If it seems like everyone from your favorite celebrity to your next-door neighbor is doing intermittent fasting, you’re not wrong. And while it’s not just another one of those fad diets, it has been getting a lot of extra attention the last few years.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating, with the fasting period usually lasting at least 12 hours. The benefits of intermittent fasting go far beyond weight loss, including:
Lower blood sugar levels
Boosted energy levels
Improved sleep quality
Brain health support
Improved insulin sensitivity
It’s popular because it works. When you go longer periods without eating, it gives your body a much-needed break from digesting food, which allows it to focus on other important processes that can support your overall health.
Breaking down the science of intermittent fasting
When you eat food, your body breaks it down into nutrients it can use for energy. When you don’t eat for longer periods of time, such as overnight, your body uses up all the sugar it has stored in the liver and begins to rely primarily on fat for energy instead.
At this point, the body produces molecules called ketones for energy, which directly fuel brain cells and may have anti-inflammatory effects in the body. In addition, a prolonged fast (at least 12 hours) naturally lowers your insulin levels, and your body will find other ways to be productive during its "down time," like breaking down damaged cells and recycling them for energy.
Additionally, intermittent fasting can also help regulate hormones that affect your metabolism, appetite, and energy levels.
Something as simple as waiting a little longer to eat breakfast or eating dinner earlier and skipping the midnight snack can do you a surprising amount of good, helping your body work more efficiently and helping you feel better overall.
Popular intermittent fasting schedules
Another great thing about intermittent fasting is that there’s more than one way to do it. Below are some of the most popular schedules.
16:8 intermittent fasting
This is the intermittent fasting schedule you’ll hear about most. It involves fasting for 16 hours and consuming all your meals in the remaining eight hours of the day.
For example, if you eat your first meal at noon, your last meal would be around 8 p.m., after which you would fast until noon the next day. Some people choose to eat two or three meals during their eating window, while others prefer to just have one or two larger meals.
If you’re new to intermittent fasting, you could also try the 14:10 schedule (fast for 14 hours, eat all your meals during a 10-hour window) to get you going. Most people find this method easier to adopt, especially if they haven’t tried intermittent fasting before.
4-4-12 intermittent fasting
The 4-4-12 method has a shorter fasting window—12 hours—but eliminates snacking between meals. The goal here is to fast for at least four hours between breakfast and lunch, four hours between lunch and dinner, and at least 12 hours between dinner and breakfast the next day.
So your day might look something like this:
9 a.m.: Breakfast
1 p.m.: Lunch
6 p.m.: Dinner
This approach fits most lifestyles, as long as you can get by without snacking between meals and after dinner.
There are other intermittent fasting schedules, such as fasting every other day or limiting calories a few days a week, but 4-4-12 and 16:8 have the strongest research supporting them and are likely to garner the most benefits.
Which is the best intermittent fasting schedule?
The best intermittent fasting schedule is the one that works for you. The longer you do it, the more benefits you’ll see, so try it for a few months to give your body a chance to adjust. There’s nothing wrong with trying out different methods to help you find the one that works best with your lifestyle, either.
Before making major changes to your diet, be sure to consult with your doctor. They can help you find the best intermittent fasting schedule that aligns with your current health and future goals. You can also check out these blog posts for more intermittent fasting tips: