Fast for 16 hours of the day, and allow yourself a single eight-hour window for eating. This may be a good option for most beginners, because it represents the most subtle change from the standard three-meals-per-day lifestyle. As approximately eight of those fasting hours should be spent getting a good night’s sleep, that leaves only eight hours where participants need to be consciously avoiding food. For many, allowing themselves to eat normally from noon until 8pm gives them a stable meal schedule while also staying in a fasted state for the majority of the time.
Stable blood sugar levels are vital to the success of any diet. This is because when glucose levels plummet, it leads to intense hunger, which almost always results in binge eating. Stable blood sugar levels help eliminate headaches, lack of focus, poor memory, and brain fog as well. Interestingly, these are common complaints among those who follow high carbohydrate diets, as opposed to diets that are rich in fat and protein.
It can level up your brain, including positively counteracting conditions like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and dementia. As explained here in this TEDx talk by Mark Mattson, Professor at Johns Hopkins University and Chief of the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging fasting is grounded in serious research and more studies are coming out showing the benefits:
Eat one large meal per day, cutting out all other meals and snacks. For those who aren’t interested in checking clocks and calendars, this is probably the easiest option. This is also a good choice for busy individuals who have a lot going on during the day. Just skip breakfast and lunch and have a large dinner that will carry you over through until bedtime.
Once you start your IF journey, you’ll most likely find that you feel fuller longer and can keep the meals you do eat very simple. There are a few different ways you can fast, so I broke up each of the different plans below into beginner, intermediate, and advanced along with a typical meal plan for each day. The combination of nutrients will give you the energy you need to enhance the benefits of your fasting journey. Just make sure to take into account any individual food intolerances, and use this as a guide for your particular health case, and adjust from there.
As far back as the 1930s, scientists have been exploring the benefits of reducing calories by skipping meals. During that time, one American scientist found that significantly reducing calories helped mice live longer, healthier lives. More recently, researches have found the same in fruit flies, roundworms and monkeys. Studies have also shown that decreasing calorie consumption by 30 to 40 percent (regardless of how it’s done) can extend life span by a third or more. Plus, there’s data to suggest that limiting food intake may reduce the risk of many common diseases. Some believe fasting may also increase the body’s responsiveness to insulin, which regulates blood sugar and helps control hunger.
There’s a ton of incredibly promising intermittent fasting (IF) research done on fat rats. They lose weight, their blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugars improve… but they’re rats. Studies in humans, almost across the board, have shown that IF is safe and incredibly effective, but really no more effective than any other diet. In addition, many people find it difficult to fast.
How It Works: This one’s easy: Eat very little one day, and eat like normal the next. On the low-calorie days, that means one fifth of your normal calorie intake. Using 2,000 or 2,500 calories (for women and men, respectively) as a guide, “fasting” (or “down”) day should be 400 to 500 calories. Followers can use this tool to figure out how many calories to consume on “low-calorie” days.
The four-hour eating window — which Hofmekler refers to as the “overeating” phase — is at night in order to maximize the Parasympathetic Nervous System’s ability to help the body recuperate, promoting calm, relaxation and digestion, while also allowing the body to use the nutrients consumed for repair and growth. Eating at night may also help the body produce hormones and burn fat during the day, according to Hofmekler. During these four hours, the order in which you eat specific food groups matters, too. Hofmelker says to start with veggies, protein and fat. After finishing those groups, only if you are still hungry should you tack on some carbohydrates.
Perhaps most importantly, intermittent fasting is one of the simplest strategies we have for taking bad weight off while keeping good weight on because it requires very little behavior change. This is a very good thing because it means intermittent fasting falls into the category of “simple enough that you'll actually do it, but meaningful enough that it will actually make a difference.”
Before you start your IF plan, it's important to talk with a professional to make sure it's right for you. Women should be especially cautious as there are some mixed opinions on whether or not certain fasting protocols are healthy for female hormone balance. In addition, if you have adrenal fatigue or gut health issues you'll want to proceed with caution. If you have a history of disordered eating, you'll probably want to avoid fasting altogether..
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In Prime Women’s recently launched PLATE weight management program, Dr. Kathryn Waldrep recommends eating within a nine hour window and choosing that time frame based on your body’s circadian rhythms. Early risers might eat between 9:00 am and 6:00 pm. Night owls would eat their first meal at noon and finish their last meal at 9:00 in the evening. As more and more research has been done around IF and circadian rhythms, there seems to be more and more evidence on the soundness of this approach to eating for weight management.
While these five methods are the most well-known in terms of integrating periods of fasting into your eating schedule, there are many other similar philosophies based on meal timing. For those who prefer a more fluid, less rigid method, there’s also the concept of eating intuitively. Primal Diet proponent Mark Sisson is a supporter of the Eat WHEN (When Hunger Ensues Naturally) method, where dieters simply eat whenever their bodies ask them to. However, some believe this can also lead to overeating or overconsumption of calories, since our bodies’ hunger-induced choices may be more caloric than otherwise.
With this information in hand, you should know exactly how to schedule meals when starting an intermittent fasting plan. And while it might seem complicated at first, once you get into the habit of fasting, it will feel like second nature and fit pretty seamlessly into your days. Just remember to always start slow and gradually work up to more advanced plans.
An intermittent fast is a brief fast where, for 12–16 hours or more, you don’t eat anything except water (a few exceptions apply). And while that may sound incredibly difficult to achieve, you might already be fasting without knowing it if you eat dinner at, say, 7 p.m. and break your fast in the morning between 7—10 a.m. — and if you only have water and black coffee or tea between.
Zero-calorie beverages are okay. I drink green tea in the morning for my caffeine kick while writing. If you want to drink water, black coffee, or tea during your fasted period, that’s okay. Remember, don’t overthink it – keep things simple! Dr. Rhonda Patrick over at FoundMyFitness believes that a fast should stop at the first consumption of anything other than water, so experiment yourself and see how your body responds.