Which Intermittent Fasting Schedule Should I Follow?

Which Intermittent Fasting Schedule Should I Follow?
Photo by Jon Tyson / Unsplash

If you're new to intermittent fasting, you might be wondering, what's the best intermittent fasting schedule to follow.  In this post, we'll look at some of the intermittent fasting options and how you can choose which one works best for you.

What Are The Options?

There are several options for intermittent fasting with different names, and it may seem confusing or overwhelming, but it's really pretty simple.  Intermittent fasting is all about fasting and the different names describe the times throughout the day or week when that occurs.  Here are some of the common ones you're likely to come across:

  • 16/8 – fast for 16 hours out of the day, eat for 8
  • 18/6 – fast for 18 hours out of the day, eat for 6
  • 23/1 or OMAD (One meal a day) – fast for 23 hours of the day, eat for 1
  • 5/2 – fast for 2 days out of the week, eat for 5

I personally don't write much about the 5/2 and similar intermittent fasting schedules because they are less common (both in scientific research and the real world) and I don't have any experience with them.  

So with the exception of the weekly schedules like 5/2, all of these schedules involve fasting for most of the day. And when you think about it, there's nothing magical about these specific numbers – 17/7 or 19/5 are also valid schedules, just less common.  If you pick OMAD but your eating spans more than an hour on a given day, perhaps due to a social situation, it doesn't invalidate the whole thing.

What Are Your Goals?

So now that you know some of the options, the next thing to think about when starting intermittent fasting is what you're trying to achieve.  If you're interested in intermittent fasting for general health or to lose a small amount of weight, the shorter fasting periods like 16/8 are likely to be sufficient.  

If you're trying to lose a large amount of weight, you might have more success with the longer fasting periods like OMAD.  At least anecdotally, longer fasting periods may be more effective for higher levels of weight loss.  That would seem to make logical sense as you're likely to consume fewer calories, and spend more time in the fasted state of the body's energy cycle.  But be aware, there's not a lot of clear scientific research on direct comparisons the different fasting schedules.

The Best Schedule is One You Can Stick To

In the end, picking the right intermittent fasting schedule won't matter if you're not able to stick to the plan.  The longer the fasting period is, the more difficulty you'll have in sticking to it.  A longer fast can be difficult, both physically and mentally difficult.  If your fasting period is too long, you might feel lousy and be tempted to cheat.

I would personally rather have a shorter but "cleaner" fasting period rather than a longer fasting period where I "cheat" or bend the rules.  People often ask about what's okay to drink during intermittent fasting and there are some judgement calls and gray areas involved, especially around things like artificial sweeteners.  I think it's better to pick a sustainable fasting window and try to avoid these issues altogether.

So Which Intermittent Fasting Schedule Should I Follow?

Now that we've reviewed the options, let's answer the question: which schedule should you follow?

In the spirit of keeping things simple and sustainable, my personal opinion is that it's best to start with 16/8, regardless of your ultimate goal.  Why?  Because starting a fasting routine can be difficult and is easier to pull off if you can ease into it.  So even if you anticipate switching to OMAD to optimize weight loss, I recommend starting with the 16/8 schedule to see how your body adapts.

You can start with a 16/8 schedule and increase your fasting period gradually according to how your body responds.  Some people will find that 16/8 is achieveable and effective by itself.  Others may decide to extend the fasting period, which again, can be done gradually over the course of days or even weeks, depending on how your body reacts.

Finally, even though intermittent fasting has been found to be safe & effective for most people, always consult with your doctor before making a dietary change like this!