How to Get Started With Intermittent Fasting

For years, the concept of lots of small meals throughout the day really clicked with me, and is often prescribed to help you lose weight.

If you space out your meals evenly, keep your calorie count low, you’ll lose weight, right?  I’ve even talked about how breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  Lots of people follow the “eat multiple meals a day” ideology and lose weight, so it works.  Less calories, more meals, evenly spread out.  It makes sense.

However, I’ve recently done some research and reading on IF…which also makes a lot of sense to me.  By not eating every once a while, your body has to burn the fat in your system for energy, which would lead to weight loss.  Also, by not eating for twenty four hours, you’re pushing your body into a calorie deficit, which also leads to weight loss.  It makes sense.

So, how can these two seemingly conflicting ideologies both make sense? Simple – they both allow your body to burn more calories than you consume.  And, if other research on the body’s physiology while fasting is to be believed, there are multiple other benefits as well.

Let’s get down to business.

Note: Years after writing this article I came back to intermittent fasting and wrote a full length guide. Check out The Beginner’s Guide to Intermittent Fasting.

What the Hell is Intermittent Fasting?

IF is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: you purposely avoid eating for a twenty-four hour period (or two) during the week. Why?  Because recent studies have shown that your metabolism operates more on a marathon basis (how many calories consumed over a long period of time) than on a sprint basis (what you ate yesterday).  Prior to this research, I was giving way too much credit to my stomach – it’s not nearly as intelligent as I thought.  Think long term when it comes to calories consumed and burned, not short term.

Mark over at Mark’s Daily Apple has a great write-up on the evolutionary science behind fasting. Mark runs one of the most thorough and successful paleo diet blogs out there, and I highly value his opinion.  I love looking into the evolutionary aspects of diet and fitness, and I’m often very weary of any new “breakthrough” that requires a pill or drink or anything.  We’ve survived as a species for tens of thousands of years with diet, exercise, and intelligence.

Fasting is one of those evolutionary aspects that makes complete sense to me.

How Does it Work?

Our bodies are genetically engineered to deal with feast or famine.  10,000 years ago, surprisingly there was no free All-Star Slam Breakfast from Denny’s!   Our bodies need fuel to operate, and if there isn’t any food in the stomach to pull from, it uses the fat stored within the body for energy.  The fat gets burned for energy, the body keeps moving, and thus becomes leaner.

Secondly, because of these skipped meals, you are putting your body into a calorie deficit (averaged out for the week).  Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint, so start thinking of your calories more in terms of weekly units rather than daily amounts, if that helps.  More calories burned compared to calories consumed = weight loss!

Here’s a video from Brad over at Eat Stop Eat (which reads like an infomercial, ugh…but it’s legit) explaining the similarities between fasting and exercise.  He also wrote a guest post over on Fitness Black Book.  I considered setting up an affiliate link for Brad’s e-book in case you’re interested in purchasing it, but I didn’t want you to think I wrote this article to get affiliate money.  Instead, you can form your own opinion, and then buy Brad’s book if you’re interested.


Brad Pilon – Eat Stop Eat

How Do You Do It?

Simple: pick a day (or two) per week and purposely skip breakfast and lunch, and then eat a normal dinner. Brad over at Eat Stop Eat recommends doing this type of fasting once or twice a week – for example, a fast on Monday, and then another one on Thursday.  Liquids are okay on fasting days, just not ones with calories.  Heyoooo H2O!

If you’re used to eating a LOT of food, and you normally eat a big breakfast, this is going to be a pretty big drastic change.  Start by skipping breakfast and see how your body reacts to it.  If you can handle that, work your way up to skipping breakfast and lunch.  Notice that I’m not saying you should skip breakfast and lunch every day.  Eat normally five days a week, try a fast one of the other days for a few weeks and see how your body reacts.

Eat, don’t eat, and then eat.  Got it?

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

A recent article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition gives a great overview of these benefits which include decreases in blood pressure, reduction in oxidative damage to lipids, protein and DNA, improvement in insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake, as well as decreases in fat mass.”  This study discusses studies done with humans (not mice) specifically.

From the LA times: Mark P. Mattson, chief of the laboratory of neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging: “In normal health subjects, moderate fasting — maybe one day a week or cutting back on calories a couple of days a week — will have health benefits for most anybody.”

I’d like to see more studies, with better controls done for more solid proof of these benefits, but I expect that to happen soon.

Risks of Intermittent Fasting

So, all we see so far are GOOD things about not eating for a full day. What the hell is BAD about it? First off, I can see myself getting extremely hungry to the point of annoyance when starting out this process.  This is echoed by Ruth Frechman, a registered dietitian in Burbank and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Assn: “You’re hungry, fatigued, irritable. Fasting is not very comfortable. People try to cut back one day and the next day they’re starving and they overeat.”

I imagine there is quite the learning curve for your body when it has to switch from using readily accessible carbs for energy to using your body’s fat stores, so I can see the first few fasting days being extremely difficult.  NF Reader Matt makes a great point in the comments that I’m reposting here for all to see:

“One thing I think people who are considering this should ask themselves – how are you at controling your hunger at the moment?  Losing weight is all about consuming less calories than you burn.   The biggest obstacle to this is hunger.  That is, uncontrollable hunger.  If you are starving yourself on 800 calories a day, then you will be much more likely to binge and go way over your calorie goal.  So it becomes important to eat when you are hungry, not when you are starving.”

Moral of the story? Don’t overdo it – if you feel light headed and you can’t function, EAT SOMETHING.  Listen to your body, and find a way to make it work for you.  We only get one chance on this planet, so make it count.

Do I Recommend It?

Note: Years after writing this article I came back to intermittent fasting and wrote a full length guide. Check out The Beginner’s Guide to Intermittent Fasting.

This is my recommendation:

  • Is your current plan working? Good! Don’t change it!
  • Is your current plan NOT working? Give this a shot.

If you only get ONE thing from this whole article, it’s this: there is more than one way to lose weight, so don’t worry about your method being the best.  The best diet is the one that makes you lose weight and keeps you healthy.  If you’re already losing weight, keep doing what you’re doing.  If you’re not, maybe do a little bit more reading on IF and give it a shot.

My advice? Do it the day after you’ve stuffed yourself, and balance things out.  In terms of losing the most weight the quickest, I’d probably recommend the Paleo Diet and intermittent fasting with weight training in the gym.

I’ve been doing intermittent fasting for the past 3 years and transformed pretty dramatically.

So what are your thoughts? Have you tried fasting before?  Successful or miserable failure?  Will you give a shot?  If so, please post your stories, thoughts, successes, concerns in the comments and we’ll see if this is something we can all wrap our heads around.

-Steve

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picture – Undronotto

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  • Alison Westwood

    This article caught my eye because, for a few months now, I’ve been naturally skipping meals. I don’t feel particularly hungry, so I don’t bother eating until I do. Some days I don’t eat anything (besides a cup of ‘bulletproof’ coffee) until 3 or 4pm – and then I don’t eat more than I normally would for a light meal. Even though I think I’m ravenous at the time, a small amount of food usually proves to be plenty.

    I’d been feeling worried about this, because I’ve had the ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ message drilled into me all my life and was also told that if I skipped meals regularly, my body would get ‘anxious’ and hoard any calories I did get around to giving it.

    I’m also hypoglycaemic, so you’d think that my blood sugar wouldn’t be happy about this arrangement. But oddly, as long as I’m busy and focussed, drink plenty of water and have an apple around for emergencies, I don’t feel any of the shaky, irritable, weepy symptoms I used to suffer from when I ate more regularly. This said, I don’t think I’d cope very well if I skipped a meal and then did strenuous exercise. I’d definitely make sure I’d eaten something before going for a 3-hour hike, for instance.

    As for weight loss, I can’t comment. I’ve had a pretty steady BMI of around 20 – 21 most of my life, so I don’t pay much attention to the bathroom scale. I’m much more interested in flab loss and muscle gain, which is why I’m here 🙂

  • Big John

    I sort of started this around 6 weeks ago. I am about 6’0 to 6’1 tall and weighed 260. My blood pressure was high. My doctor sent me to the hospital.

    I stopped the sugar drinks; started water and stopped eating so MUCH. I have not added exercise. Ive lost 25 pounds in 6 weeks.

    I am hungry alot; but if you push through it you get used to it. Ive also made better choices about healthier foods.

    IT WORKS!

  • DumbassNigga

    Yeah because that 1 dollar cheeseburger a poor person eats a day is really going to break his bank and make him fat.. you’re an idiot who missed the point entirely.. i named myself after you

  • MARY

    I’ve tried this lost 20 pounds then went to the hospital was 20 pounds under weight and you basically damage your body your body breaks down your muscles and use them for nutrition then you get dark circles under your eyes you get stretch marks and varicose veins your bones stick out you become weak you get bruises from lack of nutrition and you get scares easily and you can basically die yes you loose weight but then too much weight and your like a walking skeleton it’s DEADLY!

  • MARY

    You can’t starve your body and not eat at all if you want to die then starve your self and not eat anything but if you want to life but loose some weight exercise and eat healthier foods don’t starve yourself!

  • MARY

    If you want to live don’t starve yourself!

  • KhanGirl95

    I’ve usually always just read posts and blogs like these. Never got so tempted to appreciate anything though…
    So, this term “intermittent” fast is fairly new to me however, I have been fasting since I was 7. Yes, since I was 7… every year, once a month, for the entire month I’d fast (from dawn till sundown everyday). This is due to religious reasons. No food or drinks for 16-17 hours straight. Every year, during this time, i’d try to sleep as much as possible and not be active at all.
    However, this year was different. As a bioengineer I was working in a lab throughout the month and it’s safe to say that i’ve never been this focused and active in my life. The thought of not eating or drinking from dawn to sunset scares people, it scared me too. But by the end of it I realized how this should actually be a part of my lifestyle.
    IF makes total sense. We’re meant to be able to starve ourselves but our lifestyles are so “luxurious” that we want to eat every 15 minutes (that’s me on regular days!)
    I ate mostly vegetables and lean proteins and healthy fats when i was allowed to eat (night time) and i actually lost a huge percentage of body fat(which i was struggling with).
    I’m not considered fat or anything. I’m 5’6 and I weigh 130 lbs. But i’ve always had trouble finding a meal plan that would not make me bloat or feel lightheaded.
    Now i fast once a week (again for more religious reasons) and it works perfectly. That is usually the day I’m at home though since on other days I have lunch with my friends!

    always been a huge fan of self control and discipline and things that test my will. THIS IS ABSOLUTELY MOTIVATIONAL IF YOU DO IT AND REALIZE HOW STRONG YOU ARE!
    thanks for the article. Felt great reading it and could totally relate.

    JUST FELT LIKE SHARING MY STORY!
    btw, to clarify.. Muslims have a month every year where they have to fast from dawn till dusk- a fast from food, drink, sexual stuff and bad habits(like back biting etc).The purpose is to learn patience, practice self control, to realize how the poor have to go without food and to see what life is like without these things. All in all, i had never been so appreciative of this practice until I realized how much more energy,attention and willpower I had while fasting.

  • Jeff Sherry

    Great write up Steve. I’ve followed IF now for about 4 years as have many clients. The stories of improved health are endless. Not just improved body composition…IMPROVED HEALTH. Enjoy your journey!

  • Lee Barry

    I have been doing this for the past few weeks..I didn’t know it had a name. I had tried eating good foods 6x a day..working out like crazy and I only maintained. I am 44 years old and never had a problem with weight until I turned 42. Last year I blew out a disk and did not do much and I gained about 18 pounds. I had surgery and now I am at 95% well. I think the IF method may work I am down about 3 pds in 3 or so weeks. I am able to get in my workout on an empty tank and if I need a lol something I try a piece of fruit. Thanks for the informatiom. Good luck to all who are on their weightless journey I hope you find your method.

    LEE

  • Jamal Elektro

    Check this out guys simple android app https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.jamal.intermittentfasting for your intermittent fasting journeys.

  • Susu

    So I do this really often, and I didn’t even know it was a thing, but I never really see results..when I skip a meal and stuff should I eat a full meal that day? Or .. usually I just snack on some fruits but it is not working.

  • Amir

    I am 13, should I be doing this? I wanna burn more body fat.

  • Dana

    Honestly I tried this and it actually works but just one thing, I don’t skip breakfast and I really don’t recommend anyone to skip breakfast unless you don’t work and you’re at home all day. I simply have breakfast and skip lunch and dinner which is quite easy for me to do, I eat like an orange and some cereal in the morning and it gives me lots of energy than one might assume. And even though at like 5-6 pm I get this little grumble in my stomach I just ignore it and it passes within 20 minutes. Then I go home and at like 9 pm I go to bed! It even gave me a regular sleep circle! So yeah my advice is to not skip breakfast, lunch dinner is the mistake here.

  • Morgan

    I have been doing this for 2 weeks although I go 3 days without eating, I just drink water. I can certainly tell a difference in my weight. Which I do this with exercise as well. I don’t really get hungry because the water fills me up and when I do eat it’s not much. I get full very quickly now

  • Grace Jarrett

    Can I eat a small snack between breakfast and lunch. ?i am a diabetic and I just switched to a dofferent set and want to feted of belly fat but can’t have low bg so if I cold eat something like a cheese stick or a cracker ?

  • Grace Jarrett

    Can I eat a small snack between breakfast and lunch. ?i am a diabetic and I just switched to a dofferent set and want to feted of belly fat but can’t have low bg so if I cold eat something like a cheese stick or a cracker ?

  • Sebastian Goryl Chonchera

    I’m 6’4 and was pushing 340lbs…did this twice a week for 3 weeks and lost 40 lbs and stopped for a while (I really don’t want to loose too much too quickly)cut all sugar ,soda and fried foods and ate oatmeal for breakfast big salad with olive oil and vinegar for lunch and usualy passed on dinner not feeling hungry or grabbed a burger at Wendy’s (burger only)
    I’m a truck driver so I lost all that weight sitting on my butt all day not exercising .I can’t even imagine what kind of success I’ll have starting tommorow when I put my new gym membership and paleo diet to test…I’m Onegative blood type so paleo is my genetic match and I can’t wait to see the results

  • Dash

    I made my meals smaller and now I only eat 1 meal per day. I have gotten skinnier and feel great. Kind if embarrassing when I go with friends to lunch and I eat like the smallest meal ever while they stuff their face with food

  • Jesse Robinson Call

    So, my diet is the crappiest diet I know: free of vegetables and fruit, and high in indulgence. Fried foods (breaded chicken, pan-fried steak, almost everything I eat) is my jam.

    Grad school can be a level-5 B-word! Long sessions of sitting, mental exhaustion, BS’ing a little, and shots and shots of espresso (my favorite part!). However, the last month of the Spring 2016 semester, I had no income and searched the couches for change to get a $2.12 doppio at Starbucks. That’s 2 shots of espresso, no cream. Oh, btw, I’ve tried to kick dairy out because I’m not a newborn cow.

    Worked out every other day with NF barbell workouts, which btw is against my philosophy of going all out every time I go to the gym.

    2 months of not working out, going through a few of my days without eating and not realizing it. All of a sudden I went from 288 lbs to 255 lbs, and I thought it was becg to ause I contracted some kind of GI worm.

    IF is now going to be part of my routine. I got over the hump of the Hungry > Hangry > Nauseous > Lightheaded > Over it phase by being poor and having to finish 20-page papers in 3 days. So really, I didn’t do it by choice, but I’m thankful it happened. Hunger isn’t a call to arms anymore, I know I can get through the day with little to know calories, and I’m 30+ lbs lighter, still going to the gym every other day. Hell, I whipped someone half my weight in tennis, he wanted to pass out, and I could go for another couple hours.

    Try it. I have almost no willpower, but now that I’m over the misery of hunger being intolerable, for once in my life I feel like I could actually drop my weight down and still build muscle. HUZZAH!

  • Ash

    But doesn’t fasting cause your body to go into a starvation mode where you won’t be able to lose any fats?

  • Ruth gosselin

    I have tried fasting for two days then eating and its not really that bad just by day two you might get extremely hungray so I eat something small say a bowl of cereal I too can’t allow myself small bites or I will eat the entire thing but amazingly your body forgets its hungray after day one

  • Leanne.

    I fasted for 3 days and lost 6lb. After 3-5 days your body will go into ketosis where it burns stored fat for fuel at an accelerated rate. As long as you cut down on calories and avoid carbs you will stay in ketosis. It is NOT safe to stay in this state for too long though so it’s best to reintroduce carbs after 2 months. This is basically the principle of The Cambridge Diet but saving you £40+ per week.

  • Amber Lawrence

    It’s amazing how her IF has come over the years. What’s amazing is I’ve been doing this since I was in my early 20’s and didn’t know that was what it was called or anything. I watched Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead documentary and totally changed my perspective on fasting. When you juice you’re taking all of the insoluble fiber out and what’s left is the juice of the plant. The soluble fiber is still in there but without the insoluble fiber your body still thinks it’s in a fasting state and you’ll keep losing the weight (which is why when you eat clean and only eat veggies and small amounts if fruits you will indefinitely feel hungry because these have lots of fiber naturally). You will keep getting the nutrition your body craves, you’ll keep fasting and losing weight but you’ll come out much healthier. I’ve had a lot of success on this and fast whenever I feel like it. Usually it’s the weekend starting Friday and I go up until I take Communion on Sunday at church. I break my fast with dinner that night with a light salad. Nothing rich at that point. After having my daughter this has helped me to keep my weight under control, stay active and feel good about myself in my 30’s. I highly suggest IF and if you get that light headed feeling drink a green juice but keep it mostly green and not too much fruit as fruit still contains sugar natural in is way but that still turns to fat for us humans. Also, you can purchase green drinks in the store if you don’t want to purchase a juicer and you want to try it out. They are about $5 for about a gallon which is pricy but I consider the amount of money I save on food I’m not eating and it balances itself out. I even make it last longer by doing half green juice and half water!) Watch the documentary and read more. You’ll wonder why you hadn’t learned about this sooner!

  • Irene

    Can you please tell me how many days a week do you fast,,thank u. Irene

  • http://confamgist.com.ng Liljoe1997
  • Mateo Marjanovic

    Hi, I’m doing this IF thing now and I’m currently 4 hours and 30 minutes in. Don’t feel hungry at all. Does the breakfast thing you were talking about affect me if I don’t work out. I usually just walk for 8 miles per day since I’m overweight (17yo, 5’11”, 235 pounds (107kg))?

  • Timmy Jones

    Yes this does in fact work, it was more inadvertent for me however , a girl I liked was screwing some random guy and was in love with him etc. so this emotionally destroyed me and I became sick, had no appetite/wanted to die/depressed and I stopped eating altogether albeit I was very overweight so as the desire to eat dwindled, so did my flab on my stomach and gradually all the fat that was keeping me from fitting in a size 38 pants was gone, i decided to take advantage of my pain/mental trauma induced starvation and began drinking fruit smoothies and occasional yogurts with oatmeal, which then became the only thing I was able to consume,, ultimately from not eating I went from 225 to 204lbs in bout 2weeks, the emotional heartbreak felt from this girl made me not want to eat or even live At all…ultimately it also became the solution to the very big struggle to lose weight

  • Timmy Jones

    Bro I was obese as could be at 227lbs and thought it was impossible to lose the weight. then a girl I liked was Messing around with some random she met driving Her in his uber and getting pounded by him etc.
    I was so depressed/sad that I stopped eating and wanted to die…from starvation I lost 20lb 225-204 in 2weeks of sad/depression and suddenly all my body fat was almost gone, I smacked on fruits and smoothies to stay alive, and ultimately this became a regimen, I am continuing to shed weight as a result never would I have thought I could pull it off, swore
    I was going to be fat forever

  • Shade

    In my religion we are encouraged to this since our prophet used to fast 2 days a week( mondays and thursdays), 1400 years ago!

  • claudia sofia

    I started two years ago, first going to the gym, 10 pounds, great!. Plato, okay, eating better, (so hard!, no donuts, limited carbs a day, trying different foods.. Turned out milk makes me bloat), another 8 pounds of, Plato, DARN!!, fast for two days, 5 pounds shaded already, feeling not bloated and great (mind you, I hardly drink coffee), so, bottom line, fasting WILL make you lose weight, having a good experience depends on how and what you usually eat, how you break your fast is important too, after my fast I limit my carb to two toast morning and mostly good, homemade food, total weight loss : 23 lbs, going for 10 more and done to maintenance, good luck all!

  • Judy

    So I mean a dancer, I practice maybe 4-5 hours a day on top of 1-2 hours of exercising (squats, lunges, planks, crunches, etc). Almost every day. Despite this I still am not burning off my stomach fat and love handles. I’m trying to get a flat, toned stomach. I already have a pretty good diet and I drink lots of water and no sugary drinks but it just still isn’t working…is this kind of fasting a good idea for me?

  • Al

    I lost a shit load of weight this exact way in the past with a devastating break up I did however lose too much. But here I am 10 years later and over weight and now plan to lose it with IF not to the extreme of complete starvation as before. It shits me all the people who say you have to eat to lose weight otherwise your body thinks it’s in starvation mode, well yes it is and this is how you lose weight, it’s the only way I have ever been able to lose weight in my 48 years.

  • Grung

    Well I have done it for 2 months… one meal, 11 am every day, my meals were even smaller than my regular meal. I had a big appetite and I used to eat two main dishes each meal (prior to dieting) so instead I had one main dish, and one meal a day, as well as picking the healthier options except on my one cheat day a week.

    Imagine how depressed I was to step on the scales for the first time in 2 months to see I lost 1 KG (bit less than 2 pounds!) just ONE KG in two months!!

    I have tried EVERYTHING at this point, name a diet and I have tried it. I did a blood check also my thyroid seems fine, everything seems fine. I am 180 cm (6 feet tall) and I weigh now 117 KG (257 Pounds) and its killing me inside, doctors say I am going on starvation mode but that is BS cuz I also tried many small meals a day with caloric counting… nothing is working 🙁

  • Shyam Shukla

    What worked for me was this amazing guide.
    http://bit.ly/2l7jfIl
    Tells the right methods of doing IF and helps in staying healthy.

  • Rosina May Griffin

    not rue, if people IF and eat lots of protein you do not feel hungry at all i live this way and lose weight no problem and never feel hungry even when it is time to eat

  • Rosina May Griffin

    such a shame no new posters, but i will post anyway in the hopes it will help someone, i fast 2 days a week and i eat protein always, i have in 6 weeks lost 28 pounds it does work, have you ever heard of a fat anorexic?, anorexia is dangerous when your body has no fuel to feed it, thats when you have problems because all fat has been used up. it is complete utter crap that we go into starvation mode i should know i have been anorexic, i just like to let you all know it will not kill you or do your metabolism any harm i am living proof of this as it has always been part of my life. it is only when i eat crap carb foods i actually start to gain weight again, now the carbs have gone forever and trust me i dont exercise and i never feel ill.

  • Johnny

    So should one skip breakfast and only eat dinner or visa versa or not eat at all?

  • ThatOneGuy

    I’ve been trying this lately, I work out sometimes 5 days a week, and I can tell you it works 100% at least for me to lose suborn belly fat. I used to run 2 miles everyday to lose weight, but ended up tearing a minor muscle in my calf from over stressing it. I haven’t been able to run for a while, but can jog lightly, I then read your guide and tried this for a couple weeks, and lost 5 pounds of fat straight off my stomach. Except for my stomach I was in very lean and good shape, so this has really boosted my self confidence. I’ll probably continue this till I have my abs showing a little more, thanks for the post, and I encourage others to try it.

  • San s

    Am I lucky that when I fast, I still the have the same amount of hunger as a couple hours after eating? And is it normal to be less hungry after exercise?

  • Wa Phui

    Everyone can lose weight just in three weeks if he know how to do the right way.

  • Hedgehog

    I don’t like this article it’s promoting anerixea and should be taken off.