If you’re looking to lose weight quickly, you’ve probably heard of intermittent fasting by now. Maybe you read about it online or heard about it from a friend.
It’s become quite popular recently among those who want to burn fat and get healthy quickly, so chances are that you’ve considered giving it a go as well. But what exactly is intermittent fasting? And the more important question: does it really work?
This article is here to provide you with some helpful information as to what intermittent fasting is and the different variations of it that exist, as well as some crucial things to keep in mind before attempting it. Keep in mind, though, that any sort of weight loss method can only be truly effective when it is done in combination with healthy food choices and consistent exercise. Don’t worry, myworkouts.io has plenty of useful articles on those topics as well, so be sure to check them out once you’re done here.
For now, though, let’s start off with a basic definition of intermittent fasting, and the three most popular variations of it.
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What Exactly Is “Intermittent Fasting”?
According to Healthline, “intermittent fasting is an eating pattern where you cycle between periods of eating and fasting”. Simply put, you restrict yourself from eating anything for a specific period of time, but outside of that time frame you can eat without restriction.
It basically requires that you place your body on a strict schedule and forces you to be mindful of not just when you are consuming food, but also what exactly you are consuming. Therefore, intermittent fasting is not just a physical challenge, but also a mental one, as you are forced to break most of your normal eating habits in order to fast properly.
For example, if you used to have a snack really late at night, say at around 11:00pm at night, then you most likely wouldn’t be able to do that while intermittent fasting. Most people like to restrict their eating hours from 12:00pm to 8:00pm, which definitely prevents you from giving into old habits and grabbing that tub of ice cream at midnight. There are three main variations of intermittent fasting that I will discuss next.
Intermittent fasting schedules
The 16/8 Method
The Intermittent Fasting 16/8 Method (also known as the Intermittent Fasting 8/16 Method) is fairly simple to comprehend: you fast for 16 hours of the day, and eat anytime during the other eight hours. Although the most common option is to eat from around 12:00 to 8:00 (lunch to dinner), there are other variations of the diet as well. Some people like to have their eating window earlier in the day, while others eat later in the day. The image below, courtesy of James Clear, demonstrates what a typical intermittent fasting schedule would look like:
Christie Williams, a dietician at Johns Hopkins Medicine, says “most people find it easy to stick with this pattern over the long term”. The 16/8 method is a great intermittent fasting schedule for beginners because it is easier to apply. Many folks just skip eating breakfast and stop eating early in the evening to accomplish this. This is a common schedule when just starting intermittent fasting, as it is not as intense as the other two popular methods.
20/4 Intermittent Fasting
This is basically a longer version of the 16/8 Method. The 20/4 method of intermittent fasting is designed so that “for 20 hours of your day, you would not consume any food at all. For the remaining 4 hours of your day, that would be your ‘window’ and when you would be able to consume your daily intake”, according to Keto Diet Review. Fasting for 20 hours instead of 16 helps you lose more weight by keeping your blood sugar levels low for a longer period of time. You should, however, try doing the 16/8 Method first and see how your body responds to that, before attempting to fast for a few more hours.
Another intermittent fasting plan is Eat-Stop-Eat, according to Healthline, “involves fasting for 24 hours, once or twice a week, for example by not eating from dinner one day until dinner the next day”. Although it sounds simple, this variation can be a bit more difficult than the 16/8 Method, and has a higher risk of causing people to overeat on the days where they are able to consume food.
The 5-2 Diet
Also known as The Fast Diet, the 5-2 Diet is currently the most popular intermittent fasting diet. It involves eating normally for five days of the week, then limiting yourself to one meal of about 500-600 calories on the other two days. So for example, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday could be your five days where you eat normally, while Monday and Thursday could be when you only have a single meal.
The 4:3 Diet, also referred to as alternate-day fasting, “involves eating what you want one day and fasting the next”, according to Marie Claire. A common modification of this diet is allowing yourself to eat 500-600 calories on non-fasting days, which is good for beginners. Although the 4:3 diet is about equal to other traditional calorie-restricting diets, research has proven that the 4:3 diet is more effective at retaining muscle mass. This means that the 4:3 diet could potentially be a very good option for bodybuilders and elite athletes who wish to lose weight and burn fat, while also keeping their muscle mass.
36-48 Hour Fasts and 72+ hour fasts
Although these types of longer fasts are definitely not recommended to someone who has never tried intermittent fasting before, there are certainly benefits that can come with them. These benefits have not been extensively studied in humans yet, but there have been many studies on prolonged fasting periods (over 24 hours). Some of the benefits of 36-48 hour fasts (and even 72 hour fasts) include improved cell repair that slows down aging and improved insulin sensitivity that helps your body transport blood sugar more efficiently. In addition, fasting for 48 hours can lead to more effective weight loss.
Thomas DeLauer says that a shorter fast will give you more body composition benefits (like being less bloated from water and food), while a longer fast will give you more cellular rejuvenation benefits. He claims that up until the 72 hour mark, the benefits of intermittent fasting significantly increase. After that, most of the main effects begin to decrease, which is why he didn’t recommend fasting for over 72 hours. It is up to you to decide if you want to do a fast of this length, but be sure to listen to your body and remember to stop if you feel unwell.
Intermittent Fasting benefits
It has been clinically proven that intermittent fasting does indeed help individuals lose weight. However, health experts have informed us that one can only see the full benefits of fasting when it is done in a safe and healthy manner, meaning that you shouldn’t fast for too long or do any other extreme diets at the same time. They also say that, in conjunction with eating healthy foods and getting plenty of exercise, there are several other advantages of intermittent fasting that can significantly improve your health. Here are some of the most important things to keep in mind before attempting intermittent fasting for the first time:
Intermittent Fasting Can Help You Lose Weight
Krista Varady, an associate professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois at Chicago, did a study comparing the effects of alternate-day fasting with calorie restriction in 100 obese adults. “After 1 year, people on the alternate-day fast had lost about 6% of their body weight. The calorie restriction group had lost about 5.3% of their weight”.
But how exactly does fat loss happen? Monique Tello, in her article on Harvard Health Publishing, lets us know how it works:
“Between meals, as long as we don’t snack, our insulin levels will go down and our fat cells can then release their stored sugar, to be used as energy. We lose weight if we let our insulin levels go down. The entire idea of IF is to allow the insulin levels to go down far enough and for long enough that we burn off our fat”.
Intermittent fasting weight loss works because if we don’t allow ourselves to eat too often, and give in to our internal desire to eat three square meals a day, then our bodies will eventually get used to not having as much food and will learn to start burning more fat.
There Are Plenty of Other Physical and Mental Benefits
According to Harvard Health Publishing, the benefits of intermittent fasting go beyond that of weight loss, since over time your body’s metabolism and internal chemistry changes. They include, but are certainly not limited to:
- Lower blood pressure and heart rate
- Reduced insulin resistance
- Lower “bad” LDL cholesterol – according to Healthline, it is “often called the “bad” cholesterol because it collects in the walls of your blood vessels, raising your chances of health problems like a heart attack or stroke”
- Higher “good” HDL cholesterol – often called “good” cholesterol because it takes LDL cholesterol to your liver and removes it from your body, according to Healthline
- Less inflammation throughout the body
- Improved memory
- Longer lifespan
Harvard researchers have said, however, that they are still not certain if these same benefits would be seen in older adults, since most intermittent fasting tests have only been done on mostly young and middle-aged adults. Therefore, older individuals may want to carefully consider whether intermittent fasting would be safe for them.
Which leads me into my next point...
It is Not Safe For Everyone
Intermittent fasting, unfortunately, is not for everyone. There are certain groups of people that should be extra careful when trying it, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. These groups include:
- People with diabetes or blood sugar problems
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women
- Children and teens under the age of 18
- People with a history of eating disorders
Proper nutrition and blood sugar levels are crucial health factors that these individuals listed above need to keep in mind. Going for an extended period of time without food can seriously inhibit growth and result in adverse side effects, especially in those with type 2 diabetes. People with eating disorders also need to be cautious when it comes to intermittent fasting too, since it can cause dangerous behaviors that I will explain later on.
Women who try intermittent fasting may need to follow a different eating schedule than men, since there has been research that suggests women do not always experience the same benefits as men. In fact, Healthline says that while intermittent fasting, women may see that their blood sugar control actually worsens, and that their menstrual cycles are interrupted. This is because women’s bodies are more sensitive to calorie restriction than men’s, and intermittent fasting could disrupt the secretion of certain reproductive hormones. This runs the risk of “irregular periods, infertility, poor bone health and other health effects”, according to a study that Healthline mentions. Therefore, women who want to attempt intermittent fasting should follow modified versions of the various eating schedules described earlier, perhaps by fasting for a shorter period of time and eating a bit more on non-fasting days.
Who Would Intermittent Fasting Be Good For?
Intermittent fasting would be a good weight loss option to try for most people, as it is quite safe and effective as long as you stay hydrated and do not take it to the extreme. It can be very helpful for those who are busy and do not always have time to eat, such as:
- College students who hate waking up early for breakfast, due to a lot of homework or an early class
- Busy young professionals who are entering into a new job and have a large workload, so intermittent fasting gives them more free time
- Those with a history of diabetes or heart disease in their family
- People who are overweight and want to kickstart their weight loss, as intermittent fasting is an efficient tool to help burn fat quickly
- People who already have an inconsistent eating schedule, since it will be less difficult for them to get accustomed to not eating for an extended period of time
As with any weight loss program, make sure to carefully consider if you are both capable and willing to stick to the plan that you lay out for yourself. Be sure to consult with your doctor first if you plan on fasting for longer than 72 hours.
Can You Drink Coffee While Intermittent Fasting?
The short answer: Yes. That is, as long as you drink it black.
According to Healthline, a cup of coffee only has about 3 calories and very few proteins, fats and other minerals, so it should not compromise your fast too much.
In fact, there is even evidence that having coffee while intermittent fasting can actually enhance some of the benefits. Some of the advantages that drinking coffee can provide include:
- Reduced inflammation
- Improved brain health and lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s
- Reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes
- Lower chance of getting heart disease
Therefore, it is safe and even very beneficial to drink coffee during intermittent fasting, as long as it is consumed in moderation and with no added ingredients.
It Can Lead to Binge Eating and “Yo-yo Dieting”
Individuals with eating disorders could encounter serious issues when attempting to do intermittent fasting. For example, someone with anorexia could take the fasting part of the diet way too far, and end up not eating for a long period of time.
According to Healthline, someone with anorexia tends to “constantly monitor their weight, avoid eating certain types of foods, and severely restrict their calories”.
This type of person could take time-restricted feeding to the extreme and lose an unhealthy amount of weight quickly, as they tend to have an unrealistic view of themselves. Therefore, people with anorexia are recommended to consult a health professional first before attempting intermittent fasting.
Those who also engage in binge eating, which is a subset of anorexia as well as a common behavior in those with bulimia nervosa, might want to think twice about trying this weight loss method. They run a high risk of overeating during the times when they can eat, which will not only eliminate any weight loss they had achieved up to that point, but also encourage them to purge themselves by vomiting to lose that weight again. This, eventually could start a vicious cycle of dieting and eating excessively, known as “yo-yo dieting”.
There are many harmful effects of this cycle of weight loss and weight gain, according to WebMD. It could lead to issues such as muscle loss, heart disease, increased resistance to insulin, and even death over a longer period of time. Therefore, anyone with a history of having eating disorders or an inability to stay committed to a particular diet needs to think extremely hard about trying out intermittent fasting. The consequences of taking it too far are severe and deadly.
Tips and Tricks for Intermittent Fasting
Here are some of the most important tips and tricks that you can use whether you’re just starting intermittent fasting for the first time, or if you’re looking to go on a longer fast.
One of the biggest mistakes that people make when intermittent fasting, according to Thomas DeLauer, is not drinking enough water. He reminds us that water is essential to flushing out dead cells and other toxins from fat out of our bodies. Without it, not only are we making ourselves dizzy and dehydrated, but we are also keeping these dangerous toxins inside our bodies, which can make us sick and eliminate any progress we have made. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that you drink water and stay sufficiently hydrated for the duration of your fast. Or if you don’t want water, you can have other 0-calorie alternatives like seltzer or fizzy drinks. Drinking water will also help you feel full and take your mind off of hunger you may be experiencing; this is especially helpful when it is not your time to eat.
Keep Yourself Distracted
It can be very easy to let your mind wander in your free time, and it will likely start to think about food if you’re already deep into your intermittent fasting. Therefore, a useful tip is to simply keep yourself occupied. Spend time with family or friends, get some work done, or get a good workout in. All of these activities can distract you from any hunger pangs that you may be feeling. Another important note that Thomas DeLauer makes is that our minds have been trained to make us want to eat food, even if we are not actually hungry. He says that our bodies do not always need three meals a day, as our ancestors would go for several days without any food. Therefore, redirecting your mind to something else besides food is beneficial in terms of completing a fast.
Eat Only a Small Meal After Completing a Fast
You may be tempted to treat yourself to a large meal consisting of your favorite foods after finishing your fasting period, especially if it was longer than 24 hours. However, this is not recommended and can ruin any progress you may have made while fasting. Instead, opt to have a smaller, low-carb meal, as this can reduce your hunger and make intermittent fasting easier, according to this 2014 study. Combining your intermittent fasting with the ketogenic diet is a very effective way to lose weight, but only try this after you have experience with just intermittent fasting first.
Remember that Weight Loss is All About Caloric Deficit
The only way to lose weight, simply put, is through burning more calories than you consume. You can spend 16 hours of your whole day not eating and taking in any calories, but if you overeat in those other eight hours, you run the risk of offsetting any progress you might’ve achieved. In some ways, intermittent fasting can seem like a mind game at first; it can be unbelievably tempting to just eat whatever you want when you are not fasting. However, the key to overcoming this is to remind yourself of your end goal. Maybe it’s a certain weight you’re trying to reach. Whatever it may be, you must keep in mind that the only way to get there is through a caloric deficit. Stay focused and in control of your old eating habits. Do not let yourself indulge on junk foods and sugary snacks, as they are filled with empty calories that do more harm than good. If you only eat healthy foods like meats, fish and vegetables, and control your portions, then you should easily be able to maintain that caloric deficit and lose weight.
Those are just a few of the most important tips to follow when trying intermittent fasting for the first time. In addition, be sure to listen to your body and know when to stop. If you experience intense dizziness and nausea that doesn’t go away after a short period of time, then it would be best to stop. Do not take things to the extreme either; only fast for 16 hours if it is your first time.
These are some of the most important things to know about intermittent fasting, and although there are some benefits that require more research, it has been proven that it is a powerful method to improve your health. Here are a few of the most crucial facts you should take away from this blog post:
- There are several different ways of doing intermittent fasting, including the “16/8 method”, “Eat-Stop-Eat”, and the “5-2 diet”. All three methods have been proven to be effective, so it is up to you to find out which one works best for you.
- It has been proven to be effective for weight loss when done correctly, and in conjunction with exercise and eating healthy foods in the time frame when you do actually eat.
- It can lead to “yo-yo dieting”, which is when you restrict your eating for a certain period of time, and then eat an unhealthy amount of food when you are allowed to eat. This can nullify any weight loss progress you have made and seriously disrupt your eating habits in the future.
- There are still some effects and benefits not sufficiently researched yet, so not everyone can expect to see the same results from trying intermittent fasting.
To learn more about different diets and other valuable nutrition tips, be sure to visit www.myworkouts.io/edu.