Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve most likely heard chatter about intermittent fasting and how it may help you lose weight, balance blood sugar, and even prevent specific illnesses.

But before you jump in, you should know that intermittent fasting can also lead to bad habits, so it’s imperative that you approach it in the healthiest, more strategic way possible.

Related Reading: 13 Vegetarian Blogs to Inspire Healthy Eating All Year Long

Whether you’re totally new to fasting or you’ve been doing it for years, make sure you’re following these intermittent fasting tips and tricks—and always consult your doctor before making any major health changes in your lifestyle:

1. Stay Hydrated

Getty Images /d3sign

Drinking water while you’re fasting is a must. Not only will it help keep you from getting dehydrated, it will prevent constipation and may help curb hunger. As Dr. Marvin Singh, an integrative gastroenterologist and family medicine physician explains: “It’s good to stay hydrated because your oral intake is less overall and our bodies need plenty of water in order to function optimally.”

You don’t have to stick to just plain water, either. You can also drink calorie-free herbal teas like peppermint or chamomile to help you stay hydrated without breaking your fast.

2. Make Your First Meal a Balanced One

Easy Vegetable Soup recipe

Chowhound’s Easy Vegetable Soup

Whether you’ve been fasting for 12, 16, or 24 hours, you’re probably very ready to eat. And while intermittent fasting is technically more about when you eat than what, how you break your fast still matters. Opt for a healthy meal that’s easy to digest and not filled with sugar or simple carbs, which will cause your blood sugar to spike.

Dr. Singh tends to break his fast around lunchtime, usually with “a big salad with a bunch of leafy greens, veggies, pecans, olive oil and balsamic,” he says. Other great fast-breaking foods include oatmeal, eggs, and vegetable soup. If you need more inspiration, here’s exactly what to eat to break your fast, according to nutritionists and dietitians.

3. Use Caffeine Strategically

Getty Images / Jonathan Kantor

According to the Mayo Clinic: “Caffeine may reduce feelings of hunger and your desire to eat for a brief time.” You can use this to your advantage while you’re fasting by starting the day with a small cup of black coffee. This won’t break your fast but may help you feel energized and less hungry. Just don’t overdo it, or you might experience symptoms like muscle tremors, irritability, and headaches. “Too much caffeine can also make you dehydrated, so make sure you’re drinking plenty of water,” says Dr. Singh.

Related Reading: Five Coffee Resolutions for the New Year

4. Exercise

Getty Images / Zena Holloway

It may seem counterintuitive, but exercise can actually help you curb your appetite. Not to mention, exercise has also displayed beneficial effects on blood glucose control.

So what kind of exercise should you do while you’re fasting? One study showed that aerobic exercise is better at suppressing appetite than anaerobic exercise. Good examples of aerobic exercise include swimming, cycling, walking, and rowing, according to Cleveland Clinic.

Related Reading: 10 Snacks and Meals for After a Workout

According to Dr. Singh, you shouldn’t go crazy at the gym, especially if you’re on a more intense protocol or you’re new to fasting. “However, if you are just doing time restricted fasting, once you are used to it, go ahead and exercise away!” he says.

5. Take It Easy on the Carbs

sauteed kale recipe

Chowhound’s Easy Skillet Kale

Simple carbs like white flour, rice, and corn are addictive and can leave you wanting more. They can also lead to spikes and crashes in your blood sugar that you definitely want to avoid if you’re about to fast for an extended period of time. Instead, stick to high-fiber foods before you fast. Fiber takes longer to digest, helps stabilize blood sugar, and will make you feel fuller for longer—which will prevent a crash four hours into your fast and increase your chances of success.

6. Don’t Overdo It

Getty Images / Johanna Parkin

If you’re a beginner and used to eating every few hours, don’t start with a 16- or 18-hour fast.

This may leave you dizzy, irritable, lethargic, and shaky, which may discourage you from fasting at all. Instead, try leaving 12 or 14 hours between dinner and breakfast the next day. Once you’ve gotten comfortable with that, you can increase the duration of your fasts little by little.

Intermittent fasting is a great tool to better your health, but it’s important to do it the right way. Following these tips and tricks will increase your chance of success and make your fast a whole lot healthier.

And remember, you should always consult your personal physician before embarking on any diets or major health-related changes.

Header image courtesy of Getty Images / Johanna Parkin

Gretchen Lidicker is a writer, researcher, and author of the book CBD Oil Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide To Hemp-Derived Health & Wellness. She has a masters degree in physiology and complementary and alternative medicine from Georgetown University and is the former health editor at mindbodygreen. She’s been featured in the New York Times, Marie Claire, Forbes, SELF, The Times, Huffington Post, and Travel + Leisure.
See more articles