What Is Intermittent Fasting? Experts Reveal The 5 Biggest Things You Need To Know

I personally have zero interest in going any significant length of time without eating. My snack cupboard is usually very well-stocked, and I honestly don't know what I would do if I couldn't reach for an afternoon pick-me-up whenever I needed some extra energy. So once I heard that intermittent fasting is a thing in the world of wellness, I knew I had to investigate. After all, any sort of eating plan with the word "fasting" in it sounds a bit restrictive, at least at first glance, so what is this trend really all about?

In case you're not quite up to speed either, Kristin Koskinen, RDN, LD, CD, a registered dietitian/nutritionist based in Washington, says intermittent fasting is basically just a strategy in which you're cycling eating with fasting — which, if you think about it, is something you already do naturally a lot of the time, regardless of any diets you are or aren't exploring. After all, the seven or so hours that you sleep each night technically counts as a "fast," and according to Healthline, "intermittent fasting can be as simple as extending that fast a little longer." So, for example, maybe your first meal could be at noon instead of 10 a.m., and then your dinner could be a bit later, around 8 p.m. Or, as Lindsey Mathews, head trainer and nutritionist for IdealFit, explains, a common intermittent fasting strategy is "the 16/8 method," which means "you abstain from eating for 16 hours followed by an eight-hour eating window," she tells Elite Daily over email. Either way, Healthline says the benefits of intermittent fasting can include lower blood sugar levels, more energy, and honestly, it's just a simpler way to live, since you won't have quite as many meals to plan for or clean up after.

But, aside from the periods you go without eating, Koskinen says another key part of intermittent fasting is its embrace of all foods during the times you do eat. "Unlike dieting, calorie-counting, or macro-calculating, food group exclusion isn't required," she tells Elite Daily. In other words, the theory behind intermittent fasting is all about when you eat, not what you eat.

Of course, when it comes to any change you're making in your diet, it's best to talk to your own doctor and/or nutritionist to get the scoop on what's best for your individual body. But if, for now, intermittent fasting is something you're simply considering or looking to learn more about, here's what the experts really want you to know about it.

Pace Yourself In The Beginning

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Whenever I find a great new wellness tip or healthy eating plan, I get super excited (I'm a nerd, I know). But, according to Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics, intermittent fasting is one of those things you don't want to overdo, especially when you first start.

"Don’t jump straight in there fasting 20 hours a week," he tells Elite Daily in an email. "You should build up your hours slowly to allow your body to adjust to this new state. Easing yourself into it will make it more likely you will stick to this lifestyle."

Don't Skimp On The Water

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"Seeing as you’re not getting hydrated from your regular food intake, you need to ensure that you’re drinking a lot more water than you usually would," Backe tells Elite Daily. He recommends hydrating with at least two liters a day of regular ol' H2O.

Keep in mind, when it comes to intermittent fasting, you can still drink plain coffee and tea during the "fasting" hours, so if you're not feeling water during those times, those two bevs might be tastier, more satisfying options. Hey, any excuse to drink more coffee, right?

Remember That Nutrition Is Still An Important Priority

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After a number of food-free hours go by, you might want to just chow down on whatever's closest to you or easiest to prepare. But, in order to make sure you're getting all of the vitamins and nutrients your body really needs, Staci Gulbin, a registered dietitian with Lighttrack Nutrition, stresses that a well-balanced diet takes priority above all else.

"If you are interested in trying intermittent fasting, it will be important to make sure you understand what a healthy meal and snack is first," Gulbin tells Elite Daily in an email, "and that you are eating a good variety of fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed proteins each day." Some relatively easy (not to mention delicious) foods to work into intermittent fasting, per Greatist, include avocados, fish, potatoes, eggs, nuts, and much more. Again, this way of eating really isn't restrictive in terms of what you eat; it's all about figuring out when your body really wants to eat.

Your Brain Will Probably Get A Nice Boost

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"Fasting reduces oxidative brain stress and reduces inflammation in the brain," Backe explains. In much simpler terms, this means that intermittent fasting can basically help your brain function more effectively. In fact, one study, published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, looked at the effects of intermittent fasting on lab rats, and found that the eating pattern was successful in improving both heart and brain health.

Even more interesting was the study's findings that intermittent fasting's effects on the cardiovascular system and the brain appear to be "similar to those of regular physical exercise." Pretty wild, right?

No Matter What, Don't Force It

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As Koskinen tells Elite Daily over email, everybody, and every body, is unique, meaning "there are always many considerations, including overall health, activity levels, and the quality of [your] diet," to take into account before deciding that intermittent fasting is right for you. In addition to talking to your doctor before trying out this new way of eating, Koskinen recommends speaking to a professional if, once you start intermittent fasting, you experience fatigue, unexpected changes in your blood sugar, dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, vomiting, or lethargy.

As with any new diet, make sure that intermittent fasting is, above all, helping you feel your absolute best.