The Beginners Guide to Intermittent Fasting

 
The beginners guide to intermittent fasting for fat loss and better health. This effective weight loss technique is perfect for getting rid of holiday weight gain. It's free, healthy and easy to implement. Learn how!
If you’ve been anywhere near the health and fitness social media scene, you’ve probably heard the term Intermittent Fasting (IF). Mainly because it’s become an extremely popular weight loss and fat burning technique. Everyone’s talking about it, from ripped body builders to middle-aged weight losers. But if you missed the memo, the term IF might sound like highly scientific gibberish to you. But luckily, this easy-to-understand beginner’s guide has got yo’ back. In it, we’ll take a look at:
  • What is intermittent fasting?
  • How does it work?
  • What does the science say?
  • How to get started today (fo’ free and in five easy steps) 
I began experimenting with IF about a year ago after reading success story after success story online. Also because I’m Insulin Resistant (you can read more about my story here) and had heard that periods of fasting can help fight the condition. It’s also a free technique that can be easily implemented at any time, so I thought hey, let’s give it a shot.
 
 
Fasting definitely earned a bad name during the “speed up your metabolism for weight loss craze.” This period of misinformation left many of us believing that our metabolism is like a fire that needs to be constantly stoked with food to burn most effectively. As a result, you may have heard this type of thinking in dietary recommendations that you should be eating many small meals a day.
 
But historically, fasting has been a regular occurrence for people since the dawn of time. Whether this was due to a lack of food, for religious purposes or by choice, it’s not a new concept. Fasting for medical and health reasons has been practised since 500 BC. However, over the last century (which coincidentally is when obesity rates skyrocketed globally), our easy access to food has meant most people rarely have periods of not eating. But IF is a great way to change that. 
 
Read on to learn about all things intermittent fasting. As well as how to get started if you want to lose fat and improve your health:

What is intermittent fasting?

 
Compared to conventional weight loss diets and plans that tell you what to eat, intermittent fasting is much more focused on when you’re eating. At its most basic level, IF is a style of eating that involves cycling between periods eating, or refeeding, and not eating, or fasting.
 
Think about it, if you’re up for an early breakfast at 6am and then have a light night snack or dessert at 9pm, you’ve been raising your blood sugar for 15 hours. This is so easy to do when you’re not conscious of your eating window. In contrast, you take notice of your eating window with intermittent fasting, and fast for the remaining hours. 

How does it work?

Intermittent fasting isn’t just a generic, start-stop way of eating. The best part is you can really experiment with your fasts to see what is most comfortable for you. There are a number of styles and different eating patterns that fall under the IF umbrella including: 

14/10:

In this type of IF, you eat during a ten-hour window and fast for 14-hours. This is a great way to get started with IF because it’s probably only an hour or so different from your normal eating window. But it still forces you to take notice of when you’re eating. If you have breakfast at 10am, you would finish eating by 8pm at the latest. 

16/8:

This method, also known as LeanGains, is pretty much the same as 14/10, except you fast for an extra two hours, reducing your eating window to eight hours. It’s an extremely popular form of IF for fat loss and muscle gain. 

24-hour fasts:

This form of intermittent fasting is pretty self-explanatory. Also known as the eat-stop-eat method, it involves having 24+ hour breaks from eating. If you’re thinking, “but won’t that slow my metabolism?” read on!

Alternate day fasting:

You may have heard of the popular 5:2 diet as a form of intermittent fasting. This eating pattern is known as alternate day fasting (ADF). In 5:2 intermittent fasting, dieters can enjoy five days of eating “normally” (2000 calories for women, 2500 for men). This is followed by 2 days of eating only a quarter of the recommended energy intake (500 calories for women, 600 for men). 

Day on, day off:

Another form of ADF and similar to 5:2, this type of intermittent fasting involves only eating 500-600 calories every other day. It would, therefore, be a 4:3 approach for the week. 

Don’t forget to pin this handy infographic for later!

intermittent fasting

But doesn’t fasting slow your metabolism?

 
This metabolism myth is what stopped me from experimenting with IF for a long time. If you pay attention to conventional weight loss logic, you probably think the best way to speed up your metabolism (and therefore burn more energy) is to eat five+ small meals a day. You might also think that skipping breakfast and periods of fasting will cause your body to enter “starvation mode,” that will actually slow your metabolism down. 
 
Well, I’m here to burst your bubble!
 
Although some evidence has shown people who eat more often throughout the day tend to have lower BMIs, there is no direct correlation between this and their metabolic rate. To get some science in here, this review looked into 176 studies and found that there was zero association between energy metabolism, eating frequency and weight or health. While this study of a group of obese women on a 1000cal/day meal plan found no difference in energy metabolism between the women who ate 5 times per day and the women who ate twice. 
 
The entire notion of IF is built on the fact that no scientific evidence has shown that eating more frequently will increase your metabolism. In fact, more recent thinking says it may actually lead to overeating and might not be the best thing for insulin sensitivity. Most importantly, many health professionals are starting to come around to the idea that periods of fasting may, in fact, be better for fat loss. 

What does the science say?

Recent research has found IF can have a beneficial effect on a number of health factors. These may include weight, muscle mass, heart health, cholesterol and insulin sensitivity. 
 
This study of 34 men found a group who followed the 16/8 method of IF experienced a small decrease in fat mass over an eight week period in comparison to the control group, who ate the same amount of energy and macronutrient ratio but over a 12 hour period. This small study found alternate-day fasting increased the rate of fat burn in individuals with a normal weight. While this review found periods of fasting benefited concentrations of indicators associated with chronic diseases such as insulin and glucose. It also found that a IF regime can result in weight and fat loss – as much at eight percent in one two-month, calorie-restricted intervention
 
Although research has found a number of physiological benefits of fasting, the fact that IF generally leads to you eating less food is also a major component of its weight loss power. In addition, it’s much easier not to overeat when you’re eating fewer meals in a smaller eating window. This can result in a lower overall calorie intake which underpins weight loss. 

What’s the best way to start IF?

Download the Intermittent Fasting to get started.

If you’ve had a standard eating pattern for the majority of your life (e.g. you eat breakfast when you wake up and dinner or dessert shortly before you go to bed), start off slow. Many people struggle with fasting because they have never really gone substantial periods of time without eating, at least not consciously anyway. 

The worst thing you can do with fasting is to starve yourself silly before bingeing on copious amounts of food as soon as your fasting time is up. Rather this will undo some, if not all, of the health benefits you achieved from the fast. The aim of IF is not to create periods of painful hunger followed by uncontrolled binges – because that is the definition of an eating disorder. Most importantly, the best way to avoid post-fasting binges is to start out slow.

Here are five steps to get you started: 

  1. The best way to get started with IF is to become mindful of your current eating window because believe it or not, you’ve been fasting when you sleep every day of your life already. That’s why the first meal of the day is called breakfast (break fast, geddit?). For the next few days, take notice of what time you begin eating in the morning and what time you finish up. If you have breakfast at 8am and finish eating by 8pm, your eating window is currently 12-hours long. 
  2. Once you know your eating window, begin making subtle manipulations to it. Play around with having your breakfast an hour later in the morning, or having dinner an hour earlier each day. Therefore, if you usually have breakfast at 8am, try pushing it back to 9am. Or, if you have dinner at 8pm, try pushing it back to 7pm. 
  3. Be mindful of your hunger. If you pushed breakfast back an hour, are you completely ravenous and struggling by 9am? If so, experiment with pushing your dinner to an earlier time so you can still enjoy breakfast. Whereas if you find yourself staring in the pantry after an early dinner, try pushing your breakfast forward. 
  4. Be patient. Many people give up on fasting quickly because they don’t like the feeling of being hungry. But the only reason your body is screaming out for food is because its not used to being without it. Just because you’re pushing your breakfast back an hour does mean you are starving. Your body will eventually adjust to eating later in the morning, or earlier in the evening. It takes time and consistency, though. 
  5. Slowly extend your fast. Once your body has begun to adjust to eating an hour earlier or later, begin to lengthen your daily fast. Aim to reach a ten-hour eating window, before moving up to the coveted eight-hour window. Once you’re comfortably in a 16/8 fasting pattern, you might want to step up by experimenting with 24-hour fasts once a week.

Let’s chat below! Have you tried Intermittent Fasting? Do you think fasting can be a sustainable, effective tool for weight loss? Why/why not?

In the cheat sheet, you’ll learn: 

  • the health benefits of intermittent fasting
  • how to get started with intermittent fasting in 5 simple steps
  • a timeline of the perfect intermittent fast
  • the importance of an intermittent fasting habit

4 Comments

  1. Rosemary Sibanda

    Hie Sarah
    Thank you for sending me the guide to IF. What I would like to ask is, during the fasting time,especially in the morning am I allowed to drink water until its time to eat.
    You my last hope Sarah, no matter what I do, I don’t seem to lose weight at all.
    Hope to hear from you soon.
    Thank you

    • Hi Rosemary! Thanks for your comment. You can certainly drink as much plain water as you’d like while you’re fasting. There are also a number of other drinks that can be consumed during the fasting period too! Our intermittent fasting challenge starts on Monday where I’ll go much more into detail on this one. If you’re not signed up already, you can at http://www.sarahinshape.com/fasting 🙂 hope to see you there, Rosemary!

      • What are the other drinks that you mention that can be consumed during the fast ?

        • Hey Sam, some of the other drinks you can have while fasting include herbal teas and black coffee. Some people like to have zero calorie drinks and BCAA supplements while fasting, however the science on whether these will break your fast or not isn’t 100% clear. There is also some conflicting research about coffee. There’s a section that explains this in much more detail in my Female Intermittent Fasting Guide. But remember you can drink as much plain water as you’d like!

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