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Intermittent Fasting Guide: Benefits, Types & Schedule
By Rachel Link, RD, MS
September 19, 2022
Unlike other diet plans, an intermittent fasting diet doesn’t set any strict standards, rules or restrictions on which foods are permitted or how much you can eat, although eating a healthy diet is always wise. Instead, it requires you to revise your eating pattern and abstain from eating altogether during specific windows of time.
While many choose to adopt an intermittent fasting diet for weight management, there are plenty of other reasons to consider it as well. Interestingly enough, research suggests that fasting may also help support healthy blood sugar levels, support a healthy response to inflammation and keep your heart healthy and strong.
From fasting for a few days every week to simply switching up your eating schedule, intermittent fasting (IMF) is a simple strategy that can help you make major strides in your health.
Also known as cyclic fasting, intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that has risen in popularity in recent years. With new research constantly emerging on new potential intermittent fasting benefits, dieters have turned to this popular plan looking to manage their weight, maintain healthy blood sugar levels and boost their overall health.
Although it’s only recently started popping up in mainstream media, intermittent fasting is hardly a new concept. In fact, fasting has been used for centuries during times when food was scarce and it even plays a central role in many major religions. Once a year during Ramadan, for example, Muslims around the globe observe a month-long period of fasting from dawn until sunset.
So how does intermittent fasting work exactly? Cutting-edge intermittent fasting science suggests that it could positively impact cells by helping to fight free radicals. Practicing intermittent fasting can also help your body’s ability to deal with stress at a cellular level, which could help with healthy aging as well as overall health.
Because there are so many different variations and styles, there are no exact guidelines or rules for how to do intermittent fasting. However, most types involve abstaining from food altogether for a period of 16–24 hours at a time.
There are several different variations of fasting, making it easy to find an intermittent fasting plan that can work for you.
Here are a few of the most popular types:
16/8 Fasting:This method requires you to fast for 16 hours every day and limit your eating to an eight-hour window. Typically, this involves not eating anything after dinner and skipping breakfast the next morning. This is the most popular form of intermittent fasting.
Alternate-Day Fasting: This involves eating every other day. On fasting days, some eat no food at all and others eat a very small amount, usually around 500 calories. On non-fasting days, you should follow your usual, healthy diet.
The Warrior Diet: This diet entails eating only specific foods (such as fruits, vegetables, clear broth and hard-boiled eggs) during the day and eating one large meal at night.
Eat-Stop-Eat: This variation involves picking one or two days out of the week in which you fast for 24 hours, then eat nothing from dinner one day until dinner the next day. On the remaining days, you should follow a regular diet.
5:2 Diet: For five days of the week, you eat normally. During the remaining two days, you should restrict your caloric intake to between 500–600 calories daily.
Here are a few of the top benefits of intermittent fasting.
Many people turn to intermittent fasting for weight management, and for good reason. Not only does it help reduce your overall caloric intake by restricting your eating window, but it can also rev up fat-burning by pushing your body into ketosis.
Ketosis is a metabolic state in which your body uses fat for fuel instead of sugar. Similar to the ketogenic diet, intermittent fasting works by depriving your body of its main source of energy, forcing it to start breaking down fat cells instead.
Much of the emerging intermittent fasting research has focused on its ability to help with heart health. In fact, studies show that intermittent fasting can positively influence heart health factors, including supporting healthy cholesterol levels and triglycerides.
It may also support a healthy response to inflammation, another major factor that can benefit a healthy heart.
Although current research is mostly limited to animal models, some studies have found that intermittent fasting could support brain health. It can also support a healthy response to inflammation, which can support healthy aging and healthy neurological function.
Intermittent fasting is a great tool for supporting already-healthy blood sugar levels. Plus, it can also help support healthy insulin levels, which can benefit the body’s ability to use this important hormone efficiently in its normal function of transporting sugar from the bloodstream to the cells.
Inflammation is a normal immune response designed to protect the body against injury and more. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, can lead to chronic issues.
Promising research suggests that fasting may help support a healthy response to inflammation. Plus, it can also support a healthy response to reduce oxidative stress throughout the body.
So what exactly does an intermittent fasting schedule look like? And what should you be eating on the days that you aren’t fasting? Here’s what you need to know.
Although your exact schedule can vary quite a bit depending on which specific type of fasting you choose, 16/8 fasting (or time-restricted feeding) is often considered the best choice for intermittent fasting for beginners.
You can adjust this form of fasting to fit your personal preferences and schedule. However, the easiest method involves simply skipping your evening snack after dinner and skipping breakfast the next morning as well. If you don’t eat between 8 p.m. and noon the next day, for instance, you’ve already completed a 16-hour fast.
If it’s easier, you can also opt to fast for 1–2 days per week for a full 24 hours. With this type of fasting, you can start fasting after dinner one day and break your fast around the same time 24 hours later. Ideally, you should choose two non-consecutive days during the week to fast, which can help ramp up the benefits.
An intermittent fasting diet is about so much more than just when you're eating and fasting windows fall. In fact, when you do eat, it’s incredibly important to fill your plate with a variety of healthy whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and protein foods.
Certain supplements may also be beneficial. In particular, a savory bone broth (such as Bone Broth Protein Chicken Soup) can help support satiety and a healthy metabolism, such as having this liquid sipping broth during fasting hours and/or before meals. It also supports healthy joints, healthy nails and skin, and a healthy gut.
Keto Fire, in addition, is a whole food dietary supplement fueled by exogenous ketones, MCTs and adaptogens. It’s safe to use while fasting and can help promote mental focus and healthy energy levels while also supporting metabolism and healthy weight management.
When breaking your fast, try adding a scoop of Multi Collagen Protein to your favorite beverages for an extra boost of protein, plus collagen type I, II, III, V and X. Made from four non-GMO and cruelty-free food sources, Multi Collagen Protein is formulated to support a healthy gut, skin, hair, nails and joints.
Alternatively, try sprinkling a bit of Organic Supergreens into your post-fast smoothie to effortlessly increase your daily greens intake and support healthy weight management and detoxification.
Related: Best Ways to Break a Fast
Keep in mind that fasting may not be a good fit for everyone. If you have any underlying health conditions or are taking medications, it’s important to talk to your doctor before making any changes to your diet or routine.
Research on intermittent fasting for women has also turned up mixed results. In particular, some studies have found that prolonged fasting could affect hormones and more.
Many people also use intermittent fasting for keto, as it can help push your body into ketosis faster and amplify results.
Finally, note that intermittent fasting shouldn’t be considered a quick-fix for an unhealthy diet and lifestyle. In order to maximize your potential intermittent fasting results, it’s imperative to pair this eating pattern with a nutritious, well-rounded diet and active, healthy lifestyle.
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that involves abstaining from food for a specific period of time, which is usually between 16–24 hours.
Promising research suggests that it can help support a healthy response to inflammation, support brain health, support already-healthy blood sugar, help with healthy weight management and promote heart health.
It’s also flexible and can be easily adapted to fit your schedule and personal preferences.
If you have any underlying health conditions or are taking any medications, be sure to always talk to a trusted healthcare professional before making any changes to your diet or routine.
Rachael Link, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian based in New York City. She completed her undergraduate degree in Dietetics at the University of Central Missouri and later received her Master’s degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University. Rachael is passionate about plant-based nutrition and enjoys providing easy-to-understand information to readers looking to support their health.