There are several different ways of intermittent fasting to lose weight, stave off disease, and boost longevity depending on your lifestyle and goals.

Intermittent fasting (IF) is a dietary approach that involves alternating planned periods of fasting with regular eating. Proponents say this diet is key to lasting weight loss, better metabolic health, and a longer life.


When it comes to weight loss, there are two thoughts behind why intermittent fasting has the potential to work. The first: “Periods of fasting produce a net calorie deficit, so you lose weight,” explains Rekha Kumar, MD, a specialist in endocrinology, diabetes, and metabolism at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City.

The other concept is more complex: This approach may prevent what’s called the “plateau phenomenon” from happening, Dr. Kumar says.

In the well-known so-called Biggest Loser study, researchers followed up with participants from the TV show after six years. Despite their initial impressive weight loss, they had regained most of the weight, and their metabolic rates had slowed such that they burned far fewer calories than would have been expected.

Though more research is needed on the safety and effectiveness of intermittent fasting, one of the touted benefits of this approach is that it may prevent this metabolic sputtering. “Most people who try diet and exercise to lose weight tend to fall off the wagon and regain weight,” Kumar says. “Hormones that promote weight regain, like hunger hormones, are kicked into full gear, and the thought is that IF may be a way to prevent this metabolic adaptation from happening.”

The idea is that the normal periods of eating in IF “trick” your body into losing weight before the plateau happens.

So, does intermittent fasting actually lead to weight loss? Anecdotal evidence has led proponents of the plan to believe so. “For the people who can adhere to IF, it does work,” Kumar says.

But fans of the approach claim there’s so much more to intermittent fasting than just a lean body. Lori Shemek, PhD, a nutrition and weight loss expert in Dallas and author of How to Fight FATflammation, explains to clients that IF may improve their insulin sensitivity (lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes), reduce inflammation, and “boost longevity by bettering the health of your mitochondria (cell powerhouses),” she says.

Research has found that intermittent fasting can lead to weight loss of 1 to 8 percent from the starting weight, which is comparable to the amount of weight loss expected while on a calorie-restrictive diet. Intermittent fasting may also improve other areas of cardiometabolic health, such as lowering blood pressure and reducing insulin resistance.

Also, separate research analysed 11 intermittent fasting trials that were at least eight weeks long and involved adults who were considered obese or overweight.

Nine of those studies showed that an intermittent fasting program was as effective as traditional dieting (restricting calories every day) at helping participants lose weight and body fat.

Finally, another study found that 12 weeks of IF didn’t affect cholesterol levels, but it did lead to weight loss and decreased systolic blood pressure.

That said, it’s important to note that studying human longevity is much more complicated than simply looking at weight loss. That’s why much of the research that suggests intermittent fasting promotes a longer lifespan has been done in animals, including fruit flies.

Other research has suggested that the metabolic advantage of intermittent fasting is that it shifts your body into a state of ketosis (the process involved in the keto diet), which burns fat, rather than carbohydrates, for fuel.

Beyond the weight loss effects, researchers have noted that ketones may trigger the body’s repair system, ultimately protecting against disease and ageing.


Not everyone should (or needs to) try intermittent fasting. A few groups who shouldn’t: women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant (extended fasting periods may throw off your menstrual cycle), people taking diabetes medication (blood sugar can drop too far in the absence of food), or anyone who takes multiple medications (food, or lack of it, can affect absorption and dosage), Kumar says. Also, if you have a history of eating disorders, introducing periods where you’re “not allowed” to eat can put you on a dangerous path toward a relapse.

Know that intermittent fasting has some side effects. You may be cranky – ‘hanger’ is real – during fasting periods because low blood sugar can mess with your mood.

You also still need to have a healthy diet when you do eat. Focus on balanced, nutrient-packed choices, like fruit, vegetables, lean meats, legumes, and whole grains (though some experts, like Dr. Shemek, also pair intermittent fasting with low-carb or keto styles of eating). Expect that for the first couple of weeks you may deal with lower energy, bloating, and cravings until your body adjusts, Shemek says.


There are so many different ways to do intermittent fasting, and that’s a great thing, though it’s important to note that intermittent fasting is still a new area of study and not all of the methods listed are backed by research. However, if this is something you’re interested in doing, you can find the approach that will work best with your lifestyle, which increases the chances of success. Here are seven intermittent fasting approaches to consider.

1. 5:2 Fasting

This is one of the most popular intermittent fasting methods. The bestselling book by The FastDiet Dr Michael Mosley introduced 5:2 fasting to the mainstream, and the book outlines everything you need to know about this approach. The idea is to eat normally for five days (don’t count calories); then on the other two days, eat 500 or 600 calories a day, for women and men, respectively. The fasting days are any days of your choosing.

The idea is that short bouts of fasting keep you compliant; should you be hungry on a fasting day, you just have to look forward to the next day, when you can “feast” again. “Some people say, ‘I can do anything for two days, but it’s too much to cut back on what I eat all seven days,’” Kumar says. For those people, a 5:2 approach may work better than cutting calories for the entire week.

That said, the authors of The FastDiet advise against fasting on days that you may be doing a lot of endurance exercise. If you’re prepping for a bike or running race (or run high-mileage weeks), evaluate whether this type of fasting will work with your training plan, or speak with a sports nutritionist.

2. Time-Restricted Fasting

With this type of intermittent fasting, you choose an eating window every day, which should ideally leave a 14- to 16-hour fasting period. (Due to hormonal concerns, Shemek recommends that women fast for no more than 14 hours daily.)

Fasting promotes autophagy, the natural ‘cellular housekeeping’ process where the body clears debris and other things that stand in the way of the health of mitochondria, which begins when liver glycogen is depleted.

Shemek says doing this may help maximise fat cell metabolism and optimise insulin function, she says.

With this approach, you set your eating window from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., for instance. It can work especially well for someone with a family who eats an early dinner anyway, Kumar says. Then, much of the time spent fasting is time spent sleeping anyway. (You also don’t technically have to “miss” any meals, depending on when you set your window.)

3. Overnight Fasting

This intermittent fasting approach is the simplest of the bunch. It involves fasting for a 12-hour period every day. For example: Choose to stop eating after dinner by 7 p.m., and then resume eating at 7 a.m. with breakfast the next morning. Autophagy does still happen at the 12-hour mark, though you’ll get more mild cellular benefits, Shemek says. This is the minimum number of fasting hours she recommends.

A benefit of this intermittent fasting method is that it’s easy to implement. Also, you don’t have to skip meals; if anything, all you’re doing is eliminating a bedtime snack (if you ate one to begin with). But this method doesn’t maximise the advantages of fasting. If you’re using intermittent fasting for weight loss, a smaller fasting window means more time to eat, and it may not help you decrease the number of calories you take in.

4. Eat Stop Eat

This intermittent fasting approach was developed by author Brad Pilon in his book Eat Stop Eat: The Shocking Truth That Makes Weight Loss Simple Again. His approach differs from other ones in that he stresses flexibility. Simply put, he emphasises the idea that fasting is just taking a break from food for a time. You complete one or two 24-hour fasts per week and commit to a resistance training program. “When your fast is over, I want you to pretend that it never happened and eat responsibly. That’s it. Nothing else,” he says on his website.

Eating responsibly refers to going back to a normal way of eating, where you don’t binge because you just fasted, but you also don’t restrict yourself with an extreme diet or eat less than you need. Occasional fasting combined with regular weight training is best for fat loss, Pilon says. By going on one or two 24-hour fasts during the week, you allow yourself to eat a slightly higher number of calories on the other five or six non-fasting days. That, he says, makes it easier and more enjoyable to end the week with a calorie deficit but without feeling as if you had to be on an extreme diet.

With this approach to intermittent fasting, it’s important to remember that not eating for an entire day comes with risks like not meeting important nutrient needs or experiencing symptoms like lightheadedness or lethargy.

5. Whole-Day Fasting

In this intermittent fasting approach, you eat once a day. Some people choose to eat dinner and then not eat again until the next day’s dinner, Shemek explains. With whole-day fasting, the fasting periods are essentially 24 hours (dinner to dinner or lunch to lunch), whereas with 5:2 the fasting period is actually 36 hours. (For example, you eat dinner on Sunday, then “fast” on Monday by eating 500 or 600 calories, and break it with breakfast on Tuesday.)

The advantage of whole-day fasting, if done for weight loss, is that it’s really tough (though not impossible) to eat an entire day’s worth of calories in one sitting. The disadvantage of this approach is that it’s hard to get all the nutrients your body needs to function optimally with just one meal. Not to mention, this approach is tough to stick to. You might get really hungry by the time dinner rolls around, and that can lead you to consume not-so-great, calorie-dense choices. Think about it: When you’re ravenous, you’re not exactly craving broccoli. Many people also drink coffee in excess to get through their hunger, Shemek says, which can have negative effects on your ability to sleep. You may also notice brain fog throughout the day if you’re not eating.

6. Alternate-Day Fasting

This intermittent fasting approach was popularised by Krista Varady, PhD, a professor of kinesiology and nutrition at the University of Illinois at Chicago. People might fast every other day, with a “fast” consisting of 25 percent of their calorie needs (about 500 calories), and non-fasting days being normal eating days. This is a popular approach for weight loss.

In fact, research found that, in overweight adults, alternate-day fasting significantly reduced body mass index, weight, fat mass, and total cholesterol.

You may be concerned about feeling hungry on fasting days. Research published by Dr. Varady and colleagues found that side effects of alternate-day fasting (like hunger) decreased by week two, and the participants started feeling more satisfied on the diet after week four. The downside was that during the eight weeks in the experiment, study participants said that they were never really “full,” which can make adhering to this approach challenging.

7. Choose-Your-Day Fasting

This is more of a choose-your-own-adventure approach to intermittent fasting. You might do the time-restricted fasting (fast for 16 hours, eat for 8, for instance) every other day or once or twice a week, Shemek says. What that means is that Sunday might be a normal day of eating, where you stop eating by 8 p.m.; then you’d resume eating again on Monday at noon. Essentially, it’s like skipping breakfast a few days a week.

Something to keep in mind: The research on the effect skipping breakfast has on weight loss is mixed. There isn’t strong evidence to suggest that skipping breakfast affects weight. But other research has shown that eating a morning meal can modestly impact weight loss. Still other research has linked breakfast skipping with an increased risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease.

This approach may be easily adaptable to your lifestyle and enable you to “go with the flow,” but a looser approach may mean milder benefits.