If you’ve never tried intermittent fasting before, it may sound overly difficult — or possibly even unhealthy.
But nothing could be further from the truth. Humans have been fasting since our earliest days, and done properly, it’s easy and effective for fat loss, decreasing inflammation, increasing overall wellness, and supporting longevity.
This article will teach you everything you need to know to get started fasting, plus the best ways to end a fast so you don’t miss out on any health benefits.
But first, we’ll take a quick look at the scientific basis of intermittent fasting.
The Scientific Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Even though fasting is a truly ancient practice, the science of fasting is still very new. Here’s what the latest research says and why you might want to adopt this practice for yourself.
1. Fasting Increases Fat Adaptation and Fat-burning
When you practice regular fasting, your ability to use fat as fuel increases dramatically.
The technical term is “metabolic flexibility,” meaning your body can switch from carbs to fat as needed.
In the keto diet world, people usually refer to this state as “fat adapted.” But keto isn’t required — fasting a few times a week is enough, all by itself (more details on this in the fasting tips section, below).
And even better, fasting immediately increases fat oxidation (the technical term for fat-burning) in your body.
You’ll also be less hungry and have more energy since your body can easily tap into fuel as needed. And your body will be better able to use healthy fats during eating windows, too.
2. Fasting Helps Overcome Hunger Issues Associated with Dieting
Studies show that people who fast can eat as much as they want (within reason) and still lose weight, and it doesn’t cause constant feelings of hunger like most diets.
Essentially, any time you fast, you create the calorie deficit that’s required to lose weight.
And when you end your fast period and go back to eating again (especially eating healthy whole foods), your body releases hormones that allow you to feel full and satisfied, even though you skipped one or more meals.
3. Fasting Boosts Immune Function
Research suggests that fasts, especially prolonged fasting periods, may help reset and boost your immune function.
Healthy immune function is more important now than ever, and one or more prolonged fasts each month could make a huge difference in your ability to fight off infection.
4. Fasting Reduces Inflammation and Improves Brain Health
Studies show that regular fasting supports your body’s anti-inflammatory pathways, which also translates to less brain inflammation.
And that’s why scientists think that fasting may sharpen cognition, boost mood, fight depression, and decrease anxiety.
Beginner Tips to Begin Fasting Immediately
If you’ve never fasted before, these tips are for you.
But even if you’ve got a wealth of experience, you can use this section as a checklist to prevent common mistakes that could be undermining your fasting results.
Tip #1: You Don’t Need to Fast Every Day
Some popular intermittent fasting variations like “16/8” (16 hours of fasting and 8 hours of eating) involve daily fasting.
But in reality, you don’t actually have to fast every single day to get the benefits, and many people are better off varying their fasting schedule.
For example, some women discover that their monthly cycle can interfere with fasting at certain times.
Or athletes may find that daily fasting interferes with performance or recovery.
And if you want to build muscle, daily intermittent fasting with a restricted eating window might not be the best idea, either. (In that case, you’d want to fast on days you aren’t lifting weights, then load up on protein and carbs on training days.)
Daily fasts do offer the advantage of simplicity and consistency, but they’re far from the only way or the best way for everyone.
Tip #2: Plan Ahead and Commit to a Fasting Schedule
Planning ahead and staying organized with a schedule is the biggest secret to successful fasting, especially if you’re a beginner.
If you’re brand new to intermittent fasting, try starting with a weekly schedule that adds 24 hours of additional fasting time (counted while awake, not including time you spend sleeping during a fast) per week, total.
The great thing about counting weekly daytime fasting hours is that it allows you to fit your fasting schedule into your life in the way that works best for you.
For example, fasting for 8 hours 3 days per week, 12 hours 2 days per week, or 6 hours 4 days per week. All of these are good schedules for starting out.
Over time, you can consider increasing the length or frequency, or incorporating a few longer fasts of 24-72 hours for added health benefits.
Tip #3: Consider Evening Fasts Rather than Morning Fasts
Many people fast by skipping breakfast, but if you’re going to skip a meal every day, it’s actually much better for your metabolism to skip dinner and shift your fasting window to later in the day.
According to recent peer-reviewed studies, “early time-restricted feeding” (basically a technical term for fasting in the afternoon, evening, and nighttime rather than the morning) decreases appetite, boosts fat-burning, enhances circadian rhythms, may slow aging, and even increase anabolic hormone sensitivity in men.
Try shifting your fasting window to evenings and nighttime and you’ll most likely notice better results, less inflammation, and deeper sleep.
And regardless of when you choose to schedule your fast, it’s best to avoid eating at night and before bed. Nighttime and pre-bed eating are linked to sleep problems and a greater risk of unwanted weight gain.
Tip #4: Perform Gentle Exercise During Fasting Windows
Research shows that performing fasted cardio burns more fat than doing the same exercise while fed.
And even if you’re not ready for an extended fasting window yet, several peer-reviewed studies demonstrate that you can also do a quick fasted cardio session before breakfast to increase fat-burning for a full 24 hours!
On the other hand, because your body requires more fuel for top performance, weight training and other intensive activities work better when you’ve eaten.
How to Break Your Fast the Right Way
The way you end your fast can make or break the benefits of fasting, so you’ve got to get this part right if you want to succeed. Here’s what you need to know about ending your fasting window and transition to the eating window.
Fast-breaking Tip #1: Don’t Binge Eat After a Fast
Intermittent fasting allows you to stay healthy and lose weight without counting calories, but not if you binge eat.
Binge eating is a serious problem that can derail your goals and negate the benefits of fasting. Even worse, evidence suggests it may actually stretch your stomach and alter hunger hormone levels, making it more difficult to feel full (and increasing the chances of overeating in the future).
Selecting fast-breaking whole foods that are nutrient-dense and high in protein (like beef jerky) helps prevent this issue. Because protein and other essential nutrients help fill you up, you’re less likely to overeat if you avoid junk food in favor of healthier choices.
Also, it’s normal to feel hungry during and after fasting, but extreme hunger is usually a sign you’ve been fasting too long. If you’re struggling with hunger during or immediately after a fast, you can also try shortening your fasting windows by 1-3 hours as needed.
Fast-breaking Tip #2: Eat Slowly
Eating slowly and mindfully is always a good idea, but especially after a fast.
Slowing down can help prevent overeating, but equally importantly, it can also prevent the upset stomach that sometimes occurs at the end of a long fasting window.
If you’re experiencing discomfort as you break your fasts, gentle, anti-inflammatory Turmeric-Ginger Recover is the perfect choice for ending prolonged fasts and settling your stomach.
Fast-breaking Tip #3: Select the Right Foods for Your Goals
To get the most out of fasting, always break your fast with foods that support your goals.
If your goal is weight loss, that means choosing relatively low-carb, low-calorie, yet filling foods so you can fill up easily and feel satisfied without overeating.
Or, if you’re an athlete who trains hard, you’ll want to get plenty of protein at your first meal to maximize performance and recovery.
Finally, if you’ve fasted for longer periods like 12-24 hours or more, the top priority is to eat foods that are easy on your gut for the first meal as you ease back into eating. Homemade broth, light soups, and fresh or lightly cooked fruits or vegetables are all excellent choices.
Including traditional probiotic foods is also an excellent idea to support gut health as you break an extended fast.
When you strip away the unnecessary details, fasting isn’t overly complicated or difficult. Humans have done it for millennia for a variety of reasons, and it’s still highly relevant for being healthy today.
Fasting is a cornerstone practice that has benefits for nearly everyone, but please talk to your doctor before fasting if you have a medical condition or take prescription medication.
Finally, remember to speak to your doctor before you try fasting if you have a medical condition or take prescription medication.