Looking to give intermittent fasting a try?
If you’re a beginner, this article will help you learn all the basics (as well as some more advanced tips) to get started with intermittent fasting.
Even if you’re already advanced in IF, this will be your quick and easy reference guide.
In this beginners guide to intermittent fasting, you’ll learn:
- What intermittent fasting is
- Types of intermittent fasting
- Benefits of IF
- Is IF safe?
- How to do it correctly
Let’s jump straight into it.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
In simplest terms, intermittent fasting is a term for abstaining from eating food during a certain time window.
When you do IF, you cycle between periods of eating and not eating.
- For example, one of the most popular types of IF is 16/8. This is where you don’t eat anything for 16 hours, followed by an 8-hour eating window.
As you can imagine, this way of eating can greatly restrict your overall caloric intake.
And that’s why intermittent fasting is most commonly used for fat loss.
Now, this leads us to another question…
Why do People do IF?
Intermittent fasting is extremely popular in the health & fitness community.
It’s been on the rise recently due to its health benefits.
Not only does IF restrict your calories, it also improves your hormones and various health markers.
It helps you burn fat faster, reduce inflammation, boost cognition, and improve overall health. (1, 2, 3)
Don’t worry, we’ll cover these benefits in more detail below.
But the truth is, people have been doing intermittent fasting since the dawn of our race.
Back in ancient times, there weren’t fridges or supermarkets. Food was scarce. It wasn’t unusual for people to go for days without eating at all.
In fact, experts agree that our body is designed for intermittent fasting, rather than always eating 3-5 meals per day.
Which leads us to another point:
IF Saves Time
Some people don’t do intermittent fasting because of its health benefits.
They do it because it saves them time.
Not having to eat 3-4 meals per day can really free up your schedule. Especially if you cook & prepare everything yourself.
Some intermittent fasters do IF just to have a more relaxed diet.
After their fast, they will enjoy their favorite food without the fear of gaining weight.
In the beginning, you might find intermittent fasting hard. You might start craving foods, especially carbs. But over time, you adapt and cravings go away.
Not eating every few hours soon becomes the new normal. And when the eating window comes, those few meals that you do eat, you really savor them.
There are many ways you can ease your way into intermittent fasting and make it a part of your lifestyle.
Let’s find out what those are below.
Methods of Intermittent Fasting
There are many methods of intermittent fasting. Each method has its own pros and cons. That said, they all have one thing in common – a fasting period where you don’t eat anything.
Let’s look at some of the most popular IF methods.
The 16/8 Fast
If you’re new to IF, the 16/8 fasting method is probably the easiest and simplest one to experiment with.
It includes not eating anything for 16 hours, typically from evening till noon. Then you have your 8-hour eating window.
You can choose any 8-hour eating window you want.
For example, you consume food from 11 AM to 7 PM. Then you don’t eat anything until 11 AM the next day.
Oh, and don’t worry – you can still drink your coffee. Beverages with very few to zero calories are fine during fasting. This includes water too!
In fact, a lot of people do this kind of intermittent fasting naturally. They simply aren’t hungry in the morning so they skip their breakfast. By the time the lunch comes, they had probably already fasted for 16+ hours.
Ultimately, the 16/8 method is super easy and simple to do. That’s why it’s the most popular out of all methods – especially among beginners.
It’s as simple as it sounds. After having a meal, you spend the next 28-48 hours not eating anything.
You can choose whenever you want to do it. During the weekdays or over the weekend. For example, you can eat normally and then decide on Friday morning to not eat anything until Saturday afternoon.
It’s important to remember that during the fasting period you should avoid consuming anything that has calories. That said, you can drink unsweetened black coffee or tea.
- It’s not recommended to go longer than 3 days of fasting per week.
Obviously, this is a harder version of the 16/8 method since you don’t eat for longer. But some people prefer it because it gives them better results.
We always say that your mileage may vary when it comes to these things.
Each one of us is different so it’s important to experiment with these methods and see which one works best for you. And most importantly, which one you feel comfortable doing as a part of your lifestyle.
This method is similar to the 16/8 method, but it’s more restrictive.
Here you don’t eat anything for 20 hours, then you have your 4-hour eating window, typically in the evening.
Throughout the night and day, you don’t eat anything. But then in the evening, you eat as much food as you want.
There is a variation of the warrior method where people eat raw fruits and vegetables during their 20-hour fast, instead of not eating anything. Fruits and veggies are low in calories but are also filling since they have lots of fiber. Then at night, they have their big meal.
You can choose any of these two methods as both are shown to yield benefits.
The 5:2 Fast
This is another very popular type of intermittent fasting.
With 5:2, you choose two days of the week where you’ll eat a maximum 500 calories per day.
The other 5 days you eat normally. Hence the name 5:2 method.
This method may be easier for some people because it doesn’t completely restrict foods from your diet. You simply eat much less food during the two days of the week.
Alternate Day Fasting
As you could guess by the name, alternate day fasting means you don’t eat every other day. So one day you eat normally, then the next day you abstain from eating food.
In some variations of this method, people eat up to 500 calories on the “fasting” days.
However, this method isn’t for everyone. It may be the hardest one to do if you’re just getting into IF. It’s hard because your body will feel starving at the end of the fasting day.
So there you have it, these are a couple of IF methods. There are plenty more out there for you to explore and experiment with. However, you should do proper research before trying any of these methods. Be sure to take into account your lifestyle, your goals, and your body. Furthermore, it’s always wise to talk to a health professional before making any drastic changes to your diet.
How IF Affects You on a Cellular Level
When you fast, your body goes through a number of changes.
These changes often happen on a cellular level. Your cells repair, your gene expressions change, and your hormones also adjust. Stored body fat becomes more accessible to your body for energy.
In fact, here are the key things that happen when you fast:
- Growth Hormone Spikes – During fasting, your Human Growth Hormone (HGH) increases dramatically, sometimes over 500%. The implications this has for fat loss and muscle gain are quite big. (4)
- Insulin Sensitivity Improves – Your insulin levels drop when you fast, and your body becomes more sensitive to insulin. This opens the door for your body to burn fat as fuel. (5)
- Longevity Genes Activate – Fasting triggers certain genes which may prolong your lifespan and bolster your body’s resistance to disease. (6, 7 )
- Cellular repair – When your body isn’t busy digesting food, it has all the freedom to focus on doing other internal work. This includes repairing and recycling damaged cells. Fasting is essentially a cleanup of your body from the inside. (8)
These cellular & hormonal changes are the key reasons why intermittent fasting works, and why it’s beneficial for so many people.
Intermittent Fasting and Weight Loss
As we said, one of the main reasons why people do intermittent fasting is to lose weight. (9)
See, intermittent fasting attacks fat in two main ways:
- One is through caloric restriction. Since you eat less often, the total number of calories is very likely to decrease. Which leads to weight loss.
- The other way is through hormones. Not only does intermittent fasting lower your insulin levels (which makes fat available to your body for fuel), but it also increases norepinephrine and growth hormone, both of which kick your metabolism into high gear – making it burn more fat.
In fact, studies suggest that intermittent fasting can boost your metabolic rate by up to 14%. (10, 11) Might not seem like a lot, but these numbers are higher than those of most other fat loss studies.
How Many Calories You Eat is Still Important
Keep in mind though, that if you binge on calories after fasting, you may not lose any weight at all.
The main reason why intermittent fasting works for fat loss is because it restricts your eating time, which typically leads to fewer calories consumed.
But if you binge on unhealthy foods after your fasting period, and consume more calories than you burn, IF is unlikely to help much.
Intermittent Fasting Benefits
While many people turn to intermittent fasting to lose weight, there’s much more IF can do for your body and mind.
From improving heart health to boosting your mental function, here are the key benefits of IF:
- Fights Cancer: Studies in animals showed that intermittent fasting can be an effective aid in cancer prevention and treatment. (12)
- Reduces inflammation: Inflammation is at the root of most modern ailments. Reducing it in any way possible contributes to all aspects of our health. IF can help here, it’s been shown to reduce inflammatory markers in your body. (13)
- Protects and repairs the brain: Fasting doesn’t just increase your Human Growth Hormone. It also ramps up NGF (Nerve Growth Factors). As the name suggests, NGF helps your brain create new nerves and brain cells. Intermittent fasting may even protect your brain from Alzheimer’s. (14, 15)
- Prolongs life: Studies in rats showed that those who fasted regularly had 38-83% longer lifespan. (16)
- Lowers insulin: IF significantly increases insulin sensitivity and reduces insulin levels. It also reduces blood sugar by 4-8%. Besides weight loss, it may also help prevent type 2 diabetes. (1)
- Weight loss: As we’ve discussed, weight loss is one of the biggest benefits of intermittent fasting. By reducing your insulin levels, and by boosting your metabolism, IF will make you burn fat faster. (9)
- Heart health: High insulin and blood sugar, elevated triglyceride levels, and of course, increased LDL cholesterol. Do you know what these have in common? They are main risk factors for heart disease. Intermittent fasting is shown to reduce them all. (1, 17)
These are just some of the key benefits of IF. However, research is still fresh. Many of the studies done on IF were short-term or involving animals. It will be interesting to see more human research in the years to come.
Does Intermittent Fasting Burn Muscle?
If you train in the gym, you know how hard it is to build & maintain your muscle mass.
It’s not an easy task – so why should you risk your hard-earned muscles by doing intermittent fasting?
The truth is, intermittent fasting won’t waste your muscle mass. It’s the other way around.
- Studies show that IF actually enhances muscle preservation in the body. It triggers certain hormones that tell your body to utilize fat for fuel, instead of protein.
What’s more, intermittent fasting also dramatically increases your growth hormone levels. Which is critical for muscle growth.
For these reasons and many more, intermittent fasting will not only help you preserve your existing muscle mass (and potentially build muscle faster), but will also keep you ripped at the same time.
That said, it’s important to keep your overall protein intake high. That’s what has the biggest impact on whether you’ll lose, maintain, or gain your muscle mass.
Will Intermittent Fasting Slow Your Metabolism?
No, it won’t.
Intermittent fasting is so interesting because it makes your body spend fat for fuel. During this process, your hormones such as adrenaline and HGH increase, which act in two ways:
- They increase your metabolism
- They promote fat burning
So far, research shows that you shouldn’t be afraid of intermittent fasting slowing down your metabolism. Because most of the evidence points in the other direction.
Is Intermittent Fasting Healthy & Safe?
When you’re just getting into intermittent fasting, you’re likely to experience some minor side effects like:
- Cravings for specific types of foods (typically carbs)
- Brain fog
And so on. These side effects are pretty common amongst new fasters, actually. It may take a bit of willpower to push through those because they don’t last very long. Once your body adapts to intermittent fasting and you’re on the other side, everything gets much better and smoother.
That said, it’s possible to experience more serious side effects from doing IF if you have a medical condition. Talk to your doctor before doing intermittent fasting if you aren’t unsure about it, or if you suffer from any kind of condition, particularly:
- High blood pressure
- Heart problems
- Low blood pressure
Top Questions About IF
Can Intermittent Fasting Cause Bloating?
Fasting by itself won’t cause bloating, but if you binge eat unhealthy foods after your fast, it’s likely to cause gastrointestinal problems. Just because you’re doing intermittent fasting, it’s not the best idea to simply hop on a junk food diet. Including more fiber, protein, and healthy fats is one way to improve your digestion while intermittent fasting.
What Can You Drink During Intermittent Fasting?
You can drink anything that has zero or very few calories in it. This includes water, tea, coffee, and other calorie-free beverages. Make sure not to add sugar to your drinks.
Is Skipping Breakfast Bad?
It’s not. In fact, for long periods of human history, people didn’t always have access to food. Sometimes they didn’t eat for several days in a row. Our body hasn’t changed a lot since. There are many people who skip their breakfast and lead an overall unhealthy lifestyle. They’re unhealthy not because they skip breakfast, but because of many other factors like smoking, drinking alcohol, eating trans fats, etc. So if you do intermittent fasting and eat a healthy diet, skipping your breakfast will be the least of your worries.
“Can I Eat During Intermittent Fasting?”
It’s called fasting for a reason. In most cases, you shouldn’t eat during a fasting period, that’s the whole point of this practice. That said, certain methods such as warrior fast allow you to nibble on raw fruit and veggies during fast, as these foods are low in calories and high in fiber.
Can You Take Supplements While Fasting?
The answer is yes. Obviously, if the supplement has a bunch of calories in it (which is rarely the case), then you might want to skip on it until your fast ends. It’s also worth mentioning that some supplements only work when you take them with meals, as they need fat for absorption. In this case, these supplements won’t work while you fast.
Is it Okay to Workout While Fasting?
It’s completely fine to exercise during a fast. However, you may want to sip on BCAAs during your fasted workouts; some people find it helps them with exercise performance. But it’s not mandatory at all. Also, don’t worry about muscle loss from training in a fasted state. As we’ve repeated, as long as you eat a clean diet with lots of protein, fasted exercise will only help you burn more fat for fuel, not muscle.
When is the Best Time to Fast?
The best time to fast is whenever it’s more convenient for you. The goal with fasting is to make it a part of your lifestyle for sustained and long-term health benefits. Make fasting work for your goals and lifestyle instead of working against them.
How to Get Started With Intermittent Fasting
First off, make a plan. As we all know, “failing to plan is planning to fail”. Luckily, it’s as simple as picking your IF method and sticking to it.
Many people like to start with the 16/8 intermittent fasting schedule. Simply eat your last meal in the evening and don’t eat until lunch. It might take several days for your body to adjust, but once you’re on the other side, things start getting better and better.
As always, consulting with your healthcare professional is always the best idea if you’re in doubt. Getting advice from a knowledgeable person can really set you up for long-term success, as opposed to trying to figure everything out on your own. That said, this guide has everything you need to start your IF journey the right way if you want to do it on your own.
Anything Else to Consider?
It’s important to remember that intermittent fasting isn’t a cure-all solution.
While more and more studies prove it to be a healthy lifestyle ‘hack,’ it’s still just one part of your overall lifestyle. Your diet, exercise, and rest & recovery are equally if not more important.
Don’t hop on the IF train hoping you can start eating junk food every day. You could, but this defeats the purpose of intermittent fasting, which is to improve your wellness.
Do it smart in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle to get most out of it.
So there you have it. Beginners guide to intermittent fasting 101. From benefits of IF, side effects to how to do it – we covered it for you here!
Remember; intermittent fasting isn’t for everyone, but many people do gain benefits.
If you haven’t given it a go before and are interested in it, then by all means, go ahead and try it.
If you find it works well for you, it can be a great way to improve your wellness and maintain a healthy weight.
However, fasting is simply a part of a much bigger picture, which includes regular exercise, clean diet, avoiding stress, and leading an overall healthy and balanced lifestyle.
Intermittent fasting vs daily calorie restriction for type 2 diabetes prevention: a review of human findings. (source)
Fasting: Molecular Mechanisms and Clinical Applications. (source)
Fasting enhances growth hormone secretion and amplifies the complex rhythms of growth hormone secretion in man. (source)
Alternate-day fasting in nonobese subjects: effects on body weight, body composition, and energy metabolism. (source)
Metabolic regulation of Sirtuins upon fasting and the implication for cancer. (source)
Caloric restriction and intermittent fasting: Two potential diets for successful brain aging. (source)
Short-term fasting induces profound neuronal autophagy. (source)
Fasting for weight loss: an effective strategy or the latest dieting trend? (source)
Enhanced thermogenic response to epinephrine after 48-h starvation in humans. (source)
Resting energy expenditure in short-term starvation is increased as a result of an increase in serum norepinephrine. (source)
Effects of short-term dietary restriction on the survival of mammary ascites tumor-bearing rats. (source)
Alternate day calorie restriction improves clinical findings and reduces markers of oxidative stress and inflammation in overweight adults with moderate asthma. (source)
Dietary restriction increases the number of newly generated neural cells, and induces BDNF expression, in the dentate gyrus of rats. (source)
Intermittent fasting and caloric restriction ameliorate age-related behavioral deficits in the triple-transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer's disease. (source)
Effects of Intermittent Feeding Upon Growth and Life Span in Rats. (source)
Short-term modified alternate-day fasting: a novel dietary strategy for weight loss and cardioprotection in obese adults. (source)