One argument against intermittent fasting is that abstaining from food causes us to overeat when we again have the opportunity. While studies show this is not the case, overeating can be triggered by certain foods or stress.
Mindfulness and a healthy understanding of which foods are best for you during the eating window can help you get the most out of intermittent fasting. So what types of food should your intermittent fasting plan include and how can mindfulness and stress reduction help you make healthier decisions more often? Keep reading!
Mindfulness as the Cure to Overeating
When the fasting window has ended and you reach for that first bite of food, pay attention. Mindfulness helps you understand if you’re actually even hungry and can prevent you from eating too much. By listening to your body and what’s appropriate at the moment, you’ll be less likely to eat out of habit or convenience.
A systematic review of 14 scientific studies found that training in mindfulness meditation does, in fact, help decrease binge-eating behaviors. A consistent mindfulness practice, partnered with intermittent fasting, may help improve your weight loss results.
Whether or not you begin a formal meditation practice, mindfulness in action is no different from what behavioral psychologists refer to as behavioral modification.
To form new habits around what you eat, try the following mindfulness tricks for more intentional (and healthy) consumption:
- Always eat at the same place in your home. For example, sitting down at the kitchen table. Over time, you’ll think less about food when you’re not at the table.
- Avoid snacking until your full meal is laid out in front of you. Take a seat, and then take your time eating once everything has been served.
- Avoid multitasking while eating. Focus on the food, the pleasure of the taste, the texture or the smell. After a while, food won’t be on your mind when you’re doing the activities you used to combine with eating.
- Eat slowly. Put your fork down in between bites. Take time to drink water with your meal. Have a conversation if you’re not eating alone. The slower you eat, the more you give your body the chance to tell you when you’re full.
Mindfulness works, in part, through a process called “decentering.” This is the process of stepping outside yourself to witness your own behavior with self-awareness and perspective. Mindfulness allows you to not only deepen self-awareness when it comes to behaviors such as eating, but to deepen awareness of what drives those behaviors.
Are you eating because you are bored, emotional, lonely or seeking relief from stress in your food, or are you eating to fuel your body with healthy, nutritious meals?
Stress Reduction as the Cure to Mindless Snacking
Snacking, which is often mindless, is one example of how eating can get out of control when you’re not paying attention. Snacking is more often than not a result of boredom, stress or emotional eating, versus real hunger.
While healthy short-term responses to stress actually shut down your appetite by releasing epinephrine, a stress response adrenaline hormone, long-term stress does the opposite. Stress over time releases the hormone cortisol, which triggers eating. These days, it’s all too easy to remain in a state of long-term cortisol elevation, as stress accumulates and remains persistent.
Both mindfulness and exercise help discharge and release stress, preventing the hunger response from occurring. When you find yourself in a stressed-out state, mindfulness can prevent you from reaching for the worst of the “comfort foods.”
Studies suggest that when you are stressed, you’re far more likely to reach for food that’s high in sugars. Of course, stress also causes you to lose sleep, skip your workout and drink more, each of which contributes to even greater weight gain.
If you’re wondering how to deal with hunger while fasting, reducing the stress in your life is a good place to start.
Consume Balanced Nutrients While Fasting
What to eat while intermittent fasting is no different from what will keep you healthy during any other time. Yet while fasting, what you eat may be more even important. As your body becomes more sensitive to insulin (a good thing), the slump and hunger pains that follow a high sugar meal may become more pronounced.
Mindfulness can help you recognize these newfound sensitivities to food, and respond in an appropriate manner by avoiding what no longer suits your healthier body. What you can eat while fasting will change as you change.
If you’re eating balanced, nutritious meals that keep you feeling full and full of energy, you’re more likely to stay with your intermittent fasting plan for longer, and you’re more likely to lose weight.
Emphasizing proteins and healthy fats will keep you satiated longer, while a variety of vegetables will offer you all the nutrients your body needs, with no need to rely on supplements.
For best results, include the following in your diet while on an intermittent fasting plan:
- Healthy proteins include grass-fed organic meats such as beef and bison, organic pork, free-range chicken and wild-caught fish.
- Healthy fats include extra virgin olive oils, avocado and coconut oils, avocados, grass-fed butter and a variety of nuts.
- Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts are low-glycemic, yet high in fiber and will keep you feeling satiated. Equally good for you are dark leafy greens such as kale, spinach and arugula.
- Eat a variety of berries and fruits in their natural, whole food form. Avoid juices and shakes which pack far more sugar into a single serving than eating whole fruit in its natural form.
Drink plenty of water during both your fasting window and your eating window. It’s easier than you think to confuse dehydration with hunger, and a state of thirst can cause us to reach for excess calories in the form of sugary drinks. Conversely, staying hydrated during and between meals can prevent you from overeating.
Foods to Avoid While Fasting
What to eat while fasting is largely about what not to eat. Certain foods will induce cravings, make you hungrier and trigger the tendency to overeat. While mindfulness can be applied to avoid these outcomes, it’s far smarter and less stressful to avoid these triggering foods altogether.
Simple carbohydrates and processed, refined grains will cause a spike in blood sugar and insulin response that will leave you feeling hypoglycemic soon afterward, a sensation that the body tries to alleviate by enticing you to eat more. To ensure you get enough fiber, stick to sprouted, whole grains, and complex carbohydrates such as vegetables, legumes and squashes.
Sugary sweets taste good because they cause a dopamine response in the mind that only leads to further cravings once the short-lived chemical reaction subsides. Studies show that fructose intake leads to overeating across other food groups as well, increasing risk of type 2 diabetes. In stressful situations, willpower is even less likely to be useful, which is why abstaining from desserts, candies and sugary carbohydrates may be your best bet.
While fast food is convenient, it’s full of unhealthy additives designed by teams of food scientists to keep you addicted. Trans fats, present in most processed and fast foods, increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and high cholesterol. High sodium, aka too much salt, may lead to increased blood pressure, heart disease, osteoporosis or kidney failure.
What can you eat while fasting? Take the following items off your list:
- Avoid simple carbohydrates such as corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup, sugar, processed fruit juices, sodas, refined breads and other refined grains.
- Avoid candies, sweets, pastries, sugary muffins and high sugar desserts, especially if they are unbalanced, making up the major portion of your meal or snack.
- Avoid fast foods that are high in salt and sugar, and avoid processed foods, sauces and condiments that may include trans fats.
Bottom line? When intermittent fasting, what you eat during the eating window doesn’t differ from what you should be eating to keep healthy at any other time. However, what you choose to eat while fasting will certainly influence the outcome of your intermittent fasting protocol.
Making healthy decisions, avoiding overeating and limiting your snacking is far easier when you’re stress-free and mindful of your actions and intentions. By working on a healthy mind, you’ll find it easier to improve health in the body, and vice versa. Study our Intermittent Fasting guide to learn what to drink while fasting and how to fast properly to avoid mistakes.