Intermittent Fasting for Beginners [The Complete Guide]

Intermittent Fasting for Beginners

This is the complete beginner’s guide to intermittent fasting.

So if you want to:

  • Learn what intermittent fasting is all about
  • See how you can improve your health with intermittent fasting
  • Learn how to be successful with fasting (from the very start)

Then you’re in the right place. 🙂

Let’s dive in.

Chapter 1:  What Is “Intermittent” Fasting? 

What is Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting means different things to different people, so it’s easy to get confused.  

In this chapter I’ll cover the various meanings, and the one I typically use.

I also go over how intermittent fasting is (usually) different from extended fasting.

What Do People Mean by Intermittent Fasting? 

Most often, “intermittent fasting” (IF) refers to short-term, daily fasting

In other words, it’s shortening your “eating window” on a daily basis.  That means you’d be fasting less than 24 hours.  

While I think that’s the most common usage, some people use it differently.  

For example, IF can also refer to fasting in the 24-48 hour range, or occasionally even longer. 

Unfortunately, there’s really no consistency, so you just have to pay attention to the context.

How I Define Intermittent Fasting 

For simplicity, I usually define intermittent fasting as anything less than 24 hours.

I think that’s the easiest to remember, and fits the way most people use the phrase.  It also makes it easy to contrast with longer, multi-day fasts.

You’ll run into other definitions elsewhere, so be alert.

But for the purposes of this article (and this website), I’ll try to stick with the 24-hour definition.  

Other Names for Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting can also be called “time-restricted eating” (TRE).  This refers to the fact that you eat all your food for the day in a shorter (“restricted”) window of time.  I prefer this term.  

Intermittent fasting means a shorter daily eating window

Occasionally you’ll also hear “time-restricted feeding” (TRF).  This means the same thing as TRE, but usually in the context of animal studies. 

What IF / TRE Looks Like In Real Life

Here are a couple examples:

If you eat all your food for the day between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., that’s an 8-hour eating window.  If you did that every day, you’d be fasting for the other 16 hours (out of 24) each day.

Alternatively, if you eat all your food between noon and 4 p.m., that’s a 4-hour eating window (which is pretty short).

You could also be more relaxed and eat all your food between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. (12 hours).  

Some people follow the same schedule every day, but you don’t have to. You can mix and match. 

The point is to shrink your average daily eating window, which gives your body more time to burn fat and do other beneficial things (that it can’t do when you’re constantly stuffing your face). 

Intermittent vs Extended Fasting

As I mentioned above, I generally define intermittent fasting as anything under 24 hours.

Using the same logic, “extended” or “prolonged” fasting would be anything over 24 hours.

I think other definitions can be useful as well. It just depends on the context.

For example, the 3-4 day range is when a lot of cool things happen as your body transitions into full-blown fasting mode.  So I can see why some people think of extended fasting as about four days or longer.

But since the 24-hour cut-off is so easy to remember, and it fits the way most people use the term “intermittent fasting”…I usually stick with that.  

(Really, we should just get rid of the phrase “intermittent fasting” completely, and use TRE instead whenever we’re talking about short-term daily fasts. But that ship has probably sailed.)

Chapter 2:  The History of Intermittent Fasting

History Of Intermittent Fasting

You may be wondering how long intermittent fasting has been around, and if it’s just a “fad”.  

In this chapter I’ll walk you through how I look at the “history” of fasting.  (Don’t expect a lot of actual history though…that’s boring.)  

I’ll also show you why fasting has been completely normal for millenia.

When did the term “intermittent fasting” catch on?

It’s hard to say exactly, but probably about 10-20 years ago.

In 2002, Ori Hofmekler published The Warrior Diet (about eating 4 hours per day, and  fasting the other 20).

In 2006, Brad Pilon published “Eat Stop Eat”, which recommends fasting for 24 hours once or twice a week.

These are the earliest examples I’m aware of, when people started advocating what we now call intermittent fasting as a strategy for health and weight loss.  So I suspect that’s about when the terminology started catching on as well. 

When did Intermittent Fasting Actually Start?

Oh, roughly when humans started. 🙂

You don’t have to be an anthropologist to realize that people have been fasting throughout history.

Think about it:

Only in the past several decades have we had things like grocery stores and refrigerators, which make food constantly available.  That’s less than 1% of all human history.  

We are Surrounded By Food in Modern Society

For thousands of years before that, food was not so easy to get.  

Obviously, if you were a hunter-gatherer, you wouldn’t always eat three meals a day (plus snacks).   Sometimes you would find food, and sometimes you wouldn’t.

Bottom line?

People have been doing intermittent fasting (whether they called it that or not) throughout history.  It’s a normal human activity, and your body knows how to handle it.  

Why Don’t Most People Fast Anymore?

Probably 4 main reasons:

First, it got a lot easier to find food (due to agriculture, refrigeration, grocery stores, etc).   Not to mention there’s a fast food restaurant or convenience store on (almost literally) every corner.   

Second, the food industry did a lot of marketing, and convinced us that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”, and other things that aren’t based on science.  

Third, sugary processed foods taste really good, and they’re addictive.  

Fourth, the government has also gotten involved (thanks at least in part to lobbying efforts from the food industry), with dietary guidelines that are also not based on science.    

Why is Fasting Making a Comeback?

Because it works. 

People are noticing that if they don’t eat all the time, they tend to lose weight and get healthier. And word is spreading.  

Eventually, the medical community, researchers, and maybe even the government will catch on. But that could take a long time.  

(Some medical professionals and researchers are on board, but progress is still extremely slow.)

In the meantime, fasting is growing in popularity through a grassroots movement, as more and more people share their successful experiences.  

Chapter 3:  How Intermittent Fasting Can Benefit Your Health

Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting can improve your health in a wide variety of ways, and researchers are discovering more benefits all the time.

In this chapter, I’ll cover some of the key ways in which daily intermittent fasting can improve your health. 

Of course, this list doesn’t cover every health benefit of intermittent fasting. But I think you’ll find even this short list to be quite compelling.

1. Intermittent Fasting Burns Off Your Body Fat

Over 70% of Americans are now overweight, and almost 40% are obese! So this seems relevant.

How does fasting help you burn fat (and lose weight)?

It’s really quite simple:

When you eat, your body uses the food for energy, and stores some of it as body fat to use later.

When you don’t eat, your body uses the stored energy, including body fat. 

Dr. Fung (author of multiple books about fasting) explains:

If you never stop eating, you can never use your body fat for energy.  Time-restricted eating gives your body more time to burn fat each day, which means you can burn more of it, and lose more weight.

2.  Intermittent fasting lowers your blood sugar and insulin (and prevents type 2 diabetes)

Blood sugar (glucose) and insulin both go up when you eat (especially when you eat carbs).

If you have abnormally high blood sugar or insulin, that’s another way of saying you’re on your way to having type 2 diabetes (the most common type).  Or you already have it.

Diabetes is getting ridiculously common. It also causes all sorts of terrible complications (like blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, amputations, and more).  

So what’s the best way to lower blood sugar and insulin (and prevent diabetes)?

Wait for it…

Eat less often (and eat fewer carbs).  

fasting lowers blood sugar graph

When you stop eating, your blood sugar and insulin steadily go down.  That’s why fasting can help you prevent type 2 diabetes, and can even reverse it.

3.  Intermittent fasting lowers your risk of other chronic diseases (like heart disease and cancer)

Having diabetes increases your risk of basically every other chronic illness.  Heart disease, stroke, dementia (like Alzheimer’s), obesity, cancer, kidney failure… you name it.

So without over-complicating things, here’s the simple logic:

Anything you can do to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes (like fasting!) will also reduce your risk of most other chronic diseases.  

And if you can reduce your risk of those other chronic diseases, you’ll be less likely to die a premature death, or become sick or disabled.

That’s probably a good thing. 

4.  Time-Restricted Eating Helps You Sleep Better

Just like we have a circadian rhythm related to light and dark exposure, we also have one related to food.  The light/dark cycle is controlled by the brain, while the food cycle is controlled by the liver.

In his book, The Circadian Code, Satchin Panda outlines his extensive research about food timing and how it affects our health.

Here’s the bottom line:

Eating in a shorter window of time, and finishing your food at least a few hours before bedtime leads to higher quality and more regenerative sleep.

In contrast, if your gut is still trying to digest food when you go to sleep, your two circadian rhythms will be out of whack. As a result, you may not get the full healing benefits of sleep. 

5.  Intermittent Fasting Makes Your Brain Work Better

If you eat a very low carbohydrate diet, your body starts producing something called ketones (hence, the ketogenic diet).  

Ketones are also the alternative energy source your brain uses when you fast.  And it turns out, they’re good for your brain (and so is fasting).

Here, Dr. Mark Mattson explains the science behind the brain benefits of ketones and fasting:

This probably has a lot to do with why ketones help people recover better after a traumatic brain injury.  They also improve brain function in people with dementia.

Bottom line?

Fasting is good for your brain, and will probably make you smarter. 🙂

How long do you have to fast to get these benefits?

All the benefits I’ve listed above start on day one. But it may take you a while to really notice the difference.  

For example, even though you’ll burn more fat from the beginning, it may take a few days (or longer) before you actually notice a difference in your weight or appearance.    

And even though your blood sugar will start going down right away, if you’ve had diabetes for years it may take more than just a few days to get things under control.  (You may also need to do some longer fasting, depending on how insulin resistant you are.)

And don’t forget, everyone is different.  Depending on your current state of health, you may see the benefits of fasting more quickly, or more slowly.

So be patient, and pay attention to your body. The benefits will come in time.

Chapter 4:  Types of Intermittent Fasting

Types Of Intermittent Fasting

People use a lot of funny little acronyms (like ADF) and ratios (like 16/8) to name the ways they do intermittent fasting.

Really it just comes down to picking a schedule.

In this chapter I’ll go over some of the most popular intermittent fasting schedules.

There’s not really a best type, it’s just a matter of figuring out what schedule works for you.  

(It’s also better to start slow, so don’t pick the most challenging schedule at the beginning.) 

16/8 (and other ratios)

This can be written different ways, but it’s just a ratio that means you would fast for 16 hours, and eat for 8 hours (out of every 24).  In other words, you have an 8-hour “eating window”.  

16/8 was originally popularized by a trainer named Martin Berkhan, who used it as part of a program called “LeanGains”.  

I think one reason people like it is because of the symmetry:  You eat for exactly half your waking hours (if you sleep 8 hours).  

It’s also convenient and relatively easy (once your body adapts a little bit).

Intermittent Fasting time ratios diagram

You can use similar ratios to describe other daily fasting schedules. For example:

  • 14/10 (14 hours of fasting,10-hour eating window)
  • 18/6 (6-hour eating window)
  •  20/4 (4-hour eating window, aka The Warrior Diet mentioned above)

And so on.  

One Meal a Day (OMAD)

If you only eat one meal a day, you’ll be fasting for about 23 hours each day.

So it’s a 23/1 ratio.

OMAD is a popular type of intermittent fasting that a lot of people have had success with.

One potential pitfall of OMAD is that you may have a hard time eating enough food during just one meal.  And if you only eat a small amount of food everyday, repeatedly, eventually your metabolism will slow down.

So if you’re trying to lose weight, it’s probably better not to just do OMAD.  Instead, keep changing things up.   

Eat Stop Eat

This schedule is based on the book of the same title I mentioned above, and refers to doing a 24-hour water fast (i.e. only drinking water) once or twice per week.

One key difference between this schedule and the ratios listed above is that you obviously wouldn’t be doing the same schedule every day.

Other than fasting for 24 hours once or twice each week, the rest of the time you would just eat like normal.

As the author points out, this can be a pretty convenient approach since you’re only changing your eating schedule a couple days a week. 

Alternate Day Fasting (ADF)

Alternate-day fasting means fasting all day, every other day.

For example, if you ate on Monday, you would fast all day on Tuesday and not eat again until Wednesday.  And keep repeating that pattern.    

Alternate Day Fasting Calendar Diagram

At about 36 hours per fast, this schedule kind of falls into that gray area between “intermittent” fasting and extended fasting. 

Regardless of what you call it, this is a popular fasting schedule that a lot of people have found useful and beneficial.

The 5:2 Diet

The 5:2 diet is not exactly intermittent fasting, but sometimes people call it that.  It’s also quite popular, so it’s worth mentioning.

In this case, the numbers don’t refer to hours, but days.

The idea is that two days each week you would significantly reduce the number of calories you’re eating (to about 500), and the other five days you would eat like normal.  

The 5:2 diet originated as a study on breast cancer patients.  The patients doing the 5:2 diet lost more belly fat, increased lean mass, and overall did better than patients who just counted calories every day, as explained in this podcast (~10 min in).  

The 5:2 diet was actually the first type of fasting I tried (for health purposes).  It wasn’t a great fit for me (at least at the time) because I tended to binge too much on the eating days.  

But it works well for some people, and has proven health benefits.

PS: If any of these schedules seem confusing, you can see some additional helpful diagrams here.

Other Types of Intermittent Fasting

There are really as many types of intermittent fasting as your brain and creativity can come up with.

Just make up a new ratio, or schedule, and there you go.

I’ve just mentioned a few of the more popular schedules, but you can really choose any approach that you like.

Chapter 5:  My Experience With Intermittent Fasting 

My Experience with Intermittent Fasting

I’ve been doing daily intermittent fasting more often than not for about the past 4 years.

I mix it in with some longer fasts now and then, but almost every day I’m doing time-restricted eating (aka intermittent fasting).

In this chapter, I’ll share a little bit about my personal experience, including some of the benefits I’ve noticed.

Pretty Easy from the Start

From the very beginning, I found IF / TRE reasonably easy to do, probably because I made a point of eating plenty of high-fat and high-protein foods during my eating windows.  (Fat and protein take longer to digest than carbs, and keep you satisfied longer).

I also didn’t hold back.  When I eat, I eat a lot!

I’d been doing keto for a while beforehand, so my body was pretty “fat-adapted” (accustomed to using fat for energy).  That probably made things easier as well.

I don’t follow the same schedule every day. Instead, I use an app to track what time I start eating and stop eating each day, so I can easily see how long I fasted.  It’s kind of second nature now to keep track.

I started off with the Vora app, and more recently I’ve been using the Zero app, which is pretty good.

Here are a couple screenshots from Zero:

Zero fasting app timer view
Zero fasting app screenshot personal stats

Not everyone finds IF so easy at the beginning.

But I suspect most people that struggle are not eating enough high fat and high protein foods, so they get hungry more often.  Or they may not be eating enough food in general.

Convenient and Flexible

I guess the thing I like the most about daily intermittent fasting is that it’s convenient, and happens almost spontaneously.

For example, I rarely eat breakfast.   And it’s not a struggle at all, I’m usually just busy doing something else and totally forget about it.

In the process, I save a lot of time in the morning not having to worry about finding something to eat, cooking, or cleaning up.

TRE is also really flexible, and easily fits into my schedule.

For example, if I have a busy shift at work and there’s no time to get food, I just don’t.  I wait till the next day.  (I usually work later shifts, so I’m talking about skipping dinner.)  

And when I’m traveling, I don’t feel obligated to buy expensive airport meals.  I can just wait, or skip that meal (especially if it’s breakfast).

Just knowing that I don’t have to eat all the time kind of takes a weight off my mind.

Personal health benefits from intermittent fasting

I’ve never had diabetes or any similar chronic illnesses, but I have noticed a few specific health benefits from intermittent fasting.

For example, daily TRE definitely helps me control my weight, and stay fairly lean.

Why does this work?

Well, since I’m not eating all the time, my insulin level stays low more often than not.  One of insulin’s main jobs is to promote fat storage, so with lower insulin I don’t store as much fat.

List of my results from intermittent fasting

Some people say the reason you lose weight with TRE is because you don’t eat as much. In my case, I doubt it. I eat a TON!  Just not as often.  

There’s one other big thing I noticed-

I can’t prove it was the result of IF / TRE, but it sure seems like it.

To make a long story short, I had some significant indigestion and reflux issues for a couple years. And when I started doing TRE, those issues gradually went away.

Now I’m symptom-free, and completely off the medicine I used to take.

It could be a coincidence…but it also makes sense.  That’s because when you intermittently fast, you spend more time NOT eating.  That gives your stomach and intestines more time to rest, regenerate, and heal. 

Have I noticed any downside to intermittent fasting?

Honestly, not really.

I guess if your friend wants to go out for breakfast and you usually don’t start eating till 10 a.m., that could be a little bit inconvenient.  And stuff like that happens now and then.

But I can be flexible.  I don’t adhere to a daily fasting schedule religiously – I can take a break now and then, and still get plenty of benefits (as long as I’m doing IF more often than not).

So if there’s something social going on, I don’t mind adjusting my schedule a little bit.

Other than minor scheduling issues like that, I don’t really know of any disadvantages.

Basically intermittent fasting is a convenient, easy, and inexpensive way to keep my health generally moving in the right direction. 

Chapter 6:  Who Can Benefit From Intermittent Fasting (& Who Should Avoid It)?

Who can do Intermittent Fasting

The answer to the first part of this question is pretty easy:

Just about everyone can benefit from intermittent fasting.

There are a few groups that are usually advised not to do any type of fasting. But this is more out of an abundance of caution than any real evidence of harm.

Based on everything I’ve learned, I can confidently say that intermittent fasting is beneficial for the vast majority of people.

Is There Anyone That Should NOT Do Intermittent Fasting?

Maybe, maybe not.  

Keep in mind, we’re talking about daily time-restricted eating (which is the most common meaning of intermittent fasting).  We’re not talking about fasting for a week, or even a whole day in most cases.  

That means you can eat just as much as you normally would. But in a shorter window of time.

When you look at it through that lens, even some of the people who would typically be advised not to fast, would probably be fine doing TRE.

For example, if somebody is skinny and kind of underweight, most people would probably tell them not to fast. But if they make sure to eat plenty of food during their eating window, they’d probably be fine doing TRE (and could get some non-weight-loss health benefits).  

How about Pregnant Women?

Typically, pregnant women are told not to do even short-term daily fasting.  But that’s not because it would necessarily be bad for them, it’s just because we don’t have enough research to say one way or the other. 

(To reiterate, we’re talking about time-restricted eating. No one is telling pregnant women to fast for multiple days.)

At a conference earlier this year, I met a pregnant woman who was doing TRE every day. And it was working great for her.

Keep in mind that many pregnant women have high blood sugar, and can easily develop diabetes during and after pregnancy.  High blood sugar is definitely not good for the fetus!  So something like TRE that helps control blood sugar could be helpful.

I’m certainly not saying every pregnant woman needs to do time-restricted eating. But there’s a good chance that if we thoroughly researched it, we would find that gentle TRE is beneficial for pregnant women.  

This could be as simple as using a 15-hour eating window instead of the typical 16 (all day). Every little bit might help when it comes to blood sugar control. 

And Children?

As for children, it probably doesn’t make sense to ask very young children to fast.  But for an overweight teenager (and goodness knows there are a lot of those), daily TRE would probably be a great idea.

Until we have more research, I wouldn’t recommend any kids fast for multiple days unless they have a really good reason.  They’re growing, after all. 🙂

But eating breakfast a little later and dinner a little earlier? 

That’s probably not a bad thing, even for kids.

What about eating disorders?

Again, it depends. 

Naturally, someone with anorexia should not be fasting. Basically, they are already starving themselves excessively, so why would we encourage them NOT to eat?

But what about something like binge eating disorder (which by the way is the most common eating disorder)?

I can speak to that, because I basically meet all the criteria.

In my case, the only times I really feel in control of my tendency towards binge-eating is when I’m either fasting or eating low carb

I think that’s because the type of food I eat on low carb is more satiating (because it’s higher in fat and protein).  And because my higher ketone levels help control cravings.

Perhaps not everyone with a binge eating disorder would have the same experience.  But it may be worth a try for some of them.

Bottom Line?

More research is needed in all of these categories. 

But daily TRE may be safe and effective even for some people that are traditionally told not to fast. 

Who Can Do Intermittent Fasting Checklist

Also, obligatory disclaimer:  Don’t do anything crazy. 🙂   I don’t know all your circumstances, so fasting may not be for you, especially if you’re pregnant, a little kid, or have an eating disorder.

And I’m definitely not your medical provider, or giving medical advice. 

Are There Any Major Side Effects to IF / TRE?

Not really.  

Again, remember we’re talking about short-term daily fasting (< 24 hours).  When you get into longer, multi-day fasts, there are some other side effects you have to consider. 

But fasting for less than a day?  Not much.  

In the early stage, when your body is still adapting, you may have some fatigue or similar symptoms. (That’s why I recommend starting slow, to make it as easy as possible.)

There are a couple other things you may hear about, though.

If a woman doesn’t eat enough, or exercises a lot, she can stop menstruating.  That can also happen with fasting.  But it’s not likely to happen if all you’re doing is TRE, and you make sure to eat enough during your eating window each day.

You may also hear people talk about gallstones getting worse.  But I’ve never seen convincing evidence (let me know if you have some).

Bottom line?

For most people, there aren’t really any significant side effects that you would have to worry about if you approach daily intermittent fasting in an intelligent way. 

Chapter 7:  Intermittent Fasting “Rules”

Intermittent Fasting Rules

Rule number one: You make your own rules.  

There are a bunch of different schools of thought about what’s okay and what’s not okay during a fast. But within reason, it’s up to you, and depends on your goals.

With that in mind, let’s go over a few common questions.

What can I drink during intermittent fasting?

During your eating window, you can drink whatever.  Though it’s always better to avoid sugary drinks (like soda or juice).  

During your fasting window, you’ll want to stick to water and other zero (or very low) calorie drinks.

Other than water, good options include:    

  • Plain back coffee 
  • Tea
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Lemon water
  • Seltzer water

One low calorie drink I would not recommend is diet soda.  Even though it has zero calories, the artificial sweeteners (like aspartame) tend to cause insulin resistance and promote weight gain over time.  So they’re not helping you achieve your goals.

(There are some better sweetener options, like stevia for example.  But any sweetener can stimulate cravings, or hunger, so be careful with them when you’re fasting!)

If you like carbonated stuff, try a seltzer water instead.

“Bulletproof” coffee (AKA “keto coffee”) or similar fat-infused drinks are kind of a gray area. They’re low in carbs, which helps you keep your ketones up. But they have a lot of calories, so you won’t end up burning as much of your own body fat if you drink a lot of that stuff.

It’s okay to use things like that as “training wheels” when you first start fasting. But try not to overdo it. 

What supplements can I take when I’m intermittent fasting?

In general, try to keep it to a minimum.

For example, if you want to take a vitamin supplement or something similar, you can probably just take it during your eating window.

You may be able to take all your medications during your eating window as well. But talk to your doctor about this if you’re not sure.

(In some cases, you may also not need as much medication when you’re fasting. Especially if you’re taking diabetes or blood pressure meds. So keep an eye on this, and talk to your doctor if needed.)

For some people, it helps to take electrolyte supplements to avoid cramps or other symptoms.  Salt / sodium, potassium, and magnesium are the most important.  

You can generally find a way to do this that doesn’t involve any sugar or calories.

For example, to get extra magnesium you can take an Epsom salt bath (the magnesium is absorbed through your skin).  

For salt, you can literally just drink it. But things like bouillon, veggie broth, or dill pickles can also work well.  That’s because they have negligible calories, but lots of sodium!

What “Breaks” a Fast?

Obviously if you eat or drink something with a lot of sugar or calories, it doesn’t make any sense to call that fasting.  That’s why “juice fasting” is an oxymoron. 😉

But when it comes to other drinks or supplements that don’t have a lot of calories, there’s generally some wiggle room.

Within reason, the answer to whether something breaks your fast depends on your individual goals (and on how your individual body responds).  

As with everything related to fasting, you may have to do some experimenting to see what works for you.

For more information, check out my full article:  What Breaks a Fast?

Do I have to follow the same eating schedule every day?

No.

There’s no hard-and-fast rule about what kind of schedule you need to follow, or whether it needs to stay the same everyday.

Obviously, to get the most benefits from intermittent fasting, you should try to be reasonably consistent.

For example, if you only do TRE one day per week, it’s not going to do a whole lot for you. On the other hand, if you do it 5 or 6 days per week, you’ll definitely get some benefits.

But it really doesn’t matter if you use the exact same schedule every day. Basically, see what fits into your schedule the best.  And that may change over time.

Chapter 8:  Tips to Help You Be Successful with Intermittent Fasting 

Tips to be successful with intermittent fasting

If you’ve never done any fasting before, even short-term daily fasting can sound kind of scary.

It’s really not that hard.  But it does help if you take a smart approach, and make things easier for yourself

A lot of it comes down to starting slow, and eating enough food when you’re not fasting.

In this chapter, I’ll go over a few of my best tips to help you get an easy, successful start with intermittent fasting. 

1.  Start slow!

There’s really no reason to rush into things. You may as well take it slow, and make things easy for yourself.  That way you’ll be more likely to stick with it.  

What does this actually look like?

Well, if you’re going to shrink your eating window down to about eight hours eventually, you don’t have to do that overnight.

Start with something really easy, like a 15-hour eating window.  Do that for a week, then try 14 hours. And so on.

Slowly, gradually shorten your eating window (and increase your fasting window).  That way, your body can gradually adapt, without any major growing pains.

(It’s just like starting a new workout regimen — if you do too much too soon, you’re going to be sore and miserable.)

2.  Track Your Progress (And build in accountability)

Keeping track of your progress is very motivating.

I suggest using an app to track what time you start and stop eating each day.  This will not only help you remember to fast, but also provide useful statistics (like your average fasting duration).

Vora and Zero are a couple decent options for fasting apps. They have paid upgrade options, but the free version works just fine for both.  And there are plenty of other fasting apps you can try as well.

In addition to tracking your progress on an app, you may want to tell someone else about your goal, and check in with them periodically.  

When you make a commitment to someone else, you’re a lot more likely to follow through than if you just make a goal on your own.

3.  Eat plenty of high-fat & high-protein foods during your eating window

Remember, with IF you’re not fasting the whole day.

And what’s the opposite of fasting?

Feasting.

You absolutely do not need to count calories or try to restrict how much you eat during your eating window.  Instead, eat until you’re completely full and satisfied at each meal.

Even better, try to eat foods that are very high in fat and/or protein.  These take longer to digest, and will keep you satisfied longer. 

Intermittent Fasting List of Tips For Success

I find when I eat a big hearty meal high in fat and protein, it takes at least five or six hours to even fully digest the meal.  By then, I’ve basically forgotten food exists. 😉  

Eating enough food, and the right type of food, will make things much easier for you.

4.  Consider eating low carb (at least for a while)

Earlier I mentioned that intermittent fasting was easy for me from the start, possibly in part because I was already “fat adapted”.

Being fat adapted basically means your body has learned how to efficiently use fat for energy.

The best way to do this?

Eat a ketogenic diet (i.e. very low carb) for a while.  When you do that, your body starts ramping up the enzymes that help you burn fat, and gradually gets better and better at it.

This gives you some additional metabolic flexibility:  It makes it easier for your body to switch between burning carbs, and burning fat.

Then, when you do something like daily intermittent fasting, it’s easier for your body to switch over to fat burning mode during the fasting windows.  As a result, you don’t get hungry as often, or feel fatigued, the way you might if your body is not adapted.  

One word of caution:  

When you cut out all the carbs on a ketogenic diet, your body starts peeing out a lot more salt / sodium (because your insulin level is lower).  

As a result, it’s especially important to get enough salt when you’re eating keto.  Otherwise you can experience symptoms like fatigue or lightheadedness as your body tries to compensate for the lack of sodium.   

5.  Practice Mindfulness

Most of us have never really experienced true hunger.  So when we start fasting, we often mistake things like thirst, anxiety, or boredom for hunger.

When you practice mindfulness, you learn to pay a little closer attention to what’s going on inside your brain and your body. As a result, you have a little better insight into your thoughts, emotions, and other feelings.

Little by little, you learn to recognize the difference between hunger and other passing sensations.  And you won’t say you’re starving when you really just feel a little anxious or bored. 🙂

Probably the best way to get started with mindfulness is to do a short meditation each day, using a guided app like Headspace or Waking Up.  (Each one has either a free trial or free beginner lessons, and if you can’t afford the Waking Up app, they will give it to you for free.)

What to eat or drink when you first start Intermittent fasting

As I mentioned above, it’s best to eat plenty of high-fat and high-protein food when you first start IF / TRE.

Don’t hold back – eat until you’re full.

Here are some things I’ve tried that work well:

Those are just a few examples to help get your wheels turning.  With a little creativity, I’m sure you can come up with many more hearty meal options.

And if you eat meals like that, you’ll stay full for along time!

(If you want to see even more examples, here’s a little album I put together.)

How to make intermittent fasting as easy as possible

In addition to the suggestions above, I’ve also written a “Beginner’s Guide to Easy Fasting”, where I explain some of my top tips for making fasting easy.  

(Or at least as easy as it can be.)

Beginners Guide to Easy Fasting pdf cover

That guide partially overlaps with the tips I’ve listed above, but also goes into a lot more detail.

You can download the guide here.

(Or you can use the form at the bottom of this page, after the conclusion.)

Conclusion

“Intermittent” fasting typically refers to short-term, daily fasting. That’s why it’s also known as “time-restricted eating” (TRE).

If you’re struggling with high blood sugar, high blood pressure, obesity, or any other chronic illness, there’s a good chance intermittent fasting can help.  

If you want to try daily intermittent fasting, start slow and take it easy.  Give your body some time to adapt, and you can get a smooth start.  

With the info in this article, plus my beginner’s guide to easy fasting, there’s no reason why you can’t start intermittent fasting today. 🙂

I hope you found this article helpful!

And if you did, please share it with someone you know who could also benefit.

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Ben Tanner, PA-C

Ben Tanner, PA-C

Ben has been practicing as a physician assistant (PA, or PA-C, similar to a doctor) in emergency medicine, urgent care, and family practice since 2014. Since 2016, he has developed an avid interest in various forms of fasting, using it to improve his own health while helping friends, family, and patients do the same.

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