Intermittent fasting has quickly become one of the most popular diet and wellness practices for good reason — more and more research continues to support its effectiveness for weight management and improved health.1
If you’re ready to give it a try, you may want to know more about the different intermittent fasting schedules. Terms like time-restricted eating and fasting window may sound like a foreign language to you. But after reading this article, you will gain some clarity on these concepts. Plus, you will feel more equipped to choose the best beginner intermittent fasting schedule for your health goals, lifestyle and schedule.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is an eating style that alternates between fasting and eating. While it is encouraged to follow a healthful diet during the eating window, there are no specific foods required or recommended in many cases. However, combining intermittent fasting with a proven weight management program (like Jenny Craig’s Max Up) has been shown to result in significant weight loss in just 8 weeks.2
Intermittent fasting can be approached in a couple of different ways by adjusting the fasting window.
Getting started: Beginner intermittent fasting schedule
You might already be practicing some form of intermittent fasting just by following your daily routine of eating and sleeping. In the evening, there is a time you stop eating, go to bed and then wake up. You’re technically fasting from the evening to the time you enjoy breakfast and break your fast (assuming you aren’t snacking at night).
If you have a regular sleep and wake cycle, creating a beginner intermittent fasting schedule is simple to do. Your first step will be to calculate the number of non-eating hours and build from there. So, if you are following a 12:12 schedule, you will break your fast 12 hours after you start it. Typically, the fast is started after dinnertime so you can sleep through most of your fasting window.
Photo by LaylaBird on iStock
While there are many options to sample, as an intermittent fasting newbie, you want to start with a schedule that allows for an approachable (and realistic) way of eating. A 12:12 or a 14:10 schedule is typically manageable for most people.
Remember to always consult your physician before starting a new diet or eating routine.
12:12 Intermittent Fasting
When following this pattern, you eat for 12 hours and fast for 12 hours. For those starting with intermittent fasting, the 12:12 window is a manageable and simple place to adapt to the fasting cycle. This could be fasting from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. or 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. if you are an early riser. If you enjoy a light snack after dinner, an 8:30 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. fast might be more realistic.
Fasting for as little as 12 hours has been shown in animal studies to produce beneficial effects such as a reduction in body fat and insulin resistance.3 Research also indicates fasting may be a useful strategy to prevent metabolic diseases such as diabetes, but more research on humans is needed.3
14:10 Intermittent Fasting
Are you ready to see what it feels like to fast a little longer and extend to the 14:10 schedule? If you are transitioning to a 14:10 schedule from 12:12, simply add an hour at each end of your day. For this schedule, you could stop eating at 6 p.m. and then break your fast the next morning at 8. If you need to start your fast a bit later, you could stop eating at 8 p.m. and break your fast at 10 a.m.
The actual time that you stop and start eating doesn’t matter as much as ensuring that your fasting window is free from food and caloric beverages. (Here’s exactly what you can eat and drink while intermittent fasting.) By extending your fast an extra couple of hours, your body can start to burn fat (or ketones) for fuel. This is known as the metabolic switch and can help you burn fat while maintaining muscle.4
If you don’t think you can manage 14 hours of fasting, Jenny Craig makes it easier with our revolutionary Recharge Bar that helps curb your hunger without breaking your fast. It’s made with simple ingredients like nuts and honey and it’s gluten free. Now available in Nut & Honey and Fudge Nut flavors!
16:8 Intermittent Fasting
Ready to fast even longer? This schedule involves daily fasting for 16 hours and the daily eating window is 8 hours. This could be eating dinner and starting your daily fast at 8 p.m., skipping breakfast the next morning and eating your first meal of the day at noon.
While this schedule is less manageable than 12:12 or 14:10 schedules, longer fasting periods may encourage autophagy. Auto-what? Autophagy is like a deep cleaning for the cells — the body naturally processes and removes particles in the cells that are no longer needed, including potentially harmful materials.5 Allowing the body to be without fuel for an extended period helps support this process, which can help rejuvenate cells. Autophagy is also linked to anti-aging benefits, although more research is needed.6
5:2 Intermittent Fasting
The 5:2 diet involves eating normally 5 days of the week while limiting calorie intake to 500–600 for 2 days of the week. While this schedule may be too restrictive for many, it is worth noting as an intermittent fasting option. Essentially you choose two days — maybe Tuesday and Thursday or Monday and Friday and eat two small meals between 250-300 calories. As with any kind of new diet, especially if you have a chronic health condition, consult your healthcare provider before attempting this type of fast.
Most will agree that it takes about 2 weeks and possibly up to 4 weeks to adjust to the fasting schedule. You may feel hungry, headachy, or nauseous as the body adjusts to the new schedule.
Start slowly and monitor how you feel and how your body responds. While many seasoned fasters note improved attention and sharper focus — it may take some time to adapt past the “hangry” stage to reap all of the benefits. Experimenting with fasting windows and leaning on nutritional bars that can keep you in a metabolic fasted state like Jenny Craig’s Recharge Bar, can help you achieve your intermittent fasting goals.
Health benefits linked to intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting has gained so much popularity because following this way of eating is linked to a slew of health benefits, including:
- Weight loss7
- Lower insulin levels and better blood glucose control8
- Reduced inflammation in the body9
Note that more extensive research is needed, specifically long-term studies, but studies on animals and humans are promising.
Experts agree that to reap the benefits of intermittent fasting, the best fasting schedule is the one that you can stick with, and that works for your schedule and lifestyle.
What should you eat when following an intermittent fasting schedule?
During the eating window, general nutrition guidelines for healthy eating are encouraged to reap the most benefits — choose a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, and whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and 100% whole wheat bread. Add lean protein to your meals like chicken and fish, and round out meals and snacks with a small amount of heart-healthy fats such as avocado, walnuts, and olive oil. Eating mindfully, taking your time and turning off electronics during mealtime can all contribute to a more enjoyable and mindful eating experience.
While there is always room in a healthy diet for treats and indulgences, it’s important to note that the eating window is not intended to load up on junk food or consume as much as possible — as neither will support your weight loss or health goals.
Check out some of the best foods to eat to break your fast.
Is intermittent fasting safe?
Intermittent fasting is safe for most healthy adults and the emerging research is encouraging. Novices will want to be cautious of jumping right into the longer fasts. Limiting food for a prolonged time is not necessarily better for you and could potentially be dangerous. Additionally, fasting for so long could prompt the body to slow down and store fat. The good news is that the shorter fasts will promote the intended effect of drawing on fat stores for energy.
If you are managing a chronic disease such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol it is always a good idea to consult your healthcare provider before beginning a new program and discuss if this is an appropriate plan for you.
Should I give it a try?
Many intermittent fasters enjoy the simplicity of the schedule and feel more energetic and focused with continued practice. Remember to start slowly and build to a longer fasting window and monitor how you feel. This could be a lifestyle change that helps you reach your health goals and feel better in the process. For support with tackling intermittent fasting, leaning on a tried-and-true weight loss program like Jenny Craig’s Max Up can help you reach your health goals in an approachable and authentic way. With Jenny Craig, you’ll have the support and guidance from a weight loss coach, so you don’t have to try intermittent fasting on your own.
Learn more about our most effective and holistic program ever — Max Up!
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and was written and reviewed by certified professionals.
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