Intermittent Fasting: A Beginner’s Guide

by Lisa Ledoux

Intermittent fasting (IF) has become a popular weight-loss tool in recent years, but actually, fasting is so much more than the weight-loss tool it’s currently being touted as.

In fact, fasting has never traditionally been about weight loss at all.

Instead, fasting has always promoted:

But most importantly, intermittent fasting gives your body the ability to repair cellular damage, rebuild muscles, and replenish the body’s stores of vitamins and minerals, rather than putting so much of its energy into digesting our food.

Fasting Also:

  • reduces inflammation,
  • slows the aging process,
  • lowers cholesterol,
  • builds up our immune systems,
  • balances our blood sugar,
  • and reduces the risk of heart disease.

All of these considerations are so important because let’s face it, in this day and age, we have access to food 24 hours a day.

And we eat from the moment we get up, until the moment we go to bed

As a result, our body’s ability to carry out these important maintenance processes has been diminished.

And So…

 a human in despair drowning in grease and processed foods with a vegetable lifesaver life preserver.

Weight loss is one of the side benefits of fasting, not the main precursor.

That being said- who wouldn’t want to try to shed extra pounds while giving your body the ability to focus on repairing cells and rebuilding muscle?

If you’re interested in trying out intermittent fasting to reap the benefits of better health, increased energy, and potential weight loss– don’t worry! We’ve got you covered.

In this guide, we’ll cover the basics of how intermittent fasting works, the best overall method, and how to create a plan that works for you.

By the end of this post, you’ll be ready to start your journey toward positive health benefits and potential, sustainable weight loss.

What is Fasting and How Does it Work?

There are many names for, and types of fasting, several of which fall under the umbrella of “Intermittent Fasting.”

Altogether, the 4 leading types you will generally hear about include:

  • Intermittent Fasting- eating within a certain timeframe.
  • Alternate Day- switching days between low/no calorie days with regular eating days
  • 5:2 Eating Method- 2 days/week consume 500 calories/day total meals
  • Periodic Fast- 24-72 hours of allowed beverages and no food, regular eating the rest of the week

From this point on, fasting begins to spiral down a rabbit hole of even more fasting trends and buzzwords, such as:

  • Eat-Stop-Eat,
  • Nightly Fasting,
  • Reverse Fast
  • Omad,
  • Warrior Diet,
  • Extended Breakfast,
  • Fasting Mimicking Diet,
  • Up to the 9th Hour Fasting
  • Spontaneous Meal Skipping
  • And Biblical Fasting, which has its own set of fasting types
  • and so on…

Some of these, such as the Warrior diet, alternate day, eat-stop-eat, and reverse fast, etc., also fall under the intermittent fasting umbrella, and ALL of them will boast why they are the best method.

But- Ignore all of that Noise!

Fasting DOES NOT have to be that complicated, confusing, and in some cases, just plain extreme, unsustainable, and ridiculous!

So, What is a Manageable Intermittent Fasting Method?

Intermittent fasting is a popular yet effective approach to dietary modification, which involves limiting food intake for periods of time in order to promote weight loss and the overall health benefits mentioned above.

Intermittent fasting, as we’ve seen above, takes on many forms, but the most sustainable method that the average person would likely maintain is one of these daily fasting methods:

  • 16:8- fast for 16 hours and eat within an 8-hour window
  • 14:10- fast for 14 hours and eat within a 10-hour window
  • 12:12- fast for 12 hours and eat within a 12-hour window

Really, any variation of hours could be used. But the most ideal amount of time to fast is, at minimum, 12 hours- anything above this, such as 14 to 16 hours, is even more optimal.

*A 20-hour daily fast (20:4) is also considered popular, however, it may be unrealistic for many (present company included), restrictive, and difficult to uphold.

The Goldilocks of Fasting

The 16:8 method of intermittent fasting is generally thought to:

  • be effective,
  • be flexible,
  • have the highest likelihood of success,
  • promote the most satiety, results, and contentment.

Out of all the methods, much like Goldilocks’ favorite porridge- the 16:8 method is just right!

The 16:8 Intermittent Fasting Method

This is the most popular and likely the easiest to stick to long-term. It involves fasting for 16 hours each day and eating all meals within an 8-hour window.

Here are some examples:

  • if you finish your last meal of the day at 7 pm, you would not eat again until 11 am the following day,
  • if you finish eating at 6 pm, you would eat the next day at 10 am, or,
  • finish at 5 pm, and eat at 9 am, and so on, depending on the time windows that are right for your lifestyle.

This still leaves plenty of time for eating, and it’s actually fairly easy to stick with when you get used to it, but there are some techniques to help the transition become easier.

How To Start

When starting an intermittent fasting routine, it can be helpful to ease into it by shortening the eating window over a period of several weeks- this is important, as your body needs time to adjust to the new routine without feeling overwhelmed or deprived.

For example, start with a 12-hour fast, then 14 hours, and eventually 16 hours. It may help to move your fasting window up daily (or every 2 days) in half-hour, or 15-minute increments.

So one day you fast for 12 hours, the next day 12 hours and 15 minutes, and so on…until you comfortably reach the 16-hour fasting window.

Foods To Avoid While Fasting

image of healthy fats, omega 3 - fish, avocado, olives, nuts and seeds

When intermittent fasting, it is important to choose nutrient-dense foods that will not only nourish the body but also provide enough energy to sustain you until your next meal.

This means avoiding sugary foods and processed snacks as these can lead to a spike in blood sugar levels, which can be damaging in the long run.

Instead, opt for complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, legumes, and vegetables; proteins such as fish, red meat, poultry, lentils, and chickpeas; and healthy fats like olive oils and coconut oils, avocados, nuts, seeds, and nut butter.

When you eat real foods that include proteins, fats, and fiber- you will naturally be full and satisfied.

Sugar and Empty Carb Cravings

If you do become overwhelmed by sugar or empty carb cravings, opt instead for:

dessert with fresh strawberry,  cream cheese in glasses

It’s a great idea to batch-make your favorite snacks and have them on hand, especially for when those pre-period urges hit!

No-sugar alternatives in baking and desserts include stevia granules, liquid stevia, and brown rice malt syrup or rice malt syrup.

Calorie Counting, Weighing Your Food, or Incorporating Other Diets

Taking on too much at once can be overwhelming and counterproductive- for this reason, it may be best to focus on just the fasting window when starting out.

Calorie counting and weighing your food can certainly help aid people in their weight loss journey but may become overwhelming when beginning an intermittent fasting schedule.

In terms of incorporating other diets such as Paleo or Keto, it’s best to look at all the research surrounding these diets, from all sources, including advocates and proponents of these- or any- diets.

The best thing a person can do is eat real, whole foods that keep you full, and just live well learning to cook and eat whole foods that fuel and nourish your body (whole foods also include the whole food- egg whites with yolk and full-fat dairy).

After all do really want to count calories, weigh your food, and stay on strict, complex, or extreme diets all your life? Probably not.

In fact, it may be time to really shift away from looking at food through such a lens, period.

Exercise and Fasting

smiling woman in blue sportswear walks holding a phone in a city park.

Exercise can actually be beneficial during a fasted state as it may help to increase fat-burning capabilities.

However, you should consider holding off on any exercise plan until your body has had at least 2 weeks to adjust to your new eating routine.

Start with walking (walking is SO beneficial), and increase your walk times and speed until eventually, you are walking for an hour+ a day (once, or several times throughout the day), or 10,000 steps.

Walking may not seem super intense or sexy, but it builds the foundation for a plethora of stable, long-term health benefits for your body.

As the weeks go by and you become accustomed to walking as part of your daily routine, begin introducing strength training- your body will thank you for this- especially as you age!

And as always, consult your physician first.

A Simple IF Guide and Tips for Success

various types of fresh meat: pork, beef, turkey and chicken on a wooden table, top view
  1. Ease into your preferred eating window over a 2-week period.
  2. Plan your weekly meals in advance, this is crucial to avoid “daily meal-planning” burnout and overwhelm.
  3. Research for, and eat well-balanced meals that include protein, fat, fiber, and gut-loving foods (fermented foods).
  4. Consider, strongly consider, removing added sugars, and sugar in general, from your diet.
  5. Stay hydrated- when fasting drink black tea, black coffee, water, and green tea (ginger and turmeric teas are also quite beneficial and nice to have).
  6. Have a plan in place for when you are a week pre-menstrual or menstruating, feeling low, or experiencing strong cravings- you may need to eat a bit more and have some healthy but indulgent snacks on hand.
  7. Develop an active lifestyle that includes daily regular exercise- and calendar this time in for maximum accountability!
  8. Avoid internet scrolling and going down the rabbit holes of extremism and “fasting rules”- this is a very simple method of timed eating- keep it simple!

Intermittent Fasting FAQs

1.) How can I break my 16:8 fast safely?

A great way to break your fast is by having your water, tea, and coffee first, followed by a balanced meal with plenty of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats.

2.) Are there risks with intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting is generally considered safe but as with any diet or lifestyle change, it should be done in consultation with a medical professional.

Also, pay attention to your body, and if you feel dizzy, lightheaded, or have difficulty concentrating during a fast, make sure to stop and refuel.

Intermittent fasting can be a powerful tool for improving overall health, but it is important to make sure you are doing it safely.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to intermittent fasting so experiment carefully and find what works best for you.

With dedication and preparation, this ancient practice can be a great tool in helping you reach a healthy state of optimization for your body.

3.) Can I drink coffee while fasting?

Two cups with coffee and green tea on a beige background, top view.

Yes, black coffee can be consumed during fasting periods as long as it is unsweetened and without any added milk or creamer.

When in your eating window, enjoy your drinks as you choose, but again, sugar is not your friend, especially if a healthy body and weight loss are your goals.

Furthermore, it is important to stay hydrated throughout any exercise session by drinking plenty of water.

4.) Is it okay to skip meals when fasting?

It is not advised to skip meals. Skipping meals can cause blood sugar levels to fluctuate which can lead to feelings of lightheadedness or dizziness.

The best approach when intermittent fasting is to plan out your meals in advance and stick to the schedule while making sure you are getting enough nutrients to sustain you until your next meal.

Generally, what you may find as you ease into the 16:8 method, is that you begin to feel full and satisfied with 2 larger meals and a lighter 3rd meal or a few good, substantial snacks.

Remember, fasting or not, your body still needs plenty of nourishment.

5.) Can I drink alcohol while fasting?

Alcohol should generally be avoided while fasting as it can lower blood sugar levels and cause dehydration.

If you do choose to drink, make sure to keep your consumption moderate and avoid sugary drinks that can spike insulin levels.

It is also important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day and eating a balanced meal before or after the alcohol.

And, it just makes you feel bad if you overindulge.

Who Should Avoid Fasting?

It is always crucial before undergoing any changes to our physical bodies that we:

  • practice due diligence;
  • read and reference scholarly journals;
  • and consult our physicians or dieticians, particularly if we have underlying health conditions.

Generally, those who should avoid fasting include:

  • pregnant women
  • children and teenagers
  • people with diabetes (should consult their physicians)
  • those who are underweight
  • people with a history of disordered eating or binge eating/purging (should always seek professional advice before starting any kind of fasting)
  • anyone on medication for other medical conditions (must consult their physicians)
  • people with chronic conditions and health issues (should also contact their physicians)

Tip- Words Matter!

When we say “intermittent fasting” fasting conjures up images of “going without” and we as humans are not hard-wired, to want to go without!

When we say “practice restricted eating” (another term for intermittent fasting)- this is even worse!!!

It actually conjures up feelings of being restricted in your food choices, as opposed to restrictions with time- even though it’s only time that’s being restricted, and not your ability to eat well and to full satiety!

So while these words are used innocently, we may tend to put a subconscious psychological spin on them!

It might be a good idea to say that you practice “timed eating” as opposed to “fasting” or “restricted eating” (yikes!)

It’s just a small tweak, but it puts a positive spin on this extraordinarily beneficial method of eating!

Conclusion

Intermittent fasting is a pattern of eating that involves alternating between periods of fasting and eating.

Intermittent fasting 8/16, eight-hour food window. Girl balances on one leg between food and water and tea.

It offers a tremendous range of health benefits such as increased mental clarity, improved digestion and absorption, increased energy levels, better sleep quality, improved concentration, spiritual awakenings, weight loss, balanced blood sugar, and reduced inflammation.

If you’re interested in trying intermittent fasting, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian first to make sure it’s safe for you and to get started on the right foot.

There are many different ways to do intermittent fasting, so find one that works best for you and stick with it.

Be patient when starting out – it may take some time for your body to adjust. And finally, don’t be afraid to ask for support from family and friends as you embark on this new way of eating.

Thanks for Reading!

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