This article was originally written for STACK.
Intermittent fasting (IF) is a diet, or rather a style of eating, in which you don't eat for an extended period of time and consolidate all of your meals to specified eating window.
There are many types of IF, but for the sake of this article we'll focus on the LeanGains approach. This method calls for a daily 16-hour fast and 8-hour eating window.
Intermittent fasting has been an effective tool for fat loss in many cases and reportedly has many other physiological benefits. However, at the end of the day, IF is just that—a tool. It is a way to restrict calories and manage hunger.
For many, including myself, this tool has worked extremely well. For others, not so much.
So how do you know if intermittent fasting will work for you? Here are a few questions (to ask yourself) to steer you in the right direction.
Am I trying to lose weight?
Yes, I am: Intermittent fasting is an effective way to restrict calories, which ultimately can drive fat loss. Congrats, IF might be for you!
No, I'm not: While it is certainly possible to gain healthy weight while fasting (bulk up), it's extremely difficult because of the amount of calories you have to consume in a restricted period. Sorry, IF might not be for you. (This includes you, pregnant women.)
Am I a competitive athlete?
Yes, I am: Competitive athletes who train multiple times a day, or for an extended period of time (2-plus hours), are not ideal candidates for IF because the restricted eating schedule does not allow the athlete to properly recover from the intense activity. Sorry, IF might not be for you.
No, I'm not: If you exercise regularly, but do so at a moderate to intense level and are not a high-level competitor, then you will be fine. Congrats, IF might be for you!
Do I have a physically demanding job?
Yes, I do: Hard, physical labor can be just as, if not more, taxing as a hard training session. Not eating for a portion of that work day could put you at risk for a host of problems, the very least of which is underperforming. Sorry, IF might not be for you.
No, I don't: If you are sitting down indoors for the majority of your work day, then IF shouldn't pose any issues (other than the occasional stomach growling). Congrats, IF might be for you!
Do I prefer many small meals or few big meals?
Many small meals: Because IF restricts your eating window to (in this case) 8 hours, it will be difficult to fit in more than 3-4 meals. And if the meals are too small, you risk undereating. Sorry, IF might not be for you.
Few big meals: Most people who partake in intermittent fasting find success with 2-3 meals per day with the occasional snack in between. Because of this, those meals tend to be considerably larger than normal. Congrats, IF might be for you!
Do I enjoy breakfast?
Yes, I do: While it's totally possible to start your eating window first thing in the morning and end it early in the afternoon, it isn't ideal (mainly for social reasons). Most people start their eating window around noon, effectively skipping breakfast. Sorry, IF might not be for you.
No, I don't: Many of the people who find success with IF are those who already skip breakfast. And no, despite what the ads of the early 90's would have you believe, breakfast is NOT the most important meal of the day. Congrats, IF might be for you!
Do I have a history of disordered eating?
Yes, I do: Pump the brakes. Before worrying about the intricacies of intermittent fasting, focus on the general principles of good nutrition like eating real, whole foods. Once you have a handle on that, then you can consider it. Sorry, IF might not be for you.
No, I don't: If you have a healthy relationship with food, understand basic nutrition, and aren't looking for a quick fix, proceed. Congrats, IF might be for you!
While these questions can't definitively determine if intermittent fasting is right for you, hopefully they give you an idea of the kind of lifestyle that the diet lends itself to. As previously stated, IF is a tool. It's not a magic fat loss solution or quick fix scheme. But it does work, and it just might work for you.