For most people, a 16:8 fasting plan is one of the easiest intermittent fasting schedules to adopt. It doesn’t ask you to count calories on fasting days, as the 5:2 plan does. You don’t need iron self-control, as you do with alternate-day or OMAD (One Meal A Day) schedules. In fact, it can be as simple as eating breakfast a little later and dinner a little earlier.
Here’s what you need to know about adopting a 16:8 intermittent fasting eating plan.
What Is 16:8 Fasting?
“16:8” is the number of hours you fast compared to the number of hours during which you’re allowed to eat. So with 16:8, you eat nothing for 16 hours, then fit all of your daily eating into an 8-hour window.
This may sound like an incredibly long time to go without eating. But when you stop and think about it, most of us are — or at least we should be — sleeping for 8 hours out of 24 anyway. That’s half your fast time already taken care of.
Add to that the time before you eat breakfast — say an hour — and the time after dinner when you’re not eating and, depending on how late you eat dinner and how early you go to bed (and whether you’re prone to late-night snacking!) it adds up to another two to four hours. Altogether, that’s roughly 11 to 13 hours already spent fasting. So if you’re intrigued by the idea of intermittent fasting but put off by the numbers, 16:8 may be easier than you think.
Do I Have to Skip Breakfast?
You may have heard or read that a 16:8 plan means you can’t eat breakfast. The truth is that when it comes to intermittent fasting, a 16:8 schedule is extremely flexible — and simple. As long as you’re only eating for eight consecutive hours of the day, you can set your fasting period to whatever time suits you best.
That might mean skipping breakfast — if that’s comfortable for you. It might mean skipping dinner instead. Or it might simply mean eating breakfast an hour or two later and eating dinner an hour earlier. The important thing is that you have 16 consecutive hours during which you’re not eating, and drinking only calorie-free beverages such as water or unsweetened tea or coffee.
Many people do find that the most comfortable way to ease into daily intermittent fasting on a 16:8 schedule is to simply skip eating breakfast. Instead, they break their fast at lunch. This means that you eat your first meal (or snack) of the day around 11 a.m. or noon, and stop eating by 7 or 8 p.m. However, this is certainly not set in stone and if you’re a diehard breakfast-eater this type of schedule may leave you excessively hungry and cranky, and make you more likely to overeat during your eating window.
So if you’re someone who simply can’t live without breakfast, don’t deprive yourself. Just make sure that your eating window closes on time; that is, eight hours after you first break your fast. If lunch is the high point of your day, put breakfast on the back burner. And if you tend to eat late dinners or you simply can’t resist those late-night snacks, then you may want to start your day with a late lunch so you can leave your eating window open late too. The best 16:8 schedule is the one that works for you, and the one that you’ll actually stick to in the long term.
Planning a 16:8 Fasting Schedule
So what 16:8 fasting schedule will suit you best? It goes without saying that your fasting period should include the time you spend sleeping.
Outside of that, ask yourself a few questions, such as:
- Which meal is most important to me?
- What happens/how do I feel if I miss this meal, or if it’s very late or very early?
- During what part of the day do I feel hungriest?
Try to schedule your fasting period so that it covers the parts of the day when you tend to be less hungry and least likely to eat; otherwise you may be tempted to break your fast too early or to overeat during your eating window.
Once you’ve identified the most important part of the day for your eating window to cover, pick set times for that window to open and close. For instance, if you’re skipping breakfast (or eating a late breakfast and early dinner), you might set your eating window from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. And if breakfast is the most important meal of your day, you might choose to eat from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
If it works for you, whatever the time frame is, great; pick a start and end time and stick to that schedule. Your body loves routine, and having a set schedule and consistent eating window will make sticking to your fasting plan that much easier.
What Should You Eat on a 16:8 Intermittent Fasting Plan?
There are no rules about what you can and can’t eat on an intermittent fasting plan; IF works with any diet or with none at all. That said, if, like most people, you’re adopting intermittent fasting for health reasons — and particularly if you’re fasting for weight loss — then being mindful of what you are eating during your eating window is important. Sticking to the standard American diet of hyper-processed foods is not the best option and probably isn’t going to achieve the health benefits you’re looking for.
To get the most out of intermittent fasting, make nutrition a cornerstone of your plan. In other words, prioritize unprocessed foods, focus on vegetables, quality protein, and healthy fats, and leave the processed junk for an occasional indulgence.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting on a 16:8 Schedule
While the jury is still out on some of the broader health claims, there’s no denying that 16:8 fasting packs some serious health benefits. These include:
- Improved insulin sensitivity
- Lower blood pressure
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Lower risk of type 2 diabetes
- Improved brain health
- Weight loss (particularly fat loss)
Intermittent fasting may also reduce the likelihood of some types of cancer, and some animal studies suggest it may even help us live longer. However, intermittent fasting isn’t for everyone, and though the benefits are unquestionable, there are also possible negative side effects.
What to Watch Out for With a 16:8 Fasting Schedule
While there are certain groups of people who simply should not attempt intermittent fasting (pregnant or breastfeeding women, type 1 diabetics, and people with a history of eating disorders, for example), most people can practice a 16:8 schedule with few to no ill effects.
The most common issues people report include:
- Weight gain. This is usually due to overeating during your eating window, and can be avoided by carefully planning your fasting and eating times to avoid leaving yourself overly hungry during fast periods. Being mindful of what and how much you’re eating during your eating window is also important.
- Hunger. Some people, especially during the initial days of their fasting practice, do find themselves excessively hungry. Again, thoughtfully scheduling your fasting and eating times can help combat this, as can drinking plenty of fluids, finding ways to distract yourself, and even meditation.
- Feeling cold. This is less of a problem with 16:8 fasting than with more restrictive schedules such as 5:2 or OMAD. If you do find yourself feeling cold, bundling up is probably the best option. This effect tends to disappear as your body adapts to your new fasting schedule.
- Mild dehydration. Make sure to drink plenty of liquids during your fasting period — just be sure that they are plain, non-caloric beverages such as unsweetened tea or water.
And finally, some women may have a negative physiological response to fasting periods lasting longer than 12-14 hours. If you’re female, ease into 16:8 fasting rather than diving in head-first; start with a 12-hour fast and slowly work your way up to 16 over a period of weeks.
The takeaway: If you’re keen to try intermittent fasting, the 16:8 plan may be the ideal plan to get you started. It’s simple, it’s flexible, and you can schedule your eating window to include the time that suits your individual body best. And the easiest way is to do it with our intermittent fasting app!
To learn about other protocols please refer to our complete guide to Intermittent Fasting Plans.