Over the last several years the general public started to shift towards more effective and healthier diets. One of them is the intermittent fasting diet. You may already know a little about how intermittent fasting works. It’s almost certain that you’ve even tried it yourself, possibly without realizing!
Whatever the case might be, in this intermittent fasting guide I will try to uncover everything there is to know about.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting (IF) is the strict reduction or complete abstinence of food in the person’s diet. It’s always done willingly and it’s done with intervals of normal food intake.
The difference between regular diets and the intermittent fasting diet is that intermittent fasting doesn’t limit the amount of food you can eat. It only limits when you can do it.
I bet this sounds daunting and unhealthy. After all, how can the act of starving yourself be good for you?
But look at it from a different from point of view. Think of the time when people were living as hunters-gatherers. Back then, there was no technology to store food for long periods of time and they couldn’t go and buy food in a grocery store.
Their ability to get food was very much dependent on natural resources and the weather. This means that they had to live through days or even weeks with little to no food at all.
Obviously, this is no longer the case now. We have supermarkets, refrigerators and foods that can remain on the shelve for years and still be perfectly good to consume.
In contrast, our bodies haven’t really changed that much from hunter-gatherer times. The mechanism for coping with very limited food intake is encoded in our DNA. That’s why skipping meals for a day or two is perfectly safe for most people.
In addition, it is important to understand that there’s a bit more to intermittent fasting that you might think. There are several different types that range from limiting your calories to skipping meals for 24 hours. Needless to say, there’s probably an intermittent fasting method that will work for you!
How to Intermittent Fast
You will need to pick a fasting method to start. I’ve listed the most popular ones below and you can read about them in more detail. I always recommend starting from the easier ones just to get the feel of it.
Starting out with the most difficult one can scare you away because you might not be used to the feeling of hunger for extended amounts of time. Even though it usually becomes easier as you go, it might be an unpleasant experience.
For example, if you’re having problems dealing with hunger, you may want to start with the 5:2 diet that doesn’t cut the food completely. If you don’t feel like eating breakfast, the 16-hour fast probably will work great for you.
Use the intermittent fasting guide below to understand how each method works and apply it accordingly. Feel free to adjust them to your needs or move on to more difficult ones once you feel like you’re ready.
16-hour Intermittent Fasting
This is the one that you’ve probably done without even realizing. Those 16 hours of also include your sleep time. So, if you’ve ever eaten dinner and slept in the next day, you’ve probably didn’t eat for more than 16 hours if your next meal was lunch.
People usually execute the 16-hour fast by skipping breakfast and not eating anything after dinner and before lunch. Some people do it naturally because they just don’t feel hungry.
If you’re prone to snacking, it might be a bit more difficult as you will need to avoid snacks during that 16-hour period. The good news is, if you subtract sleep from that time, you won’t need to fight your urges for very long.
This type of fasting is also sometimes called the 16/8 intermittent fasting or the “Leangains” method, developed by Martin Berkhan. The general idea is the same and revolves around 16-hour fasting times. The difference is that the program is specifically built for people who want to gain low body fat percentage through exercise and dietary changes.
24-hour Intermittent Fasting
This is the fasting method that’s more effective but it requires more effort, especially at the very beginning. However, the title makes it sound worse than it actually is. The name suggests that you won’t get to eat anything for the entire day.
While technically it is true, with good planning you can get to eat during your fast day. For example, if you decide to fast on Wednesday, you can eat your dinner at 6PM on Thursday and then not eat anything afterwards. Then, you can prepare yourself a nice dinner on Wednesday at 7PM and you will have fasted for 24 hours! Repeat this 2 times a week and you have a solid intermittent fasting plan.
Drinks without calories will help you to feel full through the day. Unsweetened, milk-free coffee and tea are great options for this purpose.
The 24-hour intermittent fasting diet is also known as the “Eat Stop Eat” diet, developed by Brad Pilon, a researcher and intermittent fasting advocate.
The 5:2 diet is a type of intermittent fasting that allows you to eat a little. The title suggests you that during a course of a week, you should eat food like you normally do for 5 days and 2 when the food is limited.
How limited are we talking about? According to 5:2 fasting rules, during those 2 days you should eat 4 times less than normally. For example, if you normally eat 2000 calories, during fasting days you should eat no more than 500.
To be completely technical, such eating regime is not fasting. However, due to structural similarities people often consider the 5:2 diet to be in the fasting category.
If 5:2 fasting seems a bit too much at the very beginning you can try 6:1 diet that works exactly the same, the only difference is that you fast for one day per week instead of two.
This is yet another one that you’ve probably done without realizing. However, this is technically not fasting but it very beneficial if you use it alongside other intermittent fasting strategies.
This simply involves skipping meals when you get an opportunity to do so. For example, if you don’t feel like eating lunch, just don’t eat it. Same story goes for when you’re feeling tired or lazy to cook.
When it comes to snacking, you can get into habit of asking yourself whether you really need the food or is it just something you’re used to. You would be amazed how many times you can skip a snack or a meal without feeling any hunger or discomfort at all.
Your Own Intermittent Fasting Plan
Difficulty: up to you
The beauty with intermittent fasting is how easy and customizable it is. Because there are no complex rules involved, all you need to do is realize the window of time when you eat and the window of time when you don’t.
For example, you can choose to eat for 4 hours every day, followed by a 20-hour fast. If you want to make things easier, add some rest days between them and eat for two consecutive days like you do normally, until the next fasting day comes.
This makes it easy to fine-tune the duration and create your own intermittent fasting guide. Many people find comfort and trust in methods that have been tested by others and are known to work. And that’s perfectly fine. However, you know your body best and you may find better luck with a strategy of your own.
Intermittent Fasting: Weight Loss Wonder
Obviously, people wouldn’t do intermittent fasting for no reason at all. The diet brings countless benefits that have been known for years. Fasting is also an important part of world’s largest religions – including Christianity, Islam and Buddhism.
Improves Weight Loss
No unexpectedly, just like with all diets, it is probably the main reason why people do intermittent fasting. The fact that you miss some of your meals means that, in general, you reduce the number of calories you consume.
Over 40 studies have confirmed the intermittent fasting weight loss. On average, people lose 7 – 11 pounds over 2.5 months. While that might not sound impressive, it’s important to understand that the studies included various different types of intermittent fasting and both lean and overweight people.
The key to success with intermittent fasting is to not overcompensate for the missed meals when the fasting period is over. The first law of thermodynamics is still there. In the end, weight loss is still “calories in” versus “calories out”. Eat like you normally do and don’t do go for double servings just because you fasted yesterday.
Improves Heart Health
Intermittent fasting was observed to reduce bad cholesterol, improve triacylglycerol concentration and reduce blood pressure in obese patients (source). All of which are factors that greatly contribute to the overall heart health.
With heart heart disease being the number one killer worldwide, it’s important to not take your heart’s health for granted. A good intermittent fasting diet along with healthy foods can help you manage the risk.
Can Help Manage Diabetes
Another great thing about fasting is its ability to improve insulin sensitivity. This means that insulin resistance and blood sugar levels reduce, thus decreasing the risk of type 2 diabetes (source).
However, it is important to note that it’s not advised for you to start intermittent fasting if you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes. If that is the case, always consult your physician before making any changes to your diet.
Helps Preserve Muscle Mass
Weight loss goes side by side with muscle loss. It’s impossible to lose weight without losing at least some lean mass.
For this reason, it is important to keep exercising, especially lifting weights, in order to maintain your muscle. The good news here is: compared to other diets, intermittent fasting is better at maintaining your lean mass (source).
However, if muscle mass is your primary goal, you might want to look for other dieting options or pick intermittent fasting methods that aren’t as intense for best results.
Can Fix The Stalling Diet
If you’re on a diet and you’ve hit plateau (i.e. stalled), it might be a frustrating experience. The reason for this is that people usually hit it before they reach the weight goal that they’ve set for themselves.
Generally, there are two main solutions that can resolve this situation. The first one requires reduction of calories you eat even further. The other introduces intermittent fasting.
People often find the latter easier because calorie restriction usually causes the feeling of hunger to last throughout the day, every day. While it gets better over time as your body adjusts, intermittent fasting has the benefit of being more flexible and easier to execute.
Intermittent fasting is especially popular among people who are on the keto diet, as a coping mechanism for when their diets have stalled.
Should I Do Intermittent Fasting?
For most people, intermittent fasting is safe and should not cause any issues aside from the feeling of hunger. However, there are some risk factors that can lead to health problems.
If you are underweight or have a history of eating disorders, intermittent fasting can have a very negative effect in the long run. In these cases, you must consult your medical professional before starting a fast.
Intermittent fasting is also known to work better for men than women. I will provide more information regarding this question in further sections. This is important, as some women can have negative side effects as a result of intermittent fasting.
Obviously, intermittent fasting should not be done by kids or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. In addition, anyone with a pre-existing condition should consult their healthcare professionals. This is especially the case for those who have diabetes, problems with blood sugar control, eating disorders or low blood pressure.
Is Intermittent Fasting Bad For Women?
A 2005 study showed that intermittent fasting caused women’s glucose tolerance to be affected in a negative way. Meanwhile, the same metric for men showed an improvement.
Women are also more susceptible to strict calorie intake reductions, which results in numerous health issues. The exact mechanics of this process are quite complex. The short story is: strict calorie reduction can impair body’s ability to release a hormone responsible for regulating the menstrual cycle. This can result in amenorrhea (irregular periods), infertility and other health issues associated with it (source).
This suggests that intermittent fasting has more favorable results for men. However, it doesn’t mean that intermittent fasting is strictly men-only.
Women can also enjoy the benefits of intermittent fasting, but they need to ease into the process by starting with shorter fast duration. The ideal place to start would be either the 5:2 diet or 16-hour fast.
Once you feel comfortable and don’t notice any negative side effects, you can move on to more restrictive diets, like 24-hour intermittent fasting.
Like always, if you’re unsure or notice any unpleasant side effects, consult your physician immediately.
Intermittent Fasting: Tips and Tricks
There are some ways you can ease the process of fasting by applying some of these tips and tricks:
- Go to bed early
Especially if you’re living a busy schedule, you can really benefit from those extra hours of sleep. It will allow the hours to pass by quicker and you are likely to feel less desire to eat in the morning.
- Drink lots of fluids
Fluids can help you with the feeling of fullness. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. Coffee and tea can help reduce hunger as well. Just make your hot beverages are free of sugar and milk.
- Plan your fast days
Some days are easier to do intermittent fasting than others. People usually keep weekends normal and squeeze in their 2 fast days somewhere between Monday and Thursday. For instance, when I was fasting, I used to do it on Thursday and Thursday. Keeping good distance between consecutive fast days and adjusting it to your work / school schedule can do wonders.
I’m sure you’ll come up with your own tricks once you start your intermittent fasting. Just listen to your body and adjust as necessary to feel as little discomfort as possible.
The Bottom Line
Intermittent fasting diet is definitely not for everyone. Some people can’t even stand the idea of not eating for extended periods of time.
However, those who want better results from their existing diet or want to lose weight without making major changes in the amount of food they eat, then intermittent fasting will work great for them.
I know it might sound scary and dangerous to not eat for 16 or 24 hours. That’s how I felt it when I first tried it, even though I already knew all the science behind it.
But once you try it, you will see it is easier than it sounds. Especially after the first few rounds of fasting. Eventually the feeling of hunger will diminish and will become so manageable that you will basically not even feel it.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Does intermittent fasting speed up your metabolism?
Yes, but only on the first few several days. After this, metabolism usually slows down. However, none of the intermittent fasting strategies described on this article involve fasting for more than a day in a row?
- Is intermittent fasting safe?
Generally, yes. However, there are some exceptions which I mentioned above. Always consult your physician if you have existing conditions or you feel like it might have an adverse effect for you.
- Is skipping meals unhealthy?
Not necessarily. It’s a common misconception that skipping meals is bad for your health. Such image was probably formed by meal skipping being associated with bad eating habits in general. However, if you stick to a healthy diet, meal skipping is perfectly fine.
- Can I work out during intermittent fasting?
Yes. I would actually encourage workouts as a measure to prevent loss of lean mass. You may feel tired during your exercises if you go work out on your fast day. That’s why in the beginning I would advise working out on the days when you eat normally.