Intermittent Fasting 101

Intermittent fasting is easier than it sounds. You simply alternate periods of eating with periods of not eating (fasting). The goal: to limit calorie intake during certain hours each day or during certain days each week.  

Sound too much like a diet? Intermittent fasting is more of an eating pattern than a diet. It limits when we eat, not what we eat. That’s part of its appeal for people who don’t want to count calories or keep a food log to track everything they eat.

According to some, intermittent fasting is a more natural way of eating. We humans evolved. We lived for centuries without refrigerators, drive-throughs, or 24-hour convenience stores. Amazing, I know! Now that we have an all-access pass to food (especially junk food) 24/7, it’s easy to consume more calories than we need. Eating several meals per day plus snacks has become the norm, although it may be less natural than fasting from time to time.

How do you practice intermittent fasting?

There are a few different ways, which include:

  • 16:8 Simply put, you fast for 16 hours and eat only within the other eight hours (i.e., between 12:00 pm. – 8:00 p.m.);
  • 5:2 days of fasting. During this method, you eat regularly for five days of the week, then consume 500-600 calories per day for the other two (non-consecutive) days.
  • A longer fast once a week or twice a month. During this long fast, you refrain from eating for 36 hours (i.e., from 8 p.m. on Tuesday night to 12 p.m. on Thursday). 

What are the benefits of intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting helps you to burn more and consume fewer calories. The bonus; weight loss and maintenance. This method of eating is particularly helpful for those who struggle to lose weight.  According to one review study, intermittent fasting helped people to lose 3-8% of their weight over 3-24 weeks. In this study, people also lost 4-7% of their waist circumference (i.e., belly fat). Not bad!

Another study of 100 people with obesity showed that after one year, those people who fasted on alternate days lost more weight than those who didn’t change their eating pattern.

Intermittent fasting has also been shown to have a beneficial impact on lipid profiles, including a reduction of small, dense LDL particles. Another bonus: it comes in addition to a decrease in body weight and waist circumference. Other studies show that it might help your brain fend off neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s while at the same time improving memory and mood.

The main benefits of intermittent fasting come from restricting the intake of processed carbohydrates and protein. That means you don’t have to swear off all things tasty. You can consume some fat during your fasting periods. For example, you can have coffee with cream in the mornings or a couple of spoons of coconut oil or almond butter or a some olives if you’re feeling hungry.

Intermittent fasting isn’t for everyone.

Those who are underweight or have eating disorders shouldn’t fast. Neither should women who are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or are breastfeeding.

Also, those who are training hard for a physical event (i.e. marathon or bike race) or who are chronically tired or ill should avoid fasting. Certain medical conditions can be worsened with longer periods of fasting. People taking certain medications, such as those for diabetes, blood pressure or heart disease, can be prone to side effects.

If you fit into one of the above categories, it is always best to discuss your situation with a qualified practitioner before considering intermittent fasting.

The Lowdown

The hours and days of fasting can be very difficult. Often, people drop out of the intermittent fasting eating pattern because it can be hard to maintain. Many who complete the fasting portion will eat more than the allowed (low-level of) calories when they’re supposed to be fasting. When they finish the fasting portion, many may overindulge to overcompensate for the reaction of the appetite hormones and hunger drive they felt while depriving themselves of calories.

How to stick with it
Having a strong social support system and positive ways to keep yourself occupied will be key to surviving the intermittent fasting periods. Also, don’t give up if the first couple of times don’t work out as you planned. Sometimes it helps to give it a go and then you’ll know what to expect from the next one – it helps you learn from what went well and what didn’t.


Kroeger, C. M., et al. (2012). Improvement in coronary heart disease risk factors during an intermittent fasting/calorie restriction regimen: Relationship to adipokine modulations. Nutr Metab (Lond)., 9(1), 98. Retrieved from




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