Intermittent fasting (IF) is often touted as the magic-bullet fix for all sorts of things.
Want to lose weight? Try intermittent fasting. Worried about pre-diabetes? Try intermittent fasting. Desperate to stop snacking on junk in the evening? Try intermittent fasting.
It sure sounds like it’d fix up some of the issues you’re struggling with.
It appeals because it’s not a diet (and crikey knows you’ve had enough of those to last a lifetime).
It feels like it’d help you cut some calories without all the tedium and effort of calorie counting, as well as curb some janky eating habits, like late night cookie jar raids and all-evening grazing.
And you don’t mind the thought of fasting—actually it sounds quite pleasant, this idea of giving your belly a break for short periods of time.
So here you are, reading about intermittent fasting for beginners.
It’s not a magic bullet. But it could help you achieve your goals.
Let’s walk through it together.
- There are several intermittent fasting approaches you could try.
- You can tailor your IF approach to fit your life.
- Intermittent fasting can help you lose weight and improve your health.
- You don’t have to change what you eat, just when you eat.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is super SIMPLE:
It’s eating, then fasting, repeated.
The specific eat-fast-repeat routine you follow might be daily or weekly, and each IF method has positives and drawbacks, but the fundamental intermittent fasting-ness of each one is the same:
For a regular period of time, you take a break from eating.
How does intermittent fasting work?
You’re probably curious about what that “break from eating” actually does. Let’s break it down.
Picture the scene.
You just finished your lunch.
As you get on with your afternoon, your body gets busy digesting and absorbing food.
It calls on insulin to help—because insulin is a hormone that shuttles nutrients where they need to go, like into your muscle and fat cells—and over the next 3-5 hours, your body turns your lunch into useful body stuff, like energy and fat and muscle and brain power.
What’s not happening here is fat burning.
After that, your body enters the post-absorptive state—your internal version of flopping on the couch in front of the fire for a post-prandial nap—where it’ll stay for 8-12 hours after you ate.
After this stage, insulin levels drop and you enter a fasted state. Now your body has the conditions it needs to burn fat.
Right now, you probably never go 12 hours without eating.
Understandably so: Food is everywhere. We are conditioned to eat at the merest prickle of hunger. And food is sometimes the only thing that brings a speck of joy into an otherwise dreary day.
By following an intermittent fasting plan, we can trigger this rare but natural fat-burning phase in a SIMPLE, straightforward way.
Intermittent fasting – how to get started
Beginning an intermittent fasting plan doesn’t need to be daunting. Just a few SIMPLE things can make starting out a real smooth ride.
Find your deeper motivation
Say you start IF today. Imagine yourself a few months down the line.
What has improved in your life?
- Are you more comfortable in your body?
- Are you rocking that outfit you’ve always felt too self-conscious to wear?
- Are you standing taller, with a sense of confidence and pride?
- Are you moving better, your joints feeling less clunky?
- Do you have energy for days?
- Do you feel settled and easy in how you’re eating?
Tap into that vision. Add color and clarity to it. Write it out, draw a picture, make a collage—do it anyhow you like.
A strong, vivid goal is a real ally, especially on the tougher days.
Build your IF team
Speaking of allies, at SIMPLE we’re always in your corner.
We’re super experienced at intermittent fasting (and have a real soft spot for beginners).
Get started with our quiz and we’ll walk the IF path with you, bringing ideas to inspire you, encouragement for the rough days, and support when you get stuck.
The early intermittent fasting phase can be a little rocky. Being prepared makes so much difference to whether you calmly ride out that stage with composure, or whether it reduces you to a flailing mess.
Here are the things to be ready for. In the first two weeks of your intermittent fasting plan, you will most likely feel:
- a grumpy belly
At times you may even feel like this IF thing is too hard, but hang in there. These feelings will pass, and there are things you can do to help yourself through them.
Choose your intermittent fasting plan
As a beginner, you’re free to play around with various intermittent fasting schedules to find the one you like best.
Let’s look at how each one works.
Intermittent fasting 16/8
On a 16/8 fasting schedule, you alternate between 16 hours of fasting and an 8-hour eating window.
This method simply extends the timeframe of the natural daily fast that happens when you’re sleeping. You don’t need to count calories, and you can set up the 8-hour eating window any way you want (yes, you can eat breakfast, and let nobody tell you otherwise!).
The warrior diet
The warrior diet is a 20-hour fast, followed by a 4-hour eating window.
You’ve probably done it once or twice by accident in your life, like that time you went to your friend’s wedding and the food didn’t show up for hours (even the balloons were looking delicious at that point).
But as a daily approach? Whether you could eat enough in that 4 hour window to satisfy all your nutritional needs is questionable. We’re not gonna lie; it’s a tough intermittent fasting schedule to start with for beginners.
The 5:2 diet
The 5:2 diet is a fasting plan where you eat as you usually would 5 days per week and eat just 500/600 calories on the other 2.
For some people, it’s easier to restrict calories on just two days per week, compared to a daily fasting schedule like 16/8. But for others, a whole day with only 500/600 calories to bolster them causes too much hunger, fatigue, and stress.
Eat Stop Eat
Eat Stop Eat means eating as you normally would on day 1, then fasting until dinner on day 2. You’d eat at least one full meal every day (and that meal is your choice).
A 24 hour fast is a hefty undertaking, and at SIMPLE, we tend not to recommend it. It can make it pretty challenging to meet all your nutritional needs which, over time, could add up to some serious nutrient deficiencies.
Alternate day fasting
Alternate day fasting is similar to 5:2 but somewhat more intense: You fast every other day, and, on those fasting days, you eat 500/600 calories. This alternating pattern makes for three or four fasting days each week.
That’s a lot of fasting, huh! Because of that, this might not be the ideal fasting approach for beginners. If this weekly on/off style appeals to you, 5:2 would be a good starting place.
Water fasting entails going 24-72 hours drinking only water and going completely without food.
It’s an approach we don’t recommend here at SIMPLE unless you’re going to do it with medical supervision.
So, let’s strike water fasting from our list of options.
Intermittent fasting and weight loss
If you’re keen to try intermittent fasting as a weight loss plan, you understandably want to know if it delivers! The evidence is fairly compelling at this point:
Intermittent fasting can help you lose weight.
An intermittent fasting plan can help you reshape your body too. It’s been shown to preserve muscle mass better than traditional calorie-restricted diets, and to reduce waist circumference (and therefore belly fat), by around 4–7%.
We’ll be up front with you here, IF’s weight loss results are on a par with regular calorie-controlled diets. But, if you’ve tried that method till the cows come home yet never found it to work that well for you, IF could be worth a punt.
The science also shows us how intermittent fasting generates such steady effects on weight and fat loss, by:
- helping you control your appetite
- causing a natural reduction in calorie intake
- changing hormone levels that support weight loss and fat burning, like lowered insulin, increased growth hormone levels, and increased norepinephrine
When you’re following a fasting plan, you are burning more calories and eating less calories, and there are natural built-in mechanisms to the fasting process that support you to do this well.
Intermittent fasting isn’t really a diet plan, but if it was one, it’d be the diet that lends your body a hand and says “Hey, let me help you out here!”.
Intermittent fasting results
Sarah, for instance, told us this:
“I’m on day ten of my SIMPLE membership, and I’ve already lost 5 pounds! This is something I am very excited about.”
Melina had this to say:
”Started intermittent fasting 6 months ago & am down 23 lbs!!
Nandita saw some great results also over a 6 month period:
“6 months and down 8 kg! This is my lifestyle now! Love the app!”
Sebastiano is 8 months in and still making awesome progress:
“8 month [on] 16-8. Lost 10kg. Blood exams are perfect. Still losing weight, slowly but all over the body. I didn’t lose muscle.“
What could you achieve?
The benefits of intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting does more than just help us burn fat and drop pounds. As a health improver, it’s got chops.
Lower risk of type 2 diabetes
Inflammation builds up in our bodies, and can lead to many chronic health conditions, like high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease. According to some studies, IF can reduce inflammation.
A healthier heart
By lowering things like LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, inflammation, blood sugar, and insulin resistance, intermittent fasting supports our heart health.
A smarter, stronger brain
Even your brain benefits—some studies show that IF helps promote neuroplasticity and makes the brain hardier to injury and disease.
More mindful eating
How easy is it to graze all evening and eat a bunch of food you don’t need and didn’t really want?
One of the best things about IF is how it helps to bring more conscious awareness to your eating, and to your food choices.
Even if the only change you make is to stop and start fasting when you’ve decided to, that’s a real, quality investment in how you approach your nutrition.
And, by the SIMPLE act of paying attention like this, your food choices will often improve naturally.
The risks of intermittent fasting
Alongside all its health-improvement credentials, there are also some risks to intermittent fasting.
The first two weeks
As we mentioned earlier, that initial phase can be a real kicker.
You’ll likely feel colder, hungrier, grouchier, and more tired than usual.
Plan for that and put some things in place to preserve your wellbeing (and that of your close relationships).
The effect of intermittent fasting on men and women differs in some quite critical ways.
Due to how intermittent fasting and hormones interact, women can be more sensitive to it. Female bodies tend to guard energy a little more fiercely, and protect themselves against shifts in energy balance. If this affects you, start out with shorter fasts—we recommend 12 hours—and work up to longer fasts if your body feels happy and supported.
Regardless of gender, approach your intermittent fasting schedule with a good dollop of care for your body.
Overeating “snaccidents” may occur
It’s really easy, especially as a beginner following an intermittent fasting schedule, to swing out of a fasting period straight into an “eating everything you can lay your hands on” period. Darn hunger can get you like that!
When you’re just starting, no doubt you’ll make some rookie intermittent fasting mistakes, and this will likely be one of them. It happens! Chalk it up to experience and try again.
Is intermittent fasting safe?
Intermittent fasting is safe but it’s not safe for everybody. Some people should give all intermittent fasting plans a wide berth. Steer clear of intermittent fasting unless you have your doctor’s permission, if you:
- have a Body Mass Index (BMI) in the “underweight” category
- are pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to conceive
- have (or are at risk of having) an eating disorder, or have a history of one
- have high daily physical activity demands
- are under 18 yrs old
- have diabetes or a thyroid condition
- take medications (especially those which affect blood glucose or blood pressure levels)
- have anemia
5 tips for success with intermittent fasting
- Make your fasting schedule work for you
The plan that works best is the plan that works for you, so set your fasts up in a way that fits your life.
If you want more food-free time in the evenings, schedule your fasting for after dinner. But if evening is a time you regularly socialize with your friends and you don’t want to crash that vibe, fast later or less often (like 5:2).
Your fast, your choice.
- Remember hunger won’t last forever
Yes, hunger will show up at times, but it doesn’t have to derail you. There are ways to hack hunger while fasting, so experiment with things that distract and engage your mind and body, so that hunger fades into the background.
- Drink enough water
One hunger-hacking action: drinking enough water. It can help you feel full, unfog your brain, and keep you hydrated (which, when you’re eating less, matters more).
- Enlist some support
Don’t go it alone. Lifestyle changes take effort, and when you effort, you need back up!
Talk to whoever’s on your support team about your fasting plans and ask them to help you stick with it. Even if it’s just someone to chat with on a low-mojo day, having a friend on the journey can make a real difference. (And remember, you’ve always got a friend in us.)
- Don’t worry about intermittent fasting meal plans
A solid fasting diet for beginners is SIMPLE:
Just eat as you normally do.
Intermittent fasting doesn’t require any elaborate diet plans. You don’t have to make any more changes to your diet than the addition of a regular fast to your day or week.
But, if you want to, we can help! Use our SIMPLE app to track your food and we’ll make meal planning easy by suggesting some food choices that will give your fasting results an extra edge. Get started by taking our SIMPLE quiz.
The best intermittent fasting plan for you
Now you’re at the end of our beginner’s guide to intermittent fasting, let’s draw some conclusions.
Is intermittent fasting right for you?
If you’re not on this list, and it hits your goals square on the nose, then it’s a safe and smart move to test IF out. From there, it’s a question of how you feel about fasting itself. Our suggestion here:
Don’t think too much about it. Try it instead.
Fasting often feels far more daunting in the thinking than it does in the doing. More often than not, people find it much easier than they expect!
Which intermittent fasting plans work best for beginners?
Truly, they can all work, for beginners and experienced fasters alike.
The way to determine which fasting schedule is right for you is to think about what would suit your lifestyle best.
- Do you like the idea of fasting every day on a time-restricted fasting plan?
- Would you prefer to fast 2-4 times a week, like with 5:2 or ADF?
- What would work best with your family life?
- How about your social and work commitments?
- What feels most SIMPLE and doable?
Put those questions into the hopper and see which plan spits out!
Then, give it a whirl and find out how it helps you bring to life your vision of who you want to become.
Simple’s expert opinion and final thoughts
The team here at SIMPLE all agree:
The best intermittent fasting plan for you is the plan you can stick to.
They can all benefit your body and mind.
If you’re ready to try it, we’d suggest you start off with a time-restricted eating plan—it’s SIMPLE, easy to get into a rhythm with, and a good way to test whether your lifestyle jives well with fasting.
Get started with our quiz and we’ll walk you through your first steps!
Frequently asked questions about intermittent fasting
How should a beginner start intermittent fasting?
If you’re a beginner, you should start intermittent fasting by:
- choosing a fasting plan
- being prepared for a bumpy first couple of weeks
- finding your deeper motivation
Then simply get started with your first fast!
Is it better to skip breakfast or dinner in intermittent fasting?
Yes. No. Either! Whether it’s better to skip breakfast or dinner in intermittent fasting is down to which meal you like eating most, and which you can skip easiest.
What can I drink while fasting?
You can drink coffee or tea (with no milk or sugar) or water while fasting. Herbal teas and lemon water are also fair game.
Check out our guide to what you can drink while fasting—it’s got all the details.
How many hours should you fast as a beginner?
We suggest either 12 or 14 hours as a good starting point for how many hours you should fast as a beginner. It’s a good place to dip your toe into the fasting waters and see how you like it.
What happens a week after intermittent fasting?
A week after intermittent fasting, you might feel hungry. Or, you might be feeling more on top of your hunger pangs.
You might feel irritable. Or, your energy might be on an upward swing.
You might have lost some weight. Or, your body might be taking a little longer to nestle into the groove.
For the real 101 on what happens to your body a week after intermittent fasting, try it out and see.
What should you not eat while intermittent fasting?
Anything with calories is on the “what should I not eat while intermittent fasting” list. Stick to black coffee, tea without milk or sugar, and water during your fasts.
Does sleeping count as fasting?
Sleeping does count as fasting, yes!
This is one of the reasons we love 16/8 and other time-restricted fasting approaches—not-eating is a natural state when you’re asleep. Lining up your sleep window with your fasting window means you don’t have to work so hard!