We live in a nation where three in four adults are overweight and nearly 42% are obese.
If you’ve been struggling to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle, you’re certainly not alone. Maybe you’ve tried all the latest fad diets, joined a variety of gyms, or signed up for popular weight loss programs — with little or no success.
Did you know there’s a healthy, scientifically proven way to shed those pounds without going to extremes? It’s called intermittent fasting, and it’s helped millions of people to lose weight and adopt healthier habits.
What is intermittent fasting, exactly? What are its benefits, and how does it work? Most importantly, is it a good weight loss option for you?
We’ll answer all these questions and provide some sample intermittent fasting meal plans, so keep reading below.
Table of Contents
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Far from being another fad diet, humans have practiced fasting for religious, ritualistic, and ethical reasons for thousands of years. The first known medical uses of fasting date back to the Greek physician Hippocrates during the 5th century BCE.
“Fasting” means abstaining from food and drinks for a certain period of time. Intermittent fasting is a style of eating that involves abstaining from food during set hours or each day or week. You can use it for a short amount of time to reach your weight loss goal or make it a permanent, healthy lifestyle change.
During the time periods when you are able to eat, you’ll want to focus on lean protein, healthy fats, and carbohydrates from whole food sources. You can drink water, tea, and black coffee anytime, as long as you don’t add any sugar or sweeteners.
Intermittent fasting does require some self-discipline, especially if you’re used to snacking all day. However, as we’ll discuss in greater detail below, it’s not overly restrictive. Because you’re fueling your body with the nourishment it needs at specific times, it will be easier to stay motivated in your weight loss journey.
What Are the Benefits of Intermittent Fasting?
Does intermittent fasting really work for weight loss?
Yes! One study found that participants lost between 4.6% and 13.0% of their baseline body weight over a period of 2-12 months. The main reason is that fasting results in lower insulin levels, which means your body burns stored fat (instead of sugar) for energy.
Other studies have demonstrated numerous benefits that help to maintain or even improve overall health. This includes:
- Lower blood pressure
- Increased metabolism
- Lower levels of inflammation
- Decreased insulin resistance
- Increased muscle mass
- Better cholesterol levels
- Improved brain function
With all these benefits of intermittent fasting, it’s no wonder that it can even help you live a longer life.
How Does an Intermittent Fasting Schedule Work?
When it comes to an intermittent fasting plan, there’s no “one size fits all” solution that works for everybody. The great thing about this type of weight loss plan is that you can adapt it to suit your needs and lifestyle.
Here are some of the most common schedules for intermittent fasting.
The 12/12 Method
If you’re a beginner hoping to ease into this new lifestyle or you’re concerned about feeling too hungry throughout the day, you could start with a 12/12 schedule. You’ll eat for 12 hours and fast for 12 hours (i.e., 6 AM to 6 PM or 8 AM to 8 PM) and you’ll be asleep for most of the time you’re fasting.
The 14/10 Method
This is one of the most popular schedules, allowing you to eat for 10 hours and then fast for 14 hours. Studies suggest it’s especially beneficial for women who hope to lose weight and lower their blood pressure.
The 16/8 Method
Another popular option (and particularly beneficial for men), this schedule has you eating during an 8-hour window and then fasting for 16 hours. You can easily adapt this schedule to fit your daily routine. For example, if you’re not usually hungry in the mornings, you can eat from noon until 8 PM.
The 5/2 Method
Rather than a daily routine, this intermittent fasting schedule spreads across a week. You’ll eat normally for five days and then fast for two non-consecutive days. On your fasting days, you’ll just eat two very small meals of no more than 300 calories each.
The Alternate-Day Method
A variation to the 5/2 Method, you’ll simply fast every other day. One day you’ll eat normally, and the next, you’ll eat about 500 calories, and so on.
Which Foods Should I Eat?
Keep in mind that your ability to eat for a set number of hours does not mean “eat whatever you want.” Fasting for 16 hours and then giving in to your food cravings and demolishing three Big Macs won’t get you any closer to your weight loss goals.
You can combine intermittent fasting with other healthy lifestyle diets, such as Paleo, Keto, or Whole30. It works equally well with a low-fat or sugar-free diet if you have specific health concerns like heart disease or diabetes. Vegetarians or vegans can also continue to eat the foods they normally do within the time window they choose.
If you don’t prescribe to a specific type of diet, you can simply try to eat clean. Include plenty of weight loss-friendly foods in your meals such as leafy green vegetables, legumes, lean meats, and fatty fish.
Here’s a sample of healthy foods you can enjoy while you’re intermittent fasting:
- Dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, arugula)
- Healthy oils (avocado, olive, coconut)
- Raw nuts and nut butter (almond, macadamia, walnut)
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts)
- Grass-fed, free-range proteins (beef, bison, chicken, pork)
- Wild-caught fish (salmon, trout, tuna)
- Full-fat dairy products (cottage cheese, Greek yogurt)
- Fruits and berries in their natural form (or in a homemade smoothie)
As often as possible, prepare your food at home from fresh, whole ingredients. Avoid processed items that may appear healthy but are actually loaded with added sugars, oils, and fats. When you fuel your body with nutritious meals, you’ll find that it’s easier to avoid giving in to cravings for junk food.
Sample Intermittent Fasting Meal Plans
To help you jumpstart your intermittent fasting efforts, here are some sample snacks and meals you could try.
Start your day with a delicious, nutrient-packed green smoothie. You’ll need:
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1 avocado
- 1 cup blueberries
- 1 cup spinach or kale
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds
Combine everything into a blender and enjoy.
If you’re a breakfast lover, try this healthy version of a breakfast sandwich. You’ll need:
- 2 slices of multigrain bread
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup baby spinach
- 1 medium-sized tomato
- 1 tbsp feta cheese
- salt and pepper to taste
Toast your bread, cook your egg, and combine everything into a delectable morning treat.
PB&J Overnight Oats
Prep this the night before and you’ll have breakfast waiting for you in the morning. You’ll need:
- 1/4 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/2 cup mashed raspberries
- 3 tbsp whole raspberries
- 3 tbsp creamy peanut butter
Combine in a bowl and stir until smooth. Cover it and place it in your fridge overnight.
Scrambled Eggs With Sweet Potato
If you’re not in a rush in the mornings, try this nutrient-rich recipe to break your overnight fast. You’ll need:
- 1 diced sweet potato, diced
- 3 eggs
- 3 egg whites
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 2 tsp chopped rosemary
- 2 tbsp chopped chives
- Salt and pepper to taste
Toss the sweet potato, onion, and herbs on a baking tray and place in the oven for 20 minutes at 425 degrees. While it’s cooking, scramble your eggs and finish with chives, salt, and pepper.
This tasty recipe serves four hungry people. You’ll need:
- 1 lb. lean ground turkey
- 1 tbsp taco seasoning
- 8 whole-grain corn tortillas
- 2 tsp oil
- 1 cup chopped lettuce
- 1 chopped red onion
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup shredded Mexican cheese
- 1 avocado, sliced
- Salsa or hot sauce to taste
Cook the turkey and onion until brown, drain, then add the taco seasoning and 1 cup of water and simmer until reduced by half. Warm up the tortillas, lay out the toppings, and enjoy your healthy Mexican feast.
Fruity Fresh Quinoa Salad
Prep this ahead of time and you’ll have the perfect lunchtime meal. You’ll need:
- 2 cups baby spinach
- 1 cup sliced strawberries
- 1 tbsp crumbled goat cheese
- 2 tbsp thinly sliced almonds
- 1/4 cup cooked quinoa
For the homemade dressing, you’ll need:
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 tsp lemon zest
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1/2 tsp honey
- black pepper
Combine everything, chill it overnight, and enjoy it during your lunch break the next day.
Chicken With Fried Cauliflower Rice
For a hearty, Asian-inspired meal, try this healthy version of one of your favorite standbys. You’ll need:
- 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast
- 4 large eggs
- 4 cups cauliflower “rice”
- 1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
- 2 red bell peppers, chopped
- 2 small carrots, chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 4 scallions, chopped
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp grapeseed oil
You’ll make this in stages, starting with the chicken. Cook it in the skillet with a bit of oil, set it aside, and cook the scrambled eggs. Next, combine the vegetables (except the cauliflower) until cooked through.
Finally, add the cauliflower rice with the soy sauce, cook it through, and toss with the vegetables, eggs, and chicken. Finish with scallions and enjoy!
FAQs About Intermittent Fasting Diet Plans
To round out our discussion, let’s address some of the most common concerns people have about intermittent fasting.
1. Should I Exercise During Intermittent Fasting?
Absolutely! When you’re fasting, exercise helps you to lose stored fat because your body is using it for energy. Working out while you fast also increases the human growth hormone, which helps you to build more lean muscle, too.
2. Will I Feel Very Hungry While I Fast?
You may feel increased hunger in the beginning, especially if you’re used to eating every few hours. Over time, though, your body will undergo positive changes including more muscle, less bloating, and increased energy levels. Make sure to include plenty of protein and fiber in your diet and you’ll soon find that hunger becomes less of an issue.
3. What Are the Best Foods to Eat Before and After a Fast?
The meal before a fast should contain a balance of healthy fats, fiber, and protein. High-fiber foods and protein take longer to digest, which means you’ll feel fuller longer. Think green vegetables and whole-fat dairy products, along with lean meat or fatty fish.
To break your fast in the morning or at lunchtime, choose nutritious foods like eggs, sweet potatoes, chicken, or avocado. Your body needs nourishment after the fasting period, enjoy your meal and feel free to eat until you feel full.
4. How Much Should I Drink?
Did you know that thirst can feel exactly like hunger? Often when we reach for a snack, our body is really telling us to drink some water.
It’s crucial to stay hydrated while you’re on an intermittent fasting schedule. Try to drink around half your body weight (in ounces) of water every day. You may also have black coffee and tea while you’re fasting and other drinks, such as smoothies, during your eating hours.
5. Will I Gain Weight After I Stop Intermittent Fasting?
The answer depends entirely on you and the type of lifestyle you maintain if you choose to stop intermittent fasting. If you return to your former eating habits and lead a sedentary lifestyle, chances are the weight will return.
It’s possible to stay on an intermittent fasting schedule long-term, and many people do as part of a healthier lifestyle. If you do choose to stop, remember that the basics of exercise and a balanced diet always apply.
Professional Support on Your Weight Loss Journey
If you’ve read this far, it’s obvious that you’re serious about losing weight and making healthier lifestyle choices. Intermittent fasting meal plans have worked for countless people, and they can work for you too.
Admittedly, though, it’s not easy to begin (or stick with) a new diet plan. Old habits are hard to break, and you may find yourself battling food cravings that sabotage your weight loss efforts.
The good news is that help is available to keep you on track. UnCraveRx will connect you with a qualified medical professional in your area that can help you overcome unhealthy eating habits and achieve your weight loss goals.
Click here to find an UnCraveRx provider near you.