A Beginner’s Guide to Intermittent Fasting

You may have seen the term “intermittent fasting” across pop culture, medical journals, or even on the news as the trending “weight-loss tactic.” In fact, intermittent fasting (IF) was the most searched internet weight loss term of 2019. This sought-after “trend” involves eating one’s meals within an allotted period of time during the day, and abstaining from eating or drinking anything that isn’t water during one’s “fasting window.”

While intermittent fasting is in many cases very efficacious for weight loss when carried out properly, the benefits to one’s health that arise from fasting intermittently are more considerable than weight loss, including reductions in inflammation, better quality sleep, diabetes prevention, or even type II diabetes reversal.

How Do I Start?

It might be helpful to know that intermittent fasting (IF) is really just an extension of your daily eating habits! We all sleep at night, and wake up at some hour in the morning to “break our fast.” The least restrictive intermittent fasting window involves eating for 12 hours of the day and abstaining from eating during the other 12 hours of a 24 hour day. Luckily, the time that you spend sleeping counts towards your fast. This means if you were to begin eating breakfast at 8am, you’d simply have to finish your last meal of the day by 8pm, and abstain from eating until 8 am the next morning. This window of time-restricted feeding is referred to as the 12:12 method of IF. Simple enough, right? You might even be intermittently fasting without even knowing it!

While IF has risen in popularity in recent years, much research has shown that this is in fact the logical way for humans to eat and that our metabolisms are designed for daytime eating and nighttime sleep. In other words, our bodies aren’t designed to be consuming food at a window that extends past 12 hours. Some other popular IF styles include 14:10, (fasting for 14 hours and eating for 10 hrs), and 16:8, (fasting for 16 hours and eating for 8 hrs). A 16 hour fast might sound extreme, but if you were to eat breakfast at 10 am, and finish your last meal by 6 pm, you would have fasted for 16 hours between your dinner and your next breakfast at 10 am.

 Why Should I Fast?

As we know, humans are designed to not be eating all the time. While consuming enough nutritious, calorie-dense, whole foods that nourish us is critical in supporting our optimal health, our bodies need prolonged breaks from eating in order to undergo the cellular functions that can’t occur while we are expending energy trying to digest food.

 While we are fasting, our cells are able to undergo important processes of repair, which include eliminating waste materials from cells and keeping us healthy. Other functions such as various modes of gene expression related to longevity also occur while we are fasting.

Fasting for at least 12 hours a day can help us to burn more fat as energy, rather than being consistently dependent on glucose (from sugar and carbohydrates) for energy. While this is helpful for weight loss, intermittently fasting can also help train our bodies to use our own insulin more effectively, and is a significant measure for diabetes prevention, as well as preventing other metabolic diseases. It has been shown that over time, engaging in extended periods of fasting can even reverse type II diabetes, depending on severity and duration since the initial onset of the disease.

 Lastly, following a routine of IF can significantly help to regulate your sleep and circadian rhythm. Our body’s circadian “clock” is not only regulated by light, and sunrise and sunset, but is also determined by the timing of our meals. Eating a meal sends signals to our brain that it is time to utilize energy for digestion, as well as activating various other metabolic pathways that coincide with daytime activity, rather than going into sleep mode. Eating within a somewhat consistent window every day can help train our bodies to produce the hormones that keep us alert (such as cortisol) and the hormones that make us sleepy (like melatonin), at the appropriate times of the day. This means those who fast intermittently are likely to have better energy levels during the day, and deeper, more restful sleep at night.

Take On The Challenge!

Do you feel ready to try intermittent fasting? It’s simple! Begin with eating your breakfast, lunch, and dinner all within a 12 hour period or less. You might notice positive changes in your sleep, mood, energy, lowering of blood sugar levels, lessening of inflammation, a greater ability to maintain a healthy weight, and a whole host of other benefits related to longevity and long-term health.

-Lara Cwass

Photo: Pexels





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Lara Cwass is a recent graduate of the University of Vermont with a B.A in Jazz Guitar Performance and a minor in Nutrition and Food Sciences. Since May of 2018, she has worked as a Standardized Patient, coaching students of the University of Vermont College of Medicine in how to perform physical examinations and carry out office encounters with future patients. Lara takes deep pleasure in finding new ways to care for her mind and body, with a special interest in meditation, exercise, and healthy eating. On the weekends, she can be seen performing with various musical groups, singing and playing guitar around Burlington, VT.

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