If you’re interested in learning more about intermittent fasting and what it can do for you, then you’ve come to the right place. First, it’s essential to understand that intermittent fasting isn’t a type of diet. Instead, it’s a schedule of eating your meals so that you get the most out of what you’re eating. With intermittent fasting, you won’t change what you eat, but when you eat it.
What’s the ultimate intermittent fasting schedule? You have a few options when it comes to the best fasting schedules: 5:2 (five days normal, healthy eating, 2 days severely restricted), 12-hour, 16/8 (16-hour fast, 8 hours allowed to eat), 20-hour, and 24-hour.
Your choice of food and goal for your intermittent fasting will be a significant influence on what schedule will be best for you.
Here we’ll cover the best intermittent fasting schedules and foods to eat before fasting for the best possible results in your new lifestyle.
Why Intermittent Fasting?
The idea of intermittent fasting can be a little intimidating, to begin with, as it may seem to some to require more than it actually does.
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern in which you must cycle between periods of eating and fasting – it’s as simple as that! Most people begin intermittent fasting schedules for the purpose of losing weight, but there are a lot more benefits than that.
Intermittent fasting has ten proven health benefits:
- Changes the function of cells, genes, and hormones,
- Weight loss,
- Reducing insulin resistance
- Reduce inflammation
- Heart health
- Cellular repair
- Cancer prevention,
- Supports brain health
- Prevention of Alzeheimer’s
- Extending your lifespan.
Researchers found, when testing rodents and primates, that intermittent fasting extended lifespan, increased resistance to age-related diseases, and mitigated the risks related to coronary artery disease and stroke.
For the sake of brevity, we’ll highlight three benefits here, and encourage you to visit Healthline for a full list of benefits of intermittent fasting.
1. Intermittent Fasting Changes The Function of Cells, Genes, and Hormones
When you stop eating for an extended period, several physiological changes happen in your body, some of which are the initiation of cellular repair processes and changes in the hormone levels of your body in order to store body fat for later use (and depending on the length of time you’ve been away from eating, your body may begin to consume your body fat).
In addition to these things, the insulin levels in your blood supply may also drop, which is a process that facilitates the burning of fat.
Your cells will also undergo repair as waste material will be removed – think of this as a form of removing the toxins from your body.
Lastly, your body will even experience benefits to gene expression in the many changes to genes and molecules that benefit longevity and defense against disease.
2. Weight Loss
This is perhaps the most well-known benefit of intermittent fasting and most people who engage in intermittent fasting – at least, those who are doing it for the first time – pick up the habit for weight loss purposes.
The most straight forward reason behind why intermittent fasting can help you to lose weight is that it simply reduces the number of meals you eat, therefore, you take in fewer calories.
As we just discussed, the hormone changes that come along with intermittent fasting also facilitate the natural fat-burning process.
These hormonal changes also assist in the use of calories and body fat for energy. Increased amounts of norepinephrine (noradrenaline) come along with these changes and help to increase your metabolism.
Intermittent fasting was found to result in an average rate of weight loss of 3-8% over 3-24 weeks, and an average of 4-7% from the circumference of their waist, meaning that there was a lot of belly fat lost specifically.
3. Lowers the Risk of Type II Diabetes
The most prominent trait of Type II Diabetes is high blood sugar levels within the context of insulin resistance. Intermittent fasting significantly reduces this resistance and leads to lowered blood sugar levels (to healthy standards).
In recent research, blood sugar was reduced by about 3-6% for those that intermittently fasted, and insulin was reduced by an average of 20-31%.
More Reasons to Consider Intermittent Fasting
We’ve mentioned a few benefits as we discussed intermittent fasting above, but now we want to break down all of the reasons why you should consider intermittent fasting below.
1. Intermittent Fasting is Simple
Any life modification that makes life more simple, healthy, and reduces stress is undoubtedly a plus, and intermittent fasting is one of these. You’ll get a lot of new simplicity if you are trying to lose weight, primarily if you use the 16/8 intermittent fasting plan.
That’s because you’ll only need to remember to stick to your eating schedule and not count calories or anything else.
You’ll also wind up training your body to eat one less meal a day, which helps reduce your calorie intake naturally and should result in weight loss. You’ll save a bit of time because you’ll be cooking one less meal each day as well.
For me, I was never a big fan of breakfast, no matter how often I was told about its health benefits. So it wasn’t hard for me to cut out breakfast and stick with eating lunch and dinner.
I like the fact that I don’t have to worry about breakfast when I wake up. I’ll start my day with a glass of water and some coffee, and I’m good to go.
2. Add Years to Your Life
For a long time now, scientists have known that if you restrict your caloric intake, you’ll lengthen your life. That’s because when you are starving, your body finds a way to extend your life. If you think about it, it all makes sense.
However, nobody wants to starve themselves so that they can live longer. When most people think of living longer, they think about enjoying their lives. We all know that starving isn’t enjoyable.
However, you don’t have to starve yourself to live longer. Intermittent fasting will activate many of the same benefits that extend your life as calorie restriction does. So you’ll live a longer life, and you won’t have to starve.
Back in 1945, scientists discovered that intermittent fasting extended life in mice in this study. Another more recent study found that alternate day intermittent fasting led to longer lifespans.
3. Reduce the Risk of Cancer
Some recent research demonstrates that intermittent fasting can reduce the risk of cancer. While this phenomenon is still being debated and experimented on, most of the early research done on intermittent fasting looks promising.
One study looked at ten cancer patients and discovered that the side effects of chemotherapy might be lessened when patients fast before treatment.
Also, some researchers conducted a comprehensive analysis of many of the studies that have been done on how fasting helps cure disease.
Those researchers feel that fasting not only reduces the risk of cancer but also decreases the risk of heart disease.
4. Intermittent Fasting is Easier than Dieting
When people try a new diet, they often fail because they don’t follow the diet correctly over the long term. Most people have problems changing their behaviors at that level, and that’s why so often we forget about our diets.
Intermittent fasting is much easier than dieting. Once you get over the idea that you need to eat only at certain times, it becomes straightforward to get used to the schedule.
Plus, intermittent fasting is also an effective strategy for weight loss in obese adults. One study found that overweight adults quickly adapt to intermittent fasting and wind up losing weight.
How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
To understand the physiology of intermittent fasting, we’ll need to differentiate between the body’s fed state and fasted state. Your body enters the fed state when you start eating and then continues for three to five hours afterward as your body digests the food.
However, once the body leaves the “fed state,” it enters what’s known as the post-absorptive state. At this point, your body isn’t digesting a meal anymore.
The post-absorptive state lasts eight to twelve hours after your last meal, and then your body enters the fasted state. Once your body enters the fasted state, the aforementioned physiological changes begin.
However, since it takes us twelve hours after a meal to enter the fasted state, entering this fasted state is rare for our bodies.
What Food Should I Eat When Intermittent Fasting?
Before you start intermittent fasting, you’ll need to know what food you should eat. Although you are not required to change your diet when you start this new eating schedule, if you want to maximize your results, it’s best to pay special attention to the types of foods you’re eating primarily to maximize the amount of protein you’re taking in to hold you over in the fasting period.
You will need to eat several small meals and snacks spaced out evenly throughout the day so that you stabilize your blood sugar levels and keep your hunger under control.
You should also try to consume nutritious whole foods and beverages before, after, and during this diet. Eating nutrient-rich foods like these can help your body perform well while you adjust to the diet, and you’ll also maximize the effects of intermittent fasting by eating healthy.
- Berries (i.e., strawberry, blueberry): Berries will provide you with a rich supply of Vitamin C which is essential for the maintenance of your immune system. They also supply flavonoids, which are very powerful antioxidants that also aid in the protection of your immune system, along with providing anti-inflammatory effects.
- Eggs: Of course, eggs are full of proteins which makes them a pillar in your intermittent fasting diet. They are also an extremely versatile food, so you can mix and match eggs as your main dish or as a side or base for a small snack or larger meal.
- Whole grains (i.e., barley, rice, oats, etc.): These are packed with essential fiber and protein, and are a huge help to your metabolism. You can eat whole foods as a replacement for refined carbs.
- Beans and legumes: You need to be regularly consuming foods that provide the optimal amount of energy to keep you healthy and active through your fasting period. These are a great alternative to refined carbs and have been proven to help decrease body weight without taking up too much room in the calorie count.
- Nuts: Full of healthy fats and proteins, nuts are an awesome choice for small snack helpings and can also be added to meals to bolster their nutrient levels.
- Green leafy vegetables: Leafy greens are one of the best foods to incorporate into your diet to ensure that you remain regular! They are packed full of fiber and will keep you feeling full for longer periods after eating.
- Fish: Rich in healthy fats and proteins – these are essential to building and repairing your body during intermittent fasting. Fish is packed with Vitamin D, which is what earns it its name, “brain food.” This is because Vitamin D helps to combat declines in cognitive function (a common side effect of fasting-centered diets).
What to Drink and What Not to Drink During Intermittent Fasting
It’s easy to forget the effect that beverages can have on your diet in general, much more during such a diet as intermittent fasting.
Most people do not give a second thought to the amount of sugar and calories packed into some drinks, but you must be wary of such ingredients, as they would break your fast if you drink them!
There are seven key drinks that you can still drink during your fast that won’t throw off your diet or nutrient intake: water, coffee, tea, bone broth, apple cider vinegar, stevia, and almond milk.
All of these drinks will assist the physiological processes needed to burn fat, boost metabolism, and provide energy.
More benefits of these drinks are below:
- Bone broth: Drinking bone broth will help to reduce any inflammation you may experience in addition to help any anti-aging effects you may be aiming for. It will improve the hydration of your skin and strengthen your hair and nails.
- Apple cider vinegar (ACV): ACV is mostly just water and acids like acetic and malic acid. It has been shown to reduce fat deposition in the body, boost metabolism, and assist in burning fat.
- Stevia: This is a great alternative to sugar and other sweeteners and has no calories. Some brands of stevia have glucose and sugar alcohols, though, so be aware of the ingredients on the brand you choose. It helps to lower levels of certain fats in blood levels and increases the levels of “good” cholesterol.
- Almond milk: With very few carbohydrates and calories, almond milk is a rich source of Vitamin E and lots of essential minerals. It is also a great drink for helping you to feel full. Do be aware, though, that a lot of almond milk formula include sugar – avoid those by opting for “unsweetened” formulas.
The Most Common Intermittent Fasting Schedules
There are five primary schedules for implementing an intermittent fasting schedule. When choosing a schedule, it is important that you keep in mind what types of foods you will be consuming and the ultimate goal of why you began this diet to begin with. One schedule may work better than another depending on these factors.
1. The 5:2 Diet
The 5:2 diet, also known to many as the “Fast Diet,” is one of the most popular intermittent fasting diets. For this schedule, you will be eating normally (healthily) for five days out of the week, and on the final two, you need to restrict your calorie intake to 500-600 calories per day.
The calorie-restricted days can be any days but must not be consecutive.
This schedule has been shown to reduce insulin resistance and lessen the effects and symptoms of asthma, seasonal allergies, and heart arrhythmias.
The best foods for the 5:2 diet, considering how long you will be going without a large meal, it is best to adhere to diets that include foods that are rather filling, such as nuts, beans/legumes, and grains.
Consider making a smoothie with an almond milk base to not only fill you, but have a snack that can last for hours, and fulfill the day’s calorie count on its own.
2. 12-Hour Fasting
This schedule is relatively easy on those new to intermittent fasting diets: Consider a full night’s sleep – 8 hours. You’ll only need to fast for four hours of your waking time, giving you options on exactly when and how you want to work your intermittent fasting into your daily schedule.
You can choose to extend your four hours into either your mornings or evenings.
If you choose to have your four hours extend into the morning, you can break your fast in the afternoon with either a nutrient-packed smoothie with both berries and almond milk (there are recipes for which you can even include nuts in your smoothie), boiled eggs and nuts (one of my favorite snacks), or a nutrient-packed salad with lots of leafy greens.
If you’re beginning your 12-hour fast in the evening, it’s best to have a dinner full of healthy fats and protein to hold you over during the night. A dinner with fish or chicken breast, along with vegetables and grains is a great choice.
3. The 16/8 Fasting Schedule
The goal of the 16/8 intermittent fasting schedule is to restrict the hours in which you are able to eat for only 8 hours a day and abstaining from food for the remaining 16 hours.
There is no requirement for how often you do this, so according to your dietary goals and necessities, you can do this cycle every day or even just once or twice a week.
Popular time frames for eating according to this schedule are 9-5 pm or 12 pm-8 pm. The choice depends on your preferences for breakfast, if and when you work out, and again, your intention behind your fasting.
For example, if you exercise in the morning and your goal is to burn fat, you should start your 8 hours in the morning after working out, as this supports the speed and efficiency of your metabolism.
If you are aiming to boost your energy during the workday or perhaps even avoid the risk of diabetes, adjusting your eating schedule to your work hours, like the 9-5 schedule could be best.
This allows you to snack and eat during your most active hours of the day when you most need that extra boost of energy.
4. 20-Hour Fasting
This is surely one of the most challenging fasting schedules and needs to be done with caution and proper nutritional advice. With this diet, you will only be able to eat for 4 hours of the day. This does not mean you should gorge yourself during your eating hours!
Instead, you should be even more wary of what you eat under such a rigorous routine. A smoothie is always a great supplement to any of these schedules, as it is almost always very filling and packed full of nutrients and protein. Meals with lean meat and protein-packed beans/legumes are a great idea, and you may even be able to work in healthy fats such as avocados.
The goal in the four hours you can eat is to consume just the right amount of calories to help you last for the 20 hours off, while also providing you with the proper minerals to remain healthy and full of energy.
5. 24 Hour Fasting
The 24-hour fast is another challenging fast and should only be undertaken when you are fully aware of the risks for your body specifically and if your body can appropriately adapt to such a long period without food.
A 24-hour fast is only appropriate to do once a week and you are restricted to certain fluids (e.g., beverages that won’t break your fast) during the 24-hour period.
Making sure to pack on the healthy fat in the days before your fasting period is a surefire way to get you smoothly through those challenging 24 hours.
You need to fill up on foods such as fish, avocados, and yogurt. During the fasting period, drinking fluids such as bone broth and almond milk will help you along without breaking your fast.
Common Questions About Intermittent Fasting
Now that we’ve covered intermittent fasting schedules and the reasons why you should use intermittent fasting, we’ll address some common questions about intermittent fasting.
1. Should Women Fast Differently Than Men?
Women do not necessarily need to fast differently than men. However, there’s still an important fact to discuss here. Most women find it easier to have a broader window to eat when doing intermittent daily fasting.
However, that schedule isn’t a hard and fast rule, and the best thing you can do is an experiment to see how your body does when you attempt intermittent fasting.
2. Do I Have to Skip Breakfast?
I told you earlier that I got used to intermittent fasting quickly because I was never a big fan of breakfast. Let me break this down a bit more. I’m not a big fan of eating early in the morning, but I am a fan of breakfast foods.
The difference is that I eat at 1 PM each day instead of in the morning.
So, you need to think about the concept differently. You don’t need to “skip” your favorite meals or not eat the foods you like. You need to make sure you are eating them at the right time.
Many people find with intermittent fasting that if they eat a large dinner the night before, they’ll have plenty of energy in the morning.
Many people worry about intermittent fasting because they’ve heard they need to eat breakfast, or they need to eat every three hours.
However, those assumptions aren’t all supported well by science, while intermittent fasting has been proven to work in many studies.
3. So, I Don’t Have to Eat Every 3 Hours?
I know it sounds odd, but it’s true. You’ve probably heard people say you should eat six meals a day or every three hours. While that idea was famous for a little while, it’s not so popular anymore. Let me explain why it was popular previously.
Whenever you eat and your body is processing food, your body burns calories. So, people assumed that if you eat smaller meals more often, you will burn more calories as you go about your day. The idea was you’d eat more small meals to help you lose weight.
However, there’s a problem with this theory, and it’s why you don’t hear people pushing this idea around so much anymore.
The meal your body is processing will be proportional to the number of calories you burn. So, digesting six small meals that add up to 2000 calories will burn the same energy as processing two large meals of 1000 calories each.
So, the idea of eating six small meals a day is no longer something that most scientists research anymore. On the other hand, intermittent fasting has become so popular and successful that it is vastly researched by the scientific community.
So, while many people still feel that eating six small meals a day is the way to go, this assumption is no longer backed up by scientific evidence. On the other hand, intermittent fasting’s benefits are supported by many scientific studies.