Intermittent fasting (IF) has been one of the most talked-about diets in the last few years, but the funny thing is, it's not really a diet! It's simply an eating method that doesn't tell you what to eat, but instead when to eat. Essentially, intermittent fasting helps you eat fewer calories throughout the day by limiting your feeding window... But that's not all. There are more health benefits that are linked to IF that have turned this fad into a sustainable way of eating for hundreds of people!
Before you jumpstart your fasting journey, it's important to know that it might not be for you. People either love or hate intermittent fasting, those who end up hating it most likely didn't do enough research beforehand. So, if you want to ensure you have a good experience with IF and maximize the effectiveness of it, then stick with us as we guide you through everything you need to know about fasting - the benefits, fasting methods, and frequently asked questions.
What is intermittent fasting?
As we said earlier IF is not really a diet... It's a timed approached eating pattern. So, how exactly does intermittent fasting work? Well, It involves cycling between periods of eating and fasting. Depending on the fasting method, you have an x hour window of eating, and the remainder of the time involves fasting. That's all there is to it! There's no specific diet or foods to eat, it only tells you when to eat. Your diet is entirely up to you. But if you want to set up a successful intermittent fasting plan that will help you reap its health benefits, then eating healthy is a must!
The fasting period is entirely up to you, but most health benefits occur if the fasting period is between 16-24+ hours. Some people are intimidated by the idea of fasting for long periods of time, but it's actually easier than you think! Think of it this way, you're technically fasting the moment you have your last meal or snack before bed until breakfast. So, you've most likely already fasted for a long period of time and didn't even know it! However, there are methods to intermittent fasting, especially for those wanting to lose weight, burn fat or build muscle.
There are so many ways you can do intermittent fasting, but three of the most popular fasting methods are 16/8, Eat Stop Eat, Circadian Rhythm, and 5:2.
The 16/8 method: This method is actually known as the "Leangains protocol", popularized by Martin Berkhan (fitness expert). It involves a 16 hour fast, and having an 8-hour eating window. For example, one of the most common time frames is from 12-8 p.m. This means your last meal is at 8 p.m., and your next meal is until 12 p.m. the next day. You'll basically be skipping one meal, in this case, breakfast. That's just an example of one way to do it, the time frame can be adjusted to fit your lifestyle. So if you work overnight or super early in the morning, you can just adjust to a fasting period that fits your schedule better - Just makes sure to complete at least 16 hours of fasting.
Eat-Stop-Eat method: This method is also known as alternate-day fasting, and it is a bit more advanced, so if you're just starting out try the 16/8 method first. It involves fasting 24 hours every other day. For example, if your last meal is at 8 p.m. then your next meal will be until the following day at 8 p.m.
Circadian Rhythm method: Circadian rhythm refers to your internal body clock. So, this method corresponds with your internal body clock and involves an eating period during daylight hours only, which is when your digestion and metabolism are most active and fasting when the sun goes down. This typically results in a 14 hour fast - learn more about circadian rhythm fasting benefits.
The 5:2 fast: This fasting schedule involves eating normally 5 days a week, followed by two days of eating a maximum of 500 calories. This can be one 500 calorie meal or two small meals broken into two. For this method, have at least one regular day of eating in between the 'fasting days'.
The 16/8 form of intermittent fasting is most commonly used by people wanting to get lean and/or gain muscle, it's also the easiest to fit into your daily schedule. Circadian rhythm fasting is most popular amongst women due to how it works and its benefits. The 5:2 fast works best for those who don’t feel comfortable fasting for an extended period of time, but still want to reap the benefits. Alternate day fasting is just as good, but it can be difficult for beginners, and not as sustainable as the other two methods. Luckily, there are no set rules for fasting. So if you can only do a 16-22 hour fast – that's okay! Adjust with different time frames and see how your body responds.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Fasting has been practiced for hundreds of thousands of years. Ancient hunter-gatherers didn't have the resources we have now and sometimes would go long periods of time without eating! The human body adapted to this style of eating and to be able to function without food for extended periods of time. Fasting is actually more natural than eating several small meals throughout the day.
But to this day, people still think we can't function without food. In fact, people eat breakfast and prefer to eat several meals throughout the day to keep their metabolism up. There is no wrong way of eating, but if eating several times a day helps our metabolism, why do people still choose to fast and how could fasting benefit our health?
Well, here's why...
Helps with weight loss
This is the most popular reason why people try intermittent fasting. In order to lose weight, one must reduce their calorie intake and exercise regularly - everyone knows that. By having a fasting window of 16+ hours you automatically reduce your calorie intake. Of course, that only applies if you're not overeating during your feeding window. So keep in mind, fasting isn't going to make you lose tons of body fat if your diet consists of mostly junk food - it all depends on what you eat.
Aside from that, fasting actually changes your hormone levels that in turn help with losing weight. It helps...
Lower insulin levels - Fasting can improve insulin sensitivity and lower insulin levels. This makes it easier for your body to access and use stored fat.  For example, if you exercise in a fasted state the change in insulin levels signals your body to go into fat-burning mode.
Increase growth hormone - Fasting immensely increases the levels of the growth hormone. High levels of these hormones have been linked to fat loss and an increase in muscle mass. 
Increases the release of norepinephrine - Fasting helps release norepinephrine which is a fat-burning hormone.
These hormonal changes caused by short-term fasting can increase your metabolic rate by 3-14%! 
Can help reduce insulin resistance
Studies have shown that intermittent fasting has impressive benefits in terms of insulin resistance, like lowering blood sugar levels. One human study, in particular, showed that fasting reduced blood sugar by 3-6%, and fasting insulin had been reduced by 20-30%! 
This can be very beneficial to protect against type 2 diabetes. Now, this doesn't mean a few fasting days is going to stop you from having type 2 diabetes. It's all about balance - a healthy diet, exercise, calorie restriction, and consistency.
Activates cellular repair processes
Studies show that fasting initiates a healing process known as autophagy. Autophagy is “an important detoxification function in the body to clean out damaged cells.”. It simply means that when we take a break from eating the body has a chance to heal and digests/recycle old or damaged cells. So essentially, it prompts regeneration and healthy cells so they can protect your body from certain diseases! 
Can help reduce inflammation
Inflammation is linked to bad gut health and several many terrible diseases that you don't want! Animal studies have shown intermittent fasting can reduce inflammation levels, but there are very few human studies.
One of the human studies conducted by researchers studied the effects of fasting on people during Ramadan. The study showed that during the fasting period there were low pro-inflammatory markers, along with low blood pressure. This is one of the few links between intermittent fasting and inflammation.
A few other health benefits intermittent fasting can have are:
- Improve brain health for better function
- Increased energy
- May reduce "bad" LDL cholesterol levels (a risk factor for heart disease)
- May help you live longer and extend your lifespan
- Help you sleep better
- Reduced sugar cravings
- Strengthens your willpower
The health effects of intermittent fasting can be wonderful! Just keep in mind, this is all based on early studies - everyone's lifestyle/diet affects them differently. And as always, a healthy diet and regular exercise are needed in order to really get the most out of intermittent fasting.
Should I try it? Is it safe?
The answer to this is really based on what your intentions/goals are and your current health. A lot of people rave about intermittent fasting for weight loss and all the other benefits, but it might not be the best for you. If you're 100% healthy and are just looking to lose bodyweight and fat, then give it a try. Just be aware of the side effects of intermittent fasting before starting. The main one is hunger, obviously. You may also feel physically weak and your brain might be foggy and not perform as usual. These side effects don't normally happen, but if they do it's only when you first start - It normally takes at least two weeks for your body to adjust to fasting.
If you have a medical condition, consult with your doctor before starting to fast. Intermittent fasting is not the safest for everyone, consult with a nutritionist or doctor if you:
- Are diabetic
- Are pregnant, trying to conceive, or breastfeeding
- Have a history of eating disorders
- Are underweight
- Are taking any medication
- Have low blood pressure
- Have issues with blood sugar regulation
The bottom line is, intermittent fasting has been proven to have various potential health benefits that can help you hit goals and improve your overall health and wellness. That's why it increased in popularity so much in the last few years! But you have to be the one to find the balance between what works with you and your body. If you're interested in taking it on and start reaping the benefits, then read our guide to help you get started with intermittent fasting!
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I drink liquids while fasting?
Yes. Water, black coffee, tea, and other non-caloric beverages are fine. I'd highly suggest just sticking to the first three, and sparkling water if you really need it!
Isn’t it unhealthy to skip breakfast?
No, it is not. If you make sure to eat healthy food for the rest of the day then the practice is perfectly healthy. If you don't want to skip breakfast then just adjust your fasting so it fits your schedule and personal preferences - or just eat your favorite breakfast foods later in the day.
Can I take supplements while fasting?
Yes, but certain workout supplements like protein powder and BCAA's can break a fast. Stick to vitamins or supplement pills, just keep in mind that vitamins may work better when taken with meals.
Can I work out while fasting?
Yes, fasted workouts are perfectly fine and are an excellent way to promote fat-burning.
Will fasting cause muscle loss?
All weight loss methods can cause muscle loss, which is why it’s important to lift weights and keep your protein and carb intake high.