Would you choose to go long periods without eating? Many people do this every day as part of intermittent fasting. It’s a diet of sorts that sets time frames for when a person can and can’t eat in an effort to help the body burn through its supply of sugar and start burning fat instead – resulting in weight loss. Does intermittent fasting actually work? What can you eat when following the intermittent fasting diet? Let’s take a look!
What is intermittent fasting? Has it always been a thing?
While many diets focus on what you eat, intermittent fasting is more about when you eat. Intermittent fasting is the process of eating during a set time frame and then fasting for a set time frame, and repeating. This often looks like eating over an 8-hour span and then fasting for 16 hours. Another popular option is to fast for 24 hours twice per week. There are a number of intermittent fasting methods (we’ll cover those in just a minute!).
Intermittent fasting may seem like a trendy diet, but fasting has long been part of human history. In the days of hunters and gatherers, if people couldn’t find food, then they didn’t eat. Because of this, humans evolved to be able to go extended periods of time without food. People of many different religions also sometimes fast for religious reasons.[i]
Intermittent fasting as a diet gained popularity in 2012 and the years following due to several books published during that time.[ii] Today, it is one of many popular diet options for people looking to lose weight.
Show me the science!
When we eat, the food is broken down by enzymes, and carbohydrates are broken down into sugar. Our cells use this sugar for energy, and whatever isn’t used is stored as fat. When that happens, sugar is brought into the fat cells with help from insulin. When enough time passes between meals and a person hasn’t eaten, their insulin level decreases and fat cells release their stored sugar to be used as energy, thus burning fat.[iii]
People participating in intermittent fasting eat and fast during specific time periods. When the body goes for hours without food, it will eventually use up its sugar stores and start burning fat instead, a process called metabolic switching. Intermittent fasting prolongs the amount of time where a person’s body has burned through the calories from recent meals or snacks and is burning fat.[iv]
When can you eat?
Just like there’s no “one size fits all” diet, there are several different approaches to intermittent fasting, enabling people to choose the method that works best for them. Here’s a look at some of the most popular options.
The 5:2 method
The 5:2 method, also called the twice-a-week method, requires you to limit your daily calorie intake to 500 calories for two days per week. These can be any days of the week, but cannot be consecutive days. On the other five days, you can follow a normal, healthy diet without specific calorie limits. Fasting days often consist of two meals: one 200-calorie meal and one 300-calorie meal, each with a focus on high-protein, high-fiber foods.[v]
The 16/8 method
The 16/8 method is a time-restricted method that includes daily fasts lasting 16 hours followed by 8 hours during which you can eat, and then repeating the process (hence, the 16/8 name). Fasting can take place while you’re sleeping, so you may choose to eat between noon and 8 pm and then fast the rest of the time, or eat between 10 am and 6 pm and then fast, for example. While fasting, you can still drink calorie-free beverages like water and coffee.[vi]
The 14/10 method
This method is similar to the 16/8 method but requires you to fast for 14 hours and then eat within a 10-hour window rather than fast for 16 hours and eat within 8 hours. So, you may eat between 10 am and 8 pm and then fast the rest of the time, for example.[vii]
The eat stop eat method (also called the 24-hour fast)
The eat stop eat method requires followers to fast for 24 hours once or twice per week. This can be done during any 24-hour time span, such as from lunch one day until lunch the next day, or from breakfast one day until breakfast the next day. On non-fasting days, you should focus on eating a healthy diet.[viii]
Alternate day fasting
In this approach, you fast every other day. There are different versions of this approach as well, and one popular one is a modified version that still lets you eat 500 calories on your fasting days. During non-fasting days, you should focus on eating a regular, healthy diet.[ix]
Even though intermittent fasting focuses more on when you eat rather than what you eat, it’s still important to choose healthy meals and snacks during non-fasting periods. Choose foods that are nutritious yet flavorful so you don’t feel deprived. Eating lean protein can help you feel full longer, so foods like chicken breast, lentils, and fish are great options. Fruit is a great source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which can help lower cholesterol levels and help you feel full. Try fruits like blueberries, peaches, oranges, and apples. Leafy green vegetables like kale, spinach, and arugula are also full of nutrients and fiber.[x]
What if I don’t feel like cooking?
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