Intermittent fasting seems to be all the rage these days. It involves not eating or restricting your food intake for certain periods of time. Ranging from several hours to days at a time.

This fasting method has been linked to a range of potential health benefits.

People who fast regularly often do so to lose weight or live a healthier, longer life.

Some studies suggest that alternate-day fasting is about as effective as a typical low-calorie diet for weight loss.

However, fasting can be dangerous if not done properly. To clarify some definitions, fasting is purposely not eating food.

In contrast, starvation is not being able to eat due to factors out of your control.

The idea behind intermittent fasting is that by restricting food, our bodies will more quickly and efficiently tap our fat stores for energy. While the glucose from carbohydrates is the body’s preferred fuel source, we burn fat for energy when glucose isn’t available. This happens even more during times of food deprivation.

Our ability to store fat is basically unlimited.

1. Fast for short periods (To start)

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Some popular versions include:

  • Alternate-day fasting. Eat a normal diet one day and either completely fast or have one small meal (less than 500 calories) the next day.
  • 5:2 fasting. Eat a normal diet five days a week and fast two days a week.
  • Daily time-restricted fasting. Eat normally but only within an eight-hour window each day. For example, skip breakfast but eat lunch around noon and dinner by 8 p.m.
  • “Eat Stop Eat”: A 24-hour complete fast 1–2 times per week.
  • The 16:8 Pattern: This pattern involves only consuming food in an eight-hour window and fasting for 16 hours a day, every day of the week

Most of these regimens are short fast periods of 8–24 hours. However, some people choose to undertake much longer fasts of 48 and even up to 72 hours or more.

Longer fasts increase the chances of negatives associated with fasting. This includes dehydration, irritability, mood changes, fainting, hunger, a lack of energy, and being unable to focus.

The best way to avoid these side effects is to stick to shorter fasting periods of up to 24 hours. Especially when you’re just starting out.

2. Always stay hydrated (Unless you’re water fasting)

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Mild dehydration can result in fatigue, dry mouth, thirst and headaches. So it’s vital to drink enough fluid on a fast.

Most health authorities recommend the 8×8 rule — eight 8-ounce glasses (just under 2 liters in total) of fluid every day — to stay hydrated.

However, the actual amount of fluid you need — although likely in this range — is quite individual.

Because you get around 20–30% of the fluid your body needs from food, it’s quite easy to get dehydrated while on a fast.

During a fast, many people aim to drink 8.5–13 cups (2–3 liters) of water over the course of the day. However, your thirst should tell you when you need to drink more, so listen to your body.

3. Don’t break the fast with a huge meal. (A rookie mistake)

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It can be tempting to celebrate a good fast by eating a huge meal.

However, breaking your fast with a feast could leave you feeling bloated and tired.

If you want to lose weight, a huge meal may slowing down weight loss.

Because your overall calorie quota impacts your weight, consuming excessive calories after a fast will reduce your calorie deficit.

Experts say the best way to break a fast is to eat normally and get back into your regular routine.

4. Don’t overexert yourself during any exercise

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Some people can maintain their regular exercise regimen while fasting.

However, if you’re new to fasting, it’s best to keep any exercise to a low intensity at first and work up from there.

Low-intensity exercises could include walking, mild yoga, gentle stretching or even chores around the house.

Most importantly, don’t push too hard and listen to your body.

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Fasting is the practice of abstaining from food and beverages for extended periods. Depending on how it’s done, it may boost your health.

People may choose to fast for dietary, political or religious purposes. One popular method is intermittent fasting, in which you cycle between periods of eating and fasting.

To stay healthy while fasting, it’s best to keep fast periods short, avoid intensive exercise and stay hydrated.

Eating enough protein and keeping a balanced diet when you’re not fasting can also maintain overall health and ensure successful fasts.