Updated: Apr 26
If you’re a fan of diet and fitness, you’ve undoubtedly heard of intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is an eating plan that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. You already do this, even if you’ve never heard of intermittent fasting. You probably sleep all night without getting up for a snack. The popular intermittent fasting plans prolong the period without food to varying degrees.
The most common schedule limits eating to a few hours each day. You could have a late lunch along with dinner at your regular time, liming your eating to a 4-8 hour window. Alternatively, you could eat earlier in the day and quit eating after a late lunch.
Common periods of fasting can range from 8 to 16 hours per day. If you’re enthusiastic, you could try fasting for an entire day once or twice a week. There are also longer, multi-day fasts. Feel free to play around with different options safely, but remember that everyone is different and everyone's body works differently. Do what works best for you and yours.
How Intermittent Fasting Works
Our bodies alternate between one of two states: the fed state and fasted state. Intermittent fasting increases the amount of time our body is in a fasted state. When your body is in a fed state, it burns energy from the food you’ve recently eaten. After a certain amount of time you do not eat and drink only water, your body enters a “fasted state.”
In that fasted state, insulin levels drop. When insulin levels drop, your body burns stored energy instead of energy from the food you’ve recently eaten. With your body burning stored fat instead of food for energy, it becomes easier to lose weight. In addition to burning fat, your metabolism works faster, and your body clears old cells in the fasted state.
Here are various intermittent fasting methods you can implement:
16:8 Method. The 16:8 intermittent fasting method is when you fast for 16 hours and eat within an 8-hour time window. You might have your first meal of the day at noon and eat until 8 pm each day. Alternatively, you might eat breakfast but skip dinner.
14:10 Method. An easier intermittent fasting method to follow is a 14-hour fast, which allows you a 10-hour time window to eat.
20:4 Method. This intermittent fasting method follows a fasting period of 20 hours, giving you a period of 4 hours to eat. In that 4-hour eating window, you can fit in either one large meal or two small meals.
One Meal a Day (“OMAD”). Also known as the 24-hour fast, the OMAD is simple to understand: you restrict your eating to one meal a day.
5:2 Method. This fasting method involves five regular eating days with two scheduled fasting days. During the two fasting days, you limit yourself to eat only 500 calories per day.
Multi-Day Fasts. You can also enter the fasted state for multiple days. Consult a physician if you want to explore longer fasting periods.
An easy way to start fasting is with either the 16:8 or 14:10 method. With these methods, you simply restrict your eating periods by skipping a single meal. In those cases, a majority of your fasting period would be while you're sleeping.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting (IF) has several health benefits:
1. Reduces oxidative damage. Normal cellular metabolism produces free radicals. These highly reactive molecules cause damage in your body. Antioxidants are one class of nutrients that counteract these effects. Intermittent fasting reduces the presence of free radicals, resulting in less oxidative damage. Oxidative damage is also suspected of being one component of aging, so IF can help slow down aging.
2. Reduces inflammation. Systemic inflammation is caused by the immune system. This low-grade inflammation is rarely noticed, but it’s implicated in many chronic diseases like hypertension, arthritis, and asthma. The foods we eat are major contributors to inflammation. By going a longer period without food, you can reduce the amount of inflammation in your body.
3. Possibly increases your life span. IF has been shown to increase life span in rodents. The surest was of increasing the lifespan of any mammal is to reduce its calorie intake. Studies haven’t been going on long enough to show if the effect is found in humans, but scientists have been able to double the lifespan of rats and mice by reducing their food intake.
4. Reduces obesity and hypertension. If you only eat for a few hours per day, you’ll eat less. When you eat less, you weigh less. Hypertension is also reduced by intermittent fasting. Obesity is implicated as a contributing factor to many diseases. Getting your weight under control is an important goal.
5. IF has been found to improve, or even cure, type-2 diabetes. Reducing the number of times you eat each day will reduce the amount of insulin released by your pancreas. This helps to improve insulin sensitivity. Again, losing weight is also believed to be a factor.
By reducing hypertension, inflammation, and blood sugar issues, the likelihood of developing heart disease is much lower. Intermittent fasting can be that powerful. Intermittent fasting has been shown to provide numerous health benefits. However, it’s still necessary to choose your foods wisely. The quality of your diet is still important. No diet will turn doughnuts and chips into health foods. You still have the responsibility to eat well.
Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss
More and more studies show that intermittent fasting can help with weight loss. Fasting helps decrease insulin levels, burn fast, and boost your metabolism. If you chose to try intermittent fasting for weight loss, you won’t have to count calories, just pay attention the time each day when you do eat. Your body will naturally work more efficiently and detox old cells.
If you’re considering intermittent fasting, ensure that you check-in with a physician, particularly if you are underweight or have a medical condition that may make fasting unsafe. Intermittent fasting works differently for everyone. Just don’t use fasting as an excuse to load up on junk food, and make sure to listen to your body. Pay attention to what feels right for you and provides energy for you to live your best life.
Click below for a FREE SMART goal -setting worksheet and flowchart that will help you plan a SMART goal around your intermittent fasting and weight loss goals!
Other Potential Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Although intermittent fasting research is in its early stages, current studies suggest that intermittent fasting can have many lasting health benefits:
● Controls insulin spikes
● Decreases fat mass
● Increases lean muscle mass
● May reduces the risk of cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease
● May lead to longer life
● Reduces inflammation
● May increase energy
In addition to those health benefits, intermittent fasting can be simple to implement. You simply set aside specific time periods to eat and fast. Intermittent fasting can be an effective way to combat aging and many diseases. Of course, it’s still necessary to follow the advice of your physician. Start slowly. Try skipping breakfast and morning snacks for a week. The following week, give up your evening snacks too. You’ll be an intermittent faster before you know it.
Top 10 Intermittent Fasting Tips To Help You Stay on Track
Intermittent fasting can be a very healthy and convenient way to eat. There are many health benefits from intermittent fasting, including weight loss, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, better blood sugar control, reduced inflammation, and the list goes on.
Consider these tips:
Begin by eliminating all food intake after dinner. An easy way to wade into the intermittent fasting waters is to call it quits after eating dinner. Assuming you eat dinner at 6:00, it’s only a few hours until bedtime. If you wake up at 6:00 in the morning, you’ve already fasted for 11-12 hours.
Experiment with different eating/fasting schedules. 12 hours, 16 hours, eating during the week and fasting on the weekends, eating every day, eating one meal per day, and the list goes on. There are plenty of options out there. Start with whatever appeals to you and experiment.
An eating window that is too short could make it challenging to consume enough food. Eating one meal a day is a viable option for many people, but it can be difficult to ingest all the calories and nutrients needed to be healthy and maintain your body weight. I recommend giving yourself a least a few hours to eat each day.
Stay busy. If you reduce the number of meals you eat each day, you’ll be surprised by the extra time you have available to you. You might also find that eating is psychologically soothing for you. One of the best ways to handle both issues is to stay busy. Use the extra time wisely!
Drink water freely. Just because you’re not eating as frequently doesn’t mean you can’t drink water to your heart’s content. Water is the best beverage to consume on an intermittent fast.
Quality still matters. You might be cutting down on your meal frequency and the number of calories you consume each day, but that doesn’t mean you can eat whatever you like. In fact, the quality of your food could matter even more now in order to get your necessary nutrition.
View the fasting period as a rest for your mind and body. Fasting is more challenging if you view it as a sacrifice. You’re actually doing something wonderful for your mind and body. It’s restful, rejuvenating, and healthy.
Exercise. You can still exercise, and you should. Your body requires exercise to stay strong, fit, and healthy.
Plan out your meals. One of the best tips for staying on track is planning out what you’re going to eat and when. Make plans for tomorrow right after you’ve had dinner tonight. You’ll be full and satisfied and more likely to make smart decisions.
Expect some challenges. Have you ever noticed how the family dog knows when it’s dinner time? His body tells him that it’s time to eat. Your body does the same thing. It’s used to eating at a certain time. It will take some time for your body to get the message. Just keep trying.
Intermittent fasting is turning out to be an incredibly healthy way to eat. There are a variety of eating plans, but don’t let that intimidate you. Provided you’re going at least 12 hours without food each day, you’re getting a lot of benefit. Have you tried intermittent fasting yet? How has it gone for you? Let me know in the comments!