The Complete Guide to Intermittent Fasting for Beginners

By Dean Yeong on February 19, 2018

When one talks about health and fitness, most people tend to focus on what workout they should do and how hard they should train. But the truth is, training is just 20% of the whole picture. The other 80% will be what we put into our mouths—our diet.

For whatever fitness goal you have, you first need to change your diet to align with that objective. I’ve had many fitness goals since I started paying attention to my health: losing fat, building mass, developing strength—you name it.

So, what’s my diet? Simple.

I skip breakfast and eat only two meals each day. I have my first meal at around 1:30 pm, which is my lunch and the second and last meal at around 7:00 pm. Then I fast for 16 hours to 1:30 pm the next day.

You may be wondering: isn’t it bad to skip breakfast?

Frankly, I thought so too. And because of that, I never really got started in intermittent fasting for many years. I believed skipping breakfast was bad. But after some period of consideration, I decided to try it as an experiment.

Surprisingly, my body fat dropped 5% after three months with intermittent fasting (from 24% to 19%) and I see no negative effect on my energy level. Besides, I trained during my fasted state every morning with a bodyweight routine and see significant improvement in my strength, endurance, and explosive power.

As I write this, I have been practicing intermittent fasting for over three years. My initial purpose was to lose weight and body fat, but then I started to dive deeper to understand other advantages and benefits of intermittent fasting.

Since this is going to be a long article, here is a table of contents I prepared for you to navigate through each sub-category:

What is Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent fasting has taken the Internet by storm. You see people sharing their journey of intermittent fasting on YouTube, at the same time, there are people who think intermittent fasting is dumb.

All kinds of debates have been going on about its practicality and effectiveness over the past few years. There is research that proves everything from the benefits of weight loss to promoting longevity, yet there are people who claim intermittent fasting is just another diet trend without sufficient evidence and proof.

This is a super-sized article about IF (intermittent fasting) borne out by my personal experience and some research. I’m not saying that IF is the best diet remedy that everyone should practice, but if you’re currently seeking more information about IF to decide whether you should start implementing it, this is for you.

To make it clear, intermittent fasting is not a diet plan. It should be considered as a diet pattern. Rather than what you should and shouldn’t eat—like most diet programs available in the market—intermittent fasting is about when you should and shouldn’t eat.

Most diet programs suggest you eat either more or less of specific foods such as:

  • Atkins diet: suggests low carbohydrate
  • Ketogenic diet: suggests high fat, low/no carbohydrate
  • Paleo diet: suggests raw organic foods eaten by early humans

But intermittent fasting is just like what it says—fasting. Intermittent fasting doesn’t suggest increasing specific food intake or reducing specific food intake. You simply need to fast during a certain time frame by reducing your meal frequency with larger portions per meal later on.

In my case, I’m following one of the intermittent fasting variations to eat in an 8-hour window and then fast for the other 16 hours, every day. This might be hard for most people to accept since we have been taught that we need at least three meals a day, and the fitness industry then suggests that we have small portions but more frequent meals.

The truth is, fasting is being practiced by many others in different religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Besides, there is proof showing that fasting was practiced and promoted by a few great philosophers and scientists throughout history.

I fast for greater physical and mental efficiency.–Plato

Fasting is the greatest remedy—the physician within.–Philippus Paracelsus

A little starvation can really do more for the average sick man than can be the best of medicines and the best doctors.–Mark Twain

How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?

Most people start practicing intermittent fasting with the goal of fat loss just like I did. So when talking about how intermittent fasting works, the first thing I’m going to explain is how it actually helps us to lose fat.

To understand how intermittent fasting works, you need to understand the difference between fed state and fasted state.

Our body is at fed state when we’re eating and absorbing food. In most cases, the fed state starts from the time we eat (or a short period of time later depending on the portion) till three to four hours after we stop eating while we’re still digesting and absorbing the food we just ate.

It’s very hard for our body to burn fat during the fed state because while we’re eating and absorbing food, the insulin level in our bodies is high.

On the other hand, the fasted state occurs a few hours later, after our last meal when the food in our digestive system is completely digested and absorbed. During the fasted state, our blood sugar is low and so is our insulin level. Burning fat becomes much easier when there is an absence of insulin in our bloodstream.

When we’re in fasted state, our body can burn fat that has been inaccessible during the fed state.

With that said, we don’t usually enter the fasted state with the typical three-meal diet pattern. And that leads to a very minimum fat burning process happening in our body. This is one of the reasons why people who start intermittent fasting still lose weight without changing what they eat because their body is now getting into a fat-burning state which they usually don’t enter into.

Below is an illustration demonstrating the blood sugar level and insulin level in the typical three-meals diet pattern.

3 meals blood sugar and insulin

And here is another illustration to demonstrate what happens to our insulin level with intermittent fasting.

intermittent fasting blood sugar and insulin

Other Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Clearly, fat loss is one of the benefits of intermittent fasting. But it’s proven that intermittent fasting does more than just fat loss to our body.

1. LIVE LONGER, REDUCE CANCER RISK, AND IMPROVE COGNITIVE FUNCTION

Scientists discovered long ago, that calorie restriction is a way to promote longevity. A large portion of data supports the idea that limiting food intake reduces the risk of diseases common in old age and lengthens the period of life spent in good health.

But in recent years, researchers have focused on this strategy—intermittent fasting—as a promising alternative to calorie restriction. Which means you don’t need to continuously starve yourself to live longer.

The first cross research between calorie restriction and intermittent fasting was done way back in 1945 when it was discovered that intermittent fasting extends the lifespan of mice. You can read more about this here.

Besides, there is research claiming that intermittent fasting also reduces the risk of cancer, while at the same time: improve our cognitive function. The theory behind this is that intermittent fasting acts in part as a form of mild stress that continually revs up cellular defenses against molecular damage.

2. IT MAKES YOUR DAY SIMPLER

In my personal experience, this is the part I love the most (because I haven’t lived long enough to experience what it means to live longer) – it makes your day simpler. I’m a big fan of minimalism and the simplistic, and I prefer to put my focus on many important things in life.

I enjoy eating and don’t mind cooking, but at the same time, I prefer to read, write, make coffee, plan for my business, spend time with family, and go on vacations. Obviously, I’m not the one who prepares seven meals a day for seven days a week, I just don’t have time for that.

When the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, was asked why he wears the same t-shirt all the time, his answer was gold.

There are many more important decisions I need to make, what to wear today is just not one of those.

That’s how I look at intermittent fasting – I will only have two meals a day, and they’re almost the same stuff (with my simple diet rule – good amount of protein and fibers, less refined carbs, and no sugar).

For sure, this is way easier when compared to dieting.

Types of Intermittent Fasting

Now you should have a better understanding about intermittent fasting, but how can you start? If you’re considering giving intermittent fasting a try, here are a few types of intermittent fasting schedules you can follow.

16:8 DAILY INTERMITTENT FASTING

As mentioned, this is a schedule to fast daily and this is what I practice most of the time. I first learned about this from Martin Berkhan‘s blog, LeanGains.com. Since he’s the one who popularized this intermittent fasting schedule, most people call this daily intermittent fasting schedule the LeanGains protocol too.

In this daily intermittent fasting schedule, you will have a 16-hour fasted window and eight hours fed window. It doesn’t matter when you start your fed period as long as it lasts for only eight hours.

I usually start eating between noon to 1 pm and end my fed period at around 7 pm to 8 pm. Personally, I find this suits me very well because I don’t want to miss dinner with friends and family. Besides, my family used to eat lots of carbs such as rice and noodles during breakfast (Asian culture). By skipping my breakfast, I can avoid consuming too many carbs throughout the day.

Sidenote: Note that you don’t need to change what you eat when your start practicing intermittent fasting. For my case, I started to reduce my carb intake eight years ago, long before I started practicing intermittent fasting.

daily intermittent fasting schedule

The best part of this 16:8 daily intermittent fasting is that you’re practicing it every day. It’s easier for you to plan ahead and slowly make it your diet pattern. It’s more likely to become a habit for you compared to other intermittent fasting schedules where you only do it once a week.

But remember that you’re not cutting off the caloric intake of a meal, you’re just changing your meal frequency and eating time frame. With that said, you will need to up your portion for the 2 meals you do have in a day.

For me, I only increase my portion a little bit for my lunch, but then I add a snack—green juice—in between my meals. This is to replace the calorie intake of my breakfast. Besides, green juice also bumps up my micronutrients and fiber intake.

5:2 INTERMITTENT FASTING (WEEKLY)

During the early stage of my intermittent fasting journey, I read some books and did research online to learn more about this practice. One of the books I read was The Fast Diet by Dr. Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer.

The book covers lots of scientific studies and research on intermittent fasting—a great resource if you’d like to know more about the benefits of fasting.

But this fasting schedule is a little different from 16:8 intermittent fasting. Rather than fast every day, Dr. Michael Mosley proposes to fast for only two days in a week (you can do less if you’ve just started, or do more days if you feel good about it). Besides, you’re allowed to eat during your fasted days, but in very low calories – suggested 600 kcals for male and 500 kcals for female.

weekly intermittent fasting schedule

The biggest advantage of this intermittent fasting is that you don’t need to do it every day. And you’re allowed to eat whatever you like during your non-fast days. Also, you see results in fat loss, extended longevity, and a lower risk of diabetes and cancer. (Personally, I think you should still maintain a balanced, healthy diet for best results)

I don’t practice this schedule personally due to the necessity of counting calories during the fast days. But it’s good for anyone who just started with intermittent fasting and would never think of doing it every day.

ALTERNATE DAY INTERMITTENT FASTING

Now you have a clearer picture of daily and weekly intermittent fasting schedules, and here is another more intense way to practice intermittent fasting. In the alternate day intermittent fasting schedule, your fed period will last for 24 hours, and then you will need to fast for 24 hours.

Just like the daily schedule, you can pick the time that suits you the most. In the illustration below, your first meal starts at 8 pm, and you’re allowed to eat for the next 24 hours till 8 pm the next day. After which you will need to fast for 24 hours from 8 pm to 8 pm again in the next day.

alternate day intermittent fasting schedule

The extended fasting time frame allows your body to stay in the fat burning state longer compared to a daily and weekly intermittent fasting schedule. But it’s more challenging because you need to abstain from food for 24 hours. This will become very challenging for people with an active career or lifestyle.

I personally find the most challenging part is not during the fasted period, but the fed period. In order to compensate for the calorie intake during your fasted period, you will need to eat more during your fed period. Even though I am practicing 16:8 daily schedules, I still find it hard to take a big portion of a meal at once, that’s why I incorporate green juice into my diet between my first and last meal.

Practicing alternative day intermittent fasting means that you will need to chuck down all the food to meet the total calorie requirement for 2 days within 24 hours – if you never want to suffer from significant weight loss and muscle loss. If eating a big portion of food every three to four hours isn’t a problem for you, you can definitely go for this intermittent fasting schedule.

Personal Experience with Intermittent Fasting

And here is my personal experience after three years of intermittent fasting. I did cover some of these above but I think I should share this in a more organized format here.

WHY DID I START?

The reason I started intermittent fasting is simple—to lose fat. Even after I switched to a low carb diet (note that an Asian diet is usually high in carbs. We used to have rice and noodles all day), I still find it difficult to lose fat unless I go hard into a crazy bodybuilding style strict diet.

Since I’m not a bodybuilder, and those diet patterns are very hard to sustain, I choose to stay in low carb (and avoid refined sugar at all costs) and start practicing intermittent fasting.

It helps me to lose fat in two ways: first is what I just explained above about our body insulin level; second, I started to eat less junk food after I got into intermittent fasting. This then reduced the chance for me to overeat (that leads to calorie surplus).

HOW I GOT STARTED? WHAT WERE THE INITIAL RESULTS?

I heard about intermittent fasting two years before I started practicing it from an Australian friend of mine named Jamie. I did some research on how to do it before I get started. I personally think the LeanGains (16:8) method suits me the most with my lifestyle, habits, and daily activities.

After practicing intermittent fasting for three months, I lost 5% of body fat, from 24% to 19%, then the progress slowed down. What I learned here is that intermittent fasting is not a  magic eating pattern, you still need to slowly adjust what you put in your mouth to see the best results from it. Having all junk food for eight hours then fasting for 16 hours won’t bring you the lean body shape (and other benefits) you want.

WHAT AM I EATING?

I had been practicing low carb diets long before intermittent fasting. So, I eat mostly what I used to eat—lots of protein from chicken breast, fish, beef, and eggs, a large number of vegetables, and some fruits and nuts. Personally, I found green juice is the best way for me to boost my fiber intake rather than having a super-sized portion in my meals.

Supplement wise, I’m taking BCAA (without any calories) in the morning to compensate the energy spent during my workout routine in the morning. I mostly trained in my fasted state to boost the fat loss effect, so BCAA is there to help reduce the chance of muscle loss.

You can learn more about this part at LeanGains.com.

HOW TO MAKE IT STICK?

There are two strategies I’m using to make intermittent fasting stick. It might be hard in the beginning for you to skip breakfast or dinner, or starve for a certain period depending on which schedule you’re practicing. To make sure you don’t eat during your fasted state, stay away from food.

Secondly, plan ahead. I make my food choice ridiculously simple where I don’t need to think about what I want to eat most of the time. Make it a habit of making healthier food selections, and when you meal time comes you will default to those diet habits.

I believe in progress and I don’t force myself to go 110% into anything, especially for things that require a certain period of time to see results (health, business, relationships). I choose to practice sustainable behaviors 90% of the time and have 10% freedom over things. So, if I decide to have breakfast with my family or go for a drink session with friends someday, I feel no guilt for that. But remember, make it only 10% of the time.

THE BEST PART OF INTERMITTENT FASTING?

One of the reasons why I like intermittent fasting is because I tend to default myself to healthier foods due to the short eating timeframe. I can only have two meals a day, so to have junk food for lunch means my diet is 50% crap for that day.

Another benefit of intermittent fasting is something I mentioned above – it makes my day simpler. I spend less time thinking about what to eat, where to eat and more time actually eating. It’s even simpler when I compare this diet pattern to what I used to do when I was in the strict diet plan – spend less time to cook, less effort to force myself to eat what I don’t really like.

Other Concerns & FAQs

WHICH IS THE BEST WAY TO PRACTICE INTERMITTENT FASTING?

It depends on your lifestyle, daily activities, and surroundings. There are advantages and disadvantages for each fasting schedule. Know your goal and purpose of practicing intermittent fasting.

I suggest you start with weekly or daily intermittent fasting first, give yourself time to adjust and see which works the best for you.

IS INTERMITTENT FASTING FOR EVERYONE?

No. Even with the benefits I mentioned above from fat loss to promoting longevity, I don’t think intermittent fasting is for everyone. You still need to give it a try before you know if it suits you. When I say it’s not for everyone, I’m not talking about the practical challenges. What I suggest  is to focus on the result of an overall biochemical effect of intermittent fasting and what it does to one’s body

IS INTERMITTENT FASTING SUITABLE FOR WOMEN?

I don’t know. I have quite a good experience with intermittent fasting but my girlfriend didn’t when I  introduced this to her. But I did read about some case studies and testimonials of female intermittent fasters from The Fast Diet.

Feel free to get a copy of this book to know more or you can go here – all female Facebook page and group where they discuss intermittent fasting.

AM I GOING TO LOSE MUSCLE?

I did experience a minor amount of weight and muscle loss when I just started due to the calorie deficit because I was not eating big enough portions during the fed period. By the way, I’m fine with it because my sole purpose during the initial stage was fat loss, I was ready and prepared to lose some weight and muscle during the process.

But you definitely can avoid that by taking BCAA with very little or no calories during your fasted state. This can compensate the amino acids supply in your body without sabotaging the fat burning period during the fasted state. Again, I learned about this from LeanGains. I highly recommended you to check it out if you really wish to learn more.

IS THIS THE ULTIMATE MAGICAL WAY TO LOSE FAT?

Again, no, this is not. If you search for intermittent fasting online, it’s very unlikely for you will find crazy and unrealistic promises from this diet pattern. Intermittent fasting simply creates the biochemical effect of putting our body into the fat-lose state but every person reacts to it differently.

Besides, you will still need to keep a balanced and healthy diet with an active lifestyle to gain the best results from it. You can’t eat crap with any fasting diet here and expect miracles  (even if some articles said so).

Ready to Give It Intermittent Fasting Shot?

So, I have outlined the complete guide to intermittent fasting for beginners. Hopefully, this will be helpful to you if you’re at the beginning stage of this new diet pattern or in the middle of considering whether or not to take on this practice.

Feel free to share this with anyone you think who need to read this.

FOOTNOTES

  1. I had included almost everything I need to say in the article. Rather than linking the resources at this footnote area, I prefer to link them in the article because it’s just too long for you to scroll to this part back and forth. To end this, here is a YouTube video I found interesting – How To Eat: Like Predator or Prey?
  2. Feel free to read more about the differences between the Eat Stop Eat IF protocol and the Leangains IF protocol here.
  3. Here are three more YouTube videos about fasting by What I’ve Learned (One of my favorite YouTube channels): (1) Longevity and fasting, (2) Intermittent Fasting and Hunger, and (3) Intermittent Fasting and Sleep.

I won't spam you and you're free to unsubscribe anytime.