People call intermittent fasting a diet, I look at it as more of an eating strategy. A strategy that’s easy to incorporate into your routine (you don’t have to cut any of your favorite foods) and comes with lots of health benefits. In this guide, I cover the benefits, the different types of intermittent fasting, the science behind it, big names who support it, and how to keep yourself on track.
Let’s get into it.
WHAT IS INTERMITTENT FASTING?
Intermittent fasting has been around since the dawn of mankind. Feast or famine, it was a part of life.
As civilizations developed, humans used intermittent fasting for other reasons. Many religions incorporate periods of fasting as an act of purification, penance for sins, or to get closer to God.
Fasting is a normal condition for the human body and can benefit both the body and mind.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
There are different fasting schedules you can follow (covered below) that fit every person and lifestyle.
Fasting is less about the type of food you eat and more about when you’re eating it. But if your entire diet consists of chips, cookies, and soft drinks, you’re not going to get anywhere.
As long as most of what you eat is nutritious, a few crappy meals isn’t going to kill you.
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF FASTING?
When deprived of constant fuel, our bodies kick into protection mode.
Processes involving our cells, hormones and genes work to keep the body running efficiently. This results in lower insulin and blood glucose levels and increases human growth hormones.
Intermittent fasting can force your body to burn fat cells and help to increase lifespan and ward off diseases like Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
To see results, you have to deprive your body of food for at least 16 hours. This break from the eating/digesting cycle helps alert the body to utilize cells for optimal performance.
Not only can you lose weight, you can keep it off. This study compared results of participants on a conventional heart-healthy diet with those on a high-protein, low-calorie diet using the IF eating pattern.
Both ways proved effective in a reduction of weight, cholesterol and fatty acids, but the IF people were less likely to have gained the weight back a year later.
Just like calorie restriction, fasting can increase lifespan. When you fast, you give your cells a break allowing them to eliminate toxins. This helps slow the aging process and the diseases associated with it.
Helps protect against diabetes by lowering insulin resistance and blood sugar levels. The energy our cells need to function come from sugar. But cells won’t let sugar enter on its own, a ‘key’ is required to unlock the cell and usher in the sugar.
This is where insulin comes in. When we eat, our pancreas releases insulin that attaches to sugar and tells cells to accept it. Type 2 diabetes develops when your body becomes insulin-resistant leaving high levels of sugar in the bloodstream.
Basically, the less you eat, the less sugar will be in your blood so your body won’t need to make insulin as often.
Fasting keeps your heart healthy by improving blood pressure. It also improves triglycerides and cholesterol levels, inflammation and blood sugar.
Cancer seems hard to totally escape, but there are things you can do to reduce your risk. Studies show that IF helps hinder the growth rate of cancer cells. And apparently, when paired with chemotherapy, int fasting may help reduce the severity of side effects.
It can help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress and improve proteins important to a healthy brain.
Along with increase nerve cell growth and the brain hormone BDNF. All of this protects against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s.
6 TYPES OF INTERMITTENT FASTING
#1 — Spontaneous Meal Skipping
This is the easiest way to ease into the intermittent fasting lifestyle. There’s no format to follow or foods to avoid. Just skip your meals every now and then. Use a structure that’s convenient for you, say when you aren’t hungry, or are too busy to cook.
#2 — Leangains Protocol (16:8)
Popular because it’s so flexible. With this fasting schedule you have an 8-hour eating window. 16-hours of fasting, 8-hours of eating. That’s it.
I prefer my eating window to be between 11:30 AM and 7:30 PM. So instead of eating breakfast at 7AM, I eat at 11:30AM.
All that matters is that you fast for 16-hours, keep your timing consistent and hit your recommended caloric intake. You’re allowed to drink during the 16-hour fast so stay hydrated.
#3 — The Fast Diet (5:2)
Eat normally for 5 days out of the week. And the other 2 (nonconsecutive) days, restrict your caloric intake to 500-600 calories.
But, the good news is, you can break up the calorie count into however many meals you want.
Choose Monday/Thursday one week and Sunday/Tuesday the next. What matters is that you eat healthy every day and don’t binge on non-fast days.
#4 — Warrior Fast
The Warrior Fast is for hard-core participants.
With this plan, you fast for 20 hours every day. Small amounts of fruits, vegetables, protein and fresh juices are allowed if necessary to get you through.
Then, within 4 hours of bed, you eat one large meal.() This plan is more restrictive than other plans in the foods allowed.
Its foods fall more in line with a paleo diet. The Warrior is not for everyone.
Not only can it be difficult to eat only once a day, but some participants experience digestive issues from eating a large meal so late in the day.
#5 — Eat Stop Eat
Like the warrior fast, this one consists of 1 meal per day. But with this method, no solid food is allowed while fasting.
So, for instance, you might fast from dinner one day to dinner the next, or breakfast to breakfast, or lunch to lunch. Whatever works for you.
What matters is no food during fasts and normal eating during meals. As with other plans, water, coffee and other non-calorie drinks are allowed all day. Not for the faint-of-heart.
Might be easier to start with a shorter time span between meals before working up to the 24 hour period.
#6 — Alternate Day Fasting
If you thought Eat Stop Eat was intense, check out Alternate Day Fasting.
This approach says it all in the name. One day you eat, one day you fast. Some versions allow up to 500 calories on fasting days, but most require an entire day of no food.
Not the best plan for beginning fasters.
WHAT SUCKS ABOUT INTERMITTENT FASTING?
Physically, it can suck.
It’s not uncommon to find your body unhappy when adjusting to a fasting schedule.
Physical effects can include fatigue, difficulty concentrating and dizzy spells. These come from changes in sugar and hormone levels. They should subside after a couple weeks (at most).
If the physical side effects are extremely bothersome, try taking a step back in your plan. Shorten fasting times and gradually work up to the length of time your plan requires.
Mentally, it can suck.
Your brain will throw up roadblocks too. Intermittent fasting has a high dropout rate as participants find their body’s drive to eat too hard to overcome.
Coming off fasts can be just as hard. You’re gonna be super hungry so self-control and healthy food is important to keep you on track.
It’s not for everyone.
Intermittent fasting can be harmful to diabetics, pregnant women, people taking certain meds or those susceptible to electrolyte imbalances. Also not recommended for those suffering from an eating disorder.
Always check with your doctor before jumping into any eating plan.
You actually need to try.
A reduction in calories does more harm than good if you want big muscles. When done incorrectly, fasting can actually cause a decrease in muscle mass.
Fitness fanatics need larger amounts of calories to keep up with what they burn. If you spend a lot of time in the gym and want to give this eating plan a try, be flexible to changes you might need to make to your plan.
8 TIPS TO KEEP YOURSELF ON TRACK
Tip #1 — Do Your Homework
Don’t blindly jump into intermittent fasting. Do your research and choose the eating schedule that suits you best. You can always work up to a tougher plan, take your time towards the beginning. Slow and steady…. (wins the race)
Tip #2 — Start Right
The best time to begin is after dinner, especially for a 24-hour fast. By the time you sleep and wake up, you’ll already be 12 hours in.
No need to rush, it’s okay to slowly work your way up to the complete fasting period. Hold out as long as you can but always listen to your body. If you need to eat, eat.
Tip #3 — Stay Hydrated
When hunger strikes, reach for water. Water fills your belly and keeps your cells happy… especially in the morning when you’re dehydrated from sleeping.
Sugarless and cream-less coffee also works. Dr. Kellyann Petrucci also recommends bone broth. Need something to chew on? Two words: ice cube.
Tip #4 — Limit Fast Time
When fasting to eliminate all calories, don’t fast more than twice per week. Cutting too many calories can leave you dragging and increase the likelihood of you binging when your eating window opens.
Tip #5 — Don’t Give In
Hunger pains are inevitable. Having a plan to deal with them can make all the difference. Remember, your body is adjusting.
Tip #6 — Stay Busy
Read a book, watch a movie, whatever it is, keep yourself busy to avoid caving in.
Tip #7 — Stop Self-Sabotage
Don’t go crazy with processed or sugary foods during your eating windows. Keep meals sizes normal. Keep your first meal healthy to set the tone for those that follow.
Tip #8 — Stick It Out
It’s an adjustment, and there will be hard times, but it gets easier. After the first week, your body will start acclimating to a new way of life. Give at least 2 months for this process to complete and for health benefits to really kick in.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ)
Q: What can I (or can’t I) eat when fasting?
A: Although there’s no strict list of acceptable foods/drinks, it goes without saying that the healthier you eat, the better off you’ll be. Protein, vegetables and fruits are a must.
After a fast, keep the first couple of meals healthy to set the tone for the rest of your eating window.
Q: What can I (or can’t I) drink when fasting?
A: Water is a must, but you can also drink coffee, tea and other non-caloric beverages (yes, La Croix too).
Drinking 2-3 cups of coffee on your fast can speed up your metabolism while suppressing your appetite. Don’t add cream or sugar though… keep those calories from sneaking in.
Your best bet is water. Drink a lot of it, keep your organs functioning properly, and avoid electrolyte imbalances. For some flavor, if necessary, add a bit of maple syrup or lemon juice for flavor. Make sure juices are 100% vegetable or fruit.
Q: How much weight can I lose?
A: You aren’t going to lose it all overnight, but some success stories have seen 30 lbs over a 3-month period. Other participants lost 25 pounds over a four-month period. This averages out to about two pounds a week. What you lose is up to you.
If you stick with nutritious foods and don’t overeat you will lose weight. If you eat nothing but junk or stuff yourself on eat days, you won’t see nearly as good results.
Your commitment determines your success.
Q: How long can I do it?
A: As long as your health is good, you can fast intermittently for as long as you want. As long as you eat right, fast safe and get regular checkups with your doctor, you can choose the duration and the method that works for you.
Q: How does it affect metabolism?
A: When done correctly, fasting can improve your metabolism. The key behind this is short fasting periods. Long fasting periods signal starvation and your metabolism will slow.
Short fasting cycles allow your body to use fat for energy rather than muscle. This only works if you resume normal eating patterns during meal periods. If you ramp up your calories higher than normal, you’re not going to see results.
Q: How long until I see results?
A: For me, it took a couple weeks to look/feel better. It’s different for everybody but you should give yourself at least 2 months. If nothing is happening, reevaluate your diet, and make the necessary adjustments. If you’re still not seeing results, and your diet is good, and you’re fasting enough, it’s possible your body may not respond to it.
Q: Is fasting different for women?
A: Yes, studies show fasting can effect women differently. This mostly comes down to hormones. As females are the carriers of life, their bodies are sensitive to anything that can upset the already delicate hormonal balance.
A woman’s body will go into starvation mode much faster than a man’s. It’ll produce hormones to counter this and can lead to extreme hunger pains that can completely throw off an eating pattern.
Some studies also show that intermittent fasting can upset a woman’s blood sugar control. Women who are just starting out in the intermittent fasting lifestyle should be sure to take it slow and stick with a method that requires calorie reduction on fast days rather than calorie elimination.
FASTING RESULTS FROM AROUND THE WEB
Emi wong of the vlog Stay Fit and Travel found success with the 16:8 method. As an eating disorder survivor, she found intermittent fasting a better approach. By day 11, Emi’s body adjusted, her attitude improved and she could physically see results.
Vlogger Chloe Ting started seeing results within a couple days of starting intermittent fasting. After conquering the mental blocks that arose, she sailed into day 10 feeling and eating healthier.
Sumaya Kazi has been intermittent fasting for 7 ½ months and lost 50 pounds and 40 inches. She’d been overweight for over a decade and though she tried other diet plans, found this was the easiest to stick with. Sumaya has found success with a variation of the 5:2 plan.
The food you fill your plate with during your eating windows can make all the difference in ensuring a successful intermittent fasting cycle. That doesn’t mean that it has to be an overwhelming experience.
When choosing foods and beverages, start by asking yourself how you’ll feel afterward. Will you be proud of the choice, or will it derail all the body benefits you achieved during your fast?
Eating foods full of nutrients will also help to keep your body going during fasting cycles. Snacking’s allowed and can actually be helpful.
For instance, if you find yourself struggling in the early evening, a plateful of raw veggies can fill you up enough to make it through until dinner. Or, if you find that you’re not sleeping well, try a small snack before bed.
When it comes to your main meals, choose high-protein foods. These will help you stay satisfied for longer periods. They do tend to be high in calories so pay attention.
Pair with fresh vegetables and low-calorie fruit to round out a nutritious meal. Avoid carbohydrates as often as possible. Not only are they calorie dense, but they burn off quickly leaving you hungry.
These include potatoes, pasta, bread, bananas, rice and sugar-rich foods. So, we’ve established that you should aim for high protein foods paired with vegetables. What options does that leave you? A whole lot!
Vegan? Try some of these plant-based meals to triumph in your intermittent fast. Adding in fruits, lentils and other nutrients is important. Just be sure they don’t overtake your plate and push your calorie count to excess.
CELEBRITIES THAT SUPPORT FASTING
Hugh Jackman (Wolverine)
Introduced to intermittent fasting by The Rock, Hugh Jackman uses it to keep his muscles in silver screen shape.() Jackman uses an altered version of the 16:8 plan and eats lots of protein to stay in peak condition.
Terry Crews (Dude from White Girls)
Actor Terry Crews has used the 16:8 method for five years, eating meals between 2 and 10 PM. According to Crews, this lifestyle has made him look and feel better than he did in his twenties.
Tom Hardy (Mad Max)
Fury Road actor Hardy uses intermittent fasting in order to lose weight and increase lean muscle.
To get in shape for his role in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Ocsar-winner Affleck turned to intermittent fasting.
Mega-star Beyonce found great success losing post-pregnancy weight by incorporating intermittent fasting into her health regime.
Sources & Additional Resources
8 Healthy Snack Recipes (Infographic) — Vision Times
Intermittent Fasting While Swimming — Underwater Audio
6 Ways To Do Intermittent Fasting — Healthline.com
Top 17 Intermittent Fasting Tricks — The Fat Loss Ninja
Intermittent Fasting Tips for Beginners — Pop Sugar
How Fasting Affects Metabolism — Cooking Light
What to Eat/Drink When Intermittent Fasting — Myolean Fitness
How Often Can You Do Intermittent Fasting? — Perfect Keto
What Should I Eat When Intermittent Fasting — Fast Day
Fasting for Fat Loss — Kino Body
7 Tips to Make Intermittent Fasting Easier — Strong Lifts