Common side effects and how to deal with each

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There’s a lot of buzz around intermittent fasting. It’s being hailed as something of a weight loss wonder, a miracle for your gut and even a pro for brain health – and while the research is promising, it’s still relatively early days.

Nonetheless, if you’ve jumped on the fasting bandwagon and it’s working for you, that’s great! You do you, girl. There is the possibility, though, that some rather unpleasant side effects have surfaced and you’re struggling to deal with them.

Enter: my guide to beating the side effects of intermittent fasting.

1. You’re feeling hangry

Going without food for long periods of time can be tough – seriously, how uncomfortable are severe hunger pangs?

If you’re on the 5:2 protocol (where you spend two days a week getting by on just 500 calories), volume eating is your new best friend on fasting days. That means you focus on low calorie foods that you can eat large quantities of, rather than spending your whole calorie budget on big ticket items. For example, a couple squares of chocolate could contain hundreds of calories, whereas a whole zucchini provides just 30 calories.

Beating hunger on the 16: 8 protocol can be just as tricky, but filling up on ‘free’ drinks during the fasting window can be a life saver. Tea, black coffee and water can all help to distract you from food and get you through to your next eating window.

2. You’re low on energy

It a no-brainer: you’re not giving your body very much fuel, so you’re going to feel tired and lethargic at some stage. My best advice to beat that dreaded sluggish feeling is to make the most of each eating occasion. So, rather than giving into cravings for energy-dense, nutrient-poor items, focus on the good stuff.

At each main meal, ensure you have a balance of low GI carbs for sustained energy (rolled oats, wholegrain bread or quinoa) as well as lean protein that’ll keep you feeling full (eggs, fish or chicken). Fibre from fruit and veg also has a satiating effect, so that’s important, too.

3. You’re overeating on non-fasting days.

When you’re restricting your food intake, feelings of deprivation can easily sneak in – and that can quickly get you caught up in the dieting trap. You know the drill: you start a ‘diet’, then your willpower runs out, so you give up, eat all of those ‘restricted’ foods, then you feel bad about yourself and the cycle starts again…

The idea with fasting is that your overall energy intake is reduced, but if feelings of deprivation are leading you to eat more at non-fasting times than you would otherwise – there’s really no point! Instead, I’d encourage you to focus on small lifestyle changes that can build up over time, like eating five serves of veg a day or being active regularly. Trust me, you’ll be better off in the long run.

But, if you’re committed to sticking to fasting, one strategy could be to write a meal plan. That way, you’re not leaving what you eat up to chance and you’ve got a little more control over the whole situation. It’ll also pay to work on mindful eating, which teaches you to listen to your body’s hunger and satiety cues, rather than eating based on emotion.

Melissa Meier is an online and Sydney-based Accredited Practising Dietitian. You can connect with her at www.honestnutrition.com.au or on Instagram @honest_nutrition.