When you first start researching intermittent fasting, you’ll quickly learn that there are countless approaches. The information overload can be overwhelming. You’re left wondering, how do I pick the best intermittent fasting plan?
In this post, we’ll review some of the most popular methods, and discuss what works best.
This post continues our fundamentals of intermittent fasting series. Last time we took a deeper dive into how intermittent fasting supports weight loss. Now let’s focus on how to pick your intermittent fasting plan.
What’s the best intermittent fasting plan to follow?
If you’re new to intermittent fasting, I’d recommend starting slow. You could start with
It’s also important for you to listen to your body. When fasting the correct way, nothing you experience should be extreme. Mild hunger for instance is ok but intense hunger is not.
A minor period of adjustment is normal when you first start fasting. For example, your hunger might be a little stronger or you might have a mild headache.
Electrolyte imbalances can be common at first. Try drinking a little Pink Himalayan salt in water and see if that helps. Also, consider starting with a shorter fasting window.
In either case, nothing should be more than mild. Don’t push yourself to an extreme. If you don’t feel well, stop.
You always have tomorrow to restart. Fasting is a muscle. Things
I also want to caution against extended fasting. Extended fasting has its place, but medical supervision is necessary. Check out Dr. Fung’s Intensive Dietary Management website if you’re interested in this kind of fasting.
Types of Intermittent Fasting Plans
Now that we’ve gotten all the declaimers out of the way let’s dive in. You might wonder what’s the intermittent best plan, and how should I pick one.
Pick the plan that works best for your lifestyle first. Don’t just pick a plan for quick results. Our culture is far too focused on quick fixes and instant gratification. Remember the mantra, “obtaining a healthy weight is a marathon, not a sprint”.
You’ll get the best results by selecting a method that you can stick with long-term.
With that said, don’t be afraid to change your approach either. As you’ll see, there’s more than one way to approach intermittent fasting. If you’re stalling or one isn’t working, don’t be afraid to try something new.
Let’s talk about some of the different plans.
This is my favorite newbie approach to fasting. Most of us have done 16:8 by accident when we’ve skipped breakfast.
16:8 is 16 hours of fasting and an 8-hour eating window. For example, you could eat from 12:00 PM to 8:00 PM. With this plan, you’re skipping breakfast and avoiding late night snacking.
As with most intermittent fasting protocols, there’s also flexibility.
You could move your 8-hour eating window to any time of the day you wish. Do you love breakfast? You could make you eating window go from 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM and skip dinner.
Many have success sticking to 16:8 long term. Some people need a smaller eating window, and a longer fasting window to lose weight, but this is a great place to start for many.
2. One Meal A Day (OMAD)
As it sounds, OMAD means you limit yourself to one meal a day. Many choose dinner for their one meal, but you can pick any time in the day that works best for you.
A 23:1 ratio is typical with one meal a day. That’s 23 hours of fasting, plus a 1-hour eating window. Some people who do OMAD might stretch this
When I do OMAD I’ll sometime eat a little outside the 1-hour meal window. I find this helpful when I’m cooking a nice meal, because I like to taste what I’m cooking. Blind cooking isn’t always easy!
I love the simplicity of OMAD. Eat whatever you want, but save it to once a day. No more thinking about meal planning or what to eat for the rest of the day.
3. Alternate Day Fasting (ADF)
Alternate day fasting (ADF) involves eating nothing one day, and eating a normal diet the next. It’s also known as the up day, down day approach. Your “up days” are your eating days and your “down days” are your fasting days.
You eat nothing on your fasting
I find that people either love or hate this method. It’s an all or nothing approach. Your day is either 100% committed to fasting or feasting, depending on the day.
A consistent 36 hour fasting protocol is difficult for many people. From a psychological standpoint, many find it easier to have at least one meal to look forward to. Overeating on the “up days” can also happen.
At the same time, many love and thrive on this method. It’s also been shown to have a positive impact on metabolism. See this study for its impact on metabolism.
4. 5:2 Diet
British journalist Michael Mosley is the originator behind the method. The diet was referenced in the 2012 BBC documentary “Eat, Fast & Live Longer” which brought it to popularity.
In a nutshell, the diet allows you to eat like normal 5 days out of week while “fasting” 2 days a week.
I use parentheses for fasting because your fasting days are not true fasting days. Instead, 2 days of the week you severely restrict your calories. You are allowed to eat 500 calories at any point during the day.
Fasting Isn’t the Same as Calorie Restriction
There’s a false idea out there about consuming calories and remaining fasted. People will state anything under 500 calories (or some arbitrary number) is fasting.
If you’re consuming anything that has calories, you’re breaking your fast.
If you’re consuming anything sweet with zero calories, you’re breaking your fast.
If you’re spiking insulin, you’re breaking your fast.
You get the idea.
If you want to remain in the fasted state, don’t spike your insulin.
Plus, consuming calories makes it more difficult, and will make you hungrier. It’s counter-intuitive but no calories
A better approach to 5:2 is to eat zero calories on your 2 fasting days or save the 500 calories until the end of your fast. This will allow your body to stay in the fasted state and allow you to get the benefits of true fasting.
5. Pick Your Own Ratio (aka Choose Your Own Adventure)
One approach to intermittent fasting
I’d recommend Dr. Bert Herring’s book Appetite Correction. He advocates a 5 eating window (i.e. 19:5) to create “appetite correction”. He states that after about 3 weeks your body will adjust and your appetite will regulate.
When you first start fasting it’s very common to overeat in your eating window. With time, your body becomes more regulated. Your natural hunger and satiation signals will help prevent you from overeating.
So whether it’s 16:8, 19:5, or 22:2, pick what works best for your body.
6. “Mean” Intermittent Fasting
This is the method I created. There’s already a million fasting protocols, so why not make it a million and one! I like this intermittent fasting plan because it allows for flexibility, but also keeps your body guessing.
Remember how in math class, you learned about the mean, median, and mode? Well then, this method is all about the mean (aka the average!).
I make myself a weekly chart every week (free printable coming soon!) and write down the number of hours I fasted each day. My goal is to fast for at least 12 hours daily while averaging 19 hours a week.
Here’s an example
I’m a math nerd that loves freedom, so this plan works really well for me.
I also love how it allows you to gamify your fasting goals. This keep motivation up while also ensuring consistency.
I love this for the weekend. If you fast more during the week, you can have a longer eating window on the weekend.
This is also great when you want to enjoy lunch with a friend. It’s not a problem to open your window early, because you can close it earlier or just offset it the next day. It all balances.
Fasting is a lifestyle so this method allows you to adjust when needed. It also keeps you accountable because you want to keep your average up.
Last Thought – “Keep it Clean and Boring”
With all these intermittent fasting plans, remember to keep the fasting period as boring and clean as possible.
Drink plain water, black coffee, or plain unflavored tea. Even if it has zero calories, it’s an issue. Anything that is sweet, calories or not, will spike your insulin. Yes, Diet Coke! I’m looking at you!
This is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for many people so it’s important to emphasize.
Say no to a splash of milk in your coffee and skip the Diet Dr Pepper. I know it might be hard, but it’s worth it. Just save it for your eating window.
You are already putting in the work so you might as well do it right and maximize your results. You also don’t want to lose out on the incredible health benefits from autophagy.
Fasting “clean” also makes fasting so much easier. Fasting “dirty” is a recipe for uncomfortable hunger, fatigue, and shakiness.
If in doubt, save it for your eating window.