If you are new to intermittent fasting, there are some points you might want to consider for a successful kickoff of your practice. After being sure that you should fast, consider the various options you have to begin with and choose a method that will be most suitable for you.
Factors to consider include the duration and frequency of your fast, the way to prepare to enter and end you fast, and how your lifestyle can be adjusted to make fasting easier to carry out successfully.
Intermittent fasting refers to a pattern of eating where a person alternates between periods of food consumption and periods of food avoidance over the duration of a single day, a week or other established periods of time. The practice of fasting in various forms has been around for thousands of years and is a traditional ritual across various different religions and cultures all over the World.
The large majority of the benefits derived from intermittent fasting come from two of its main characteristics: caloric restriction (meaning eating fewer calories than you need) and limited meal frequency (meaning the total time over which you consume your meals/snacks over a day) (1).
An average adult might consume his or her breakfast at 8 am, followed by a midday meal, a snack at 3 pm, dinner at 7 pm and then a bedtime snack at 11 pm. This typical way of eating adds up to five meals over approximately 15 hours. Additionally, without portion control a person is likely to consume more calories than they spent in a day, which will likely result in weight gain. What is more, the body will be working constantly on digesting the food and will not have sufficient time for recovery periods.
When following any form of intermittent fasting practice, a person is limiting the amount of time per day during which food is consumed, making it simply harder to take in 3 large meals plus 2 snacks within the allotted period of time. This results in a reduced likelihood of going overboard with calorie consumption in addition to giving more time for the body to carry out recovery operations such as autophagy.
Limiting the frequency of meals and allowing for long periods of fasting will result in lowering insulin levels for long enough to lead the body into a state of ketosis. Ketosis refers to a metabolic shift from burning sugar for energy to burning fat for energy.
In other words, the body begins to use a different type of fuel for energy. Instead of depending on glucose (sugar) from carbohydrates, it relies on ketones, chemicals made in the liver that build up when the body begins using up stored fat for energy.
Intermittent fasting is often started with weight loss in mind. However, there are many potential benefits beyond weight loss, some of which have been known historically (2).
Traditionally, fasting periods were referred to as ‘cleanses,’ ‘detoxifications’ or ‘purifications’. It was believed that these periods of refraining from food would rid the system of toxins and lead to some degree of rejuvenation.
In addition to weight loss, some of the sought after health benefits of intermittent fasting include reduced blood pressure, lower insulin levels, possible improved management of type 2 diabetes, reported improved mental performance and concentration, higher levels of energy, possible stimulation of growth hormone production,reduced chronic inflammation, and delay in the aging process. The potential benefits of intermittent fasting may vary from person to person (3).
16/8 fasting is a recommended intermittent fasting plan for beginners: you start by selecting an eight-hour window of time and limit your food intake to those hours. Many people prefer to eat between midday and 8 p.m., as this means only an overnight fast will be necessary along with simply skipping breakfast, yet it is still possible to eat a balanced lunch and dinner, in addition to a few snacks during the day. While snacks can be OK at the beginning, they are not generally recommended for more advanced fasters.
Other people prefer to eat between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., allowing sufficient time for a healthy breakfast at approximately 9 a.m., followed by lunch around midday and an early dinner or snack around 4 p.m. before the fasting period begins.
This is only an example of what a fasting schedule can look like. The best thing to do when you are just getting started is to experiment and select a time frame that best fits your lifestyle. For example, your day may start with a black coffee in the morning, followed by fish and salad for lunch, then a risotto for your last evening meal. This should be accompanied by sufficient liquids, mostly water and herbal teas.
To maximize the potential benefits of your fast, it is important to consume nutritious whole foods and beverages during your eating periods (4).
Additionally, drinking calorie-free beverages such as water and unsweetened tea and coffee, even during a food fast, can also help control food craving and appetite when you begin to fast. In general, intermittent fasting is safe for most people, but it is always best to consult your healthcare provider before starting a fasting plan.
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The best way for you to start intermittent fasting is to plan a day that will allow you to be more flexible with your activities. As you might experience momentary low levels of energy and possibly some headaches as you become familiar with the practice of intermittent fasting, aim to start on a calm day in which you can focus on yourself. It is suggested that you start with a 12 hour overnight fast or stick to 3 main meals without snacks in between to train your body to go without food for as long as possible.
If you are a beginner to intermittent fasting it is likely that the best way for you to begin is with an overnight fast followed by skipping breakfast. In this way you will have fasted all the hours from your last evening meal the night before, plus all of your sleeping hours, plus the morning hours leading up to your midday meal.
Drinking water while intermittent fasting is vital for general health and well-being and for intermittent fasting success.
Intermittent fasting has positive effects on the body and brain, improving mood and lessening symptoms of depression.