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.
Alternate-day fasting. Go back and forth between feasting days and fasting days. Eat like a king or queen one day, then eat nothing the next. This will probably be the most challenging fasting option for most people. If you try it, make sure you’re eating a ton on your feast days, otherwise you’ll fall into a major calorie deficit and you’ll likely feel miserable.
IF as a weight loss approach has been around in various forms for ages, but was highly popularized in 2012 by BBC broadcast journalist Dr. Michael Mosley’s TV documentary Eat Fast, Live Longer and book The Fast Diet, followed by journalist Kate Harrison’s book The 5:2 Diet based on her own experience, and subsequently by Dr. Jason Fung’s 2016 bestseller The Obesity Code. IF generated a steady positive buzz as anecdotes of its effectiveness proliferated.
Pros: According to the founders, while everyone is technically fasting every day — during the hours when we’re not eating — most of us do so haphazardly, which makes it harder to reap the rewards. Fat Loss Forever offers a seven-day schedule for fasting so that the body can get used to this structured timetable and reap the most benefit from the fasting periods. (Plus, you get a full cheat day. And who doesn’t love that?)
Based on this, researchers from the University of Alabama conducted a study with a small group of obese men with prediabetes. They compared a form of intermittent fasting called “early time-restricted feeding,” where all meals were fit into an early eight-hour period of the day (7 am to 3 pm), or spread out over 12 hours (between 7 am and 7 pm). Both groups maintained their weight (did not gain or lose) but after five weeks, the eight-hours group had dramatically lower insulin levels and significantly improved insulin sensitivity, as well as significantly lower blood pressure. The best part? The eight-hours group also had significantly decreased appetite. They weren’t starving.
In one study, protein and carbohydrates were more efficiently absorbed in individuals who completed a cardio workout after fasting, as opposed to those who consumed a carbohydrate rich breakfast prior to working out. This research indicates that fasting can assist your body to more efficiently absorb nutrients from your post-exercise meals, as well as improve your general health and boost lean muscle mass growth.
One potential disadvantage of this schedule is that because you typically cut out a meal or two out of your day, it becomes more difficult to get the same number of calories in during the week. Put simply, it's tough to teach yourself to eat bigger meals on a consistent basis. The result is that many people who try this style of intermittent fasting end up losing weight. That can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your goals.
Intermittent fasting may work amazingly well for some people, and terribly for others. Most importantly, if you do decide to give intermittent fasting a try, be sure to listen to your body’s feedback. Easing into intermittent fasting by starting with shorter fasting windows can help with initial symptoms of hunger and discomfort. But if it becomes too uncomfortable, be honest with yourself, accept it, and move on.
Yes, by cutting out an entire meal each day, you are consuming fewer calories per week – even if your two meals per day are slightly bigger than before. Overall, you’re still consuming fewer calories per day. This is highlighted in a recent JAMA study[b] in which both calorie restricted dieters and intermittent fasters lost similar amounts of weight over a year period.