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Home arrow Nutrition arrow Intermittent Fasting arrow Intermittent Fasting 101 – A Beginner’s Guide (2024 Edition)

Intermittent Fasting 101 – A Beginner’s Guide (2024 Edition)

Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: January 3, 2024
15 min read 1906 Views 0 Comments
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Intermittent fasting is a popular weight-loss method in the fitness industry, but how does it work? Are the benefits great for your long-term health? It’s important to understand the rules of fasting, and we’re here to guide you through it all.

Intermittent fasting

There are many different ways to lose weight, including intermittent fasting. You can choose what times to eat, rather than what you eat on a diet.

People choose their own eating patterns and monitor meal times throughout the day. This is  believed to not only enhance the fat-burning process but to resolve digestion issues. You can fast from anywhere between 16 hours and 20 hours, depending on your fitness goals. 

Most beginners wonder: what does “fasting” actually mean? Is it a healthy way of losing weight? Learning about the rules and benefits is important before you start.

In our beginner’s guide, you’ll discover what intermittent fasting is and how it works.

What Is Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent fasting (IF) is an eating pattern that switches between fasting and eating periods. You can choose what schedule works best for your daily routine. This weight-loss method isn’t focused on the diet but on what times you eat during the day.

Many people choose intermittent fasting to strengthen their immunity and metabolism. In your fasting windows, the body begins to burn stubborn fat for a reliable energy source. This should help you drop some weight over a few weeks and prevent habitual snacking late at night.

A popular schedule is the time-restricted eating pattern. You might eat from 11 AM to 7 PM and fast outside of those hours. Fasting means you can’t consume anything except water and plain coffee or tea. Your body needs to stay in that fat-burning state before you eat again.

For beginners, it’s easy to make the mistake of unhealthy eating. Your diet still plays a big role during intermittent fasting, especially if you’re performing intense workouts. The more calories you burn, the more likely you’ll need that extra energy to function properly.

Eating nutritious foods and fasting can speed up weight loss progress. Choose to consume high-protein and high-fiber meals that will fill you up after eating periods. The body will burn fat at a sustainable pace once it has enough nutrition to feed your metabolism

Does Intermittent Fasting Work?

Yes, intermittent fasting works by reducing body fat. Your body has already burned through calories from the last meal and needs energy from fat storage. Not eating for a certain amount of time in the morning or evening can also lower blood pressure levels.  

Everyone’s weight loss journey looks different and might take extra time. Intermittent fasting may not benefit some people either, so it’s always worth trying before you properly commit. Just remember that those who are overweight typically burn fat quickly during the first few weeks.

Studies found that people lost 7-11 pounds over 11 weeks of intermittent fasting. This was paired with a healthy diet full of nutritional foods. You should aim to get enough protein, fiber, and unsaturated fats that keep your hunger levels satisfied outside of eating windows.

Is Intermittent Fasting Healthy?

Intermittent fasting is healthy for those looking to lose weight. It also has many health benefits that strengthen your heart and reduce inflammation. You should try this eating pattern to support future weight loss progress and feel healthier in the long term. 

Not eating for a certain number of hours might sound challenging, but it actually improves your overall health. The metabolism is encouraged to burn calories consumed and eliminate unwanted hard fat. Your first fat reduction will come from substances surrounding the primary organs. 

Fasting doesn’t require you to cut out foods completely during the day. You’re still eating plenty of nutritious meals within an 8-hour window. It’s important to note that achieving your daily calorie intake is required for weight loss; otherwise, you might go into starvation mode

4 Types of Fasting

There are a few types of intermittent fasting methods you can do for weight loss. You should choose one that suits your daily routine, eating habits, fitness goals, and preferences. 

Here are four popular fasting schedules:

#1 Time-restricted eating 

Time-restricted eating is probably the most well-known meal schedule. People may opt for the 16:8, 18:6, or 20:4 method that determines what time they eat and fast. 

The 16:8 involves fasting for 16 hours and eating for the remaining 8 hours of the day. Beginners might enjoy this schedule more since it won’t leave them hungry straight away. Some great eating windows are 10 AM–6 PM, 11 AM–7 PM, and 12 PM–8 PM. 

You can try the 18:6 regimen if you want more of a challenge. It follows the same pattern, except you’ll be fasting for 18 hours and only eating for 6. More advanced fasters usually go for the 20:4 schedule when they want to lose extra weight or understand their hunger limits.

#2 Alternate-day fasting

Alternate-day fasting means you can choose what days to fast throughout the week. You might do intermittent fasting on Monday, eat normally again on Tuesday, and then fast the next day.

People usually consume only 500 calories on fasting days to speed up their progress. However, try to eat more if you’re new to these eating patterns. Going 24 hours without any food can trigger physical symptoms like headaches, nausea, exhaustion, and severe hunger pangs.

#3 Eat Stop Eat 

Beginners might not feel comfortable doing the Eat Stop Eat method first. 

This eating pattern requires 24-hour fasting periods once or twice per week. You can’t eat anything for the whole day and can only consume drinks like plain coffee, water, and unsweetened tea. The other non-fasting days don’t have any limitations for food consumption.

You should never follow this schedule more than twice in the space of 7 days. Only complete the 24-hour fast when your body has adjusted to other intermittent fasting methods.

#4 The twice-a-week method 

The 5:2 method (also called “twice a week”) involves eating normally for 5 days and then restricting your calories to 500-600 for the other 2 days. Women need 500 calories, and men usually require 600. You should always space out those separate fasting days during the week.

It’s super important that you plan what days you’re going to fast intermittently and the meals you might have. Try to eat plenty of protein-rich foods that keep you satisfied throughout the rest of the day. Some great foods are eggs, lean meat, yogurt, oatmeal, chicken, and salmon. You may also include nutritious dishes from different cuisines, like carne asada.

Intermittent Fasting Benefits

Fasting has plenty of health benefits besides helping your body burn fat. Intermittent fasting schedules are a great way of strengthening both the heart and digestive functions. 

Let’s take a closer look at the six benefits of intermittent fasting:

#1 Lowers insulin levels

Switching between fasting and eating periods can reduce blood sugar levels and insulin resistance. This is due to the lack of carbohydrates you eat before breaking the fast. Not consuming many carbs throughout the day stops the body from storing more unwanted fat. 

Following a specific low-carb diet, like the ketogenic diet, is a great way of limiting insulin levels. Certain types of carbohydrates can also increase your blood sugar and lead to potential weight gain. These carbs include foods like bread, pasta, rice, milk, white potatoes, and sweetcorn. 

#2 Improves cholesterol

Intermittent fasting methods are believed to improve high cholesterol levels by decreasing low-density lipoprotein (LDL). This “bad” cholesterol stops your body from metabolizing sugar properly. Too much LDL increases the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. 

During fasting periods, you’re not consuming foods high in saturated fats. Limiting the amount of fat you eat may hugely benefit future weight loss progress. Products like processed meat, full-fat yogurt, deep-fried takeaway, cookies, cakes, and cheese may trigger high cholesterol. 

#3 Helps to reduce inflammation

A fasting diet can reduce intestinal inflammation by increasing the amount of beneficial gut microbiota. Healthy bacteria are essential for digesting foods and absorbing nutrients. The less oxidative stress in your cells, the more likely you’ll feel energized throughout the day. 

Intermittent fasting may also help those who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – a condition that triggers chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. Time-restricted eating might reduce symptoms like stomach pain, diarrhea, fatigue, and poor appetite. 

#4 Supports weight loss

Weight loss is one of the main health benefits of intermittent fasting. Restricting calories and only eating healthy foods can encourage the body to burn fat. The fasting period is supposed to put your body into a “ketosis-like” state that uses fat for energy instead of glucose or carbs. 

Some people skip breakfast during their fast, but this might not benefit your progress. Avoiding certain meals can actually hinder weight loss altogether. If you’re starting later in the day, eat more food during lunch and make sure you’re reaching the required daily calories. 

You can also pair intermittent fasting with cardio-based exercise. This should help you notice more physical results. Aim to burn around 300-500 calories per session to lose that stubborn body fat. Cardiovascular exercise is necessary to ensure your heart is strong and healthy.

#5 Beneficial for the heart

Intermittent fasting may reduce the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. This is due to the reduction of blood pressure, cholesterol, insulin, and blood sugar levels. A fasting diet usually enhances NOTCH1 – a key protein that controls inflammation and protects the heart. 

Controlling inflammation in your body can stop damage to blood vessels surrounding the heart. Fasting is one way to minimize the risk of future heart attacks and strokes. Looking after your heart health may increase life expectancy up to 14 years for women and 12 years for men. 

#6 Helps digestion

Just a few hours of intermittent fasting can help your digestive system. The migrating motor complex will eliminate any indigestible foods before the first large meal. Allowing enough time between your fast and eating window may prevent problems like constipation and gut pain. 

Fasting reduces gut permeability – a process that refers to how easily contents or substances leak into the intestinal wall. The looser your wall becomes, the more likely toxins can infect your bloodstream. Research suggests intermittent fasting strengthens those protective barriers.

Side Effects of Fasting

A continuous calorie restriction is bound to have side effects. You’re suddenly going from a normal eating pattern to extended periods of no food consumption. Speak to a doctor before you fast intermittently, as they can detail the risks for certain health conditions.

Below, you’ll find three common side effects:

#1 Might promote eating disorders

Cutting out food for a certain amount of time might not be good for people who have a history of eating disorders. It might be tempting not to eat for the whole day or go overboard with 24-hour fasts. You should stick to a traditional calorie deficit to avoid triggering an eating disorder again. 

Always talk to wellness professionals if you really want to try intermittent fasting for weight loss purposes. Someone can guide you through the fasting process and monitor your eating behaviors. It’s always better to have that extra guidance when trying a new dietary routine. 

#2 Possible malnutrition

Intermittent fasting can lead to malnutrition if you don’t follow it properly. Restrictive diets usually lack important nutrients like protein, fiber, and healthy fats. You might experience symptoms like exhaustion, weak muscles, poor concentration, reduced appetite, and depressive episodes.

Malnutrition will damage your long-term health and may even lead to memory loss. To avoid this condition, eat plenty of nutrients during eating windows. Your intermittent fasting diet should never fall below 1,500 calories, as this won’t be enough to fill meals with high-density foods. 

#3 Hunger pangs

Feeling hungry is never a comfortable feeling on a diet. Beginners might experience intense cravings when they first start fasting. This is completely normal since your body needs to adjust. Try to follow the 16:8 method and build your way up from there. 

During your eating windows, consume plenty of protein-rich foods to fill you up. Protein is great for preventing snacking or binge eating throughout the day. Eggs, chicken, lean beef, salmon, cottage cheese, and peanut butter are nutritious options for your fat-loss meals.

How to Fast Intermittently

A beginner should ideally try the alternate-day fasting plan before fully committing. 

You can choose what days to restrict calories. For example, it may be easy to eat normally for 3 or 4 days a week and then fast on the remaining days. Fasting is all about finding what works best for your routine. Don’t ever feel pressured to dive straight into extended fasting periods. There are many intermittent fasting apps out there that can help you through your journey.

Once you’ve chosen a relevant schedule, plan your meals around eating windows. If you want to fast for 16 hours and eat for 8, determine when to eat breakfast. Timing is super important for spacing out your meals and allowing the body to burn fat stores for energy. 

Breaking a fast is essential for preventing constipation issues. Avoid foods high in carbohydrates or saturated fats. Instead, eat smoothies, soups, dried fruits, eggs, steel-cut oats, sweet potatoes, bone broth, or spinach to ease your stomach back into a normal diet.

Can You Eat Anything While Fasting Intermittently?

No, intermittent fasting typically means you can’t consume any food or beverages that have calories. You should refrain from eating until the fasting period has ended. Plain drinks like water, unsweetened tea, and black coffee are great while fasting.

Breaking those fasting periods may disrupt any fat loss progress. Your body will begin to burn calories instead of fat. If you feel hungry, drink lots of water to increase satiety. Water is very important  when you’re trying to lose weight and stop unhealthy snacking. 

However, you can eat what you want during the eating window. Intermittent fasting only focuses on what time you have meals rather than your diet. To burn enough body fat, avoid processed foods and only eat nutritious products that keep you full throughout the day.

Who Should Avoid Fasting

There are certain groups of people who should avoid intermittent fasting. People who take medications for diabetes or blood sugar regulations need to seek medical advice before trying.

Let’s take a look at who should avoid fasting:

Pregnant or breastfeeding women: Those who are pregnant need more nutrients to support the pregnancy and growth of the baby. Fasting might not be a good idea due to the extended non-eating windows. The same goes for women who breastfeed and need plenty of energy. 

Children: Younger adults and children should avoid fasting, as they need minerals and vitamins for brain development. Not getting the right amount of nutrients could lead to malnutrition. Children also grow up strong and healthy from eating high-density foods and beverages. 

History of eating disorders: People who’ve experienced eating disorders should avoid fasting methods. Not eating for a long length of time might encourage starvation thoughts. Always talk to a doctor if you want to try intermittent fasting but are worried about disordered eating. 

Low blood pressure: Fasting especially lowers blood pressure levels, which might negatively affect those with hypotension. This could make you experience headaches, nausea, fainting episodes, dehydration, blurred vision, clammy skin, and lack of concentration. 


What does fasting mean?

Fasting is the chosen refrainment from any type of food and drink containing calories. You can only have zero-calorie beverages like water, coffee, and unsweetened tea. People choose to fast two or more days a week to notice both mental and physical changes.

Does fasting help to lose weight?

Yes, intermittent fasting can help you lose some weight. Extended fasting periods encourage your body to burn unwanted fat. You’re also limiting food consumption, which leads to a calorie deficit. The fewer foods you eat, the more likely your body will use hard fat for energy.

How should you fast to lose weight?

You should choose a fast that works for your body weight goals and preferences. Start with the 16:8 method to see how much weight you might lose over a few weeks. Beginners usually need to adjust to their new fasting routine before any physical changes start to happen.

When does the body start burning fat during fasting?

The body begins to burn fat approximately 12 hours after fasting periods. It can burn even more once you complete at least 24 hours. People usually pair intermittent fasting methods with a low-calorie diet and high-intensity cardio training to see further physical results.

How long should you fast?

Each fasting method depends on your eating habits and goals. A 24-hour fast might not be suitable for beginners or people with insulin sensitivity. You can start by only eating in an 8-hour window and slowly reduce that time frame once you feel comfortable with fasting.

Can you drink water during intermittent fasting?

Yes, you can drink lots of water during non-eating periods. Water is super important for increasing fullness and preventing snacking. If you don’t drink enough fluids, you might suffer dehydration symptoms like headaches, dry mouth, intense thirst, and dark urine.

What can I drink during the fast?

The main drinks for intermittent fasting are black coffee, unsweetened tea, and water. Other drinks may contain sugars and milk that disrupt the fat-burning process. Some people might add lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to the water, as this enhances the plain flavor.

Can I take vitamins while fasting?

You can still take vitamins and supplements during your fasting window. However, if they upset an empty stomach, consume them with meals once the eating period has begun. Experiment with a fasting routine that works for you and your dietary needs and preferences.

Is fat fast the same as intermittent fasting?

No, it’s not the same thing as fat fast focuses on eating high-fat, low-carb foods.

A Word From Our Nutritionist

Intermittent fasting might not work for everyone, but it’s a great way of losing some weight and giving you better health. You can learn to consume foods later in the day or even have breakfast when you eat lunch. There’s nothing with experimenting on a fat reduction journey.

Overweight adults usually try fasting methods to burn stubborn fat at a sustainable pace. They can reduce their body fat percentage while still preserving muscle mass. Human studies have proved that fasting works to reduce chronic diseases in those with a greater body mass index.

You should try intermittent fasting if you want to lose a few pounds. It only requires a different eating pattern that strengthens your metabolism. A stronger metabolism means you’ll burn more calories throughout the day, even when you’re sleeping, breathing, and simply resting.

Always talk to a doctor before doing extended fasts. They can determine if intermittent fasting is suitable for certain medical conditions. Pregnant women, those with past disordered eating, and people with high blood sugar regulations should avoid any type of dietary fast.


Intermittent fasting is a simple eating pattern that cycles between periods of no eating and strict eating windows. You can choose what fasting method works for your daily routine and preferences. Beginners should always start with the easiest schedule to get comfortable. 

This particular fat loss method might not appeal to everyone, but it has many amazing benefits. From a stronger heart to reduced inflammation, you’re bound to feel healthier. Make sure to always seek medical help if you’re not sure how or when to start fasting.

Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
Edibel Quintero is a medical doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in her profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and post-operative rehabilitation. Edibel’s goal is to help people live healthier lives by educating them about food, exercise, mental wellness and other lifestyle choices that can improve their quality of life.
The article was fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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Written by Edibel Quintero, RD
Fact checked by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Last update: January 3, 2024
15 min read 1906 Views 0 Comments

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