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Intermittent Fasting: What is It, and How Does It Work?

Wondering what intermittent fasting is and how it works? This comprehensive guide explains everything you need to know, including the benefits, diet plans, and safety rules.

Sandra Adams
Intermittent Fasting: What is It, and How Does It Work?
Table Of Contents

Are you looking to improve your health and lose weight? Then intermittent fasting may be for you!

Intermittent fasting is a dietary pattern that cyclically alternates between periods of fasting and eating. It can help you burn fat, boost metabolism, and improve your overall health.

If you're new to intermittent fasting, this guide will give you all the information you need to get started. We'll cover what intermittent fasting is, the benefits of intermittent fasting, and how to start incorporating it into your life.

So, what are you waiting for? Let's get started with Intermittent Fasting 101!

What Is Intermittent Fasting (IF)?

While many diets primarily focus on the WHAT to eat, intermittent fasting targets WHEN to eat. It is an eating pattern with alternating periods of eating and fasting.

Fasting for a specific number of hours every day or eating only one meal a couple of days a week can help you lose weight and improve your health while helping you shed off the extra pounds.

This concept is not new to the world. In fact, it’s been there for centuries. Neuroscientist Mark Mattson has studied the phenomenon for 25 years and believes that our bodies have evolved to go without eating food for extended periods.

Before humans learned to farm in prehistoric times, they were hunters and gatherers who had to survive and thrive for a long time without eating, because it took so much time and energy to hunt and gather nuts and berries.

Some years ago, it was easier to maintain a healthy weight. Johns Hopkins dietitian Christie Williams (MS, RDN) explains, "There were no laptops and TV shows were turned off at 11 p.m. sharp; people stopped eating because they went to bed.

Portions were much smaller. More individuals worked outside playing sports or other activities, so generally got more exercise than today".

Today, TV, the internet, and other forms of entertainment are accessible around-the-clock. And we stay up late to watch our favorite programs, play games, and chat online. We spend most of the day and night lounging around and munching.

As we eat more calories with little to no activity, we develop a higher risk of diseases. However, you can make things right with such fasting diets. According to research, intermittent fasting has proven health benefits, with a particular focus on weight loss.

How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?

There are multiple ways to do it, but they all revolve around deciding on a regular time for eating and not consuming anything else. For instance, you might try having only food during an 8-hour window each day or just having 1 meal a day 2 days a week.

According to Mattson, your body runs out of sugar after several hours of fasting and starts burning fat, called metabolic switching.

He claims, "Intermittent fasting contrasts with the typical American eating habit, which involves eating throughout the day. If a person is eating 3 meals a day with snacks and isn't exercising, they are running on those calories every time they eat and aren't burning their fat stores."

Intermittent fasting helps you break through weight loss plateaus by extending the period when your body has burned through calories and begins burning fat instead.

What Can I Eat While Intermittent Fasting?

You can take water and zero-calorie drinks like black coffee or tea during your fasting period.

Also, you must do "normal eating" during your eating periods, which does not include binge eating. If you fill your plate with high-calorie junk food, fried foods, and desserts, you won't likely lose weight or get healthy.

The most pleasant thing about intermittent fasting is that it allows you to enjoy various foods, that are not just healthy but delicious as well.

Interestingly, the Mediterranean diet serves as a solid example of what to eat, whether you choose to practice an intermittent method or not. You almost never go wrong when you choose complex, unprocessed carbohydrates like whole grains, leafy greens, fats, and lean protein.

How Does It Affect Your Cells and Hormones?

Your body goes through multiple changes when you go without food for a specific time. For instance, your body starts vital cellular repair procedures and modifies hormone levels to improve accessibility to stored body fat and shed it.

The following are some of the changes a body undergoes during fasting:

Diet Plans

Below are the beginner, intermediate, and 3 types of advanced-level intermittent fast diet plans. You can choose whatever fits your status level. Also, you are not restricted to eating only the foods I’ll mention; you can replace them with foods of your choice!

Beginners-The Basic Fasting Plan

If you're new to fasting, an excellent approach to get started is to limit your eating to the hours between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.

With this strategy, you can eat all of your meals and several snacks while still managing to fast for 14 hours in a day.

Breakfast (8:00 a.m): Green Smoothie for 1 made with

  • 1 avocado, black skin
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 4 tablespoons blueberries
  • 1 cup spinach
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds, dried

Carbs: 31g

Proteins: 8.8g,

Fats 42g

Total calories: 537

Lunch (12:00 p.m): Grass-fed burger made with

  • ½ lbs ground grass-fed beef liver
  • ½ lbs ground grass-fed beef
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon cumin powder
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste
  • Cooking oil

Carbs: 5.8g

Proteins: 51.8g

Fats 15g

Total Calories: 341

Snack (2:30 p.m): Cinnamon Fat Bombs made with

  • ½ coconut cream
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon almond butter

Carbs: 14.3 g

Proteins: 6g

Fats: 43g

Total Calories: 459

Dinner (5:30 p.m): Salmon and Veggies made with

  • ½ pound salmon or other fish of choice
  • 1 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoons ghee
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely diced

Carbs: 1g

Proteins: 22g

Fats: 13g

Total Calories: 214

Intermediate Fasting Plan

In the intermediate intermittent fasting plan, you will only eat between 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. in the afternoon for 18 hours within a day. Although you are skipping breakfast, it’s essential to stay hydrated. Start your day with herbal tea and drink enough water throughout.

One study found that the catechins in tea can make you less hungry, so your body can comfortably last until lunch without feeling deprived.

You must ensure your first meal (at 12:00 p.m.) contains adequate fats because you've extended your fasting period by 4 hours. The grass-fed burger in the 8-to-6-window diet will be suitable, and you can increase the fat content by adjusting the dressing or adding avocado.

High-fat snacks like nuts and seeds are excellent snacks for 2:30 p.m.

You can pre-soak them to help counteract naturally occurring enzymes, such as phytates, that can cause stomach issues. Eat a clean protein source and vegetables for dinner (salmon and veggies) at 5:30 p.m.

  • 1st Meal: Grass-fed burger and an avocado
  • Snack: Nuts and seeds
  • 2nd Meal: Salmon and veggies

Advanced: 2-Day Plan

As part of this plan, eat healthily for 5 days per week (you can pick whatever days you want). On the other 2 days, limit your daily calorie intake to 700.

You must ensure a healthy diet, including fats, lean meats, veggies, and some fruits on your non-fasting days. Organize your meals in a way that will work best for you.

You can have smaller meals or snacks throughout the day on restricted days, or you can eat a moderate-sized lunch, dinner, and fast before and after.

Advanced: The 5-2 Plan

This advanced intermittent fasting plan involves eating healthy food for 5 days, and fasting for 2 days.

The only thing to keep in mind for this plan is to make sure that you dont go fasting for 2 consecutive days or your body will start to break down muscle for energy, which can lead to weakness and other side effects.

This is how your week should look like:

  • Monday: Fasting
  • Tuesday: No Fasting
  • Wednesday: No Fasting
  • Thursday: Fasting
  • Friday: No Fasting
  • Saturday: No Fasting
  • Sunday: No Fasting

Like the other fasting plans, the food consumed over the 5 days will consist of vegetables, raw fruit, lean meat sources, and healthy fats.

If you drink coffee in the morning daily, you can continue taking it even during fasting days. And anyone who follows this advanced fasting plan should keep themselves sufficiently hydrated.

Advanced: Every-Other-Day/Alternate Day Fasting Plan

Though it is an advanced strategy, it is pretty simple to follow, i.e., don't consume anything on alternate days.

Eat vegetables, fruit, lean meat, and healthy fats every other day. You may drink water, herbal tea, and small amounts of black or green tea on fasting days.

Here’s what your schedule will look like:


Vegetables, fruit, lean meat and fats




Vegetables, fruit, lean meat and fats




Vegetables, fruit, lean meat, and fats




Vegetables, fruit, lean meat, and healthy fats

Is Intermittent Fasting Safe?

It can be a helpful way to lose weight and get healthy by addressing chronic health conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, high cholesterol, or arthritis. But intermittent fasting isn't for everyone, so don’t rush into it without considering your needs first.

You must consult a doctor before starting any diet, including this one. The method is typically safe but not appropriate for the following cases:

  • Under aged teens and kids
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • People with diabetes or somebody with blood sugar issues
  • People with a history of eating disorders

Intermittent Fasting Benefits

Introducing intermittent fasting into your daily routine can offer many health benefits, from weight loss and improved digestion to increased mental clarity and increased muscle mass. When you fast, your body can focus on healing rather than digesting food.

Weight Loss

Most people try this strategy to lose weight because it allows them to eat fewer meals and improves hormone performance to aid in weight loss.

Increased concentrations of norepinephrine (noradrenaline), lower insulin levels, and higher HGH levels all promote the breakdown of body fat and make it easier to utilize it as fuel. Because of this, fasting helps you burn more calories by raising your metabolic rate.

Intermittent fasting, therefore, influences both sides of the calorie equation. It improves calorie expenditure (metabolic rate) while decreasing food intake (reduce calorie intake).

An analysis found that intermittent fasting can result in 3-8% weight loss over the course of 3–24 weeks.

For 6 to 24 weeks, the study participants also dropped 4-7% of their waist circumference, which suggests significant visceral fat loss, that is the unhealthy fat that causes disease in the abdominal cavity.

Helps Burn Fat

It makes your body burn fat, typically in its deepest parts. It’s because your body finds it much easier to use fat as fuel than glucose when you fast intermittently.

The best part of fasting is that the body starts to burn fat for energy. This method reduces visceral fat more effectively than low-carb eating plans.


You may not believe me, but intermittent fasting helps slow the aging process. It doesn’t mean that you will not age at all. It means the symptoms of aging will be reduced or appear later than usual.

According to a Harvard study, intermittent fasting may decrease the aging process by causing weight reduction, lowering blood pressure, and lowering cholesterol.

Reduces Oxidative Stress

One factor contributing to aging and chronic diseases is oxidative stress. Oxidative stress includes unstable molecules, called free radicals, which react with other vital molecules, including protein and DNA, and damage them.

According to a study, intermittent fasting may increase the body's ability to fend off oxidative damage.

Reduces Inflammation

Intermittent fasting also aids in reducing inflammation. Research indicates that it can aid in the battle against inflammation, another major factor in developing many common diseases.


1. Can I drink during fasting?

Yes, it is essential to stay hydrated throughout the day. You can drink low-calorie herbal tea, coffee (in the morning), and plenty of water.

2. Can I take supplements during fasting?

Yes, you can take supplements, especially fat-soluble supplements, that will work well with the meals.

3. Will fasting make my metabolism slower?

Short-term fasting interestingly boosts metabolism. However, continuous fasting suppresses it.

4. Is it okay if my kids fast?

No, fasting is meant for adults (18 and above).

5. What happens if I stop following intermittent fasting?

It may cause digestive issues or leads to weight gain for some.

6. How long should a beginner fast intermittently?

You can follow the beginner plan mentioned above for proper guidance.

The Bottom Line

Intermittent fasting has been shown to have many positive effects on cells and hormones and various health benefits. It is a safe and effective way to lose weight, improve blood sugar levels, increase lifespan, reduce oxidative stress and inflammation.

While there are multiple types of intermittent fasting plans, all share the same basic premise of limiting food intake to specific hours or days. Anyone can do intermittent fasting with the right plan and discipline.

Reading List

Article Sources

  • Bagherniya, Mohammad, et al. “The Effect of Fasting or Calorie Restriction on Autophagy Induction: A Review of the Literature.” Ageing Research Reviews, vol. 47, Nov. 2018, pp. 183–97. ScienceDirect,
  • Barnosky, Adrienne R., et al. “Intermittent Fasting vs Daily Calorie Restriction for Type 2 Diabetes Prevention: A Review of Human Findings.” Translational Research, vol. 164, no. 4, Oct. 2014, pp. 302–11. ScienceDirect,
  • Chen, I.-Ju, et al. “Therapeutic Effect of High-Dose Green Tea Extract on Weight Reduction: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial.” Clinical Nutrition (Edinburgh, Scotland), vol. 35, no. 3, June 2016, pp. 592–99. PubMed,
  • Chikani, Viral, and Ken K. Y. Ho. “Action of GH on Skeletal Muscle Function: Molecular and Metabolic Mechanisms.” Journal of Molecular Endocrinology, vol. 52, no. 1, Feb. 2014, pp. R107–23.,
  • Cienfuegos, Sofia, et al. “Effects of 4- and 6-h Time-Restricted Feeding on Weight and Cardiometabolic Health: A Randomized Controlled Trial in Adults with Obesity.” Cell Metabolism, vol. 32, no. 3, Sept. 2020, pp. 366-378.e3.,
  • Communications, Karen Feldscher Harvard Chan School. “Intermittent Fasting May Be Center of Increasing Lifespan.” Harvard Gazette, 3 Nov. 2017,
  • Hoddy, Kristin K., et al. “Changes in Hunger and Fullness in Relation to Gut Peptides before and after 8 Weeks of Alternate Day Fasting.” Clinical Nutrition (Edinburgh, Scotland), vol. 35, no. 6, Dec. 2016, pp. 1380–85. PubMed,
  • Horne, B. D., et al. “Randomized Cross-over Trial of Short-Term Water-Only Fasting: Metabolic and Cardiovascular Consequences.” Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases: NMCD, vol. 23, no. 11, Nov. 2013, pp. 1050–57. PubMed,
  • Huang, Zhengxiang, et al. “Insulin and Growth Hormone Balance: Implications for Obesity.” Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, vol. 31, no. 9, Sept. 2020, pp. 642–54. ScienceDirect,
  • Jordan, Stefan, et al. “Dietary Intake Regulates the Circulating Inflammatory Monocyte Pool.” Cell, vol. 178, no. 5, Aug. 2019, pp. 1102-1114.e17.,
  • Patterson, Ruth E., and Dorothy D. Sears. “Metabolic Effects of Intermittent Fasting.” Annual Review of Nutrition, vol. 37, no. 1, Aug. 2017, pp. 371–93. (Crossref),
  • Teruya, Takayuki, et al. “Diverse Metabolic Reactions Activated during 58-Hr Fasting Are Revealed by Non-Targeted Metabolomic Analysis of Human Blood.” Scientific Reports, vol. 9, no. 1, Jan. 2019, p. 854.,

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Sandra Adams

Sandra is a versatile and patient personal trainer with over five years of experience tailoring goals to client needs and guiding them with the best workout routines.

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