Intermittent fasting is a cycle of fasting and feasting.
You eat, then stop. Eat, then stop.
There are many different approaches, but the most common is to simply compress your eating window (typically 14-16 hours of fasting followed by 8-10 hours of feasting).
When I tell people about the benefits I’ve experienced from intermittent fasting, their interest usually peaks…
…until the point where the realization hits:
You actually have to stop eating for a period of time.
“If I don’t eat breakfast I can’t function.”
“But I don’t deal well with hunger.”
The hunger truly can be hard to deal with in the beginning, but your body is intelligent. It adapts. And there are ways to make the adjustment period easier.
Here are some of the methods I’ve found helpful for dealing with hunger during intermittent fasting (and the science that backs them up).
Get the Mindset Right and You’ve Already Won
This one’s simple: start enjoying the feeling of hunger.
Just like bodybuilders treat post-workout muscle soreness as a sign of progress, start to associate the feeling of hunger with achieving your goals.
As you pay attention to it, you’ll notice it will subside slowly with each day of intermittent fasting.
Some other things that can help include:
- Understanding the difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger.
- Practicing mindful eating.
- Focus. Become completely immersed in what you’re doing (boredom or lack of focus often leads to mindless eating).
- Getting rid of temptations. If there’s a Snickers bar within arms length, you’re eventually going to cave in and eat it. Don’t let yourself be tempted. Keep only healthy foods in the house.
- Studying the benefits. Like most things worth doing, the benefits of fasting go unseen in the beginning. It requires blind belief. Reminding yourself of the proven benefits of intermittent fasting can help make you more confident in the process.
Speaking of which, what are those anyway?
The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Excluding any of the mental (or spiritual) benefits, fasting helps:
- Normalize insulin sensitivity
- Promote the production of HGH (human growth hormone)
- Regulate ghrelin levels and leptin levels
- Decrease triglyceride levels
- Reduce oxidative damage and inflammation
(…and lots more)
By under-eating during the day feasting at night, most people also find that they take in significantly fewer calories during the day.
All it takes is pushing back your first meal, and there are some methods you use do to make that easier.
What the Science Says: Tips for Dealing With Hunger During Intermittent Fasting
1. Fill up your mug. Drinking unsweetened, calorie-free caffeinated beverages like yerba mate, black coffee (or americanos), black tea or green tea can decrease hunger, aid with fat loss and help you fast for longer.
2. Drink sparkling water. Drinking plain water (cold, hot, room temperature or however you like it) helps curb appetite when fasting, but carbonated water may be even more beneficial. Keep a few bottles of Perrier, San Pellegrino or your favorite sparkling water handy during your fasting periods to ward off hunger pangs.
3. Supplement with spirulina. Spirulina can help to suppress appetite when taken as a daily supplement. It contains phenylalanine, which is associated with reduced food intake in humans. Be aware that spirulina does contain calories, so it’s best to wait until after your fasting period before ingesting it, but you can take it at the end of your fasting period to extend the time window before your first meal. I travel with it wherever I go.
4. Exercise. Ever notice how you don’t feel like eating when you’re exercising? When you start to feel hungry, go for a run, walk, or go to the gym. You buy yourself more time. Studies show that exercise decreases appetite by affecting hormones that cause us to feel hungry.
5. Try psyllium husk. Psyllium husk is a soluble fiber supplement that can help you adjust to intermittent fasting. Try adding a tablespoon to your water to help decrease your appetite. It can help fill up your stomach with next to no calories.
6. Chew sugarless gum. Studies have shown that chewing gum can help decrease hunger, appetite and cravings for snacks. Keep a few packs handy and ward off the hunger pangs.
7. Switch up your schedule. If you’re having trouble sticking to long periods of fasting, try mixing things up. Instead of delaying your first meal, eat earlier in the day. This study proved that for some, a form of intermittent fasting called “early time-restricted feeding” has great benefits. This eating pattern allows you to eat from the time wake up for 8/10, a form of eating that is said to be more in sync with our circadian rhythm.
Other Touted Methods for Warding Off Hunger
There’s debate between practitioners whether or not consuming a few calories during the fasting period breaks the fast. But if you’re having issues sticking to a pure fasting regimen, you may wish to consider some of these alternative methods:
- Consume healthy fats. Purists argue that consuming even a single calorie breaks the fast. But if it’s the weight loss benefits you’re after and you’re having hunger issues, you might consider consuming healthy fats during your fasting window. By doing so, you’re keeping yourself in another fat-burning state called ketosis and can help extend your intermittent fast a few extra hours. Try butter, coconut oil or Bulletproof Coffee.
- Drink bone broth. Like healthy fats, bone broth might technically break the fast but may still but allow for many of the benefits to occur. It contains a number of healthy minerals and vitamins, and can help fill you up and reduce hunger pangs.
- Take a shot of apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar has anti-fungal properties and is a great way to naturally increase your stomach acid and improve digestion. It’s also been shown to help reduce appetite. Though it also contains small number of calories, you could use vinegar or any of the above to extend the time before your first meal.
- Eat salt. Many in the fitness community are proponents of adding a pinch of salt to their water (or coffee) to help fight off hunger. Though I couldn’t find any evidence as to why this may be effective, it’s clearly a popular technique and may be worth a try.
- Brush your teeth or use mouthwash. It’s unclear if this works due to a placebo effect or whether it actually triggers some feedback mechanism, but many swear by it online. At the very least, the minty taste makes your food taste bad and that alone might make you less likely to want to eat.
Tips for Mentally Beating Hunger
Boredom is the enemy when intermittent fasting. When we’re bored, we tend to reach for food as a way to entertain ourselves.
If you can find ways to keep yourself occupied and amused, you’ll be less likely to turn to food for entertainment and less likely to dwell on and exaggerate the feeling of hunger. Some ideas include:
• Taking a walk or going for a run
• Playing games or doing puzzles
• Watching your favorite movie or TV show
• Reading a book or article
• Chatting with friends or family members
• Doing something creative (graphic design, painting, knitting–whatever floats your boat)
Whatever you’re doing, immerse yourself fully in it.
A highly correlated skill is meditation. When you meditate, you’re not only training your mind to focus and be calm, but you’re also teaching yourself how to better understand the signals your body sends you.
Hunger is often created by stress, anxiety, or boredom, so when you learn how to deal with these emotions in a healthy way, you’ll find that your hunger will lessen as well. Meditation allows you to get in touch with what’s going on inside and teaches you how to listen to your body’s needs. Over time, this can help you become more mindful of the foods you eat, help prevent emotional eating, increase your ability to focus for longer, and ultimately allow you to go without food for longer.
Your body is designed to be able to go weeks without food.
The key to overcoming hunger with intermittent fasting is to stop obsessing over your eating patterns. Your body doesn’t think in days or meals. It thinks in calories.
Once your body adjusts to your new eating schedule, cravings and hunger pangs will start to subside.
Wondering how to start? It’s simple.
Skip breakfast and delay your first meal as long as you can into the day. If you ate your last meal at 10 pm the night before and are able to and wait until noon the following day to eat your first meal, that’s already 14 hours of fasting.
Utilize these techniques for warding off hunger and you’ll become a zen master in no time. Soon, 16 hours will feel like a breeze.
What helps you ward off hunger when intermittent fasting?
Reminder: Before you start a fasting regimen, it’s important to talk to your doctor. Many factors need to be taken into consideration, including your diet and current medical condition. Always check with a trained professional.