So you’ve decided to give intermittent fasting a try (congratulations!), and you need to know what the eating schedule is. Even just a quick online search probably gave you an overwhelming amount of information about the different kinds of plans, durations, days, etc…
With such a wide variety of intermittent fasting regimens, how can you figure out which one is best for you?
Not to fear, we’ve put together a helpful breakdown of the different schedules. After all, you want to make sure you’re choosing a schedule that works well with your lifestyle and can maximize the incredible health benefits that intermittent fasting can give you.
The 16/8 Schedule
This is easily the most popular of all the intermittent fasting schedules. It combines an 8-hour eating window with a 16-hour fasting window. So, for example, only eating between the hours of noon and 8:00 p.m.
Pro: This is the most common schedule for a reason. It fits pretty seamlessly into most lifestyles, seeing as how you can choose to skip either breakfast or dinner, depending on your personal preferences. Also, you’re sleeping during a good chunk of the fasting window, which makes it easier.
Con: 16 hours can be a long time to go without food when you’re new to fasting. After one or two weeks, most people hardly notice any more hunger pangs, but it does take your body a little while to get adjusted to this schedule.
(Tip: if you’re going for the full 16 hours and would like some help with what you can drink during your fasting window, you might want to read this guide.)
Who’s it for: This schedule is suited for just about anyone, but especially if you’ve already experimented with shorter fasting windows, you might want to give this one a try. It tends to hit the sweet spot for most people as far as being manageable while still providing noticeable benefits.
The 12/12 Schedule
This is typically the best way to start out for anyone completely new to fasting. It used to be quite normal for people to fast for 12 hours. Dinnertime around 7pm, breakfast at 7am. Enter the advent of freezer food and late night snacks, not to mention the longer work days which cause people to stay up later.
Suddenly we are eating around the clock, and it’s wreaking havoc on our blood sugar and waistlines. Did you know that your body doesn’t actually switch from a “fed” state to the “fasted” state until about 4 hours after you’ve finished your last meal?
Pro: This schedule requires minimal effort. It is a great way to reset your body to what is more natural for it (giving your digestive system a break overnight). Plus, you’ll probably sleep better and you’re not likely to experience any hunger pangs with such a small fasting window.
Con: Because the fasting window is relatively small, you’re not likely to see as many health benefits as quickly as you would on a plan with a longer fasting window. This is because it typically takes your body anywhere from 8-10 hours after enjoying your last meal to get to a fasted state. Only then do you enter fat-burning mode. So with a 12-hour fast, you’re only going to be in fat-burning mode for maybe 2-3 hours.
Who’s it for: Anyone new to fasting or struggling with the idea of giving up food for too long.
The 20-Hour Fast (Warrior Diet)
A 20-hour fasting schedule has been popularized by the “Warrior Diet,” which was created by Ori Hofmekler. Inspired by the eating habits of ancient Spartan and Roman warriors, this plan requires you to eat all your food within a four hour window. So, for example, only eating between 2pm and 6pm. The Warrior Diet also encourages a focus on high-intensity interval training and a diet of unprocessed foods.
Pro: Because this is a pretty condensed intermittent fasting schedule, it can work really well for folks with a hectic lifestyle. You only have to worry about preparing and eating food for 4 hours per day, and the rest of the day you can just focus on getting everything else done. Also, many people report getting very deep and restful sleep when they follow this plan.
Con: It can be difficult for some people to go a full 20 hours without consuming any calories, especially when you’re just starting out with fasting.
Who’s it for: Someone who already has some experience with intermittent fasting but who is looking for faster fat-loss results. Also, there are online testimonials of folks who started with the 16/8 plan but found that they were still experiencing sugar cravings and a desire to overeat during the 8-hour window. These folks found great success with the Warrior Diet, because it is nearly impossible to overeat in a 4-hour eating window, given the limited space in your belly!
The 24-Hour Fast
Despite how it sounds, a 24-hour fast does not require you to go a whole day without eating. You will just be fasting from dinner one day until dinner the next day. Or breakfast to breakfast or lunch to lunch, depending on what you prefer. If you have dinner at 7pm tonight and don’t eat again until 7pm tomorrow, you’ve just completed a 24-hour fast.
Pro: This one can be very complementary to a busy day at work. Let’s say you have a super hectic day at the office or maybe a full day of travel. Instead of stressing about when and what to eat in the midst of your chaotic day, just take a break. Don’t worry about eating all day, until whenever you get home for dinner.
Con: You don’t want to do this one every day. It’s not recommended to do a 24-hour fast more than twice per week.
Who it’s for: People whose busy schedules could benefit from eliminating the stress of finding, preparing, eating and cleaning up food for an entire day, a couple days per week.
The 5:2 Diet
This plan is a little different than most traditional intermittent fasting schedules. Instead of completely abstaining from food during any set fasting window, you instead just dramatically limit your calories during a period of time. Specifically, you eat normally for 5 days of the week. On the other two days (your choice), women limit their calories to 500 for the day, and men stay below 600 calories per day.
Pro: You never have to face a time period where you’re not allowed to eat anything. This is a great plan to ease your way into the concept of fasting, without diving in all the way.
Con: You do have to be pretty precise about counting calories twice a week, which can be a pain. That means you need to look up the caloric content of everything you’re eating, measure out your portion sizes, and keep track throughout the day.
Who it’s for: People who enjoy the process of counting and tracking calories. (We know you’re out there!) This is also a great plan for anyone who is daunted by the prospect of having to face hunger pangs while fasting, because you never actually have to go without food on this plan.
Tim Ferriss 3-Day Fast Protocol
Tim Ferris has developed a three-day fasting protocol that is meant to accelerate your transition into ketosis, also known as fat-burning mode. Here’s what it looks like:
Stop eating by 6pm on Thursday. On Friday morning, go for a 3-4 hour walk while drinking lots of water. This should use up your body’s remaining glycogen stores, which will then transition you into ketosis. You don’t eat anything all day Friday and Saturday, but Tim does recommend supplementing with MCT oil or other ketone sources. You continue your fast into the daytime on Sunday and then break your fast with dinner on Sunday evening, right around 6pm. Tim’s protocol recommends doing this kind of 3-day fast once a month.
Pro: This plan has proven results for dropping people into ketosis much more quickly than other schedules. And because you stay in ketosis for several days, you can expect accelerated fat loss, plus reduced inflammation and increased autophagy (cell regeneration).
Con: Fasting for several days straight is not easy for the uninitiated. You also have to plan your day around being able to go for a long walk on the first full day of fasting. And, definitely expect to have lower energy levels throughout the fast.
Who it’s for: Anyone who’s highly motivated to get accelerated benefits of intermittent fasting. If you’ve already experimented with other schedules and maybe are looking for a kickstart to break through a weight loss plateau, this might be the right plan for you.
Alternate Day Fasting
This intermittent fasting schedule is actually a hybrid plan, where you can pick either the 16/8 schedule, the 12 hour fast, or the 20-hour fast. Then, instead of following that plan every single day, you would only adhere to your chosen fasting window every other day.
Pro: This approach tends to make any intermittent fasting schedule much more manageable and customizable.
Con: It might take a little longer to see health benefits, since you’re not switching your body into the fasted state every day. Please note: this doesn’t mean you won’t see benefits! Plenty of people get awesome results with alternate day fasting, and they find it much easier to sustain.
Who it’s for: Anyone not ready to commit to a full intermittent fasting schedule every day. Also, this approach definitely seems to work better for some women. You can read more about how intermittent fasting can affect women differently here.
This is a more intense fasting approach, typically deployed in situations where there is physician oversight and you’re trying to regulate Type 2 Diabetes. It looks like this: Finish eating dinner by 7pm tonight, don’t eat at all tomorrow, and then have breakfast after 7am the day after tomorrow. Dr. Jason Fung has used this protocol with great success in helping those who suffer from Type 2 Diabetes.
Pro: Excellent success rate, over the long term, for managing insulin sensitivity.
Con: Quite difficult to implement.
Who it’s for: Primarily recommended for those trying to manage insulin sensitivity.
We hope this gives you a good overview of the different intermittent fasting schedules available to you. And remember, if you try one plan and it’s just not feeling right, try another! And if you’re interested in more tips to make your intermittent fasting experience easier, you can check out our helpful Beginner’s Guide here, or more info on how tea can help you unlock maximum benefits from your fasting experience.
You can get the results want from Intermittent Fasting by setting yourself up for success. We recommend:
- Bookmarking this page on your laptop or smartphone for quick references.
- Pinning the Ultimate Guide to Intermittent Fasting Schedules on Pinterest.
- Printing off our downloadable Ultimate Guide to Intermittent Fasting Schedules (click the above button) and put it up next to your work desk or fridge at home as a reminder to stick through your new healthy routine.