What does a 20:4 eating window look like?

As many of you may know this is the schedule that I keep most commonly over the past year. I have received many comments asking how I do it and what it’s like.

I began with an 18:6 window which means I ate all of my calories within a 6-hour window. I noticed that I was less hungry during that second meal, sometimes I would skip it and only have the one. Some people choose to only eat once a day, also known as OMAD (One Meal A Day). We can look deeper into that strategy on a later post, in case it appeals to you. 

When I switched to a 20:4 window I was eating one primary meal each day, but not willing to say that this one plate is it. What if I get hungry in an hour? What if I don’t eat enough in that one sitting. It is not uncommon for us to complete our meal time and later feel either hungry or bloated, depending on whether we ate too much or too little respectively. 

My common approach is to have something small to munch on while I’m getting ready to eat. 

  • Sometimes this is a protein shake after the gym while I’m driving home to eat. 
  • Sometimes a snack while the food is cooking, maybe a chunk of cheese for example
  • Sometimes it’s not healthy at all, just whatever is available to fill the gap until a family meal time. 

The main meal is always my biggest calories load of the day. I want to eat something that satisfies my cravings. A huge part of that for me is adequate protein. I enjoy working out and lifting heavy, I need adequate protein available to rebuild muscle tissue as I work out.  One dilemma I faced early on in this journey was getting full too fast. I would have a plate of food, and before I finished, I was stuffed. That usually meant I had ½ portion of meat remaining. This was cutting into my protein intake so I started prioritizing the order I eat foods. I eat my proteins first now. I also try to save the heavy carbs for last. Everything else can fall somewhere in the middle. If I am going to get full and not finish a meal then I prefer to finish the steak and toss the fries. 

A huge part of my routine that many people struggle with is desert. I have a desert with almost every meal. I like to wait 30 minutes after the meal before I start deserts. This accomplishes a couple things for me. It extends my window to eat a little so that I’m not consuming everything in an hour. It also gives my body time to interpret signals from the stomach. We address hormones like ghrelin and leptin in this post about cravings. 

These same hormones are sending signals during your meal to let you know that you are still hungry (ghrelin), or that you have enough (leptin). 

Sometimes it can take a few minutes for your brain to interpret these signals and tell your brain to stop eating. This is one of the reasons why your stomach hurts after a holiday meal. You are filling up your tummy faster than the hormones can signal. Now you are in the fetal position on the couch promising to never eat pie again. No one really believes that you are never eating pie again, you don’t even believe it yourself. 

After I eat my meal, I wait 30 minutes, then I evaluate my hunger levels.

Am I still hungry? If the answer is yes, then I’m probably going to have more food before I worry about desert. This rarely happens now, but while I was learning this was a frequent occurrence. If you will start listening to your body now, and trying to understand its signals, this journey will go easier for you. Don’t assume you know what your body is signaling. Make an educated guess, but be open to experimentation along the way. 

Assuming I am not still hungry, I will eat my desert. Whatever I am craving is fair game. I don’t restrict this desert. I don’t count the calories or try to stick to a serving size. I have already taken the precaution of making sure I am full. 

Ghrelin is not fighting against me during my desert because I waited until I was full and let leptin do its job. Now I can enjoy a slice or two of cake without threat of binging on 5 pieces. 

Start to finish I am looking at a snack/shake, a primary meal, and a desert. This could take 2 hours or 4 hours depending on the day and what I have going on. Try not to obsess over this window. If you are done in 2 hours and you are full. Close it down. There is no reason to make sure you go an entire 4 hours. On the other end of this spectrum, let’s say you have your meal, waited 30 minutes, you are still hungry. So you decide to cook more food… by the time the rest of the meal is done you are at 4.5 hours and you still need to eat. 

Who cares? I would still try to get 20 hours fasted before I break again. Just don’t stress over it. Let this flow into a habit. Many people find that after a few months they no longer need to track their fast times. They just eat when they feel hungry, once they are full, they stop eating again until the next day. 

Intuitive eating is definitely possible with fasting and may be a goal for many of you. It starts with listening to your body and learning to decipher the signals. 

Happy Fasting!!

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