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You’ve heard of the amazing fat-burning and weight loss benefits of intermittent fasting, and you want to give it a try. But you’re not sure where to start.
Intermittent fasting may appear to be quite complicated, but with the right tools and guidance, losing weight with intermittent fasting can be a breeze… even for beginners!
In this beginner’s guide, we’ll discuss some of the most frequently asked questions about losing weight with intermittent fasting, including:
- What is intermittent fasting?
- How is intermittent fasting different from diets?
- Why does intermittent fasting lead to weight loss?
- How do I start losing weight with intermittent fasting?
- How should I schedule my meals when intermittent fasting?
- What should I eat during feeding intervals?
- Can I drink during fasting intervals?
- How long will it take my body to adjust to intermittent fasting?
- Can I exercise while intermittent fasting?
- Is intermittent fasting for everyone?
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that alternates between fasting intervals (periods of no eating) and feeding intervals (unrestricted eating).
Intermittent fasting programs can be structured in a variety of ways. Some methods consist of fasting for a portion of each day (also called time-restricted eating), with fasting intervals lasting 12-18 hours. Other approaches include fasting a full 24 hours one or more days per week.
The 16/8 Method consists of daily cycles of 16-hour fasting and 8-hour feeding intervals. This basically means you eat all of your meals and snacks during an 8-hour period. You may have also heard this eating pattern referred to as the “8-hour diet”.
Across a week it looks like this:
The 24-Hour Method consists of one or two 24-hour fasting intervals per week. This approach essentially requires a full day fast (on non-consecutive days if fasting two days in a week). This is generally done by fasting from after dinner on one day until dinner time the next day.
Across a week it looks like this:
How is intermittent fasting different from diets?
Intermittent fasting allows you to eat what you want and in the quantities that you want. However, food must be eaten during scheduled feeding intervals.
With diets, your total food consumption is restricted in some manner – usually with limits on the types of foods or macronutrients (carbs, fat, or protein) you can eat, or the amount of calories you can consume in a given day.
For instance, with the ketogenic (“keto”) diet, only a small fraction of the recommended daily carb amount is allowable.
With a “standard” 2000-calorie diet, people typically consume between 225 and 325 grams of carbs per day. However, on the keto diet, only 20-50 grams of daily carbs are allowed, although studies suggest that staying under 20 grams offers the best results. Protein intake is significantly increased to make up for the lost calories from not eating carbs.
Diets that severely restrict carbs, fat, or overall calories are almost impossible to sustain over the long term. Further, ending these diets can lead to rebound weight gain, which is a common cause of yo-yo dieting (and frustration).
People tend to find intermittent fasting a more sustainable approach to weight loss. This is due to the flexibility in food choices and the intermittent nature of the changes in your eating pattern.
Why does intermittent fasting lead to weight loss?
Experts in the field believe that the temporary stress of intermittent fasting yields a variety of positive health benefits. One of the main benefits is an increase in the fat burning hormone norepinephrine. Simply put, this increases metabolic rate to shed pounds, with an added benefit of decreasing belly fat. Other positive metabolic changes associated with weight loss include reduction in triglycerides, low density lipoprotein (LDL), cholesterol, insulin, and blood sugar.
One of the not-so-obvious reasons for losing weight with intermittent fasting is that the fasting periods lead to a state called “ketosis”. If this sounds familiar (as in “keto diet” familiar), your memory serves you correctly. When in ketosis, our bodies shift from using carbs (glucose) as the primary fuel source to producing and using fat in the form of “ketones”. In other words, our bodies become fat-burning machines! Learn more about ketosis and the differences between the keto diet and intermittent fasting here.
Lastly, by eating within a narrow period of time, intermittent fasting can lead to a natural reduction in daily calorie consumption. And so with fewer overall calories consumed and a more efficient metabolism geared towards burning fat, you can start to see how losing weight with intermittent fasting can become your reality. Bottom line: intermittent fasting can be a powerful weight loss tool!
It’s best for beginners to start with intermittent fasting using the 16/8 method.
Since most of us naturally fast anywhere from 9-12 hours between dinner one day and breakfast the next, a gradual build-up to a 16-hour fasting interval will allow your body time to adjust to the new eating pattern.
I recommend starting with a 13-hour fasting interval and adding 1-2 hours of fasting time every few days until you have reached your target fasting interval.
An example schedule to progress from a 13-hour fasting interval to a 16-hour fasting interval is as follows:
Bonus Tip: If you eat more than 3 times per day (and most of us do), start by eliminating snacks to get your body adjusted to fasting for longer periods of time during waking hours. Once you feel comfortable eating 3 meals per day, start your fasting program in the evening after a solid dinner.
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How should I schedule my meals when intermittent fasting?
You have the flexibility to schedule the feeding intervals of your intermittent fasting program however you wish. However, pick a time that you can generally stick with on a daily basis. This will help your body adjust more quickly to the intermittent fasting eating pattern.
Although there is no set schedule that you must adhere to, fasting during the earlier part of the day instead of later in the day is generally recommended. It is common to schedule their feeding interval to be 12:00 PM through 8:00 PM. This is because most people find it easier to fast upon waking up in the morning and prefer to go to bed feeling somewhat full. Also, lunch and dinner offer opportunities for social interactions. Thus, fasting later in the day could have negative social implications.
Be careful not to push your feeding interval too late into the evening. At night time, your metabolism slows as your body prepares for rest. When you eat food later in the evening, calories are more likely to be stored as fat. This counteracts the weight loss benefits of intermittent fasting.
So try to finish all meals by 8:00 PM whenever possible.
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What should I eat during feeding intervals?
One of the reasons intermittent fasting is so sustainable is that there are no restrictions in what you can eat or drink during the feeding intervals. This means that occasional indulgence in sweet treats and savory goodies is fair game!
But for optimal weight loss, you’ll want to generally eat well-balanced meals that provide good nutrition and help control hunger during fasting periods. This is especially important for the last meal before you fast (which is usually dinner), as it will help keep you feeling full until you break your fast.
Generally speaking, foods that tend to satisfy hunger the longest are foods high in fiber, protein, and water. Read this post to learn exactly what you should eat when intermittent fasting.
Can I drink during fasting intervals?
Absolutely! In fact, staying hydrated during fasting intervals with non-calorie beverages will be critical for your success! Certain beverage options can even enhance the benefits of your intermittent fasting program.
Water is a staple during both fasting and feeding intervals. Plain water or sparkling water with a squeeze of lemon or lime can be quite refreshing during fasting periods. However, steer clear of artificially sweetened beverages, even if they have no calories. Artificial sweeteners can negatively impact your insulin levels, which may undermine some of the benefits of fasting.
Black coffee (no sweetener, milk, or cream) naturally has no calories, which is great for those of us who need our morning boost! Caffeinated or decaffeinated options are both okay. Some people experience an upset stomach or a racing heart when they drink coffee during fasting periods, so be mindful of how your body responds and adjust accordingly.
Tea is a nice complement to any fasting plan. All types are okay to drink, including herbal, black, oolong, and green. As a bonus, green tea aids in appetite suppression to potentially enhance weight loss, so drink up! Just as with coffee, no sweeteners can be added, but spices like cinnamon and nutmeg are fair game.
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar contributes to weight loss in a number of ways, making it a go-to beverage while fasting. It suppresses appetite, aids in digestion, controls blood sugar and insulin levels, and stimulates your metabolism.
Start with adding 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to a glass of water to see how you respond. If tolerated ok, gradually increase to adding 1 tablespoon to water and drink 2-3 times throughout the day.
As with any change in routine, it will take some time for your body do adjust.
Once you’ve reached your target fasting interval, expect hunger and thoughts of eating to linger for another week or so. Although you will start to lose weight in the first couple of weeks, it can take up to 2 months for your body to fully adapt.
Can I exercise while intermittent fasting?
Having a good exercise routine is important for any weight loss plan.
When starting an intermittent fasting program, it’s a good idea to continue your current exercise program. In fact, staying active is a great way of keeping your mind off of hunger!
Light cardiovascular activities like brisk walking, a light jog, yoga, or a targeted ab workout are okay to engage in at any time of the day. However, save high-intensity activities like a HIIT workout until after you’ve eaten to ensure you have adequate energy stores.
You’ll also want to hold off on starting any new exercise routine until you’ve reached your target fasting interval (which should generally take 1 week with my recommended gradual approach).
Lastly, always listen to your body, and stop exercising if you feel lightheaded, dizzy, or unusual in any other way.
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Is intermittent fasting for everyone?
Intermittent fasting is a wonderful weight loss tool, but it’s certainly not for everyone.
While both men and women have been successfully (and safely) losing weight with intermittent fasting, women in particular need to ensure that they areeating enough during the feeding intervals. This is because women could be susceptible to hormonal issues if consumption of calories is too low.
Also, intermittent fasting is not recommended for women who are pregnant or nursing due to their increased energy requirements.
As with all dietary changes, discuss intermittent fasting with your doctor to make sure this weight loss approach is right for you.
Losing weight with intermittent fasting doesn’t have to be difficult, even if you are a beginner. Simply use the tips in this beginner’s guide to take full advantage of this powerful weight loss tool!
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