Intermittent Fasting: A Beginner’s Guide and Meal Plan

Intermittent fasting is a popular weight loss method that separates your day into fasting and eating periods. The length of these periods depends on the style of intermittent fasting you are using. Every type and variation of the intermittent fasting diet has its advantages and disadvantages.

Intermittent fasting is important because it helps to treat certain medical conditions. It improves insulin sensitivity, reduces inflammation, and improves brain function. It also has shown some positive results in those trying to lose weight. 

Some of the most popular forms of intermittent fasting include time-restricted feeding, alternate-day fasting, and modified fasting. Time-restricted feeding involves limiting the hours of the day during which food can be consumed. An 8-hour and 16-hour fasting window is a more popular form of time-restricted feeding. 

Alternate-day fasting involves freely eating on one day and severely restricting your caloric intake on the next day. Finally, modified fasting involves eating a low calorie diet for two days and freely eating for the other five days.

This article will take a deep dive into the different types of intermittent fasting and a meal plan for those wanting to get started. 

What is Intermittent Fasting? 

Intermittent fasting is a dietary pattern where a person alternates between periods of eating and fasting. It involves restricting food intake for a specific period, which can vary depending on the specific type of intermittent fasting.

What is an Intermittent Fasting
What is Intermittent Fasting? 

Intermittent fasting is not a new concept, and its origins can be traced back to ancient civilizations where fasting was a part of religious practices. However, the modern concept of intermittent fasting as a dietary strategy for health and weight loss was popularized by Dr. Jason Fung, a Canadian nephrologist and author of several books on fasting and health.

Dr. Fung advocates for the use of intermittent fasting as a tool to reverse type 2 diabetes and obesity. He believes that intermittent fasting can help to lower insulin levels, increase insulin sensitivity, and promote weight loss by forcing the body to use stored fat for energy during periods of fasting.

While Dr. Fung has played a significant role in promoting the benefits of intermittent fasting, a growing body of research supports its use as a dietary strategy for health and weight loss.

How does Intermittent Fasting Work? 

Intermittent fasting alters the body’s hormonal and metabolic responses to periods of eating and fasting. During fasting, the body shifts from using glucose for energy to stored fat for fuel, called ketosis. This can lead to weight loss and improved insulin sensitivity, among other health benefits.

What are the Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting? 

Intermittent fasting has been associated with several health benefits, some of which include weight loss, improved insulin sensitivity, reduced inflammation, increased autophagy, improved brain function, and improved heart function.

What are the health benefits of Intermittent Fasting
What are the Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting? 
  • Weight loss: Intermittent fasting can lead to weight loss by reducing caloric intake and increasing fat burning.
  • Improved insulin sensitivity: Fasting has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, which can help to regulate blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Reduced inflammation: Intermittent fasting has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body, which is linked to a range of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Increased autophagy: Intermittent fasting has been shown to increase autophagy, a process by which the body breaks down and recycles damaged cells and cellular debris. This may slow the aging process and reduce the risk of age-related diseases.
  • Improved brain function: Some studies suggest that intermittent fasting can improve cognitive function and protect against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
  • Improved heart health: Intermittent fasting may reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure, reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, and improving other markers of heart health.

What are the health risks of Intermittent Fasting? 

While intermittent fasting can offer health benefits, there are also potential risks associated with this dietary approach. Some of the possible health risks include nutrient deficiencies, low blood sugar, dehydration, disordered eating, and increased stress levels.

  • Nutrient deficiencies: If not properly planned, intermittent fasting can lead to nutrient deficiencies, particularly if the periods of fasting are prolonged or occur frequently. This can be especially concerning for individuals already at risk for nutrient deficiencies or underlying health conditions.
  • Low blood sugar: Intermittent fasting can cause blood sugar levels to drop, particularly for individuals who have diabetes or who are taking medications that lower blood sugar. This can lead to symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue, and irritability.
  • Dehydration: During periods of fasting, it can be easy to become dehydrated, particularly if the individual is not consuming enough fluids.
  • Disordered eating: For individuals with a history of disordered eating or prone to obsessive food behaviors, intermittent fasting can be triggering and lead to unhealthy behaviors.
  • Increased stress levels: Intermittent fasting can be stressful on the body, particularly if done for prolonged periods or too frequently.

How to do Intermittent Fasting? 

There are several ways to do intermittent fasting; the best approach will depend on the individual’s goals, preferences, and lifestyle. The general technique is to have a period where you eat nothing or have a restricted diet. The rest of the time, you will be free to eat normally. 

When starting intermittent fasting, it’s important to start slowly and gradually increase the fasting period over time. It’s also important to stay well-hydrated during fasting periods and focus on nutrient-dense foods during periods of eating to avoid nutrient deficiencies.

What is the Food That You Can Eat While Intermittent Fasting? 

Some general food guidelines, including during eating periods, include eating whole, nutrient-dense food, protein-rich foods, healthy fats, and plenty of water. Since you are restricting your food to certain times, you must ensure you eat good, nutrient-dense food to avoid any nutrient deficiencies and low blood sugar during fasting times.

What are the Foods That You Should Avoid While on Intermittent Fasting? 

While no foods are off limits per se, avoiding overly processed foods or less nutrient-dense foods is recommended. This is because you only have a limited amount of time to eat during intermittent fasting, so saving your calories for nutrient-dense foods like whole grains, vegetables, and lean protein is recommended to avoid nutrient deficiencies and low blood sugar. 

Who Should Do Intermittent Fasting? 

Intermittent fasting can be an effective approach for some individuals to improve their health and manage their weight. Some factors to consider before trying intermittent fasting include your overall health, lifestyle, personal preferences, and weight management goals. 

In general, intermittent fasting can be a safe and effective approach for some individuals to improve their health and manage their weight. However, it’s important to consider individual factors and consult a healthcare professional before starting any new dietary approach.

How Simple is it to Follow Intermittent Fasting? 

It can be fairly simple to follow a fasting schedule once you have chosen one. The easiest form of intermittent fasting to follow is time-restricted feeding. Your fasting and eating cycles are bound to 24 hours in this form. The most popular form is to have your fasting period from 8 pm to noon the next day. This leaves 16 hours for fasting and 8 hours for free eating.

In time-restricted feeding, you can easily set your day up to have proper meals during your eating period. You can even set timers on your phone to make it simpler. Most people are usually just skipping breakfast. 

Other forms of fasting, such as alternate-day fasting and 5:2 fasting, can be trickier to follow. Both of these have fasting and eating cycles that span over days. If you are not using anything to help you keep track, you may forget what days are your fasting days as you go.

Also, these longer fasting periods require that you put more thought into what foods you eat during your feeding periods to avoid nutrient deficiencies and low blood sugar. 

How Long is Intermittent Fasting? 

The length of your fast depends on what type of intermittent fasting you are using. The shortest fasts will be found with time-restricted feeding, where you may have a fasting period between 16 and 12 hours. 

Alternate-day fasting will have a fasting period that is 24 hours. Similarly, 5:2 fasting will have a fasting period of 2 days with a feeding period of 5 days. With Alternate Day Fasting and 5:2 fasting, you still eat a very restricted amount of calories during your fasting days. 

What are the Types of Intermittent Fasting? 

There are several types of intermittent fasting, each with its unique approach to structuring periods of eating and fasting. Some common types of intermittent fasting include time-restricted feeding, alternate-day fasting, 5:2 fasting, 16/8 fasting, eat-stop-eat, the warrior diet.

  • Time-restricted feeding: This approach limits the eating window to a specific daily period. For example, an individual may eat all their meals between 12 pm and 8 pm and then fast for the remaining 16 hours.
  • Alternate-day fasting: This approach involves alternating between periods of fasting and normal eating. For example, an individual may fast for 24 hours every other day or consume only 500-600 calories on fasting days.
  • 5:2 fasting: This approach involves eating normally five days a week and consuming only 500-600 calories on two non-consecutive days.
  • 16/8 fasting: This approach involves fasting for 16 hours each day and consuming all meals within an 8-hour window. For example, an individual may skip breakfast and eat all meals between 12 pm and 8 pm.
  • Eat-stop-eat: This approach involves fasting 24 hours once or twice a week.
  • The warrior diet: This approach involves consuming all food within a 4-hour window at night and fasting during the day.

What is a Sample Intermittent Fasting Plan? 

Here is a sample intermittent fasting plan using the 16/8 approach which is the most common variation of this diet.

What is a Sample Intermittent Fasting Plan
What is a Sample Intermittent Fasting Plan? 
  • 12 pm: Breakfast with a nutritious meal of healthy fats, protein, and complex carbohydrates. Example: Grilled chicken with roasted vegetables and brown rice.
  • 3 pm: Snack on a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts.
  • 6 pm: Have dinner consisting of lean protein, vegetables, and healthy fats. Example: Grilled salmon with a side of roasted Brussels sprouts and avocado.
  • 8 pm: Finish eating for the day and begin the fasting period.

During fasting, you may consume calorie-free beverages such as water, tea, or coffee. The next day, the eating period would begin again at 12 pm. It’s important to note that this is just one example of an intermittent fasting plan, and many different approaches may work for different individuals.

What are the Best Recipes for Intermittent Fasting? 

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the best recipes for intermittent fasting. The foods and recipes that work well will depend on individual preferences, dietary restrictions, and the specific approach to intermittent fasting.

Some things to focus on when choosing recipes for intermittent fasting include focusing on whole, nutrient-dense foods, planning, and experimenting with different recipes. Here are some specific recipe ideas for meals and snacks that may work well during intermittent fasting.

  • Grilled chicken with roasted vegetables and brown rice
  • Salmon with quinoa and roasted Brussels sprouts
  • Black bean and vegetable stir-fry with brown rice
  • Greek yogurt with fresh berries and chopped nuts
  • Hard-boiled eggs with sliced avocado
  • Hummus with fresh veggies or whole-grain crackers
  • Apple slices with almond butter

What is the Best Intermittent Fasting Plan for Beginners? 

Starting with a more gradual and flexible approach to intermittent fastings is generally recommended for beginners, such as the 16/8 method. This approach involves fasting for 16 hours daily and consuming all meals within an 8-hour window. For example, an individual may skip breakfast and eat all meals between 12 pm and 8 pm.

What is the Best Intermittent Fasting Plan for Weight Loss? 

Intermittent fasting has become a popular weight-loss method, but the best plan may vary depending on individual preferences and health goals. If you are just starting, the 16/8 method is a great option to ease into intermittent fasting. 

Once your body has adjusted to fasting, you can try the 5:2 method, eat-stop-eat, or alternate-day fasting. These methods have longer fasting times, and some people may have more success with them for weight loss. 

What are the Facts About Intermittent Fasting? 

Here are some facts about intermittent fasting:

  • Intermittent fasting is not a diet; it’s a pattern of eating. It involves alternating eating periods with fasting or significantly reducing calorie intake.
  • Intermittent fasting can help with weight loss by reducing overall calorie intake, increasing metabolism, and improving insulin sensitivity.
  • Several types of intermittent fasting exist, including the 16/8 method, the 5:2 diet, Eat-Stop-Eat, and alternate-day fasting.
  • Intermittent fasting has been shown to have health benefits beyond weight loss, such as improving brain function, reducing inflammation, and lowering the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
  • Intermittent fasting may not be appropriate for everyone, especially those with certain health conditions or who are pregnant or breastfeeding. It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new diet or exercise plan.
  • It’s essential to stay hydrated during fasting periods and have breakfast with nutrient-dense, balanced meals to ensure adequate nutrient intake.

How much Does Intermittent Fasting Cost? 

For the most part, intermittent fasting costs nothing. Just about everyone has access to a clock or a calendar, the most basic tools for planning your fasting and feeding times. Realistically the only cost will be your food, which you would have been paying for anyway. Depending on your lifestyle before starting intermittent fasting, there may be some change in your cost of food as you switch to more nutrient-dense foods. 

The only places you could spend a little money with intermittent fasting are in apps, cookbooks, or other tools you may want to use to help you in your fasting journey. There are specially-made apps that can tell you when your fasting and feeding times are and send you reminders as needed. Additionally, if you want to research recipes for your feeding times, you may spend some money on cookbooks. You could also use free resources such as the internet or a library. 

What are the Alternatives to Intermittent Fasting? 

If you are uninterested in or cannot follow an intermittent fasting plan, there are many other ways to achieve weight loss or improve your health. Some alternatives to intermittent fasting include calorie tracking, low-carb diet, mediterranean diet, plant-based diet, and the mindful eating diet.

  • Calorie tracking: Tracking your calorie intake can help you become more aware of how much you are eating and make healthier choices. There are several apps and websites available to help you track your calories.
  • Low-carb diet: Reducing your intake of carbohydrates and increasing your intake of protein and healthy fats can be an effective way to lose weight and improve your health.
  • Mediterranean diet: This diet emphasizes whole, plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats like olive oil. It has been shown to promote weight loss and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
  • Plant-based diet: A plant-based diet that focuses on whole, unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains can be a healthy way to lose weight and improve your overall health.
  • Mindful eating: Paying attention to your hunger and fullness cues and eating slowly and without distraction can help you eat less and make healthier food choices.

What is the Free Intermittent Fasting App? 

Some of the best free apps for intermittent fasting include Clear, Life Fasting Tracker, and Fasthabit. All of these have a free version with the option to purchase premium or premium features to unlock special features within the app. 

What does an Intermittent Fasting PDF Involve? 

You can purchase a book if you need more guidance for your intermittent fasting journey. Some books (depending on the platform you purchase them from) may have the option to download them as a PDF so that you can use them Offline.

Otherwise, most eBook retailers have free eBook readers that you can use. Many eBook readers are across all devices, such as Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes and Noble’s Kobo. 

  • The Complete Guide To Fasting by Jason Fung, M.D.
  • The Fast Diet by Michael Mosley
  • Eat Stop Eat by Brad Pilon
  • The Obesity Code by Jason Fung, M.D.
  • The Longevity Diet by Valter Longo, Ph.D.

How to Find 3D Intermittent Fasting Printable Plan?

If you’re not interested in an entire book, you can also look into using a printable plan created by the many experts on intermittent fasting. One option is the Obesity Code Meal Plan, based on the book by Jason Fung, MD, who wrote the book by the same name. This printable can be found on the Fast Life Hacks website.

What is the Difference Between Intermittent Fasting and Keto Diet? 

Intermittent fasting and the keto diet are two different dietary approaches with similarities and differences. Intermittent fasting involves restricting food intake for a certain period, typically several hours or days, and then consuming meals during a specific feeding window. 

On the other hand, the keto diet is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that aims to put the body into ketosis, using fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. The keto diet typically limits carbohydrate intake to 20-50 grams daily and emphasizes high-fat foods like meat, fish, eggs, and dairy and healthy fats like avocado, nuts, and seeds.

While intermittent fasting and the keto diet can promote weight loss and improve metabolic health, they work differently. Intermittent fasting restricts the timing of meals, while the keto diet restricts certain types of food. However, some people combine intermittent fasting with the keto diet to increase the benefits of both approaches.

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The Athletic Insight Research team consists of a dedicated team of researchers, Doctors, Registered Dieticians, nationally certified nutritionists and personal trainers. Our team members hold prestigious accolades within their discipline(s) of expertise, as well as nationally recognized certifications. These include; National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer (NASM-CPT), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA-CPT), National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Nutrition Coach (NASM-CNC), International Sports Sciences Association Nutritionist Certification.