If you’re new to intermittent fasting or considering giving it a try, here’s a friendly guide to the fundamental rules and common mistakes to avoid.

Intermittent Fasting Philosophy

Short-term fasting can significantly impact hormones related to weight loss and management. Intermittent fasting aims to use meal timing to influence your body’s existing fat-burning mechanisms, including metabolism, hormones, blood sugar, and other weight loss variables.

While most diets focus on content and calories, the most essential element of intermittent fasting is when you eat and when you don’t.

Here are the most critical intermittent fasting rules.

When To Eat

Separate your day into two blocks—one for eating and one for fasting.

You don’t need to obsess about calories like a lunatic with intermittent fasting. As explained above, it isn’t a content diet. It’s a meal-timing diet.

As you reach the later stages of a short-term fast, usually 12-16 hours per day, your body will begin increasing natural growth hormone secretion and other hormones regulating appetite and body fat. It also influences your blood sugar and how your body repairs its cells.

So when should you eat?

You first want to decide how long you want your fast to be each day. Twelve hours is a minimum and optimal for first-timers, and 20 hours is considered extreme.

Then, you must separate your day into “eating” and “non-eating” time frames. So, if you fast for twelve hours and start eating at 8 am, you have until 8 pm to consume your daily calories.

Once you enter the “non-eating” time frame, you cannot consume any more calories until the following morning.

What To Eat

Intermittent fasting doesn’t require specific foods or diet to work.

Once you’ve decided how long you want to fast each day, it’s time to decide what content you want to consume. Unlike most diets, there isn’t a fixed requirement regarding the type of food you eat.

This makes intermittent fasting very flexible and combines it with other diet philosophies like low carb, paleo, vegetarian, and simply eating healthy.

However, you will want to keep a close eye on your calorie total. It isn’t necessary to enter a considerable calorie deficit because your hormones, blood sugar, and other weight loss factors are doing all the heavy lifting for you.

But you can’t stay in a calorie surplus and lose weight on intermittent fasting, unfortunately. A minimum deficit of 200 calories is enough to lose weight efficiently.

Many dieters have lost weight and gotten leaner while intermittent fasting without restricting calories. They didn’t change what they ate every day; they just followed the eating and non-eating time frames without significant changes to daily calorie totals.

The larger your calorie deficit, the more significant weight loss you can expect.

When To Exercise

Exercising during your non-eating time frame is recommended.

If you’ve heard the phrase “fasted workout,” it was likely part of an intermittent fasting schedule. Trying to exercise, mainly cardio, can be very challenging if you’re at the later stages of a fast, but it’s proven effective for fat loss.

Your body will have a progression of preferred resources, with calories consumed at the top of the pecking order. When you don’t have calories from a meal, your body is more likely to tap into fat stores for use while exercising.

Don’t Break Your Fast

The absolute most important rule is “Don’t break your fast”.

It’s more important than how many calories you eat daily or how you structure your meal timing. The core principle to take advantage of intermittent fasting is consecutive non-eating hours.

If you never enter this fasted state because you’re constantly snacking every few hours, you won’t reap the rewards of improved blood sugar, increased growth hormone secretion, and decreased appetite.

Beware of foods labeled zero calories, as most will have trace amounts of calories that can break your fast if you eat enough. Drink lots of water, add a fiber source with your meals, or use a supplement to help manage hunger cravings.