7 Best Ways to Do Intermittent Fasting (and 4 fasting hacks)
While fasting has been around since ancient times, intermittent fasting, or IF, has relatively recently become a popular health trend, as more and more people are turning to IF to promote weight loss, metabolic health, and even longevity. Many people are familiar with the 16:8 form of IF, but there are several ways to do intermittent fasting, each of which can be effective and beneficial when appropriately and properly applied. Yet, some may work better than others specifically for you. Here’s a breakdown of the popular ways to do intermittent fasting.
In today’s article about the best ways to do intermittent fasting, we will cover the following:
- 16:8 Intermittent Fasting
- 5:2 Diet
- Eat Stop Eat
- Alternate Day Fasting
- OMAD (One Meal a Day Diet)
- The Warrior Diet
- Random Meal Skipping
One of the most popular ways to do intermittent fasting is time-restricted eating — sometimes called time-restricted feeding — with the most common implementation being the 16:8 method. That is, fast for 16 hours every day, and place all of your meals into an 8-hour feeding window. That could mean you break your fast at noon and then finish your last meal by 8 p.m. Or, you could eat your first meal at 10 a.m. but make sure your last meal is finished by 6 p.m.
Many people ease into a 16:8 intermittent fasting regimen by starting to fast for 12 hours per day and then working up to 14 hours per day until they reach 16 hours a day. Many simply begin by not eating anything after dinner and then delaying or skipping breakfast altogether. Others, especially women, choose to limit the fast to 12 to 14 hours due to discomfort, lack of energy, or other potential negative effects of fasting for longer periods.
Of course, you don’t eat during the entire “feeding” window. You can choose to have two or three meals. And food quality is just as important with IF as it is when you’re not fasting. Just because you’re skipping a meal or two doesn’t mean the rest of your meals are free-for-alls.
Although the 16:8 method is the most common form of time-restricted eating, it’s not the only way. For example, many people extend the fast to 18 to 20 hours, subsequently condensing their eating windows to 6 or 4 hours, respectively. The bottom line is that it’s not a hard rule that you have to fast for 16 hours. It’s just that, of the many ways to do intermittent fasting, this method allows for extended daily fasts.
Rather than completely fasting, the 5:2 Diet is a modified form of periodic fasting. In short, when following this plan, you eat normally five days a week. Then on two non-consecutive days per week, you’ll drop calories down to 500 calories for women and 600 calories for men. Many people choose to eat just two small meals of 250 (for women) or 300 (for men) calories each.
For example, you would eat normally on Monday. Then on Tuesday, you would restrict calories. On Wednesday and Thursday, you would eat normally. And on Friday, you would again limit calories. Over the weekend, you would again eat normally.
Back in 2007, Brad Pilon wrote the book called Eat Stop Eat, which incorporates a form of intermittent fasting known as periodic fasting. This has been one of the most popular ways to do intermittent fasting. It involves eating normally most of the time, with one to two days of complete fasting per week from dinner to dinner. For example, you eat normally on Monday. But after dinner, you refrain from eating until dinner on Tuesday, fasting for a full 24 hours.
If a full 24-hour fast is too difficult when you begin, you can also ease into the full-day fasts by fasting for 14 to 16 hours and then gradually increasing to 24-hour fasts once or twice each week.
Alternate day fasting is similar to the previous two regimens. Just as it sounds, you fast every other day (i.e., on alternating days). With this diet, you can fully fast (i.e., zero calories consumed) or choose to do what’s known as modified alternate-day fasting, restricting calories to 500 per day on the fasting days.
However, this is one of the most challenging forms of IF as you will go hungry many days each week. It’s also not considered sustainable over the long-term as it can be uncomfortable and stressful.
A new trend in IF is the OMAD diet. It’s simple, easy to understand, and there are no restrictions on what you can eat, so it’s appealing to many people.
In short, you simply eat one large meal a day and fast the other 23 hours. Proponents claim this diet increases focus and productivity (by removing the afternoon post-lunch slump), improves weight loss (by decreasing the number of calories eaten per day), and allows for considerable dietary flexibility and freedom—no need to log calories or plan meals.
That said, those who are most successful with this approach do choose nutrient-dense foods for their single meal, which naturally tends to be much larger than what would normally be consumed at a single meal. Because it can be challenging to meet all one’s nutritional needs with such restrictions, supplements providing essential nutrients are frequently needed with the OMAD approach.
The Warrior Diet is similar to the OMAD in that there’s only one real meal per day—and it’s a big one. However, eating small servings of raw fruits, vegetables, broth, and eggs is also part of the program during the “undereating”, or “fasting”, portion of the day.
The overall diet, as popularized by Ori Hofmekler, also restricts dietary choices to focus only on whole, unprocessed foods, similar to the paleo diet. Your full meals should be made up of cooked vegetables; proteins, including chicken, steak, or fish; starches, such as beans and potatoes; as well as whole grains, dairy, and healthy fats from nuts and quality oils.
If you’re looking to dip your toe into the IF waters and don’t want a structured plan, you may still benefit. This option—that is, just skipping a random meal from time to time—is also perfect for people who already occasionally skip a meal because they aren’t hungry or don’t have time to cook or eat.
Just like it sounds, all you need to do is skip an occasional breakfast, lunch, or dinner for a short fast and eat normally the rest of the time. Do, however, ensure you are eating healthy whole foods for your usual meals.
There are numerous benefits of fasting. Research has shown, for example, that intermittent fasting may help:
- Decrease weight and body mass index (BMI) 1
- Improve blood glucose control 2
- Increase stress resilience and resistance to disease
- Improve insulin sensitivity
- Increase health span 3
- Build dietary discipline
- Improve brain health 4
During any of the above fasts, you’ll want to avoid any calorie-containing food or drinks. You can, however, drink water, coffee, tea, or other calorie-free beverages. This is recommended as ensuring you’re hydrated can also decrease feelings of hunger.
Coffee and caffeinated teas may also help decrease appetite and help boost energy levels. If you just can’t drink your coffee black, skip any added sweeteners and add a small dash of cream, or better yet, some MCT oil (like Keto Elevate) to support the benefits of fasting.
Of course, fasting isn’t for everyone. For example, fasting can be dangerous for people with medical conditions, such as diabetes (especially those who use insulin), hypoglycemia, or heart disease and should only be done under the care of a healthcare professional. It’s also not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers or women who are trying to conceive. And it’s not recommended for children, the elderly, or those who have a history of disordered eating. You may also want to avoid fasting during stressful times, as fasting can be a form of stress (albeit usually a “good” one) itself.
People who are lifting weights to build muscle and/or gain strength may also want to choose one of the less extreme IF protocols, such as the 16:8 method, rather than something like the OMAD or Alternate-Day Fasting. Interestingly, however, IF may lead to less muscle loss than typical low-calorie diets. 5
Finally, there is some evidence that IF is more beneficial for men than women. And because IF can negatively impact hormone levels, women should use caution and listen to their bodies, stopping IF if the practice results in negative side effects (such as the absence of menstruation).
While there are certainly benefits to fasting, it does come with some drawbacks as well. For example, fasting can cause:
- Extreme hunger
- Binge eating (which could lead to weight gain)
- Shakiness or physical weakness
- Fatigue or low energy levels
- Brain fog, dizziness, or trouble focusing
- Low blood sugar
- Hormonal imbalances
Many of these effects, however, may be temporary as the body adapts and becomes more metabolically flexible. Those with medical conditions or who use medication should, of course, check with their doctors before trying IF.
That said, IF does have a good safety record for most otherwise healthy people, and the benefits are most robust when eating nutrient-dense foods and following an overall healthy lifestyle.
Fasting, no matter how long or how short, can be a challenge. Here are some tips to help you stay focused on the fast (without driving yourself crazy):
- Drink lots—Staying hydrated and drinking calorie-free beverages you enjoy throughout the day can help prevent your belly from rumbling.
- Stay busy—It’s hard to obsess about how soon you can eat when you’re busy. Find positive ways to keep your mind engaged so you’re not thinking about eating.
- Avoid strenuous activities while fasting—Find ways to rest, relax, or enjoy light exercise, such as gentle yoga or a stroll through a park, forest, or on a beach.
- Eat nutrient-dense foods when you do eat—Focus on foods rich in protein, fiber, and healthy fats to nourish your body on lower calories. Good options include meats and fish, beans and legumes, eggs, nuts, fibrous vegetables, and avocados. These types of foods also help you stay fuller for longer.
When it comes to IF, there are various ways to do intermittent fasting, depending on what works best for you and your body. IF, however, isn’t for everyone, and you can certainly lose weight and improve health without IF by focusing on eating real food, moving your body regularly, ensuring you get enough sleep, and enjoying an overall healthy lifestyle.
That said, many people enjoy the benefits of IF and find the tradeoff beneficial. They have greater energy and feel good when fasting.
Even if you do fast, choosing quality whole foods is still vital. Not only will eating nutrient-dense foods help you reach your goals faster, but you’ll also likely feel better the rest of the time if you aren’t bingeing on overprocessed junk foods that provide neither the energy nor nourishment your body craves.
And finally, if you’re new to IF, it may be best to ease into fasting. For example, start with a 12-hour fast (e.g., 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.) and then gradually work your way over a couple of days or weeks to a 16-hour fast (e.g., 6 p.m. to 10 a.m.) before moving on to a more advanced 24-hour fast (or not) until you find the best way to do intermittent fasting for you.