Intermittent fasting is not a one-size-fits-all weight loss program. There are over ten different ways you can do it. And that’s a good thing or a bad one depending on how you look at it.
Having so many options means there’s an approach that’s most likely to make your weight loss journey effortless. On the flip side, it may take trial and error to narrow down to a method that lets you maximize the benefits of intermittent fasting.
Let’s make that process less daunting by explaining the five most common IF methods you can try. We’ll start with popular intermittent fasting schedules for beginners and work our way to the toughest plans.
Overnight Intermittent Fasting
Overnight fasting is the easiest method of intermittent fasting for beginners. Unless you’re fond of grazing at night, chances are that you’ve already been doing this type of intermittent fasting.
Overnight intermittent fasting means a full night (12 hours, ideally) without eating. An easy way is to stop eating at 7 PM and break the fast at 7 AM the following morning.
The biggest advantage of this method of intermittent fasting is that you’re not skipping any daytime meals. You only need to stop night snacking.
Overnight IF won’t offer significant weight loss benefits since the fasting period is not long enough to trigger autophagy. But it’s a good way to prepare your body and mind for extreme fasting schedules.
5:2 Intermittent Fasting Method
The 5:2 intermittent fasting plan is also known as the twice-a-week method. In this IF plan, you eat normally for five days and then scale down to a moderate meal of 600 or 500 calories (men and women, respectively) for the other two days. The low-calorie restriction days should be non-consecutive. For instance, you could fast on Wednesday and Friday and eat as you normally would the rest of the week.
The 5:2 intermittent fasting schedule may not be a true fast. However, a 2018 review showed that intermittent fasting and calorie restriction had comparable weight loss results. On top of that, the 5:2 IF is relatively easier to follow for beginners who are used to eating regularly.
Once your body gets used to the 5:2 schedule, you can challenge yourself by adjusting to a 4:3 plan. The concept is the same, only that you eat normally for four days instead of five. Another way of making this IF method more challenging is taking zero calories during the two days of fasting.
14:10 Fasting Plan
The 14:10 is another very easy intermittent fasting protocol to follow. Generally, this plan involves compressing all your usual meals into a 10-hour eating window, followed by a 14-hour fasting period.
A typical 10-hour eating period could be between 9 AM and 7 PM. This is a pretty long time that you can fit all your usual meals; breakfast, lunch, and dinner at almost the normal times. That’s to say that the 14:10 fasting plan will most likely fit nicely into your daily life.
Another benefit of the 14:10 approach is that you’ll be asleep for most of the fasting hours. Assuming you’re among those who prioritize an 8-hour sleep, you’re left with only six hours of fasting.
16:8 Fasting Schedule
The 16:8 IF method is tougher than the protocols we’ve mentioned above. But it’s considered one of the best intermittent fasting methods if you want to accelerate weight loss naturally. This intermittent fasting method involves eating as usual within an 8-hour window and fasting for the remaining 16 hours. However, you’re still allowed to drink non-calorie beverages, including water, coffee, and herbal tea, in the fasting state.
Most people doing the 16:8 IF plan choose to limit their food intake between 9 AM to 5 PM or 10 AM to 6 PM. If you can’t skip breakfast, 8 AM to 4 PM may be a better option. You are free to set a window that best fits your lifestyle.
A 16-hour fasting period may seem super long. We recommend starting your fast in the evening so that your sleeping hours are included in the non-eating window. Doing this makes fasting for 16 hours easier when starting. It also helps align your circadian rhythm so that you can get the most out of your fast.
Eat Stop Eat Fasting Schedule
The eat stop eat intermittent fasting plan is less popular than the 16:8 and 5:2 plans. But it’s becoming more popular by the day. This eating schedule was popularized by Brad Pilon following his graduate research at the University of Guelph.
The way the eat-stop-eat fasting schedule works is very simple: you stay away from food for two non-consecutive days, then eat responsibly the other five days. As an example, you can have your last meal of the day at 7 PM on a Monday, then fast until 7 PM the next day (Tuesday). The next fasting day could be two or three days later within the same week.
Pilon says it’s okay to break the fast after 20 hours, especially for beginners who can’t keep going till the 24th hour. However, he advises against having more than two fasting days per week.
There’s no limitation on the number of meals or what you can have during your eating days. But Pilon emphasizes that you have to keep your calorie intake in check.
This fasting method works by giving your body more time to deplete glycogen stores and tap on the fat stores for energy. You can also expect all other benefits of intermittent fasting, including reduced insulin and blood sugar levels, increased human growth hormones, and improved mental clarity.
Research results on the benefits of intermittent fasting are promising. Whether focused on a healthy heart or shedding off some pounds, the first step is identifying an intermittent fasting method that aligns with your routine and personality.
It would be best if you also involved your primary doctor before trying any intermittent fasting method. This is particularly important if you have an illness or eating disorder that makes a full fast dangerous.