What Is The Best Way To Manage Hunger While Fasting?
IF Insider No. 26
In this issue, we answer a really common question that people who are just beginning an intermittent fasting practice (and occasionally more experienced ones) often ask: “What is the best way to manage my hunger when I am fasting?”
And of course, we’re bringing you news on what we’re currently reading or watching. For our premium subscribers, in this issue’s Research Spotlight we are going to take a deeper look at the latest research that shows the positive effects of intermittent fasting on the growth of new brain cells.
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What Is The Best Way To Manage Hunger While Fasting?
In our last IF Insider (IF Insider No. 25) we looked at the question: “What should I think about studies that say intermittent fasting does not work?” In each and every issue we cover one specific intermittent fasting topic as well as highlight what we are reading, watching, and studying.
So let’s address today’s question:
“I get really hungry when I am fasting, sometimes to the point where I am really tempted to break my fast. What is the best way to manage my hunger while I am fasting?”
First of all, when someone asks what is the “best” way to do anything, ranging from managing hunger during IF or meal planning for the week, most of the time, there is no one hard and fast way that will work for everyone. We are all individuals, and as much as Western medicine and science would like to group us all into one homogeneous pile, that’s not the way things really are.
What works for one person in terms of quelling hunger during IF may not work for you. To begin with, it’s important to try to figure out why you are getting hungry during your fasting time. Then you can implement a fix. So, let’s discuss the reasons you may be experiencing hunger and then talk about the strategies that are available to you.
The reasons for hunger during fasting usually fall into one of five reasons:
One - You are new to fasting and have not yet become fat adapted.
Fat-adaptation is a process that takes from a couple to 4 to 6 weeks or more, depending on the person. What this means is your body is easily able to switch from using carbs for fuel while eating to burning fat when you fast. When this happens, fasting becomes easy, you don’t feel hungry and have energy, focus, and mental clarity.
Before fat-adaptation, you may get really hungry when you fast, feel irritable, have a low-grade headache, because you are not easily able to switch to fat-burning and your body will try to convince you that you are starving!
The key to this is to keep on fasting and eventually, you will breakthrough. If you ever feel sick, weak, or dizzy then you should stop fasting and eat. Begin again the next day with a shorter fasting time and work your way up. Never attempt dry fasting as hydration is critical.
Two - You are not eating enough calories in your feasting window.
This one takes a bit to figure out as your hunger and satiety (fullness) hormones take time to get reset. Also, as many people begin IF in order to lose weight, they are very reluctant to abandon the old calorie restriction model that they have implemented in the past.
Although we don’t routinely advocate counting calories while you are doing IF, if you are experiencing intense hunger during your fasting time, it can be helpful to check your calorie intake for a few days to see what you are consuming. Many people are surprised to find their calorie intake is too low, which explains their hunger.
If you continue IF with a low-calorie intake, over time you risk lowering your metabolism and getting into that downward spiral of having to eat less and less food in order to maintain weight loss.
Three - You are eating too many refined/processed carbohydrates.
Consumption of a diet too high in refined or processed carbs results in a big uptick in your blood sugar as you start to digest these. In response, your pancreas pours out insulin to drive the glucose into your cells and you get a post-meal dip in your blood sugar levels. This can cause a feeling of intense and uncomfortable hunger.
Balance your diet with more high-quality carbs, healthy fats, and protein that come from fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains, plus fish or small portions of lean meat if you eat meat.
Four - You are attempting to fast too many hours.
IF is a way of life, not a quick fix, and not a diet! The most important thing to remember is that IF is not a contest to see how long you can fast. Most people begin with 16:8 which is sixteen hours of fasting, including sleep, and an eight-hour window in which they can eat.
After they have become fat adapted (see No. One above), they gradually increase their fasting hours until they reach their “sweet spot” which for most individuals is somewhere around 18 or 19 hours, although some people very successfully remain at 16:8 while others go longer.
Five - You are not getting enough sleep.
Lack of sleep directly affects your appetite and can cause your hunger hormones to go into overdrive. When you are sleep deprived, your body’s levels of ghrelin (the hunger hormone) increase, and levels of leptin (the fullness hormone) decrease. When this happens, not only do you experience hunger, your body has difficulty recognizing that you have had enough to eat.
Hunger Handling Tips
When you experience hunger, drinking a glass of ice water or having some black coffee (hot coffee or cold brew) or tea often helps. Also, most people who do IF keep pink salt (available at most supermarkets) on hand. A few grains of pink salt dissolved on your tongue followed by a glass of water will help immensely if you get hunger pangs.
It’s important to remember that all of us, experienced fasters included, will occasionally experience hunger during our fasts. One thing to keep in mind is this: for the majority of those of us in the Western world, hunger is not an emergency and will pass. Hunger tends to come in waves and does not build and build.
Of course, if you become so hungry that you get light-headed or dizzy, experience nausea, or have a headache that won’t go away, then, by all means, break your fast and eat something. Then simply begin again the next day.
Once your IF practice is fine-tuned, that is you have your “sweet spot” in terms of the number of hours you fast, you are eating a balanced diet, staying hydrated, and getting adequate sleep, hunger during fasting should not be a major problem.
Why It Matters
Once you get over our modern culturally ingrained idea that whenever you experience the slightest feeling of hunger, you must immediately eat, you will step into a world of freedom you didn’t know existed.
“Hunger is the best sauce in the world!”
~ Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547 - 1616) was a Spanish writer who is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the Spanish language. He is best known for his novel Don Quixote.
If you have questions about fasting and hunger, please post them in the comments. We’d love to have a conversation with you.
What We Are Reading 📚
With each issue, we bring you a short blurb on what we are currently reading or watching, including books, articles, podcasts, videos, movies, and research papers of value.
Denise - In the last edition of the IF Insider I mentioned that I was reading a book about The Blue Zones. I’m still exploring the Blue Zones lifestyle and in particular the longevity of Sardinians. This article shares many of the foods, centenarians in Sardinia eat nearly every day. I’ve added fava beans to my diet and lately, I’m doing an at-home tasting of Cannonau wines.
Cannonau di Sardinia is a red wine made from the Grenache grape, which grows especially thick-skinned on this island. This is thought to increase the antioxidant benefits of the red wine, perhaps making it one of the healthiest red wines.
Ellen - As someone who loves to cook, it probably comes as no surprise that I also love to read about food. But I also love reading about innovative chefs as well. One of my adolescent fascinations was with the legendary American food writer M.F.K. Fisher (1908 - 1992) and her book How to Cook a Wolf, which was published at the height of WWII food shortages and catapulted her to fame.
Currently, I’m reading Adam Federman’s book Fasting and Feasting: The Life of Visionary Food Writer Patience Gray.
Corby Kummer, senior editor of The Atlantic and author of The Pleasures of Slow Food, has this to say about the book:
“Patience Gray cast a spell over everyone she met, with her smoke-husky voice, darting observations and bottomless erudition. In this marvelously well-researched biography, Adam Federman gives us sorceress and scholar: the post-war London artistic Bohemia that shaped her and that she, with her stubborn unconventionality in a notably unconventional milieu, helped shape. Only the remote southern Mediterranean was wild enough for her own imagination and curiosity to soar — and her meticulously observed and researched descriptions of its food and life still have the enchanting force Federman makes us feel.”
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