Alternate-Day Fasting: Schedules, Benefits, & More

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Fast. Feast. Repeat." by Gin Stephens. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are the benefits of alternate-day fasting? How often should you alternate between fasting and eating normally?

Alternate-day fasting (ADF) has been shown to promote weight loss and improve overall health. There are several alternate-day fasting schedules, including 5:2, 4:3, and “True ADF,” which means alternating up-and-down nonstop.

Keep reading to learn about the benefits of alternate-day fasting and how to time your ADF for maximum effectiveness.

Alternate-Day Fasting (ADF)

An alternate-day fasting schedule involves alternating days of fasting and days of eating normally. For instance, a 5:2 ADF rhythm means that you eat normally on five days of the week and fast on two days of the week. According to Stephens, ADF works well for intensive fat loss

On your fasting days, you can fast completely or eat a 500-calorie meal to keep yourself going. The first option increases fat burning due to the longer fast, while the second still works but is easier. Either way, fast cleanly to ensure that you burn fat, activate autophagy, and lower insulin. 

On your eating days, eat slightly more than you need—around 110% of your typical intake—and don’t restrict your eating in any way. Research indicates that “overfeeding” temporarily increases metabolism while restricting your eating can slow down your metabolism. 

Popular patterns include 5:2, 4:3, and “True ADF.” A 5:2 pattern is the most flexible since you can adjust the days on which you fast, while the 4:3 pattern and “true ADF” are more rigorous. Whichever pattern you choose, avoid ever having two fasting days in a row—always follow a fasting day with an eating day.

Alternate-Day Fasting Has a Larger Impact Than TRE

Research suggests that alternate-day fasting has potential as a powerful clinical intervention for weight loss and improvement to overall health. In the study, researchers found that over a four-week period, fasting for 36 hours every other day led to fat loss, increased heart health, and a reduction in inflammatory molecules that cause aging. These effects persisted on non-fasting days. The researchers also note that ADF seems to be safe for healthy adults.

Other researchers found similar results and recommend ADF as a way for obese people to lose weight. However, they don’t recommend it for just anyone, noting that it’s an extreme way of restricting your diet. As Stephens explains above, it may be risky not to eat for longer than 36 hours, especially if your body isn’t used to fasting. 

Alternate-Day Fasting: Schedules, Benefits, & More

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  • How intermittent fasting can help you lose weight, feel better, fight disease, and live longer
  • An explanation of the cutting-edge science that supports fasting
  • How to follow a four-week quickstart program to adapt to this new lifestyle

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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