Interested in vegan intermittent fasting? Great, you’ve come to the right place. As a vegan for 10+ years, I know firsthand how true this is: when you’re vegan, people will blame how healthy you are (or aren’t) on your diet.
And, to be honest, I felt like an example of why you shouldn’t be vegan. Despite working out a lot, my belly fat persisted.
Enter Vegan Intermittent Fasting.
Much like when I looked into veganism, I immediately changed my eating behavior after researching intermittent fasting. And I haven’t looked back.
Yes, I got a lot more svelte thanks to vegan intermittent fasting after just two months. (See below.) And yes, I unlocked a new form of discipline that I didn’t even know I had. But I also became a lot more conscious of the foods I eat and a more informed vegan foodie.
Interested in doing the same? Great! I’ll give a quick overview of why intermittent fasting works. And then I’ll give you my tips for vegans who want to get started.
But, as always, please consult your doctor or health care provider before doing so!
Intermittent Fasting: Why It Works
As you probably know, intermittent fasting is a pattern of eating. You choose to deliberately NOT eat during specific windows of the day.
And once I researched intermittent fasting, I discovered that my belly fat persisted because I was eating very frequently. (Shoutout to how great vegan food is!).
When you eat, your insulin increases. But when you fast, your insulin decreases. And that’s when your body pulls from stored fat (and not glucose) for energy. Your body using stored fat is great news if you’re trying to lose weight.
What’s also exciting is that fasting has other benefits besides weight loss. Autophagy is one key benefit (which I’ll go into later). The deeper I got into intermittent fasting, the more I realized that the human body isn’t meant to digest food constantly. I’m now drinking the zero-calorie kool-aid about this style of eating!
Alright, so with no further adieu, here are my…
6 Vegan Intermittent Fasting Tips
Tip #1: Start Off Small to Form the Habit
If you’re like me, you get super excited when you want to try something new.
You Google the shit out of it. You nerd out on how to optimize it. And dare I say, you intellectualize the whole topic before you even take that first step.
Okay, maybe I’m projecting. But even if you are more measured than I am, chances are, you will try to swing too big too soon when starting with intermittent fasting.
Being too ambitious is actually detrimental to starting a new habit, which James Clear writes a lot about. (His book, Atomic Habits, is fantastic.)
Clear is emphatic that people need to form smaller habits first before optimizing them. So, try to stick with a reasonable fasting schedule. (More on that in a bit). You can always tweak it later as you get more comfortable not eating constantly.
But the key here is that you prove to yourself that you are the type of person who does intermittent fasting. James Clear calls this approach “identity-based habits.” So it’s more important that you prove to yourself that you’re the type of person who successfully upholds the fast you said you would than it is that you do a crazy-long fast. Kapeesh?
I highly recommend this book if you, like me, are the type of person who struggles with keeping up with new habits! His tips are invaluable, and he has shifted my mindset immensely.
Tip #2: Choose the Right Eating Window
This tip is an extension of number #1. But I’ll get more specific here.
Every single body is different. And therefore, it varies how long it will take you to enter a fasted state. 12 hours is the absolute minimum. But to be safe, the 16:8-fast (16 hours not eating, 8 hours eating) is the best guarantee for weight loss when starting out.
When I first started, 16:8 is what I did. I’d tweak it some days, so it was 15:9 or 17:7. But I didn’t deviate too much from that 15-17 hour window. And I got excellent results. Even after just one month. (See below.)
And yes, the longer your body is in a fasted state, the more opportunity your body has to pull stored fat as energy. But, again, don’t go overboard with your fasting schedule initially. It took me a LONG time to get to a 20:4 fast schedule. And even then, after 2-3 days of this schedule, I need to scale it back and go to a 16:8.
Also, I highly recommend downloading the iPhone and Android app Zero. The basic version is FREE. And it helps you track how long you’ve been fasting.
As cliché as it sounds, listen to your body. If you start with a 14:10 fasting schedule and you successfully do it 21 days in a row, then guess what? That’s fucking fantastic! Because you developed the habit of fasting. And from that point, you can start optimizing it.
Tip #3: Have a Plan to Combat Cravings & Not Break Your Fast
Whenever I take a break from fasting and come back to it, it’s hard – much like it was hard to get started in the first place. My stomach craves food (or so I think… more on that in a bit). And frankly, I get used to eating at specific points of the day and night.
It’s hard to turn off the constant drip of food. It just is. But one hack that I discovered along the way is this: I drink 0-calorie and 0-sugar electrolytes and water. This drink (somehow) tastes great.
90% of the time, when I finish a big 20-ounce cup of water with 2 scoops of electrolytes, I stop feeling hungry. Or at least hangry. Below is my favorite flavor of electrolytes. This product helped me IMMENSELY when I just wanted to taste something – ANYTHING.
And no, it’s not your imagination that you want to eat. First of all, it’s been shown that carbs can increase serotonin in your brain – which can help with anxiety. Food is a powerful sedative! And also, the physical cues for dehydration can feel like hunger.
In terms of what else can help curb your hunger, protein can. If you know that you’re going to start fasting around 6 pm and tend to get VERY hungry around 10 pm, then consider something fibrous and with lean protein (e.g., non-sugar-laden soy) around 6 pm. Most people know fiber (e.g., lentils, broccoli, brown rice) can help curb hunger but don’t know that lean protein does too.
Lastly, many people who follow this lifestyle seem to believe that 50 calories break your fast. I’m not sure how this concept originated. But I’m pretty sure it varies by body weight. But if you want your body to enjoy some of the fasting benefits like autophagy (more on this later), then any calorie amount can really break your fast.
With that said, I need my coffee. I try not to exceed 15-20 calories (thank you, unsweetened vanilla almond milk!), and I’ve still seen amazing results. Caffeine is also an incredible appetite suppressor. So, coffee and tea, too, helped me get through many mornings when I woke up hungry.
Tip #4: Get Your Nutrients During Your Window Period
You know that it’s so eye-roll-inducing when non-vegans ask you how you get your (enter nutrient here). But the truth is, I was deficient in some critical nutrients before I became more aware of my nutrition.. Intermittent fasting made me SO MUCH more mindful of my nutritional intake.
And if you’re going to only eat for 6 or 8 hours a day (and, therefore, fewer calories), you have got to make the food you eat count
I hate to sound like the nagging mom telling you to clean your room, but please make sure you’re getting adequate levels of the 3 following nutrients during your “eating” windows. I take supplements just to be on the safe side.
3 Supplements I Take for Vegan Intermittent Fasting
- DHA & EPA Omega-3: Yes, flax and chia seeds have Omega-3s. But they provide ALA Omega-3, which the body does not efficiently process. Also, a lot of research has shown that inadequate amounts of DHA & EPA Omega-3s (mainly found in fish) can increase your risk developing Alzheimer’s and cancer. Luckily, fish get their Omega-3s from algae. And vegan-friendly algae is where I choose to get mine, too. This supplement is what I take daily.
- High-Absorbing Iron: Yes, you probably know about this. And yes, beans, tempeh, and tofu have it. But the human body absorbs heme iron (mainly derived by animals) a lot better than non-heme iron (from the sources listed earlier). Luckily, studies have shown that vitamin C help with iron absorption. Which is why I love this iron supplement. Plus, it’s only $16 for a 6-month supply.
- High-Absorbing B12: Like iron, plant-derived sources of B12 that the body absorbs are harder to come by. While nutritional yeast and non-dairy milks are often fortified with B12, I don’t chance it. I take a sublingual/dissolving B12 supplement every day that is high-absorbent. And here’s why: studies have shown that not having enough B12 contributes to problems with memory, balance and even cognitive decline (e.g., dementia).
In addition, I also put both Chlorella and Spirulina in my smoothies.
These algae are often hailed as the nutrient-dense food on Earth. I joke that they make kale seem like junk food. This brand of chlorella has a decent amount of B12 and iron. I also like the BEWELL Superfood Greens mix from Arbonne because it has spirulina, chlorella, omega-3s, and more. And unlike other spirulina products I’ve tried, it doesn’t smell bad! .
Tip #5: Know What Foods Spike Your Insulin
Remember that what we’re trying to achieve with fasting is that your body gets to a fasted state. This state can also be called ketosis (which is what the keto diet is all about).
We do this so your body uses reserves of body fat as energy instead of glucose. If you want to set yourself up for success while fasting, then try to avoid insulin-spiking foods as your last meal or snack before starting your fast. I’m talking about simple carbohydrates (baked goods, white rice) and anything sugary. And yes, that even means maybe refrain from fruit as the last thing that you eat for the day.
In terms of what’s best to eat once your fast is over, I’d say avoid super-sugary stuff initially. Again, you just got your resting insulin rate hella low. Try to not startle it by drinking Mountain Dew.
With that said, I definitely have been known to eat my favorite Vegan Deluxe from Gregory’s Coffee (croissant and all!) when breaking a fast.
And yeah, carbs of this sort (e.g., yummy croissant) can metabolize into sugar. And so I’ll defer to tip #1 above. Just establish the habit first and optimize later. And even then, sometimes you just want to really savor that first bite after breaking your fast. And if that involves a croissant… Well, then, I’m probably going to say “order one for me also!”
Tip #6: Work Out While Fasted (If You Already Work Out)
This tip is short. When you work out in a fasted state, you pull a lot of energy from your stored fat. And yes, I have had some of my weakest workouts while fasted. But that’s okay. I know they’re coming from the exact place where I store the most fat. So, it’s less about being a beast in the gym and more about targeting my stored fat.
With that said (and I might sound like a broken record here), DO NOT try to work out when kickstarting your intermittent fasting habit unless you already have the habit of working out regularly. And even then, look at this fitness tip as a way to optimize your intermittent fasting once fasting is a well-established habit.
I have fallen off the intermittent fasting bandwagon here and there. And when I get back on, I’m not focused on working out fasted. I’m focused on fasting (and I only work out once I have eaten). Once I get back on track, I add the fasted workouts in.
BONUS TIP FOR ADVANCED VEGAN INTERMITTENT FASTING: GO FOR AUTOPHAGY
Autophagy can be achieved through fasting and is beneficial for your body. However, to achieve it, you really can’t have ANY calories. So it needs to be a water-only fast. Coffee is even no bueno. Oh, and you need AT LEAST 16-18 hours fasted to start achieving this state.
And you might be saying to yourself… “Great, but what the hell is this autophagy?”
Autophagy means “self-devouring” or “self-eating .”And it is the process by which your body gets rid of damaged cells by eating them.
Here’s why you might want to look into having your cells eat your other cells through fasting (once your intermittent fasting habit is well established):
Cancer happens when cells go off on their own and no longer work in harmony with the rest of the body. They’re malignant. Something is not right with them. They are, therefore, prime candidates to be eaten by the body during autophagy because they are damaged.
I achieve autophagy at least a couple of times a month with a 20-hour fast because it’s part of my anti-cancer regimen (which was a topic that sparked my interest due to the book called Anticancer: A New Way of Life).
My dad, who is 77 years old, does a 36-hour fast every few months to undergo this process. The longer autophagy has been initiated, the more damaged cells get eaten & removed from your system.
I keep saying that I will start growing them myself. But I haven’t gotten around to it. So, instead, I take BROQ, which has the highest potency of any Sulforaphane supplement.