Did you know that “intermittent fasting” was the most Googled diet term in 2019?
The practice of fasting or abstaining from food and drinks for a certain period of time has existed for centuries. It’s connected to many religious and cultural traditions around the world. But since the 2010s, it’s become a mainstream (and surprisingly effective) way to lose weight.
Are you thinking of trying intermittent fasting as part of your weight loss journey? For the best chance of success, meal planning should be part of your weekly eating routine.
Keep reading as we discuss different types of intermittent fasting and how to create the perfect fasting meal plan for your needs.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Before we begin, let’s briefly discuss what intermittent fasting is (and what it isn’t).
As a diet, intermittent fasting involves not eating or drinking for a set amount of time each day. Abstaining from food for a period of time lowers your insulin level, which signals fat cells to release their stored sugar. When this happens, your body naturally burns off fat and you lose that stubborn weight.
Does this mean you can devour whatever you like during the hours when you’re allowed to eat? Not exactly.
Like all diets, balance and moderation are the keys. Scarfing down a Double Whopper and a large milkshake to break your fast is unlikely to help you achieve your weight loss goals.
One reason intermittent fasting has become so popular is that you can easily combine it with other healthy lifestyle diets. For example, you could follow a Paleo, Keto, Whole30, or vegetarian diet during the hours you eat. Or, if you don’t subscribe to a particular type of diet, you can simply opt to “eat clean” with nutritious, weight-loss-friendly foods.
Choose Your Eating Windows
Intermittent fasting sounds great, but how do you do it, exactly?
Some of the most popular methods include:
- The 12/12 (12 hours fasting and 12 hours eating)
- The 14/10 (14 hours fasting and 10 hours eating)
- The 16/8 (16 hours fasting and 8 hours eating)
- The 19/5 (19 hours fasting and 5 hours eating)
- Variation: The 5/2 (eating just 25% of your normal calorie intake on two non-consecutive days each week)
The good news is it doesn’t matter how you schedule those hours. You can easily create an eating routine that works with your job, lifestyle, and preferences.
For example, are you not big on breakfast? You could skip it altogether and try a 16/8 method where you only eat from 12 pm to 8 pm. Or, if you’re a very early riser, you could use the same method and eat between 7 am and 3 pm each day.
Beginners may find it easiest to start with the 12/12 or the 14/10, since you’ll be sleeping for the majority of your fasting hours. As you develop more self-control when it comes to snacking and food cravings, you can slowly decrease the amount of time you eat while you increase the amount of time you fast.
Important note: Just because you’re limiting the amount of food you consume does not mean you should do the same for water! Hydration is incredibly important for your body, especially as it’s adjusting to a new diet like intermittent fasting. Drink at least 64 ounces of water daily, and remember that you can also drink plain, unsweetened coffee and tea while you fast.
Why Create a Fasting Meal Plan?
If you’ve never tried meal planning, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But once you get into the groove and find a few recipes you love you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner.
As the name suggests, meal planning involves preparing several days’ worth of meals at the same time. Although it’s an upfront investment in time, you’ll save hours during the rest of the week because you won’t have to cook (and clean the kitchen) several times a day. Your food will be there and ready when you enter your eating window all you’ll have to do is heat it up!
Have you ever bought a random assortment of items at the grocery store, only to arrive home and have no idea what to make? Meal planning also solves this problem, helping you to cut down on food waste and (bonus!) ensuring you save money in the process.
Best of all, you can plan a healthful menu that’s packed with nutritious food, making it easier to enjoy a balanced diet. By planning ahead, you’re less likely to give in to unhealthy food cravings or “impulse buys.”
Our Best Meal Planning Tips
Are you ready to give meal planning and intermittent fasting a try? Here are some expert tips to help you get started.
1. Start With Recipes You Know
Even if you adore trying out new recipes, ease into meal planning with some tried-and-true favorites. Once you get into a good routine, you can mix things up with some new additions.
Of course, if weight loss is your primary goal, it goes without saying that you’ll want to choose recipes that contribute to a well-balanced diet. Think lean proteins, healthy fats, whole grains, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. At the same time, try to limit (or, even better, eliminate) refined sugar and processed foods.
Ideally, you’ll want to prepare two or three meals at the same time that you can portion out and store in the fridge or freezer. This ensures you won’t get bored eating the same thing every night. Instead, you’ll have a nice variety of meals to enjoy throughout the week.
2. Evaluate Your Fridge & Pantry
Have those cans of beans been collecting dust on the shelves? Did you forget about that package of chicken breasts in the freezer?
Before you rush out to the grocery store, take inventory of what’s already in your kitchen. As you plan your meal prep list for the week (more on that next), you can include items you already have on hand.
Bonus: Not only will this help to declutter your shelves, but you’ll also avoid unnecessary spending.
3. Make a Plan for the Week
Next, consider your calendar for the upcoming week. Is it a standard five-day week of work and school? Are there any holidays, special events, or other plans that might interfere with your normal eating routine?
Most people generally prep meals for the work week (Monday through Friday) and leave their weekends “open” to spontaneity and social plans. Of course, you can adjust this based on your family’s work, school, and recreation schedules.
Whatever you do, don’t over plan. Think about the week in general rather than trying to plan every single meal, every single day. Review your social calendar, consider which meals you have the most trouble coming up with ideas for, and go from there.
4. Equip Your Kitchen
Successful meal planning involves more than having the right food on hand. You also need the right tools to prepare, cook, and store your meals. This is especially important if you’re not used to making large quantities of food at one time!
You might consider items such as:
- Glass or plastic meal prep containers
- Mason jars with lids
- Large cutting boards
- A digital food scale
- Reusable silicone bags
- Large sheets pans
- Leak-proof dressing containers
- Vented produce saver
- Slow cooker/pressure cooker
- Removable labels
Remember, you don’t have to rush out and buy everything at once. Start with some suitable storage containers and you can gradually upgrade your kitchen supplies as you get used to meal planning and experiment with other recipes.
5. Choose Recipes With Overlapping Ingredients
As you plan your menu for the week, think about recipes that include more than one of the same ingredients.
For example, you could use shrimp as protein for your lunchtime wrap and also in a dinnertime stir-fry. You could slice up some raw peppers for salads and add the rest to a pot of chili. Cilantro could make a tasty addition to a breakfast burrito as well as a fresh burst of flavor for your favorite soup.
The point is: Look for healthy ingredients you can use in a variety of dishes as you prepare your shopping list. This will cut down on your meal prep time as well as save you money at the checkout counter.
6. Get Ready to Multi-Task
Ideally, you’ll spend no more than an hour preparing and cooking your meals for the week. If you choose simple recipes (at least to start with), you won’t have to spend half of a beautiful Sunday in the kitchen.
To save time, think about how to prepare multiple items at once. Can you bake the fish fillets and roast the vegetables in the oven at the same time? Can you slice your fresh herbs and vegetables while the rice or quinoa cooks in the pressure cooker?
This might be a very different style of cooking than you’re used to, but it’s sure to get you on the road to healthier eating habits in the long run.
7. Don’t Try to Prep Too Much
A common rookie mistake is to go overboard with meal planning. After all, why prep for five days when you could prep for 10 or 15 days?
There are a few problems with this overly ambitious thinking. For starters, you probably don’t have room in your fridge or freezer to hold several weeks’ worth of prepared meals. Your prep and cooking time will also explode from an hour or two into half the day (or longer), which defeats the purpose of saving time.
Also, most prepped food only has a lifespan of 3-5 days, so you could end up throwing away a lot of uneaten food at the end of the week.
8. Take Appropriate Shortcuts
Let’s be honest there are some days when you won’t have the time (or desire) to dedicate to making all your meals from scratch.
The good news is that it’s easier than ever to enjoy a balanced diet without spending all day in the kitchen. To cut down on time without sacrificing your healthy eating routine, try some of these meal-planning hacks:
- Buy pre-cut, pre-washed fruits and vegetables
- Slice and dice all your produce for the week and store what you don’t immediately need
- Make your rice, quinoa, lentils, or beans in one large batch and store it for the week
- Buy a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken instead of baking your own at home
- Pre-assemble small plastic bags filled with frozen fruit to make quick smoothies in the mornings
- Include some easy “no cook” recipes such as cold salads and overnight oats
What if you have a bunch of random ingredients left over at the end of the week? Don’t be shy about tossing items together into a salad, soup, stew, casserole, quiche, or stir-fry.
9. Focus on the Meals You Struggle With the Most
Your answer to this question will depend on the intermittent fasting schedule you choose, as well as your personal strengths and weaknesses.
For example, if you choose not to start eating until noon, you can safely skip breakfast items in your weekly meal planning. However, if you choose to eat earlier and you’re always in a rush in the mornings, you may want to focus on prepping those breakfasts for the week.
On the other hand, you may find it more beneficial to have dinners ready when you get home after a long day of work. Or, if you constantly find yourself reaching for junk food, you might think about prepping some healthy snacks to enjoy during your eating hours.
Healthy Meal Planning Made Easy
When done correctly, intermittent fasting can be a powerful tool in your weight loss arsenal. Once you choose the best eating windows for your daily routine, it’s just a matter of creating a fasting meal plan that suits your needs.
Bookmark this article and refer to it as you begin your meal-planning journey. With a little bit of determination, you’ll soon love your healthy new eating routine!
Of course, intermittent fasting is just one part of the weight loss puzzle. What if you’re still struggling with unhealthy cravings or compulsive eating behaviors? How can you achieve not just your immediate goals but long-term health and wellness?
Click here to find a local healthcare professional who will work with you to develop an individualized weight loss program.
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