In recent years, intermittent fasting (IF) has quickly become one of the hottest health practices and discussions among people passionate about wellness. Fans say it helps them lose weight, reach fitness goals and improve their lifestyles.
Below is a beginner’s guide to all things intermittent fasting. If you’re interested, curious or wondering if you should be, here’s what you’ll want to know.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a broad term. Within its realm are a variety of fasting strategies that all have this in common: they involve planned, prolonged periods without food. Because the body will naturally switch metabolic states when it’s deprived of calories for long stretches of time, IF strategically uses these periods of fasting to decrease blood sugar and stored glucose, as well as to yield a variety of health benefits.
Types of Intermittent Fasting
There are many ways to work IF into your lifestyle. One of the most popular is to extend the natural fasting you do each night while sleeping. By stopping calorie intake a few hours before bed and choosing to delay breakfast, you can do what’s known as time-restricted feeding or the 16/8 method (i.e., not eating for 16 hours and only eating for eight). This might mean, for example, eating an early dinner and finishing by 6:30 p.m., not eating anything else, going to bed and then continuing to fast until 10:30 a.m. the next day.
Here are a few other examples:
- Full-day fasting: One of the most classic examples of fasting is going a full 24 hours without food. You can repeat this practice once a week, once a month or more frequently. Because the strongest metabolic shift comes when you spend 18 hours or more fasting, this is a powerful option.
- Alternate-day fasting: This method involves eating normally one day, then reducing calories to about a quarter of your normal routine the next day, and then repeating. The appeal of this option is you still get to eat normally every other day; plus, on fasting days, you aren’t cutting calories completely, just drastically reducing them.
- The 5:2 method: If you’re willing to limit calorie consumption to 20% to 25% of your usual routine for two days each week, you can try the 5:2 fast. For five days, eat as normal; for two days, reduce calories significantly.
Intermittent Fasting Health Benefits
The benefits that can come from intermittent fasting are wide and varied. While many people are drawn to the practice for potential weight loss, there are all kinds of other potential perks, such as:
- Lowered risk of heart disease
- Reduced inflammation
- Increased insulin sensitivity for reduced blood sugar
- Improved sleep
- Lowered LDL cholesterol
- Boosted brain health
- Anti-aging benefits
Who Should Not Do Intermittent Fasting
While the positive impact of IF is significant, that’s not to say it works for everyone. Anyone who’s recovering from an injury, dealing with severe stress or fatigue, pregnant, breastfeeding, looking to maximize fertility, or who has a history of eating disorders or being underweight is not a good candidate for this practice. Further, because every individual is different, it’s always a good idea to get advice from a healthcare practitioner before beginning a new diet plan.
If you’re interested in seeing how IF can help improve overall health and/or reach fitness or weight loss goals, talk to your care provider. Depending on your situation and needs, this practice could be a great solution for you.
Author bio: Kara Kash, RD, LDN, is a registered dietitian at Factor — a premium weekly meal delivery service that fuses world-class culinary dishes with the latest in nutrition science to produce fully prepared meals that are as delicious as they are nutritious.