 Basic Principles

Once you are ready to eat there’s a few basic principles you’ll want to keep in mind to boost your efforts and maintain success.  These are in no particular order but all very important:

  1. 3-6oz of Protein per mealDO NOT overdo the protein, you don’t need as much as you think you do anyway even if you’re trying to build lean mass.  Eat fattier cuts of meat (hamburger vs. sirloin) to keep you satiated between meals and to assist in keto adaptation.
  2. Eat enough calories – IF is NOT a low calorie diet!  Over time, as you progress with IF, your caloric needs will probably decrease a bit but overall, you’re not restricting calories.  That can wreak havoc on your thyroid.  You should still be eating the same amount of calories as you normally would, you’re just eating them within a specific window of time during the day.
  3. Eat 7-10 cups of salad or veggies – Your body needs a minimum of 4700mg of potassium every day not to mention all the other vitamins and minerals necessary for health.  7-10 cups of salad and/or veggies will help meet your potassium needs.  It will also help to clean out all the waste going through the liver.  Lots of detoxing going on!
  4. The rest of what you eat should be fat – Make sure after your 3-6oz of protein and 2-4 cups of salad or veggies at each meal that the rest of what you consume is fat.  This can be from fattier cuts of meat as mentioned above, avocados, olive oil, pastured lard, grass fed butter, cheese, eggs, nuts, coconut oil, etc.  Highest quality possible!
  5. Don’t over eat when breaking your fast – I’m definitely guilty of this one.  I’d eat a TON of food super fast.  If you eat too fast your body doesn’t have time to respond with the hormones telling you that you’re full.  Eat a good sized meal and then wait 10 minutes.  If you’re still starving, eat a little more until you feel full and then stop.  You should be more sensitive to your satiating hormones at this point so waiting the 10 minutes can really help.

Note: Keep fruit intake to a minimum when breaking your fast UNLESS you threw in some high intensity exercise during your fast, preferably an hour or two before breaking it.  If you didn’t workout, I’d recommend saving your fruit intake for your 2nd or 3rd meal of the day.

18-23 Hour IF, Getting Down to 2 or 1 Meals a Day, Autophagy & Beyond 24 Hour Fasting

As you progress, ideally, you’ll get to where you’re only eating 2 meals a day.  Possibly even 1 if you’re really serious about longevity and anti-aging.  I personally do 2 meals a day with an 18 hour fast and a 6 hour eating window.  That’s the sweet spot for me.  But I can’t recommend enough to do what feels best for you and your specific biology.

One thing of note I wanted to make sure and mention.  After 18-23 hours of fasting your body will start a process called autophagy.  This is probably THE greatest benefit of IF in my opinion.  Autophagy is where your body cleans up and recycles old cells, bacteria, fungus, candida and mold.  It’s also extremely neuroprotective, leads to better mood, increased memory, cognitive and cardiovascular function!  This is where the “anti-aging” portion of IF (and fasting as a whole) comes from.  So as you begin to get more experienced with your fasting protocols, keep this in mind.  A lot of people ascribe an almost “super human” component to fasting and autophagy is what’s behind it.

Beyond 24 hour fasting is something you’ll have to research on your own but I would highly recommend it!  For example, after 3 days of water only fasting your body will literally completely reset it’s own immune system.  Pretty amazing stuff!!  I would highly recommend Dr. Jason Fung for further research.

Some Final Notes and Wrapping Up

We’ve covered a lot of ground here and I’ve thrown a lot of info at you.  Again, for your convenience, I’ve created a downloadable PDF version of this post if you want a hard copy for reference.  I’ll update the article as needed with the latest research.  I’ll make sure it’s as up to date as possible.

One last note for if you have a wild cheat day.  Just know that the blood sugar spikes from that will cause feelings of hunger to significantly increase the next day.  Just until you get back on track with your insulin.  I think that’s about it!  I’d love to hear about your experience if you give it a try in the comments!  Or just ask a question!  Make sure to download the PDF as a guide to reference along the way.

Next week we’re going to look at gut health and I’m going to do an overview of the many different diet protocols that are out there specifically to address some of the many microbiome based issues we see today.  Understanding gut health and the microbiome is incredibly foundational to achieving optimal health so you won’t want to miss it.