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How To Do Intermittent Fasting – Complete Guide Graphic © healthpowerboost.com. Background image: Shutterstock #1036153894 (under license)
Intermittent fasting has been a trendy topic in health circles for a while. If you’ve heard the buzz around this eating pattern but are unsure exactly what it means, how it works, or how to get the maximum benefits, this article is for you.
First Things First: What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is more of a meal timing plan than a diet, says Thomas DeLauer, a renowned nutrition and business performance coach. It involves cycling between fasting windows whereby you abstain from food or drinks for a certain number of hours—and eating windows, where you nourish your body with nutrients.
There are different types of intermitted fasting based on the eating schedule. The most common ones are:
• The 16/8 Schedule: This is a 16-hour fasting window followed by an 8-hour eating period every day. Most people agree that the 16/8 method is the easiest and most sustainable type of intermittent fasting. For a more intense effect, 18/6 or 20/4 is used.
• The 5:2 Schedule: You basically eat normally for 5 days in a week and consume only 500-600 calories on the other 2 days (non-consecutive).
• The 24-Hour Eat-Stop-Eat Schedule: This is a more demanding type of intermittent fasting that involves fasting for 24 hours once or twice a week.
What Are The Benefits And Risks Of Intermittent Fasting?
Fasting triggers cellular and molecular changes in your body. For example, research shows that it may initiate processes such as increasing your levels of human growth hormone (HGH) and improving insulin sensitivity. 
It may also promote cellular repair through a process known as autophagy—whereby old, dysfunctional cell parts are removed.  And according to a study published in Rejuvenation Research, your cells may change the expression of genes related to protection against disease and longevity when fasted. 
Due to the body processes that intermittent fasting triggers, the eating pattern is associated with significant health benefits, including:
1. Weight Loss: Most people explore intermittent fasting with the goal of losing weight. And according to research, it may be a powerful weight loss tool by reducing your calorie intake and helping you burn more fat. 
2. Reduce Inflammation: According to a 2020 study published in the journal Nutrition, intermittent fasting reduces biomarkers of inflammation, which are linked to chronic diseases. 
3. Support Brain Health: Fasting may aid in the growth of new nerve cells and help offer protection against Alzheimer’s. 
4. Anti-Aging: Animal studies show that intermittent fasting may extend lifespan. 
5. Reduce Insulin Resistance: Fasting may lower blood sugar and reduce insulin resistance—making the eating plan a possible option for people with type 2 diabetes. 
6. Promote Heart Health: Intermittent fasting may reduce several risk factors for cardiovascular disease—including insulin resistance, blood sugar, inflammatory markers, blood triglycerides, and LDL “bad” cholesterol. 
While most studies show that intermittent fasting has tons of health benefits, it’s not for everyone. For example, people who are underweight, have a history of eating disorders, have low blood pressure, pregnant or breastfeeding, are on medications, or have low blood pressure are advised to consult a healthcare professional before adopting the meal schedule.
It’s also important to note that some women may respond differently to intermittent fasting. One study showed that the eating pattern worsened blood sugar control in women while improving insulin sensitivity in men. 
Another common concern is that intermittent fasting may lead to muscle loss. While it’s believed that any weight loss method carries the risk of muscle loss, research shows that intermittent fasting causes less muscle loss than regular, continuous calorie restriction. 
How Start Intermittent Fasting
“One of the biggest problems people make with [intermittent] fasting is they overthink it. They tend to complicate things–and it’s human nature for us to do that,” says DeLauer.
“Keep it very, very simple. Intermittent fasting is just not eating for a set period of time and then consolidating your calories. There’s a lot of different intricacies in between, but for all intents and purposes, that’s the goal.”
There’s no magic plan when starting to do intermittent fasting. The general rule of thumb is to start slow and find an eating schedule that works for you and is sustainable without adversely affecting your health or functionality.
What Can You Consume While Fasting?
While intermittent fasting places more emphasis on “when” you eat rather than “what” you eat, this is not a reason to be reckless with your food intake during the eating window. You still need to eat the right kinds of food to support your fasting goals and promote your health.
Focus on nutrient-rich food items that are high in healthy fats, protein, and fiber for satiety—while avoiding simple carbs, processed foods, and sugary treats/drinks. You can also take a supplement as long as it does not contain calories—otherwise, you’ll be breaking your fast.
DeLauer also advises against taking alcohol when you’re fasted as it will break the fast and also hinder your weight loss goals.
How To Break A Fast:
When it comes to breaking a fast, DeLauer’s main recommendation is to never mix carbs and fats. He argues eating carbs may spike your insulin levels—leaving your cells receptive to fat absorption.
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