Intermittent fasting: A complete guide
Purabi Gunjal (she/her)

Purabi Gunjal (she/her)

Mar 23Nutrition

Intermittent fasting: A complete guide

Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that has gained popularity in recent times. It is a regular cycle that consists of specific periods of fasting and periods of eating. People adopt intermittent fasting when they wish to lose weight, become healthier and lead a simpler lifestyle.

Fasting has been a part of many cultures and religions for a long time. Intermittent fasting is nothing but a modern adaptation of this age-old tradition.

Intermittent fasting methods

There are various intermittent fasting methods that you can choose to follow:

What are the benefits of intermittent fasting?

  • Helps in weight loss : Intermittent fasting is a proven and effective method for losing weight. Due to having a restricted eating window, you automatically consume fewer meals and hence, lesser calories. This calorie deficit helps in losing weight. But, to reap these benefits, you have to consume healthy and nutritious meals. It does not work if you continue eating junk food during your eating period.
  • Simplifies lifestyle : Depending on your lifestyle and daily schedule, you can choose from the many intermittent fasting methods available. It helps you discipline your food plan and habits, thus simplifying your lifestyle.
  • Positive effect on our cells and hormones : During the fasting period, our body adjusts the hormone levels to utilise the excess fat stored in our body as an energy source and resulting in fat loss. Also, cellular repair in the body improves when you fast. It includes autophagy when the cells digest the dysfunctional components (old proteins) of the cells. There is a production of new and young cells. Genes related to protection against diseases and longevity, function better. The Human Growth Hormone increases 5 times, which benefits fat loss and muscle gain.
  • Improved insulin sensitivity : As you are not consuming any calories while fasting, the insulin levels in your body drop dramatically. It makes the existing body fat more accessible as an energy source for the functioning of the body.
  • Reduction in inflammation : Many studies have stated that fasting also reduces the inflammatory markers in our body. Hence, even the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, liver or kidney problems reduces. It also lowers the bad cholesterol (LDL) in the body.
  • Helps anti-ageing : Intermittent fasting is said to slow the ageing process as it improves cellular repair and longevity.


How can you reap the maximum benefits of intermittent fasting?

Eat well-balanced meals : Once you break your fast, you must have a well-balanced meal that provides all the necessary nutrients to your body. Make sure your first meal and all the other meals have the following nutrients:

  1. Fibre: Fibre helps in staying full for a longer time. It will also keep your blood sugar levels stable so that you do not feel hungry too soon. Sources of fibre include all fruits and vegetables.
  2. Protein: Our body takes time to break down protein, so your blood sugar levels will remain stable for a long time, providing satiety.
  3. Healthy fats: Similarly, healthy fats take longer to break down, keeping you full for more time. They also make your food tasty.

Avoid junk : Fasting does help in losing weight, provided you eat healthy meals during your eating period. The fast will not be beneficial for you if you do not monitor what you eat and instead consume a lot of junk food. You cannot get away from the ill-effects of refined carbohydrates and refined sugars even if you are practising intermittent fasting. Therefore planning healthy meals ahead of time will prevent you from consuming junk.

Exercise right before breaking your fast : Exercising during the fasting period will help you speed up your weight loss process. Remember to workout just before breaking your fast. If you don’t do that and keep fasting even after working out, you will end up losing a lot of muscle mass. Your recovery will get hampered due to that. Hence, the post-workout meal can be your first meal.

Who can do intermittent fasting?

Anyone can practice intermittent fasting. It is especially beneficial for people with hypothyroidism as they find it hard to lose weight. Intermittent fasting balances the hormones and is helpful for weight loss. However, there are some guidelines for who all should avoid doing it.

You should avoid intermittent fasting if you:

  • Are clinically underweight
  • Are a diabetic or taking anti-diabetic drugs
  • Have a history of eating disorders
  • Have low blood pressure
  • Are trying to conceive
  • Are breastfeeding your child
  • Are pregnant
  • Are a child

Is intermittent fasting beneficial for women? 

Studies suggest that intermittent fasting may not be as beneficial for women as it is for men. Women experience many hormonal changes throughout their cycle and need a consistent intake of good nutrition. Therefore, regularly restricting calories for an extended period can affect their period cycle.

Some side-effects are:

  • Amenorrhea - Absence of monthly menstrual periods
  • Irregular periods
  • Infertility - irregular or missed periods increase the chances of infertility

Hence, women should always consult their doctor before adapting to intermittent fasting. They should stick to a well-planned fasting plan recommended for their body.

What are the side-effects of intermittent fasting?

Any new lifestyle changes introduced to the body will take some getting used to it. Until that time, you will go through some difficulties.

  • Hunger: Generally, we all have the habit of eating throughout the day. When you start intermittent fasting and curb your eating time, it will naturally affect your body. In the initial stages, you will feel hungry as your body is not in the habit.
  • Low energy: You may also feel weak and experience lesser energy compared to before. Your performance may get affected due to this. However, it is only a matter of time, practice and perseverance before you fully adapt to the new eating routine.

FAQs on intermittent fasting

Can I eat or drink anything during the fasting period?

You cannot consume any calories during the fasting period. Hence, solid foods are a strict no. But you can opt for zero-calorie beverages such as water, plain black coffee and tea (without sweeteners), plain lemon water or infused water.

If I am following the 12:12/ 14:10/ 16:8 method, should I skip breakfast or dinner?

There are no set rules when it comes to intermittent fasting as everyone’s body requirements are different. Some people cannot function without breakfast; others cannot do without eating a proper dinner. Hence, you should follow whatever is convenient for you and plan your meals accordingly.

Will fasting slow down my metabolism?

Your body takes time to get used to every new change you introduce in your life. Thus, you may feel that your metabolism is slowing down because of fasting. But it is untrue. Once your body fully adapts to this method, it will be back to normal.

How can I manage hunger while fasting?

Start slow: If you have never practised fasting before, then you must progress gradually. Rather than starting with the 16:8 method directly, begin with the 12:12 intermittent fasting method. Once your body gets used to it, graduate to the 14:10 method and then to the 16:8 method.

Drink black coffee or tea: It slows down the digestion process, so you feel full for a longer time. But drink it without sugar or other sweeteners.

Drink lots of water: You will experience a feeling of fullness and reduce hunger if you drink lots of water.

What are the signs that one should stop this method?

When you start intermittent fasting, you might feel a little uncomfortable for the initial few days. But if it does not get better with time and you frequently experience any of the below-mentioned symptoms, you should stop it and consult your doctor:

  • Extremely low on energy
  • Constant headache
  • An extreme drop in blood sugar levels

How long does it take for intermittent fasting to show results?

It would take at least 3-4 weeks to show some results. Even though it is a slow process, it is still rewarding if followed seriously.

Should I stop intermittent fasting if I have lost weight?

Intermittent fasting is a lifestyle change. However, if you have reached your goals and choose to go back to your earlier eating habits, make sure you monitor your diet well. If you start eating more meals or unhealthy foods, you will gain all your weight back.

Should I consult the doctor before adopting intermittent fasting?

Yes. If you have any medical conditions or are deficient in some nutrients, then intermittent fasting may not be for you. Always take your doctor’s advice before introducing any new changes in your life.

Bottom Line

Intermittent fasting is a powerful tool with various benefits if you follow it diligently. A well-planned schedule can make your life simpler. But remember, if you eat unhealthy foods, it will not be beneficial for your body. Hence, eating healthy and nutritious food is the baseline for intermittent fasting.

Disclaimer: This information is educational and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor before making any dietary changes or adding supplements.

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