Intermittent Fasting For Dummies
Book image
Explore Book Buy On Amazon
Intermittent fasting is an extraordinarily healthy lifestyle, scientifically proven to promote numerous benefits for your body and brain. In fact, it’s the key that unlocks everything from sustainable weight and fat loss (especially that stubborn belly fat) to increased mental clarity and a serious boost in energy.

Intermittent fasting isn’t a diet in the conventional sense, but rather an eating pattern — a timed approach to eating. Intermittent fasting will help you lose the fat for good, get healthier, fight disease, and hopefully increase your longevity.

intermittent fasting © Kreminski /

What can you eat on an intermittent fast

Following an intermittent fasting plan doesn’t have to be overwhelming! Here are five easy-peasy tips to help you know what to eat (during your eating windows) when you start eating healthy, the intermittent fasting way:

  • Choose healthy carbohydrates. Dietary carbohydrates can be split into two main categories: whole and refined. Choose whole foods as much as possible. Examples of whole carbs include all vegetables, whole fruit, legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), potatoes (yes, potatoes are healthy!), and whole grains. Don’t fear eating healthy carbs — they don’t make you fat and are truly the staff of life.
  • Avoid refined carbs and processed foods. On the other hand, refined carbs include sugar-sweetened beverages, fruit juices, pastries, white bread, white pasta, white rice, and others. Steer clear of eating these foods as much as possible. If the food comes in a box, bag, bottle, or off a menu, odds are it’s processed too much with unhealthy additives. Focus on eating whole foods as much as possible.
  • Eat more plant protein. You can obtain protein from both plants and animals. People who eat more plant-based protein live longer, healthier lives than those who get their protein mostly from animals. In addition to providing the building blocks for healthy muscles and tissues, plant protein is more beneficial for weight loss. Compared to animal protein, plant proteins tend to be lower in calories and fat and contain fiber, essential nutrients, and antioxidants not found in animals. Science has shown repeatedly that the more meat people eat, the higher their risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Conversely, the more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes people eat, the lower their risk for these diseases, and the lower their body mass index (a measure doctors use to assess your risk of disease from excess body fat). Examples of plant proteins (only plants provide fiber and do not contain cholesterol) include legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), nuts, and whole grains.
  • Eat seafood. If becoming a complete vegetarian isn’t for you, then choose your animal protein wisely. Eat more fish. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish like salmon and mackerel) at least twice a week. Loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, this superfood improves brain and heart health and may reduce the risk of diseases like Alzheimer’s, dementia, and diabetes, help prevent blood clots, and may even help alleviate rheumatoid arthritis, allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, cardiac arrhythmia, and depression. Plus, seafood is low in fat and calories and is a great source of high-quality protein.

Here are a couple tips for eating more fish:

    • Choose your fish judiciously. Despite its benefits, seafood can be dangerous to your health when contaminated with industrial chemicals, pesticides, and heavy metals — most notably mercury and PCBs. As a rule, smaller fish — think squid, scallops, and sardines — contain less mercury than larger varieties like tuna and swordfish, which are higher up the food chain. Other low mercury fish include salmon, flounder, Pacific sole, and tilapia.
    • Use a small amount of seafood to flavor your meals. Think Asian-style stir-fried scallops with vegetables over brown rice or a whole-grain pasta primavera flavored with shrimp.
  • Eat healthy fats. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are known as the good fats because they’re good for your heart, your cholesterol, and your overall health. These fats can help to lower the risk of heart disease and stroke and lower bad LDL cholesterol levels, while increasing good HDL. Make extra virgin olive oil your main fat and add in nuts, seeds and avocado to your day as a strategy for eating healthy fats.

What to eat during your intermittent fasting period

What to put in your mouth during your fasting window when you’re following an intermittent fasting plan, that is the question! Clean fasting describes the fasting window where you can consume only calorie-free beverages. You can also consume natural non-nutritive sweeteners, diet sodas, and sugarless gum, because these foods will help you stick to your fast.

As general rule, if you drink something with less than about 10 calories, then your body will remain in the fasted state, so adding fresh lemon juice or a spritz of apple cider vinegar to your water is fine. A new well-constructed study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition has proven that nonnutritive sweeteners, such as stevia and Splenda, don’t affect glucose or insulin levels.

The list of what you can consume during your fasting periods is short and sweet:

  • Any kind of calorie-free water such as plain water, sparkling water, and flavored waters (check the label to ensure there are zero calories)
  • Black coffee and teas
  • Diet soda (in moderation)
  • Nonnutritive sweeteners (in moderation)
  • Sugar-free gum
  • Any other zero-calorie beverages are allowed during the fast

Just make sure you don’t eat any solid foods.

10 points to consider before you begin an intermittent fast

Intermittent fasting is an extraordinarily healthful lifestyle, however, there are many factors that should be contemplated before you begin. Here is some food (calorie-free, of course) for thought:

  • Talk to your doctor if you’re hesitant. Before choosing and starting your intermittent fasting plan, have a conversation with your doctor and get their blessing.
  • If you take medications, work with your doctor. Come up with a safe approach and management plan for you, as well as to adjust any of your medication doses.
  • If you’re a diabetic and take insulin, you must be extremely careful. Intermittent fasting puts you at a greater risk of low blood sugar, which can lead to life-threatening symptoms, such as dizziness, confusion, seizures, loss of consciousness, or even death. Work with your doctor, dietitian, and endocrinologist to create a safe intermittent fasting plan, or you may, perhaps, choose to not follow this program.
  • Find the intermittent fasting plan that works for you. The key is to find the plan that you can stick with for the long term. But don’t be afraid to switch plans if need be.
  • Be prepared for side effects. In the early stages, you may run into common speed bumps like headaches, lightheadedness, irritability, fatigue, hunger, and low energy. Keep in mind that most if not all of these conditions will dissipate with time. If they aren’t tolerable, stop your intermittent fast immediately.
  • If you’re feeling down, anxious, or discouraged with your intermittent fasting plan, stop and contact a registered dietitian and/or professional mental health counselor right away. They may be able to help you create a fasting schedule that better suits your mind and body or they may insist that you refrain from following the program.
  • Plan on eating healthfully. Your diet during your eating windows should consist of whole, unprocessed foods, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats, as well as a multivitamin and plenty of water to prevent dehydration and headaches. A healthy diet will help you lose or manage your weight and keep your blood sugar level steady.
  • Expect to stay put for the long haul. Keep your expectations in check with the understanding that intermittent fasting may take months before you begin to see results.
  • Expect that you may need support. If you do get the all clear to try intermittent fasting from your healthcare provider, when making major lifestyle changes, it’s always helpful to get a friend on board or enlist social networking to boost your motivation to stick with it.
  • Expect that you’ll become more physically active. The best lifestyle for promoting good health and longevity includes intermittent fasting where you eat a plant-based, Mediterranean style diet and combine that with daily exercise.

Helpful tips to eating whole foods when intermittent fasting

A whole-foods, plant-based diet is hands down the best way to eat for your health, the health of the planet and, of course, the welfare of animals. Whole foods refer to food that has been minimally processed or refined and is free from harmful additives or other artificial substances. Here are some tips for choosing whole foods:

  • Don’t limit intake of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables (with no additives). Eat the rainbow-colored plant foods every day.
  • Include dark-colored, leafy greens and vegetables in every eating day.
  • Choose unprocessed foods such as an apple versus apple juice.
  • Choose brown over white when it comes to breads and pasta and rice.
  • Use whole-grain flour in baking recipes or half whole, half white flour.
  • Say no to sugary drinks. So, instead of sipping packaged juice or soda, go for unsweetened beverages or infused water.
  • Become a label sleuth and figure out how to decipher the Nutrition Facts labels.
  • Avoid foods labeled with too many calories, too much saturated fat, cholesterol, or trans fat, added sugars, and sodium.
  • If buying processed foods, check the ingredients list. The first few ingredients should not be sugar, salt, refined grains, or bad fats.
  • Choose one ingredient foods such as a package of frozen green peas. The ingredients list will simply read “green peas.”
  • Cook at home more often so you control the ingredients.

Eat more plant protein on your intermittent fast

The benefit of frequently choosing plant protein over animal protein as your protein source is in the packaging. When you eat foods for protein, you also eat everything that comes packaged with the protein: the different fats, fiber, sodium, and more. It’s this protein package that makes all the difference for health. Plant proteins, like beans, come packaged with sizable hits of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates, protein, and are virtually sodium and fat-free. Compare this to animal protein, where most animal proteins come packaged with saturated fat, the bad fat that clogs the arteries, excess calories, sodium, zero fiber, and zero antioxidants. Here are some ways to bump up your plant protein intake:

  • Eat nuts (unsalted) and seeds (chia, flax, and hemp).
  • Try new recipes with tofu, tempeh, and edamame.
  • Eat beans and brown rice.
  • Use hummus as a sandwich spread with added veggies and whole grain bread.
  • Try using lentils for soups, curries, and salads.
  • Replace dairy milk with plant-based milk such as soy milk or almond milk.

Ways you can eat healthy fats when intermittent fasting

Fats play a vital role in your nutrition and health. But, when it comes to fat, you truly are what you eat. Some fats are harmful, and when eaten frequently, promote disease. Other fats do the opposite; they promote better health and prevent disease. Here is a simple guide to getting in more good fats during your eating windows:

  • Replace butter, lard, and refined vegetable oils with authentic extra-virgin olive oil as your main fat.
  • Use oil sprays whenever possible.
  • Eat avocado and guacamole frequently.
  • Eat raw or dry-roasted and unsalted nuts daily.
  • Eat seeds such as chia, flax, or hemp, daily.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Janet Bond Brill, PhD, RDN, FAND, LDN is an internationally recognized expert on fitness, nutrition, and health. She is a registered and licensed dietitian and nutritionist. She has published three books on the prevention of heart disease and numerous articles in reputable scientific journals.

This article can be found in the category: