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The Ultimate Introduction to Intermittent Fasting

6 Mins read

Intermittent fasting is among the most popular fitness and dieting trends in the world. It simplifies your daily schedule, helps with losing weight, and offers various health benefits. I often discuss intermittent fasting with my clients when they’re looking for a reliable way to manage their weight.

Despite the growing popularity of the diet, however, many people still don’t fully understand it. Some assume it’s all about starving yourself. Others can’t understand how choosing the right times to eat could have such huge benefits. (It even helps you live longer!)

With that in mind, I created this guide to intermittent fasting – perfect for beginners.

What is Intermittent Fasting?

It is just what it sounds like. 

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It’s a pattern of eating which cycles between periods of eating and “fasting.” Most types of intermittent fasting don’t specify which foods to eat, just when you eat them. 

Higher levels of freedom in what you can eat makes intermittent fasting more approachable for people who don’t like traditional diets. There are also different patterns you can follow depending on your needs. Options include:

  • The 16/8 method: This limits food consumption to an 8-hour period in the day. You skip breakfast and eat only between 1 pm and 9 pm. 
  • Eat-stop-eat: Otherwise known as the 2-day fasting diet. This is where only calorie-free beverages are permitted in 2 of your 5 days per week. 
  • The 5:2 diet: Here, you only consume 500-600 calories on two days of the week. You’ll eat normally the other 5 days.

How Does Intermittent Fasting Work? 

What are the eating windows and rules for the diet?

The answer to this question depends on the kind of intermittent fasting you want to do. Most people find the 8/16 or 16/8 method to be easiest. In this schedule, you’ll fast for 16 hours each day and eat only within a strict eight-hour period. You can choose the period you want to eat in, depending on your schedule. 

The important thing I often need to remind my clients is that intermittent fasting is not about skipping meals. Many people do this wrong because they just skip dinner or breakfast. However, ultimately, when you skip meals, you end up increasing your chance of rebound due to inadequate nutritional intake. 

Feelings of hunger will often cause a rebound. The proper method involves squeezing your correct dietary intake into the right time.

Hungry Ren And Stimpy GIF by NickRewind - Find & Share on GIPHY

It may sound unusual, but fasting has actually been a common human practice throughout the decades. Ancient hunter-gatherers couldn’t stock their food in refrigerators or visit the supermarket when hungry. Humans evolved to function without food for extended periods. 

How to Start Intermittent Fasting

Before you jump into intermittent fasting, I always recommend considering the pros and cons. You might want to speak to a doctor to determine it’s safe for you to fast. It’s also helpful to have a deeper insight into how your digestive system works. 

There are many forms of doing it, and no evidence to support one method being more effective than another. However, because you reduce your caloric intake with this method, you should experience some weight loss. Crucially, it’s important not to eat more during the periods when you do eat to make up for the lost time. 

Most people find the 16/8 method to be the simplest and most sustainable. 

Many of us are already doing something close to the 16/8 method anyway. If you find this method to be simple enough, you can always gradually increase your fasting period. Start with 8 hours, then move to 12, then eventually to 16 hours of fasting. 

What to Eat During Intermittent Fasting?

There’s a misconception you can eat anything and everything when intermittent fasting. I wouldn’t recommend taking that route. 

Just like in any diet, it’s important to balance your caloric intake correctly. You’ll still need to ensure that you’re getting the right amount of nutrition from the correct foods. 

A common question I hear is “can you do intermittent fasting and a keto diet at the same time?” The answer to this is usually “yes”. However, I wouldn’t usually recommend it. When you’re putting yourself under that much strain to change your eating habits, the likelihood of rebound is higher. 

What Do You Think About Keto Diet and Intermittent Fasting?

The Keto diet doesn’t provide a huge selection of nutrients to sustain your metabolism. What’s more, because the keto diet is often quite filling, it’s hard to sustain your timing schedule. Some people find it difficult to stick to this routine, particularly those with poor digestive health. I’ve heard about a lot of clients experiencing reflux when doing fasting and keto together. 

Is Intermittent Fasting Effective for Weight Loss?

It can be, if done properly.

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Studies show that intermittent fasting can be an effective way to reduce weight and burn fat. However, you do need to follow the diet correctly. 

Weight loss is the most common reason for people to try the diet. Since you’re getting fewer calories in your day, you should lose some weight. Additionally, intermittent fasting can support positive change in hormone levels to change the way your appetite works.

The strategy reduces insulin and increases growth hormone levels, increasing the release of fat-burning hormones like norepinephrine. Short-term fasting can often increase your metabolic rate by anywhere up to 14%. 

Another bonus is that it helps you to be more mindful about the way you eat. When you’re paying attention to the times you consume food in the day, you’re less likely to binge when you’re not supposed to. 

This also means that if you stop being mindful and start eating more calories during your non-fasting period, then intermittent fasting won’t help you to lose weight.

What are the Benefits of Intermittent Fasting?

Weight loss is just one benefit of intermittent fasting. Other advantages include the reduction of cellular waste, blood sugar control, and hormone management. The long-term results of this strategy still require additional research. However, many experts agree that intermittent fasting can be a very positive strategy overall. Benefits include:

  • Weight loss: As noted above, intermittent fasting helps with reducing body weight and fat without asking you to practise extreme diet restriction
  • Inflammation management: Some reports suggest that inflammation markers may fall when using intermittent fasting. 
  • Insulin resistance: Correct intermittent fasting can reduce insulin resistance and lower blood sugar by around 6%. You can even protect yourself from various kinds of diabetes. 
  • Cancer: Some animal studies indicate intermittent fasting can be helpful in preventing cancer, though further research is needed.
  • Heart health: intermittent fasting can reduce levels of bad cholesterol in the body, lower inflammation around the heart, and more. 
  • Anti-ageing: Intermittent fasting can significantly extend the lifespan of rats, according to some studies, by up to 83%!
  • Brain health: Correctly fasting at the right times increases brain hormones like BDNF and aids in the construction of new nerve cells. 

What are the Side Effects of Intermittent Fasting?

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Although many of my clients have benefitted from intermittent fasting, the strategy won’t be ideal for everyone. Potential side effects range from hormonal imbalance to disorganisation in eating habits and malnutrition. Fatigue, headaches, and higher levels of gastrointestinal stress are common, as well as fertility issues. However, these side effects are more common when the diet is approached incorrectly. 

There will be certain conditions that make you less appropriate for a strategy. For instance, if you have a history of eating disorders, or you’re underweight, you shouldn’t fast without speaking to a professional first. 

Additionally, individuals who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant shouldn’t attempt this strategy. I’d recommend staying away from fasting if you’re breastfeeding too. 

For people with long-term chronic illnesses and hormonal issues like PCOS and diabetes, caution is essential. Consult a doctor or dietician before you commit to intermittent fasting. Discussing your unique situation with a medical professional before you dive in is important. 

Tips for Fasting Beginners

Intermittent fasting is an excellent tool for weight loss and good health when you use it correctly. You’ll need to think carefully about how you structure your meals and the timing of when you eat if you want to get this process right. I often talk through the plan with my clients in-depth, creating something that works for them. 

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to diet, and you should never rush in without considering your options first. You can start by gradually increasing your fasting hours, starting with eight hours, and working up to 16. 

Expect to feel some hunger to begin with, as well as some potential distress in your stomach. This is natural when you’re starting a new dieting schedule. Over time, once your body gets used to the new routine, any side effects should pass. 

However, if you do notice any problems which worry you, make sure you speak to a doctor. Nutrition is an important part of your health, and you should never take it for granted. Want to know your personalised diet according to your genes? Visit CircleDNA for help!

Kris Ng
1 posts

About author
Kris Ng (APD, MSc.) previously served patients in hospital and clinics settings locally and abroad in Australia. Currently the training lead at Prenetics, he specializes in nutrigenomics, gastroenterology, chronic disease management and weight management.
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