Everything You Need to Know About Intermittent Fasting

intermittent fasting vs eating less

First off, intermittent fasting (IF) is not a diet, as many believe it to be. Unlike a diet, which tells you what, how, and when to eat, IF is mainly about scheduling your meals in a way beneficial for you. Hence, IF consists in avoiding food during certain periods of time. There are various reasons why a person might choose to fast, ranging from their willingness to lose weight to religious purposes.

Fasting does not require you to exert yourself to get the result. On a diet, you are usually expected to cut back on a variety of foods and reduce your portions in general. This can be rather stressful for your body. Moreover, reducing your daily food intake does not always prove to be effective. Therefore, IF suggests you change the time to eat your meals, which is said to benefit you in numerous ways.

In addition, fasting is easier than dieting because it is better at curbing your appetite. Indeed, during the eating windows, you are not limited in your food choice and portion size. On the other hand, the odds that you will interrupt your dieting or give it up at all are higher.

Intermittent Fasting Schedule Types

Among the most followed intermittent fasting schedules are:

  • 5:2: eating normally 5 days a week and fasting for only 2 days (7). This type is usually practiced on weekends when there is no work or studying. Fasting on working days is likely to decrease your performance.
  • 16:8: fasting and eating for 16 and 8 hours respectively. You are the one who chooses the time for your eating window. You have a variety of options here: you may skip breakfast and have only lunch and dinner or choose breakfast and lunch over dinner.
  • 20:4: fasting and eating for 20 and 4 hours respectively. During this period, you may eat whatever you want and as much as you want. It is difficult to consume a lot of calories within 4 hours, which is why this fasting type naturally reduces your daily calorie intake. It is recommended that you choose to eat in the middle of the day or closer to the evening. This type of fasting is great for busy people, for whom it is hard to find time for a meal. At the same time, people who simply do not feel hungry throughout the day are also likely to find 20:4 great.
  • 24-hour fasting (also known as fasting all day long). For instance, you can choose to have only breakfast for a few days. However, you had better do it for 1-3 days straight, not longer. Otherwise, there is a risk of starving yourself.
  • Alternate-day fasting: eating normally one day and forgoing eating the next one. Thus, you will have to change your eating habits drastically. If it is difficult for you to fast completely, you may have a meal that would not exceed 500 calories (7).
  • Daily time-restricted fasting. Following this pattern, you are allowed to eat normally but within an eight-hour window every day (7). For instance, you can choose breakfast and lunch over dinner.
  • Overnight fasting. You have to fast for 12 hours at night. The other half of the day, you are allowed to eat everything you think you want and need to.

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

intermittent fasting vs eating less - woman measuring her waist - photo by bill oxford via unsplash
  • Weight loss. It is proved that when you eat a small portion or do not eat at all at particular times, the insulin level in your body decreases (1). As a result, you will slim down rather fast, without having to restrict yourself in foods. Sticking to IF, you will reduce your calorie intake naturally and unintentionally.
  • Decreased risk of diabetes. Fasting reduces the level of blood sugar in your body (6).
  • Improved memory.
  • Anti-aging effect. It is suggested that those who fast tend to live longer (2).
  • Prevention of cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Fasting increases one’s insulin sensitivity, allowing the body to burn blood sugar more effectively (4).

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Risks and Side Effects

IF is not the safest option for certain groups of people. Consequently, fasting can be dangerous for (5):

  • Children
  • Pregnant women
  • People with chronic diseases

If you belong to any of these groups, you had better not go for IF. However, if you still want to try it, you should see your doctor and dietician.

Among the possible side effects of IF are (5, 7):

  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Temperature sensitivity
  • Low work performance
  • Nausea
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches

Note that these side effects do not appear in everyone who chooses to follow an IF plan. Similarly, you might not experience all of them at the same time. For example, you may feel exhausted but not be irritated.

How to start intermittent fasting?

First, you should not rush in the beginning, especially if you have never fasted before. Consequently, you might begin with short fasting periods. For instance, you might start with cutting down on night meals and snacks. Then, you can continue extending your fasting period and stop having dinner. Eventually, you will open new fasting opportunities, being able to eat even less. However, to achieve that, you had better let your body gradually get used to your new eating habits.

The Bottom Line

Although IF and dieting are often confused, they have a few distinctive features. It is not surprising that fasting is deemed easier than dieting since you do not have to restrict yourself in the food choice. IF is about choosing the right time for your meals. As a result, you fast for a certain period and then have meals during the eating window that lasts several hours. This way, you cut down on calories, without excluding high-fat, -sugar, and -carb foods.

You may choose to fast for a variety of reasons, since it is a common religious practice and concurrently an effective way to manage your weight. Overall, it can benefit you in a plethora of ways. Yet, you are not recommended to start fasting without the supervision of a nutrition expert and a doctor. IF has certain risks and side effects, which are likely to affect your wellbeing and lifestyle negatively.


This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

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