Snacking and Intermittent Fasting

by Jimmy Akin

in Diet

bell peppers

“Do you eat snacks?”

“How do you deal with hunger?”

“Don’t you ever have a psychological need to eat?”

These are among the questions I get when people ask about the Intermittent Fasting regimen I’ve been using, and which has helped me to lose 58 lbs. in the last number of months.

Here are the answers . . .

 

Snacking

With the exceptions noted below, I don’t snack.

The basic principle of using Intermittent Fasting for weight loss is that you don’t eat for significant periods of time.

This causes your blood sugar to go down, which causes your insulin to go down, which causes your body to start burning fat.

It follows that one of the things you don’t want to do while fasting is snacking.

This goes against the “grazing” strategy that has been promoted in many diet circles in recent years—whereby, in addition to eating three meals a day, you also eat multiple snacks.

In theory, this is to keep you from eating too much at mealtime because you’re not as hungry, but my experience—and that of many others—is that it hinders rather than helps weight loss.

If you snack and take in a significant number of calories, it causes your blood sugar to spike, which causes your body to release insulin, which causes you to store fat rather than burn it.

By not snacking as part of an Intermittent Fasting regimen, you let your body stop burning food and start burning what’s stored in your fat cells.

This can still leave us with the issues of hunger and a psychological need to eat, however.

 

Curbing Hunger

As I’ve written before, I’ve been amazed at how little hunger I’ve experienced with Intermittent Fasting.

It seems that hunger is primarily a matter of habit: If your body is used to getting food at a certain time, that’s when it turns on the hunger signal. It’s trying to maintain your ordinary, daily rhythm.

But when you change that rhythm, when you break your ordinary habits, your body quickly adapts to the new daily cycle.

For most people, it only takes the body 2-3 days to adjust to the new routine, and then your body will stop turning on hunger when you don’t want it.

Most of the time. There can be exceptions.

So what do you do then?

A classic piece of advice is to drink non-caloric liquids.

This advice has been around for a long time—so long that it’s reflected in the Catholic Church’s religious discipline of fasting: Drinking water to relieve hunger does not break a religious fast.

Water isn’t the only non-caloric liquid, though. If you’re not doing a fast as part of your religious requirements, there are other options, such as coffee and tea, both of which can have additional health benefits.

(It is, of course, important that you don’t add lots of milk or sugar to them, or you’ll get the insulin spike you’re trying to avoid.)

Diet colas also are typically calorie-free, though there questions about how good they are for you—particularly if they contain artificial sweeteners like Aspartame. (Fortunately, there are now diet sodas that are sweetened with the natural sweetener stevia.)

Whatever non-caloric beverage you choose, it can fill up your stomach, making you feel like you’ve eaten something, and thus help to relieve hunger.

 

What About Low-Cal Liquids?

Many advocates of Intermittent Fasting (including Dr. Jason Fung) have also recommended bone broth, which isn’t no-calorie but which is low-calorie.

It allegedly has nutrients which can be very good for you, though this isn’t clear to me.

What is clear is that it doesn’t have a large number of calories and so won’t produce a large insulin spike. It thus shouldn’t interfere significantly with weight loss.

On the same reasoning, I’ve also seen Intermittent Fasting proponents give an okay to drinking (unsweetened) almond milk, which is also quite low-cal.

Used in moderation, these low-calorie fluids likely won’t interfere materially with weight loss, though your own experience is the best judge of that.

 

Curbing the Psychological Need to Eat

I do sometimes have a psychological need to eat—just the desire to bite and chew, particularly something crunchy—when it isn’t time for me to eat, and when I’m not hungry.

Sometimes just doing a self-check and realizing I’m not hungry is enough to let me put the desire aside.

Sometimes drinking a no- or low-calorie liquid is enough (particularly if it’s a hot or warm beverage; I don’t personally have a taste for coffee, but hot green tea or hot bone broth can be satisfying).

But I’ve also been experimenting with another idea.

 

Safe Snacking?

When I first started researching Intermittent Fasting, I was surprised to find some advocates saying that they’d allow themselves very small snacks.

One gentleman, who was a fitness trainer, allowed himself an occasional snack of up to 35 calories.

After I discovered the recommendations of low-cal liquids like bone broth and almond milk, that got me thinking: A serving of bone broth (depending on what kind you get) can be around 40 calories. And 12 oz. of unsweetened almond milk is about the same (45 calories).

So if those are acceptable, so should some solid foods in the same calorie range.

Now, I wouldn’t recommend sweets in that range. A tablespoon of table sugar has 48 calories, but—being sugar—it will spike your insulin more than just about anything else.

But what about foods that naturally have a good bit of fiber to blunt the effect of whatever calories they have?

 

Fiber

You could, of course, eat pure dietary fiber—which is indigestible and so has no calories.

Thus you could take fiber capsules or powder—along with enough liquid to prevent it from blocking you up.

That might satisfy hunger, but it wouldn’t really help with the psychological need to bite and chew.

You could make crackers out of fiber (add water to fiber powder, roll out, bake or let dry), though I haven’t found a good source of pre-made fiber crackers.

However, there are foods which are both low-calorie and high-fiber . . .

 

Veggies

Certain vegetables would work on the above strategy.

For example, an 8 oz. can of green beans contains two servings of 20 calories each, for a total of 40 calories. (I prefer the French-style cut of green beans, but you may prefer ones cut the ordinary way.)

Fresh green beans are also an option, and they have crunch if you don’t cook them. A cup of 1/2 inch pieces of green beans has only 31 calories.

Celery also works. An 8 inch, medium stalk of celery has only 6 calories! It has a nice crunch, though not much flavor (and it has those strings).

Another vegetable—which I like even better for these purposes—is bell pepper.

A medium bell pepper has a total of 24 calories, and so a few slices of one would fit well within the range we’re talking about.

It not only crunches, it also has a bit of taste and even spice, while lacking the strings that celery has.

Bell pepper has become my preferred low-cal veggie for snacking (when I snack, which isn’t often).

And I can offer you one more twist . . .

 

Spices and Sauces?

Vegetables can be a little boring by themselves, so is there anything we can do to spice them up?

Sure! Add spices! One can add spices, such as salt, NoSalt/Nu-Salt (potassium chloride), cinnamon (which may actually help control blood sugar), chili powder, or whatever you like, as long as it doesn’t have notable calories.

And that Mexican Tajin (lime-chili-salt) spice is really tasty!

You could also add no- or low-calorie sauces, such as lemon juice or vinegar. In fact, those might help with weight loss (particularly the vinegar, which has the effect of blunting any carbs in the vegetables; that’s why apple cider vinegar has become popular in weight loss circles, though almost any vinegar will help).

Thus if you have some canned green beans (or other soft, low-cal vegetable), you might jazz them up with a little lemon juice or apple cider vinegar (plus whatever low-cal spices you like–maybe a few sesame seeds or poppy seeds?).

There’s also a company named Walden Farms which produces a line of low-calorie sauces.

They advertise their produces as having 0 calories, but it’s really 3-4 calories per 2 tablespoon serving (under U.S. labeling laws, you get to round any number of calories under 5 per serving down to 0).

One of my favorites is eating red bell pepper slices (or any bell pepper slices) with Walden Farm’s chocolate dip. The slightly-spicy and sweet combination is really good.

You can also find Walden Farms in typical supermarkets in the diet section.

 

Practical Help

The overall key to all of these solutions is keeping the absolute number of calories small.

However, avoiding refined carbohydrates—such as sugar and flour—and adding fiber are also important.

Always check the nutrition information of whatever you’re planning to consume to make sure it’s low enough in calories (things like butter, cheese, and nuts—which are healthful in themselves—are high in calories and thus don’t make good snacks while Intermittent Fasting).

Also, everyone’s body is different, and different people will be able to handle different amounts of low-calorie snacks of the type described here. Your own experimentation and experience will be your best guide.

The good news is that between no-calorie and low-calorie liquids and solids, there are practical helps—both for dealing with hunger and the psychological need to eat—when doing Intermittent Fasting.

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{ 12 comments }

Gale June 24, 2017 at 3:10 pm

I have been doing your fasting routine for about 2 weeks now, and everything you say is true for me as well. I am stunned at how little real hunger or craving I have had. I did not start fasting voluntarily – I had anxiety which shut down my appetite, but even after the anxiety has resolved, I continue to eat just one meal a day. I do drink liquids but no snacking. If I give in and have a snack of any kind, my body responds with even more hunger. So I have found it easier just to deny myself snacks. I have lost over 10 lbs in 2 weeks! Nothing else except strict low-carbing has taken the weight off like this has. I’m so happy. 10 more pounds and people will start noticing, I think….

Nonna Rosie June 25, 2017 at 5:48 am

I’ve been doing intermittent fasting for a few years. I didn’t snack at all until I lost the amount of weight I wanted. Now I sometimes eat lunch as well as dinner, and drink coffee with milk and Stevia during the day. At dinner I eat whatever I want. I’ve stabilized and kept the weight off for about 3 years. It’s the
best eating plan I’ve ever tried. It’s really easy. Everything Jimmy says is true!

Gale July 3, 2017 at 3:12 pm

Agree – I just started about a month ago and have lost over 20 lbs. so far. Really surprising how easy it has been.

Victoria Barbosa July 12, 2017 at 7:47 pm

Gale, you may find that much of the weight you lost is water weight, and might return when you eat after fasting. You might want to read Dr Jason Fung’s website, intensivedietarymanagement.com,for more information. He has a lot of articles about intermittent fasting and the low carb high fat diet, which many people find helpful.
God bless.

Les June 25, 2017 at 6:03 am

It always amazes me when people suggest coffee or tea as acceptable drinks. Have they no taste buds? The EXTREME bitter taste should immediately scream poison.

Mary June 25, 2017 at 7:14 am

Protein can also help prevent spikes, though it does have calories.

Note that the bad effects of diet soda are mitigated — with food.

Ginger Nutter June 25, 2017 at 8:18 am

Great job, Jimmy! I began IDF for Lent this year after reading Dr. Fung’s book and blog. Mostly to lose weight and get control of A1C numbers but as I read more about the spiritual discipline of fasting the more encouraged I was to tough through the odd “hard” moment of hunger with prayer. When hunger hits, I know I will eat again either later that day or the next. It forces me now to see my hunger pangs as a need to pray for someone who does NOT know where or when their next meal with arrive. Many of us eat and waste too much food, and we don’t pray enough for others. I like IDF because it has been good for me body and soul. And is slowly becoming my new way of eating.

Steve House June 25, 2017 at 8:48 am

Thanks Jimmy. I’ve had success with an unofficial form of IF during Lent, eating only one meal per day. For the last month I’ve been on a 1500 cal/day IF regimen. It works. However, I’ve also read that occasionally one should take a day and add more carbs than normal, to allow the body to restore some depleted hormones. Anything in your research on this?

Trudy June 25, 2017 at 12:28 pm

Thank you so much for your thoughts and suggestions. I find them very helpful. I need to snack because I am diabetic, so protein is really good. I just discovered Bone broth and am hoping that the supposed “anti-inflammatory” benefits are real. My arthritis will let me know, I am sure. I enjoyed reading the linked article.
Again, my thanks for all you do for the church. Your efforts are appreciated!
Blessings,
Trudy

Jan June 25, 2017 at 1:13 pm

We like zero-calorie, naturally-flavored sparkling water for our daily evening relaxation drink. We do not buy anything at all in aluminum cans.

Kurt Vella St John June 25, 2017 at 7:57 pm

Thanks for sharing your experience Jimmy. It helps motivate us!

Teresa June 27, 2017 at 1:51 pm

Jimmy – thanks for these periodic updates/posts about your intermittent fasting. I have been most impressed with your results and want to congratulate you on your weight loss and for doing it so sensibly. I do have a question for you if it is not too personal to ask. It is this: since you are basically fasting every day, how does this affect your fasting for spiritual purposes? Since every day is essentially a fast day for you and, I presume, not so much of a sacrifice anymore, do you just fast from something other than food? I have been most curious about this, because of my own intermittent fasting regime and how it affects those days when I choose to fast for spiritual purposes. It’s a little confusing for me. Thanks, Jimmy!

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