Intermittent Fasting for Beginners

Contributor: Ann Poorboy

My dieting journey began in my 30’s, and now that I’m in my 50’s I think I can honestly say that I’ve tried all of them. And for a while each of them worked a little. Each decade or so it seems more difficult to lose weight and I hit my “HECK NO!” moment when I hopped on the scale and it read 199. I was determined not to go over 200 because I knew if I did, the journey back would be overwhelming.

So like many of you, I went to You Tube to refresh my dieting knowledge and find a way to renew my efforts. Keto wasn’t working because I was the only one in our house who ate any of the stuff. It also wasn’t working for me because I had a really hard time staying in ketosis, and I couldn’t figure out why for the longest time. Through my journey, I learned that SPLENDA HAS CARBS! And I was using it with wild abandon. If you search Keto recipes you’re going to find more desserts than anything all made with various form of alternative sweeteners. This was my downfall. Well, that and massive quantities of Diet Coke.

One place I always go to learn new things is You Tube. And as I was searching Keto, a lot of videos about Intermittent Fasting came up. I picked one and started watching. The guy on the video said something that rings in my ears every single day. “We all know how to lose weight, just stop eating.” So I did. I started with a 12 hour window of not eating, then 13 until I was at a full day fast every now and then. I can still have sweets in small quantities, I can eat dinner with my family eating the same meal they do, and I’ve lost over 20 pounds so far this year. I probably would have lost more but there are always sweets in the house and I have no control.

Here are a few things you can do if you’d like to try intermittent fasting. I hope it works for you as well as it did for me. And if you’ve tried something that works, please comment below and share your story with everyone.

Intermittent fasting (IF) is an emerging and popular dieting trend. People are using it not only to lose weight, but to improve their overall health and simplify their life. Studies show that intermittent fasting can improve your overall health and possibly help you live longer. 123

What is Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent Fasting is an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. It doesn’t specify which foods you should eat but rather when you should eat them. So rather than thinking of it as a diet, think of it more as an eating pattern.

One of the more common eating patterns, and the one I’m currently following is fasting for 16 hours and eating only in an 8 hour window 3 times a week, and fasting for 20-30 hours for the rest of the week. What that basically means is that on my 16 hour days I skip breakfast but can still have coffee with whole cream, and on the other days I skip lunch too. I drink a lot of water and I’m not starving all the time.

In fact, fasting from time to time is more natural than always eating 3–4 (or more) meals per day. Fasting is also often done for religious or spiritual reasons, including in Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism.

Eating Cycles in Intermittent Fasting

As I mentioned before, there are several different ways of doing intermittent fasting — all of which involve splitting the day or week into eating and fasting periods. And I’m not following a strict schedule, I just know that for a few days I get lunch – typically on the weekend when I’m out with my family, and a few days I don’t. Which with my work schedule works out perfectly.

These are the most popular methods:

  • The 16/8 method:  This involves skipping breakfast and restricting your daily eating period to 8 hours, such as 12–8 p.m. Then you fast for 16 hours in between. It doesn’t matter which meal you skip. If you’re on a different schedule that’s fine so long as you stay within that 8 hour window.
  • Eat-Stop-Eat: This involves fasting for 24 hours, once or twice a week, for example by not eating from dinner one day until dinner the next day. In other words if I have lunch one day, skip dinner, and then don’t eat until the next day at dinner, I have extended my fasting window to almost 30 hours. Remember I worked up to this.
  • The 5:2 diet: With this method, you consume only 500–600 calories on two non-consecutive days of the week, but eat normally the other 5 days. I haven’t personally tried this one.

By reducing your calorie intake, all of these methods should cause weight loss as long as you don’t compensate by eating much more during the eating periods. Many people find the 16/8 method to be the simplest and most sustainable. What I love about this diet is it is extremely forgiving. I find if I decide to have a small bowl of ice cream, I may not have lost weight but I haven’t gained much back either.

More Good Stuff About Intermittent Fasting

Well it only took about 5 pounds to convince me to stick to this one for a while. And to watch more YouTube videos on the topic. I began to learn about all of the health benefits. When you fast, several things happen in your body on the cellular and molecular level. For example, your body adjusts hormone levels to make stored body fat more accessible. According to the studies I’ve read and the videos I’ve watched, where ketosis gets you into fat burning mode, intermittent fasting takes you one level deeper – into a dropped insulin level. This is apparently the key to the skinny kingdom. Then starts a process called autophagy which is cell recycling. Cells have life cycles and when they die they hang around. A lot of dead cells not being purged from the body can cause health problems. So it’s like spring cleaning for my organs. And as our bodies purge the old dead cells, they make more new ones. It can also change gene expression and hormone levels.

That part really resonated with me because steroids (an artificial hormone) make you gain weight. When you fast, human growth hormone levels go up and insulin levels go down. Think about how hard it is for diabetics on insulin to lose weight. It all makes sense.

Here are some changes that occur in your body when you fast:

  • Human Growth Hormone (HGH): The levels of growth hormone skyrocket, increasing as much as 5-fold. This has benefits for fat loss and muscle gain, to name a few (4567).
  • Insulin: Insulin sensitivity improves and levels of insulin drop dramatically. Lower insulin levels make stored body fat more accessible (8).
  • Cellular repair: When fasted, your cells initiate cellular repair processes. This includes autophagy, where cells digest and remove old and dysfunctional proteins that build up inside cells (910)
  • Gene expression: There are changes in the function of genes related to longevity and protection against disease (1112).

Intermittent Fasting and Weight Loss

Weight loss is the most common reason for people to try intermittent fasting (13).

By making you eat fewer meals, intermittent fasting can lead to an automatic reduction in calorie intake.

Additionally, intermittent fasting changes hormone levels to facilitate weight loss.

In addition to lowering insulin and increasing growth hormone levels, it increases the release of the fat burning hormone norepinephrine (noradrenaline).

Because of these changes in hormones, short-term fasting may increase your metabolic rate by 3.6–14% (1415).

By helping you eat fewer and burn more calories, intermittent fasting causes weight loss by changing both sides of the calorie equation.

Studies show that intermittent fasting can be a very powerful weight loss tool.

A 2014 review study found that this eating pattern can cause 3–8% weight loss over 3–24 weeks, which is a significant amount, compared to most weight loss studies (1).

According to the same study, people also lost 4–7% of their waist circumference, indicating a significant loss of harmful belly fat that builds up around your organs and causes disease (1).

Another study showed that intermittent fasting causes less muscle loss than the more standard method of continuous calorie restriction (16).

Keep in mind that the main reason for its success is that intermittent fasting helps you eat fewer calories overall. If you binge and eat massive amounts during your eating periods, you may not lose any weight.

Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Many studies have been done on intermittent fasting, in both animals and humans.

These studies have shown that it can have powerful benefits for weight control and the health of your body and brain. It may even help you live longer.

Here are the main health benefits of intermittent fasting:

  • Weight loss: As mentioned above, intermittent fasting can help you lose weight and belly fat, without having to consciously restrict calories (113).
  • Insulin resistance: Intermittent fasting can reduce insulin resistance, lowering blood sugar by 3–6% and fasting insulin levels by 20–31%, which should protect against type 2 diabetes (1).
  • Inflammation: Some studies show reductions in markers of inflammation, a key driver of many chronic diseases (171819).
  • Heart health: Intermittent fasting may reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol, blood triglycerides, inflammatory markers, blood sugar and insulin resistance — all risk factors for heart disease (12021).
  • Cancer: Animal studies suggest that intermittent fasting may prevent cancer (22232425).
  • Brain health: Intermittent fasting increases the brain hormone BDNF and may aid the growth of new nerve cells. It may also protect against Alzheimer’s disease (262729).
  • Anti-aging: Intermittent fasting can extend lifespan in rats. Studies showed that fasted rats lived 36–83% longer (3031).

Keep in mind that research is still in its early stages. Many of the studies were small, short-term or conducted in animals. Many questions have yet to be answered in higher quality human studies (32).

Intermittent Fasting Is Easy

Eating healthy is simple, but it can be incredibly hard to maintain.

One of the main obstacles is all the work required to plan for and cook healthy meals.

Intermittent fasting can make things easier, as you don’t need to plan, cook or clean up after as many meals as before.

For this reason, intermittent fasting is very popular among the life-hacking crowd, as it improves your health while simplifying your life at the same time.

Who Should NOT Intermittent Fast

Intermittent fasting is certainly not for everyone. If you’re underweight or have a history of eating disorders, you should not fast without consulting with a health professional first. In these cases, it can be downright harmful.

If you do have an eating disorder, or if people are telling you that you have one, please get help. If you won’t do it for yourself do it for the people who love you. My mom couldn’t fight off cancer because she was anorexic. I mean this with all sincerity.

Intermittent Fasting in Women

There is some evidence that intermittent fasting may not be as beneficial for women as it is for men.

For example, one study showed that it improved insulin sensitivity in men, but worsened blood sugar control in women (33).

Though human studies on this topic are unavailable, studies in rats have found that intermittent fasting can make female rats emaciated, masculinized, infertile and cause them to miss cycles (3435).

There are a number of anecdotal reports of women whose menstrual period stopped when they started doing IF and went back to normal when they resumed their previous eating pattern.

For these reasons, women should be careful with intermittent fasting.

They should follow separate guidelines, like easing into the practice and stopping immediately if they have any problems like amenorrhea (absence of menstruation).

If you have issues with fertility and/or are trying to conceive, consider holding off on intermittent fasting for now. This eating pattern is likely also a bad idea if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

Is Intermittent Fasting Safe?

Hunger is the main side effect of intermittent fasting.

You may also feel weak and your brain may not perform as well as you’re used to.

This may only be temporary, as it can take some time for your body to adapt to the new meal schedule.

If you have a medical condition, you should consult with your doctor before trying intermittent fasting.

This is particularly important if you:

  • Have diabetes.
  • Have problems with blood sugar regulation.
  • Have low blood pressure.
  • Take medications.
  • Are underweight.
  • Have a history of eating disorders.
  • Are a woman who is trying to conceive.
  • Are a woman with a history of amenorrhea.
  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding.

All that being said, intermittent fasting has an outstanding safety profile. There is nothing dangerous about not eating for a while if you’re healthy and well-nourished overall. Still it’s always a good idea to talk about any dramatic change in diet or exercise with your doctor.

FAQs on Intermittent Fasting

1. Can I Drink Liquids During the Fast?

Yes. Water, coffee, tea and other non-caloric beverages are fine. Do not add sugar to your coffee. Small amounts of milk or cream may be okay. Some of the videos I’ve watched even suggest that coffee and tea can minimize the feeling of hunger while you’re fasting.

2. Isn’t It Unhealthy to Skip Breakfast?

No. The problem is that most stereotypical breakfast skippers have unhealthy lifestyles. And if you’re breakfast consists of mostly carbs and fast foods, what are you really missing? Just make you eat healthy food for the rest of the day then the practice is perfectly healthy.

3. Can I Take Supplements While Fasting?

Yes. However, keep in mind that some supplements like fat-soluble vitamins may work better when taken with meals. Also remember that those gummy vitamins can interfere with your fast.

4. Can I Work out While Fasted?

Yes, fasted workouts are fine. I am finding it even more effective. If you’re new to working out, I really love the 7-minute workout videos on You Tube. Lucy is the host and provides a lot of variety.

5. 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 intake high. One study showed that intermittent fasting causes less muscle loss than regular calorie restriction (16).

6. Will Fasting Slow Down My Metabolism?

No. Studies show that short-term fasts actually boost metabolism (1415). However, longer fasts of 3 or more days can suppress metabolism (36).

7. Should Kids Fast?

Allowing your child to fast is probably a bad idea. Always check with your doctor before you experiment with dieting and children.

Getting Started

Chances are that you’ve already done many intermittent fasts in your life.

If you’ve ever eaten dinner, then slept late and not eaten until lunch the next day, then you’ve probably already fasted for 16+ hours.

Some people instinctively eat this way. They simply don’t feel hungry in the morning.

Many people consider the 16/8 method the simplest and most sustainable way of intermittent fasting — you might want to try this practice first.

If you find it easy and feel good during the fast, then maybe try moving on to more advanced fasts like 24-hour fasts 1–2 times per week (Eat-Stop-Eat) or only eating 500–600 calories 1–2 days per week (5:2 diet).

Another approach is to simply fast whenever it’s convenient — simply skip meals from time to time when you’re not hungry or don’t have time to cook.

There is no need to follow a structured intermittent fasting plan to derive at least some of the benefits.

Experiment with the different approaches and find something that you enjoy and fits your schedule.

Is Intermittent Fasting For You?

Intermittent fasting is not something that anyone needs to do. It’s simply one of many lifestyle strategies that can improve your health. Eating real food, exercising and taking care of your sleep are still the most important factors to focus on.

If you don’t like the idea of fasting, then you can safely ignore this article and continue to do what works for you. At the end of the day, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to nutrition. The best diet for you is the one you can stick to in the long run.

Intermittent fasting is great for some people, not others. The only way to find out which group you belong to is to try it out. If you feel good when fasting and find it to be a sustainable way of eating, it can be a very powerful tool to lose weight and improve your health.

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