What Is Intermittent Fasting? Everything You Need to Know

Have you heard about the new weight loss craze, “intermittent fasting,” but haven’t been sure about what it is exactly? Celebrities like Beyoncé have endorsed this method, which could be all the convincing you need to give it a shot. However, before you try the trend, there are a few key things you should know about it.

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It cycles between fasting and eating

Intermittent fasting is all about controlling when you eat, with less focus on what you eat during a diet. Sandra LaMorgese Ph.D. describes it as “an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating.”

During the times you are eating, that doesn’t indicate you can eat all the unhealthy food you want. According to board-certified cardiologist Dr. Luiza Petre, indulging too much during your eating periods will only counteract your efforts.

Your body goes through a three-step process

LaMorgese explained that intermittent fasting a three-step process, starting with the feeding state, moving to the postabsorptive state, and finishing with the fasting state. The feeding state begins as you eat, lasting for three to five hours to allow your body to digest and absorb the food.

Your body is in the postabsorptive state for eight to 12 hours, during which time your body isn’t processing anything. By the nine to 12 hour mark after your last meal, you move on to the fasting state. During this time, your body works to burn fat.

You can adjust it to the best schedule for you

Luckily, there isn’t any strict schedule you need to stick to in order to see results. According to registered dietitian Kristen Mancinelli, you can fast one, two, or three days a week, or even daily. “One of the benefits of intermittent fasting is that it’s easy to do,” Mancinelli told Insider. “You don’t have to avoid particular foods or follow complicated rules.”

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You can still enjoy big meals

If you want to lose weight through intermittent fasting, you will need to lower your calorie intake. However, according to certified nutrition coach Esther Avant, that doesn’t mean you can’t eat big meals. You’re simply shortening the amount of time within a day to eat your daily calories (while simultaneously avoiding mindless snacking).

You’ll benefit from more than just weight loss

Intermittent fasting actually has a number of benefits. According to Karen Brennan, a board-certified holistic nutritionist at Tru Foods Nutrition Services LLC, those include more well-balanced hormones, reduced inflammation, and lower blood sugar levels. Plus, you’ll have more regulated feelings of hunger and fullness and may be less inclined to snack late at night — even if it’s during an “eating” period.

Give your body what it needs

Fasting may not be for everyone, so make sure to take it slow and give your body what it needs while you’re figuring it out. Try working your way up, starting at one to three days per week. According to Toby Amidor, MS, RD, and author of Smart Meal Prep for Beginners, there are warning signs to look out for. Those include irritability, lack of concentration, and dizziness. If you experience these symptoms, you may want to shorten your fasting lengths or quit altogether.

Most importantly, Amidor insists you should stay hydrated while fasting. It’s easy to become dehydrated, so be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Exercise should be avoided, as you won’t be able to properly fuel your body before or after. Just be sure to listen to your body, and don’t do anything you can’t handle.

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