Fast on alternate days: a complete guide for beginners



Fasting on alternate days is a way of doing an intermittent fast.


In this diet, fast every two days, but eat whatever you want on days without fasting.


The most common version of this diet actually involves a "modified" fast where you can eat 500 calories in a fast day.


Fasting on alternate days is a very powerful tool for losing weight and can help reduce the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.


Here is a detailed guide for beginners about fasting on alternate days.


How to do a fast on alternate days


Fasting on alternate days (ADF) is an intermittent fasting approach.


The basic idea is that you fast one day and then eat what you want the next day.


This way you only need to restrict what you eat half the time.


On fast days, you can drink as many non-caloric drinks as you want. Examples include water, coffee without sugar and tea.


If you are following a modified ADF approach, you are also allowed to eat approximately 500 calories on fasting days, or 20-25% of your energy requirements (1, 2, 3).


The most popular version of this diet is called "The Every Other Day Diet" by Dr. Krista Varady. She also did most of the studies on ADF.


The health benefits and weight loss appear to be the same, regardless of whether the fasting day's calories are consumed at lunch, dinner or as small meals during the day (4).


Studies show that many people find it much easier to maintain fasting every other day than daily caloric restriction (5, 6, 7).


Most studies on fasting on alternate days used the modified version, with 500 calories on fasting days. This is considered much more sustainable than doing full fasts on fasting days, but it is just as effective.


In this article, the terms "alternate day fast" or "ADF" generally apply to the modified approach with approximately 500 calories on fasting days.


Bottom line: Fasting cycles of alternate days between days of fasting and normal feeding. The most popular version allows about 500 calories on fasting days.


Alternative day of fasting and weight loss


ADF is very effective in losing weight.


Studies among overweight and obese adults show that it can cause you to lose between 3 and 8% of your body weight in 2 to 12 weeks (3, 8, 9).


Interestingly, ADF appears to be particularly effective for losing weight in middle-aged people (10).


Studies have shown that ADF and daily calorie restriction are equally effective in reducing harmful abdominal fat and inflammatory markers in obese individuals (11).


However, a 2016 review study concluded that the ADF may be superior to daily calorie restriction diets, since it is easier to maintain, produces greater fat loss and retains more muscle mass (12).


In addition, combining the ADF with endurance exercise can cause twice the weight loss of the ADF alone and six times more weight loss than endurance exercise alone (13).


Regarding the composition of the diet, the ADF seems to be equally effective if it is done with a diet high in fat or low in fat (14).


Bottom line: Fasting on alternate days is very effective in losing weight and may be easier to maintain than traditional calorie restriction.


Fasting and hunger on alternate days


The effects of ADF on hunger are quite inconsistent.


Some studies show that hunger eventually decreases on fasting days, while others state that hunger remains unchanged (5, 9, 15).


However, research agrees that ADF modified with 500 calories on fasting days is much more tolerable than full fasts on fasting days (15).


A study comparing ADF with caloric restriction showed that ADF caused slightly more favorable changes in the satiety hormone leptin and in the hunger hormone ghrelin (16).


Similarly, animal studies have shown that modified ADF produced a decrease in the amount of hunger hormones and a greater amount of satiety hormones than other diets (17, 18, 19).


Another factor to consider is compensatory hunger, which is a common drawback of traditional daily caloric restriction (20, 21, 22).


Compensatory hunger refers to increased levels of hunger in response to calorie restriction, which causes people to eat more than they need when they are finally "allowed" to eat.


Studies have shown that ADF does not increase compensatory hunger as much as continuous caloric restriction (5, 23, 24).


In fact, many people who try the modified ADF claim that their hunger decreases after the first two weeks. After a while, some find that fast days are almost effortless (5).


However, the effects of ADF on hunger probably vary by individual.


Bottom line: The effects of the alternate-day fast on hunger are inconsistent. Studies on modified alternate-day fasting show that hunger decreases as it adapts to the diet.


Alternative day of fasting and body composition


It has been shown that ADF has unique effects on body composition, both during the diet and during the period of weight maintenance.


Studies comparing traditional calorie-restricted diets and ADF show that they are equally effective in reducing weight and fat mass.


However, ADF seems to be more effective in preserving muscle mass (8, 25, 26).


This is really important, since losing muscle along with fat decreases the amount of calories your body burns daily.


A randomized controlled study compared ADF with a traditional diet, restricted in calories, with a deficit of 400 calories (16).


Both after an eight-week study and 24 weeks without supervision, no differences were observed in weight recovery between the groups.


However, after the 24 unsupervised weeks, the ADF group had retained more muscle mass and lost more fat than the restricted calorie group (16).


Bottom line: Fasting on alternate days is more effective in preserving muscle mass during weight loss than other methods to lose weight.


Benefits for the health of the fast on alternate days


ADF has several health benefits in addition to weight loss.


Type 2 diabetes


Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90-95% of diabetes cases in the United States (27). In addition, more than a third of Americans have pre-diabetes, a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be considered diabetes (28).


Losing weight and restricting calories is usually an effective way to improve or reverse many of the symptoms of type 2 diabetes (29).


Similar to continuous caloric restriction, ADF appears to cause mild reductions in risk factors for type 2 diabetes among overweight and obese individuals (30, 31, 32).


However, ADF appears to be more effective in reducing insulin levels and reducing insulin resistance, while it has only a minor effect on blood sugar control (33, 34, 35).


Having high insulin levels (hyperinsulinemia) has been linked to obesity and chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer (36, 37).


Among pre-diabetic individuals, it has been shown that 8-12 weeks of ADF decrease fasting insulin by approximately 20-31% (1, 8, 38).


A reduction in insulin levels and insulin resistance should lead to a significantly lower risk of type 2 diabetes, especially when combined with weight loss.


Bottom line: Fasting on alternate days can reduce the risk factors for type 2 diabetes. It can reduce fasting insulin levels by 20-31% in pre-diabetic people.


Heart health


Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the world, responsible for approximately 1 in every 4 deaths (39, 40).


Many studies have shown that ADF is a good option for overweight and obese people to lose weight and reduce the risk factors for heart disease (1, 4, 8, 41).


Most studies on the subject vary from 8 to 12 weeks and are performed in overweight and obese individuals.


The most common health benefits include (1, 8, 13, 14, 42, 43):



  • Reduced waist circumference (2-2.8 in. OR 5-7 cm).

  • Decreased blood pressure.

  • Lower concentration of LDL cholesterol (20-25%).

  • Greater number of large LDL particles and reduction of small, dense and dangerous LDL particles.

  • Decrease in blood triglycerides (up to 30%).


Bottom line: Fasting on alternate days can reduce waist circumference, lower blood pressure, lower LDL cholesterol, and lower triglycerides in the blood.


Alternative Day of fasting and autophagy


One of the most common effects of fasting in the body is the stimulation of autophagy.


Autophagy is a process in which the old parts of the cells are degraded and recycled. It plays a key role in the prevention of diseases such as cancer, neurodegeneration, heart disease and infections (44, 45).


Studies in animals have consistently shown that long-term and short-term fasting increases autophagy and is related to a delay in aging and a lower risk of tumors (46, 47, 48, 49).


In addition, fasting has been shown to increase lifespan in rodents, flies, yeasts and worms (50).


In addition, cell studies have shown that fasting stimulates autophagy, resulting in effects that can help keep your body healthy and help you live longer (51, 52, 53).


This has been confirmed by studies in humans that show that diets with ADF reduce oxidative damage and promote changes that may be related to longevity (9, 15, 52, 54).


The results seem very promising, but the effects of ADF on autophagy and longevity should be studied more widely.


Bottom line: Fasting on alternate days stimulates autophagy in studies with animals and cells. This process can slow aging and help prevent diseases such as cancer and heart disease.


Does the fast on alternate days induce the mode of starvation?


Almost all methods of weight loss cause a slight drop in the resting metabolic rate (55, 56).


This effect is often called "starvation mode", but the technical term is adaptive thermogenesis.


When you severely restrict your calories, your body begins to conserve energy by reducing the amount of calories it burns. It can make you stop losing weight and feel miserable (56).


However, ADF does not seem to cause this drop in metabolic rate.


One study compared the effects of standard calorie restriction and ADF for eight weeks.


The results showed that the continuous caloric restriction significantly decreased the resting metabolic rate by 6%, while the ADF alone caused a negligible reduction of 1% (16).


In addition, after 24 weeks without supervision, the caloric restriction group still had a resting metabolic rate of 4.5% lower than at the beginning of the study. Meanwhile, ADF participants maintained their original metabolic rate.


Several effects of the ADF may be responsible for counteracting this drop in metabolic rate, including the preservation of muscle mass.


Bottom line: Fasting on alternate days does not seem to decrease the metabolic rate in the same way that caloric restriction continues. This may be because ADF helps preserve muscle mass.


Is it also good for people of normal weight?


The ADF is good for more than just losing weight; It can also have health benefits for people of normal weight.


A 3-week study analyzed individuals of normal weight following a strict ADF diet, with zero calories on fasting days.


The researchers found that it resulted in an increase in fat burning, a decrease in fasting insulin and a 4% decrease in fat mass (15).


However, the levels of hunger remained quite high throughout the study, and they speculated if an ADF diet modified with a small meal on fasting days could be more tolerable for people of normal weight.


Another controlled study in individuals with normal weight and overweight showed that following a diet with ADF for 12 weeks reduced fat mass and produced favorable changes in risk factors for heart disease (8).


That said, the ADF usually provides you with much fewer calories than you need to maintain weight, which is why people ultimately lose weight.


If you are not looking to lose weight or fat mass or, to begin with, you are underweight, other dietary methods will probably suit you.


Bottom line: Fasting on alternate days increases fat burning and reduces the risk factors for heart disease in people with normal weight.


What to eat and drink on fasting days


There is no general rule about what you should eat or drink on fasting days, except that your total caloric intake should not exceed 500 calories.


It is best to drink low-calorie or no-calorie drinks on fasting days, such as water, coffee and tea.


Most people consider it best to eat a "large" meal at the end of the day, while others prefer to eat early or divide the amount between 2 and 3 meals.


Because your calorie intake will be very limited, it is best to focus on nutritious, high-protein foods, as well as low-calorie vegetables. These will make you feel full without many calories.


Soups can also be a good option on fasting days, as they tend to make you feel fuller than if you ate the ingredients on your own (57, 58).


Here are some examples of foods that are suitable for fasting days:



  • Eggs and vegetables

  • Yogurt with red fruits.

  • Grilled fish or lean meat with vegetables.

  • Soup and a piece of fruit.

  • A generous salad with lean meat.


You can find numerous recipes for 500-calorie fast foods and healthy low-calorie snacks on Google and Pinterest.


Bottom line: There are no strict guidelines regarding what to eat and drink on fasting days. It is best to stick to high-protein foods and vegetables, as well as low-calorie or no-calorie beverages.


Is fasting safe on alternate days?


Studies have shown that fasting on alternate days is safe for most people.


It does not result in an increased risk of weight recovery than traditional diets with calorie restriction. On the contrary, it may even be better for long-term weight loss than continuous caloric restriction (16).


Some think that ADF increases the risk of overeating, but studies found that depression and overeating actually decreased. It also improved restrictive feeding and perception of body image among people with obesity (59).


That said, there are always groups of people who should not adhere to any diet to lose weight.


These include people with eating disorders, pregnant mothers and nursing mothers, children and people who are underweight or have certain medical conditions.


You should consult with a doctor before attempting this if you have a medical condition or are currently taking medication.


Bottom line: Fasting on alternate days has an excellent safety profile. Does not increase binge eating or increases the risk of regaining weight after stopping the diet.


Bring the message home


Fasting on alternate days is a very effective way to lose weight.


It has several benefits over traditional calorie-restricted diets, and is linked to significant improvements in many health markers.


Best of all, it's surprisingly easy to follow, because you only need to "diet" every two days.



Reference: https: //www.healthline.com/nutrition/alternate-day-fasting-guide






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