A Guide to Intermittent Fasting for Beginners

At some point, we all want to lose weight and be healthier. Many fitness-conscious individuals scour the internet for the latest dieting plans that promise to help them reach their goals. Lately, one particular type of diet has gained a lot of attention - intermittent fasting.

Many people are turning to intermittent fasting (IF) as a method of weight loss and dieting. It may be more manageable than one might think, even if you are inexperienced. Many find themselves wondering, does intermittent fasting work? 

Let’s talk about the potential advantages and disadvantages of intermittent fasting and provide options for following a schedule. In this guide, we'll explain intermittent fasting and how to start following an IF schedule.

What Is Intermittent Fasting?

So, what is intermittent fasting? In its simplest form, IF involves alternating periods of eating and fasting. Intermittent fasting, as the name suggests, is all about timing. It's not so much about what you eat, but when.

The practice entails following a set schedule of alternating between periods of eating and fasting. Some popular approaches involve skipping breakfast or not eating for specific hours during the day. Others may skip meals for the whole day once or twice a week. The term intermittent fasting has its roots in our understanding of how our bodies process food.

When we eat, our bodies spend a few hours processing that food and immediately burning what it can use. But when we're fasting, our bodies have nothing to use as energy, so it's more likely to pull from stored fat. Now, you may wonder, "How is this different from other types of fasting?"

Traditional fasting usually involves abstaining from everything except water for specified periods of fasting, often for religious or spiritual purposes. Time-restricted eating is less about complete abstinence and more about controlling when you eat. It's a conscious decision to skip certain meals, not because of religious beliefs but for health benefits.

Types of Intermittent Fasting

Research suggests that IF could help manage your weight and even offer health benefits. For instance, it may improve heart health, mental clarity, and cellular repair. Our bodies have enzymes that break down the food, which ends up as molecules in our bloodstream.

Generally, people try five common types of intermittent fasting:

  • The 5:2 Diet
  • The 16/8 Method
  • The Eat-Stop-Eat
  • The Alternate Day Diet
  • The Warrior Diet

Our bodies use the food we eat as energy. But during intermittent fasting events, our bodies don't have any food, so this is how many people lose excess fat.

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

When adopting a new fasting strategy to improve overall health and wellness, most people do it for higher fat loss. Fortunately, research shows that people can do more than fast for fat loss as it provides several health benefits, including:

  1. Weight Loss: Fasting’s most sought-after benefit is weight loss. By eating fewer meals a day, you're likely to consume fewer calories overall. Plus, by cycling between periods of eating and fasting, your body gets more efficient at using stored fat for energy.
  2. Lowers Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: Research shows that IF can significantly fight insulin resistance while maintaining healthy insulin levels. Having healthy insulin in your body could protect against type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, intermittent fasting improves metabolic function, which could reduce blood sugar levels.
  3. Better Heart Health: Heart disease is a major cause of death, and maintaining a healthy diet is essential for heart health. Intermittent fasting might improve various risk factors for heart disease, such as blood pressure and inflammatory markers.
  4. Improved Brain Health: Fasting could have impressive benefits for brain health, including increasing neuron growth and protecting the brain from damage. Better brain health could enhance cognitive function, memory, and focus.
  5. Lower Inflammation: Chronic inflammation can contribute to many chronic diseases. IF may enhance the body's resistance to oxidative stress, which could help fight inflammation.
  6. Enhanced Cellular Repair: When you fast, the cells in your body initiate a cellular "waste removal" process called autophagy. The process involves cells breaking down and metabolizing dysfunctional proteins that accumulate over time. Autophagy could reduce the risk of several diseases and increase longevity.

Everyone's body responds differently to dietary changes, so talk with your provider before starting any new diet regimen.

Risks of Intermittent Fasting

While we've previously discussed its benefits, it's essential to understand that, like any health regimen, IF also comes with potential risks. Here are some potential risks associated with Intermittent Fasting:

  1. Hunger and Cravings: Since fasting involves periods of not eating, it's natural to feel hungry and experience cravings.
  2. Headaches and Lightheadedness: Changes in your eating pattern can lead to headaches or lightheadedness, particularly during the initial adjustment period.
  3. Digestive Issues: Some people may experience constipation or other digestive issues while fasting.
  4. Irritability and Mood Changes: Changes in your blood sugar levels can lead to irritability and other mood changes.
  5. Fatigue and Low Energy: Your body needs time to adjust to using stored fat for energy instead of glucose from meals. You may feel temporary fatigue and low energy.
  6. Overeating and Binge Eating: When you restrict calories in your diet, you risk overeating during non-fasting periods.
  7. Sleep Problems: Some people may experience insomnia or other sleep problems from the changes in their eating schedule.
  8. Risk of Disordered Eating: IF could contribute to developing disordered eating behaviors and body image issues.
  9. Risk of Hypoglycemia and Muscle Wasting: IF may increase the risk of low blood sugar and induce muscle wasting if you aren’t eating enough protein.

While these potential risks might sound concerning, remember that everyone's body responds differently to dietary changes. You can alleviate your concerns by going about it safely.

How To Fast Safely

While fasting can come with many benefits, you should approach it safely to ensure you're not causing harm to your body. During your fast, you may realize that you need to manage your general nutrition with vitamins or other minerals. If you need supplements, don't worry; it's relatively common.

Here's some actionable advice on how to fast safely.

  1. Ease into It: Don't plunge headfirst into a strict fasting regimen. Gradually cut back on food and drink for several days or weeks before your fast.
  2. Stay Hydrated: Water is vital during a fast. Staying hydrated helps maintain bodily functions and keeps you feeling full. Some fasting plans even allow for unsweetened beverages like coffee and tea.
  3. Listen to Your Body: If you feel unwell, dizzy, or extremely hungry, it might be time to break your fast. 
  4. Plan Balanced Meals: When breaking your fast, opt for a balanced meal complete with carbohydrates, fiber, lean protein, and some healthy fat.
  5. Avoid Overeating: Eating a lot after fasting might be tempting, but try to eat slowly and stop when you're full. Overeating can lead to discomfort and negate the benefits of your fast.
  6. Supplement Wisely: You might get only some of the nutrients your body needs during fasting. Multivitamin gummies or immune-boosting gummies can help fill general nutritional gaps. Choose dietary supplements that support your needs during fasting. For example, if you're fasting for weight control, consider a supplement with green tea extract, which can help boost your metabolism.

It's important to remember that you only see the benefits of intermittent fasting when you’re doing it consistently. You should consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new diet plan, no matter how popular it may be online. Watch out for any warning signs during your fast that tell you something isn't right.

If you’re getting sick more often, immune-boosting gummy with elderberry and Vitamin C is the perfect pick-me-up.

Warning Signs To Watch Out For

Honestly, there's no guarantee you'll have any issues while fasting. Admittedly, it may be difficult sometimes, but there's a difference between difficulty and danger. Generally, fasting is safe if done right, but here are some warning signs to watch out for during your fast:

  1. Digestive Issues: If you're experiencing constipation, diarrhea, nausea, or bloating, these could be signs that fasting isn't agreeing with your body.
  2. Feeling Sick: Headaches, lethargy, and generally feeling unwell may indicate that fasting is not suitable for you.
  3. Fatigue or Dizziness: Feeling overly tired or lightheaded could signal your body isn't getting the nutrients it needs.
  4. Overeating or Binge Eating: If you find yourself overeating or binge eating when you're not fasting, it’s a sign that your body responds negatively to fasting.
  5. Trouble Concentrating: Difficulty focusing or decreased concentration can indicate your body isn't getting enough fuel.

If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, listening to your body is essential. Consider breaking your fast, hydrating, and eating a balanced meal. Always consult a healthcare professional if symptoms persist.

Intermittent Fasting Strategies

Many sources say that intermittent fasting is good for you and that you should incorporate different types into your routine. Often, these same sources don't mention how you should do intermittent fasting. We mentioned some common fasting strategies early in this post; now, let's expand on them more.

  • The 5:2 Diet: Stick to a normal diet for five continuous days and limit your calorie consumption to 500-600 for two back-to-back days. While it allows flexibility, the low-calorie days can be challenging.
  • The 16/8 Method: This method, also known as a time-restricted plan, involves eating normally for eight hours and fasting for 16. However, it requires a longer fasting period, which could be challenging for others.
  • The Eat-Stop-Eat Method: Using this method involves doing a 24-hour fast once or twice a week. During this fast, you would not eat food but drink water as desired. While you may see drastic results with this method, going 24 hours without eating is much harder.
  • The Alternate Day Diet: This diet involves alternating between days of normal eating and fasting every other day. Although it can cause considerable weight loss, it’s one of the most challenging methods to build your routine.
  • The Warrior Diet: This diet involves eating one large meal in the evening and fasting during the day. It may help with weight loss, but it's not based on scientific research and can be hard to maintain.

Many assume it's easy to start and maintain a fasting routine. Intermittent fasting requires a lot of preparation and planning, but success requires having the proper knowledge and attitude.

How To Choose a Strategy That Is Best for You

When asking for advice, people typically want honesty sprinkled with positivity. While it's true that the popular methods described above are effective for some, they're not the best choice for everyone. We all have unique bodies and definitions of success, so there's no one-size-fits-all approach to intermittent fasting.

So, anyone starting their intermittent fasting routine should expect some trial and error initially. Here's some tips on how to curb the "error" part of the equation:

  • Consider Your Lifestyle: Different fasting methods require different time commitments. If you have a regular 9-5 job, the 16/8 plan might fit your schedule best. If you have more flexibility, alternate-day fasting could work.
  • Think About Your Health Goals: Are you aiming for weight loss or better metabolic health? The 5:2 method does both, but a weekly 24-hour fast might be more effective if your goal is weight loss.
  • Listen to Your Body: Some people thrive on the Warrior Diet, while others need more regular meals. Try out different strategies and pay attention to how your body responds.
  • Ask for Professional Advice: Get personalized advice from your healthcare provider based on your health history and goals.
  • Be Flexible: Switching things up is okay if your routine isn't working. If one method doesn’t work, you can try another.

It's safe to say intermittent fasting has become increasingly popular in our culture. While it may offer health benefits, everyone should do it carefully to avoid adverse effects. Different strategies and approaches are available, so experiment to find the one that works best for you and your lifestyle.

At Reflect, we believe everyone should have access to reliable and actionable health information. We hope this guide has given you comprehensive knowledge about intermittent fasting so you can decide what’s right for you. Remember, health is a journey—not a destination—so don't forget to take breaks when needed.