What if there was a simple way to supercharge your weight loss — without giving up your favorite foods? Seriously. Say hello to intermittent fasting.
While there are fad diets abound, intermittent fasting is an emerging diet trend that isn’t going away soon because of the research that continues to support its effectiveness.
If you’re new to the world of fasting and curious about how to start intermittent fasting — we’ve got you covered. Read on for our guide to intermittent fasting for beginners.
Remember to always consult your doctor before beginning a new weight loss program.
What is intermittent fasting?
First thing’s first: Don’t let the word “fasting” scare you. Whenever you’re not eating, you’re technically fasting! Intermittent fasting is simply taking a mindful pause from the consumption of food and caloric beverages.
Typically, this break will last anywhere from 12-16 hours (and includes sleep). There isn’t any calorie counting or tracking required with intermittent fasting, but when you do eat, you should choose good-for-you foods to nourish your body. The goal is to give your body a break from metabolizing food, so it can make the natural switch from burning glucose to fat for energy (more on that later).
For example, let’s say you take a 12-hour break. You would eat your meals between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. and then refrain from food and caloric beverages for the remaining 12 hours. You can still drink non-caloric beverages like water, black coffee and unsweetened tea during your fast. You’d repeat the cycle the following day — it’s that simple!
How long you take a break from food is up to you. There are different kinds of intermittent fasting, so if you’re a beginner, choose the eating pattern that works best for your lifestyle.
Are there different kinds of intermittent fasting?
There sure are. Here are a few different types of fasting methods:
This intermittent fasting method focuses on nourishing your body for eight hours and abstaining from food and caloric beverages for the remaining 16 hours.
If you’re a fasting beginner, this schedule might work well for you because it’s manageable and may still promote some pretty astounding health benefits.1 You’ll eat for 10 hours during the day and then fast for the following 14 hours. Remember, most of your time fasting will include sleep.
This type of intermittent fasting schedule looks a little different compared to the 16:8 and 14:10 approach. Instead of focusing on timing, you focus on reducing your caloric intake drastically for two non-consecutive days. For women, it’s typically around 500 calories a day, and for men, it’s around 600 calories. You’d eat this way for two days a week and then eat normally on the other days of the week.
While there are various kinds of fasting patterns, the most important thing is that you choose a routine that works best for you. Any diet plan that is too restrictive or doesn’t fit your lifestyle will likely be challenging to maintain long term.
What happens to your body when you fast?
When you eat, your body turns food into glucose, releases it into the bloodstream, and uses it for energy. Any extra energy is stored in your body for later.2 When you fast for at least 12 hours, you’re depleting your body of blood glucose, using up all your stores. Now your body will need another source of energy — and it naturally switches to fat. This is known as the “metabolic switch.”3
Regularly flipping on this natural switch may promote weight loss and other health benefits — since your body can focus on other important functions beyond metabolizing food.3
Are there health benefits associated with intermittent fasting?
While research is ongoing and more is needed to better understand the health benefits of intermittent fasting, there seem to be some pretty incredible perks of adhering to this eating pattern. Here’s a shortlist of potential benefits linked to intermittent fasting:4,5
- Weight loss
- Reduced body fat
- Suppressed inflammation
- Decreased cholesterol
- Decreased blood pressure
- Improved glycemic control
- Better sleep
It’s important to note that many intermittent fasting studies have focused on animals, so as more human studies are conducted, the more scientists can better understand the effects of fasting.
What can you eat or drink during intermittent fasting?
To reap all of the potential health benefits of intermittent fasting, you should abstain from food or caloric beverages during your fast. However, it’s encouraged that you drink water, herbal tea or other non-caloric beverages to stay hydrated in-between meals.
Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash
Who shouldn’t try intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting isn’t for everyone. This eating routine isn’t recommended for individuals with advanced diabetes and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.6
Always make sure to consult your doctor before starting a new weight loss program.
How to start intermittent fasting
Ready to give intermittent fasting a try? Here’s how to start.
1. Begin slowly.
If you’re new to intermittent fasting, start slow. Assess how many hours a day you currently eat, and how many hours you could shave off, reasonably. Let’s say you currently eat breakfast at 8 a.m. and you tend to stop around 9 p.m. Start by reducing your eating window by an hour (8 a.m. to 8 p.m.). From there, slowly reduce that timeframe by 30 minutes to an hour once you feel like it’s manageable. While 14 hours of fasting might seem like a lot, if you postpone when you start eating and slowly move up your last meal, it might be easier than you think (for example, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.).
2. Focus on eating nutrient-dense foods.
Unfortunately, you can’t eat foods loaded with empty calories and still reap the health benefits of intermittent fasting. When you do eat, try your best to make thoughtful food choices, focusing on whole foods, and limiting processed and refined options. The more vegetables, the better! This won’t just help your overall health, but eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, lean protein and whole grains will help keep you feeling satisfied. Find out the importance of healthy eating habits and how you can start making better choices today.
Photo by Ella Olsson on Unsplash
3. Make sleep a priority.
One way to make intermittent fasting easier: Get enough sleep! If you’re getting the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep a night, abstaining from food for the remaining hours won’t be as hard. Plus, research indicates that when you’re sleep-deprived, you may be more likely to overeat and reach for unhealthy options thanks to the disruption of certain hunger-related hormones.7
So tuck in at a decent hour and make those zzz’s a priority. You’ll feel more rested in the morning and more likely to stick to your healthy routine.
4. Plan ahead.
Keeping up with any new habit can be challenging. But it doesn’t have to be. The key to success? Plan ahead. By prepping healthy meals and snacks for the week, you probably won’t be as tempted to raid your kitchen late at night or find yourself mindlessly grazing during movie night. With a healthy meal plan in place, you’ll feel satisfied and may be more likely to stick to your intermittent fasting routine.
Need help with meal prep? Check out Jenny Craig’s new healthy meal plans starting at just $12.99 a day!
5. Keep up your routine.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but weight loss and better health don’t magically happen overnight. Stick to your intermittent fasting schedule, continue to eat healthfully and move your body daily. By keeping up your routine, you’ll create new habits that will help you live your healthiest life.
Want to give fasting a try but not sure where to begin? Jenny Craig can help. Learn how to start intermittent fasting and start eating better with our most innovative plan, Rapid Results. Get started today.
Elisa is a content marketing manager for Jenny Craig with over ten years of experience working in the health and fitness industry. She loves sharing her passion for living a balanced and healthy lifestyle. An endurance sports enthusiast, she is usually swimming in the pool, biking along the coast highway or running by the beach in her free time. Elisa holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University, Chico.
Favorite healthy snack: mozzarella string cheese with a Pink Lady apple
Reviewed by: Briana Rodriquez, RDN
Briana Rodriquez, RDN Briana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs.
Favorite healthy snack: peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!)
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and is written by experienced health and lifestyle contributors and fact-checked by Briana Rodriquez, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Jenny Craig.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
This article contains trusted sources, including peer-reviewed studies. All references are hyperlinked at the end of the article to take readers directly to the source.
Edited by Elisa - Jenny Craig