Intermittent fasting’s become so popular in recent times, with celebrities, health experts and fitness enthusiasts as well as us normal people (lol) swearing by it; but the question is: is intermittent fasting good for vegans?
This post reflects my opinion and experience and is based on what I’ve learnt through practising intermittent fasting. I’m not a nutritionalist and do not claim to be! So go ahead and read my opinion but please be free to form your own!
Table of Contents
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is the practice of going a pre-determined amount of time without eating anything, whether that be part of the day or part of the week.
There are various different ways to practise intermittent fasting but this post is going to focus mainly on the every-day kind of intermittent fasting – the most convenient and popular of which, is the 16:8.
Intermittent fasting for vegans is just the same as for other people except for a few pointers which apply to vegans anyway. In fact, as you’ll see, it might be even easier to do if you’re vegan, depending what you eat now. If you already eat a balanced plant based diet which isn’t based on refined carbohydrates, you should be off to an excellent start!
First let’s take a look at all the variations.
Different Types of Intermittent Fasting
One of the things I love about fasting is its flexibility. It doesn’t feel like you’re following a set of rules. You just make sure you go a minimum of 16 hours without eating and the rest takes care of itself. Here are a few of the popular patterns to choose from.
Every Day Fasting
Most Popular: 16:8
The most popular is the 16:8, which means you fast for 16 hours and eat for 8 hours during a 24 period. The exact hours you choose to do are up to you, but most people find it easiest to either skip breakfast or have a late breakfast.
Bring the evening meal forward to fit into your eating window and you have the 16 hours fasting, almost without noticing a drastic change in your routine (even though I used to eat really late in the evenings or at night!).
The most common times people choose for eating are from 11-7 p.m., 12-8 p.m. or 1-9 p.m.
I personally have a decaf coffee for breakfast, my first meal of the day at 1:30 and on weekdays I eat something in the evening at 7:30-8:00p.m. so I fast from 8:30 p.m. to 1.30 p.m. giving me a total of 17 hours fasting. I like it that way because if I were running late or if I wanted a snack after finishing my meal (which I never do) I’d still get the whole 16 hour fasting period.
On weekends I extend the fast and have one proper meal at around 5 p.m. followed by a snack a few hours later, turning my fasting pattern into a 20:4 (or sometimes more).
18:6 or 20:4
You might choose to extend your fast for a longer period of eighteen hours and adopt the 18:6 routine. It works exactly the same way as 16:8 but gives the benefits of longer fasting and a shorter eating window.
Brief Look at Fasting on Specific Days
Alternate Day Fasting & 5 to 2
Specific days eating a normal, balanced diet and the other days eating a very restricted amount of 500-600 calories. Normally this type of fasting is practised on alternate days or for 2 days a week.
For me, this option is a different concepts to the every day fasts because you have to count calories on the eating days and in my opinion, one of the main attractions and advantages of intermittent fasting is the absence of calorie counting. I also believe you will feel more hungry on your fasting days than you do with a daily practice because your body gets used to the routine of daily fasting.
For this reason, I will be focusing on every day fasting for the purpose of this post.
Although fasting for 24 hours is another practise considered intermittent fasting, it different to the every day fasting as your body will be hungry on the day you fast, and in my opinion this doesn’t have the benefits of every day fasting, although it could be interesting as an addition to the daily fasting.
Intermittent Fasting 20:4, 18:6 or 16:8
Although much of the information is the same for any type of fasting, the information below refers to the every day types of intermittent fasting listed above; the styles which are within a daily practise and do not include calorie counting.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
There are tons of reasons for doing intermittent fasting. Many people start out because they want to lose weight or body fat. But there are so many more benefits, so here are some of them:
- No calorie counting. Yippee!!
- More energy
- Decreased appetite
- Changed relationship with food
- More time!
- No more feeling angry or panicked when you’re hungry
- Stabilised energy levels
- No food cravings
- Reported possible benefits for longevity
- Weight loss
- Fat loss
- Cellular autophagy: recycling of damaged cells (see below)
- Clearer thinking and better moods
- Can help to combat menopausal weight gain
Negatives of Intermittent Fasting
- When you first start out, choose a period of time when you won’t be under pressure, preferably a weekend or during a few days off work so that you can relax and not worry about fitting into your work schedule.
- It’s quite possible that you could get a headache in the beginning, which is generally considered to be from detoxing. Don’t worry, it will go away. Take care of your headache and let the fasting take second place until you feel better.
- If you feel you need to eat because of the headache, do. It’s better to ease into the fasting habit and not force it. As soon as you (and your body) are used to the new way of eating, you’ll (most probably) start to feel better than ever.
- It can be a challenge to stick to your hours when you’re socialising or travelling.
- You will still need to eat a healthy balanced diet during the eating window (but that’s not really a negative!).
- Some people report struggling with the hunger when they first start intermittent fasting. Keep going through that period and you’ll be away!
What Can I Eat During the Fasting Period?
While you’re fasting you shouldn’t eat or drink anything that triggers digestion, so it’s no good thinking that a nibble of a nut, for example, is so tiny it won’t break your fast. It will.
Anything will break your fast except for water, teas or black coffee. Lots of water is essential to help your body function properly and it also keeps you feeling satiated.
Herbal teas are perfect: hibiscus, ginger tea, fruit teas, liquorice tea, green tea, curcuma tea: whatever flavours you like, tea could just become your new best friend.
Hibiscus tea is also incredibly beneficial to your health, so it’s well worth including in your daily intake. In fact, you may be surprised by the 6 impressive health benefits of drinking hibiscus tea.
You can also make herbal tea in advance and chill it in the fridge to serve as a delicious glass of iced tea.
And finally black coffee. Of course you don’t want to start drinking too much coffee so I recommend you have coffee as a breakfast replacement or so. I only drink decaf coffee and I have a few cups in the morning and one after my first meal of the day. That works well for me.
Won’t I Feel Hungry All the Time?
One of the surprising things about intermittent fasting is that your appetite decreases. You disentangle from food and you’ll stop getting cravings. It’s quite incredible when you experience it, and it frees up so much time in the day! Not to mention reducing your shopping costs.
In your eating window you should eat as much as you need, and remember that it’s important what you eat rather than how many calories. Eat a healthy balanced diet with plenty of vegan protein. More on that in another post.
EDIT: When I wrote this post I wasn’t drinking any alcohol and I really didn’t experience any hunger issues during my fasting window. However, since then I’ve discovered that if you drink alcohol (or maybe it’s the sugar in your diet that affects it), then you may well crave food in your fasting period. It definitely affects me that way.
How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
Normally your body burns carbohydrates to convert into energy and when there’s an excess, it gets stored as glycogen in the liver and in the muscles, or as fat in the body.
When eating a normal, high carb diet throughout the day (with no fasting periods) the body is waiting for that regular intake of carbohydrates to convert to energy, so when you don’t eat on time you get those hunger pangs, causing all those symptoms like rumbling stomach, irritation, hunger etc. Some people feel faint when they get hungry. But that’s when you’re burning carbs from your meal for your energy.
When your body goes without food however, insulin levels drop and the body switches over to start burning the reserves which it has stored as fat or glycogen. This effectively means that while in fasting mode your body will begin to burn fat as a way of making energy as fuel for your daily activities.
And that means you won’t get those hunger pangs because you’re receiving the energy you need from utilising glycogen and burning fat. Once you’ve gone through a few days at the beginning, you’ll start to notice that you just don’t get hungry anymore.
The fasting period is quite simply a natural no-eat zone, with no suffering or struggling because your body is now efficiently burning fat instead of waiting for you to feed it carbohydrates for energy.
The change in your relationship with food in astounding. You can go from literally spending most of the day thinking about and/or planning food, to being completely liberated from it.
Added to this, because you have a limited eating window you will most probably eat less calories than you ate before.
Intermittent Fasting on a Vegan Diet
How to Do Vegan Intermittent Fasting
Most of this will apply to anybody doing intermittent fasting, but as I’m vegan, it seems relevant to focus this post on vegan fasting!
First golden rule for any fasting: drink lots and lots of water. All day long, drink water.
Eat properly during the eating window. It won’t speed up your weight loss (on the contrary) if you ‘diet’ in the eating window and what’s more, it could lead to obsessing over food and struggling during the fast. Eat as much as you need of a great variety of healthy foods in the window and enjoy it.
Make sure you eat plenty of high quality protein, natural fats, low carb food. The reason for this is that your body is now accustomed to switching over to burning fat, so you’re providing extra energy in your meals. The protein is essential for maintaining or building muscle and especially important for a vegan.
Yummy meals like buddha bowls, nasi rice dishes, bami noodles and yummy curries are all great for your main meal of the day. If you’re not sure how to plan a vegan meal, take a look at this easy vegan dinner recipe, where you’ll find suggestions of how to plan a meal.
Cover your vitamin requirements. Vitamin B12 is especially important for a vegan lifestyle, and you can check out my other post to read about the astonishing effects of vitamin B12. You might also want to take a good quality multi vitamin to supplement your needs. To determine what vitamins you need, you should look at your specific profile with a nutritional health specialist.
Intermittent Fasting and Exercise
It’s important for our health that we keep our bodies active. It’s so easy to become sedentary and then complain that we’re piling on the kilos. The truth is, we were designed to keep active and if you remember that as part of your lifestyle, you’ll be far less likely to struggle with many age-associated problems.
When you intermittent dieting however, it’s important to choose your timing carefully. For me, doing the type of intermittent fasting that I do means that I don’t really have to worry about it. But if you go a whole day fasting, that wouldn’t be the time to go for a run.
Yoga is a great form of exercise to include in your life, especially if you aren’t used to going out running or to the gym, because you can learn yoga from home, in the comfort & privacy of your own living room.
And when you’ve run out of inspiration on Youtube, you can join an online platform for more yoga videos. I’ve joined Grokker, which is one of the online platforms. It’s a fun place which also includes other forms of exercise apart from yoga.
Whatever exercise you go for, try to fit it into the days when you are eating.
Be easy on yourself and flexible with your rules. The wonderful thing about this lifestyle choice is that your life comes first. This just naturally slots into your (new) rhythm. For example, if you choose 11am to 7pm and then you find yourself in a situation where you’re going to meet friends at 8 p.m. for a bite to eat. You can either move your morning food to a later time, or you can just eat in a longer window on this occasion. Accept it and move on. No problem.
I really recommend you embrace this as a way of life, not as a quick hit weight loss plan. In fact you can lose weight or you can maintain your weight. This is a sustainable way of living which you help you feel healthier and more energetic.
If you don’t feel wonderful after doing intermittent fasting for a couple of weeks, you might want to question whether you’re making mistakes with your practice because if you get it right and if it suits you, you will feel wonderful.
Don’t try intermittent fasting if you’re pregnant, diabetic, or have other health issues which might be negatively affected by fasting.
Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss
People report great results for weight loss with intermittent fasting but it isn’t a fast fix method and you shouldn’t think of it like that. In the first week you may drop of weight dramatically but this is most likely to be a reduction in water retention, which will level out after the initial drop.
I lost a few kilos in a few days and then put them back on in the following week! But I didn’t hesitate or worry about it because I knew that I felt so good on this lifestyle it was here to stay, with or without weight loss.
The good news is that after two months the scales have started to reflect the feeling I’ve had of losing fat. But that’s another story!
If you’re piling on the weight because of menopause, you may like to read 5 steps to beat menopause naturally.
Drinking Alcohol & Intermittent Fasting
In a perfect scenario you wouldn’t drink alcohol, basically because of the empty calories it brings with little to no beneficial nutrients, but if you do drink, do it in moderation. A glass of wine with your food in your eating window is ok, but drinking in your fasting window isn’t.
Don’t drink alcohol during your fast. Alcohol will break your fast, so if you’re going to drink, make sure you eat too. It’s better to break your fast with food and drink than with drink alone. If you know you going out for a few drinks, try to shift your eating window so that you drink within that time.
Bear in mind that alcohol will tend to make you feel hungrier the next day.
Conclusion on Intermittent Fasting for Vegans
My experience of intermittent fasting has been completely positive. My appetite is dormant. I enjoy eating when I eat and I’m completely satisfied when I’m not eating. I have no cravings and no mood swings.
Those waves of exhaustion I used to feel after eating are no longer a part of my life. My fatigue is a thing of the past. I’ve only been doing intermittent fasting for two months now but I will write more about my experience with time.
For now, I hope you give it a try and I hope you have as much success with it as I have.
Are you going to try intermittent fasting? Or do you already do intermittent fasting, and if so what has been your experience? I’d love to hear about your thoughts in the comments.
And don’t forget to follow me on Instagram @loveveganliving.