Alternate Day Fasting (ADF): Is It Right for You?
A nice compromise between being on a diet and eating what you want.
Knowing when and how much to eat can be tricky, especially if you are trying to lose weight or reach other health goals. It gets extra confusing since there are so many different diets out there that you could follow. Some meal plans tell you to cut carbs, others want you to nix sugar, dairy, processed foods, or meat. Other diets call for only eating specific items, such as soups, salads, or baby food. Another option is to count calories and/or drastically reduce your food intake.
However, your diet doesn’t have to be so complicated or limiting to yield results. In fact, there’s an option that lets you eat whatever you’d like—just not every day. This diet is called alternate day fasting or ADF. It’s a type of intermittent fasting that’s become increasingly popular with celebrities and regular people alike. Anecdotal and research evidence point to some significant benefits to this program, particularly for those that don’t want to limit the foods they can eat but also want to lose weight.
Read on for our complete guide to alternate day fasting. Learn what alternate day fasting is, possible benefits of this weight loss regime, whether or not it is a good option for you, and tips for getting started.
Alternate day fasting is a relatively simple diet. Its growing popularity is likely due to the fact that it lets you have the best of both worlds: you get to eat the foods you love while also dieting. Essentially, one day you follow a restricted meal plan, while the next you eat normally.
What is Alternate Day Fasting?
ADF evolved from the concept of intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is basically a diet where you have prescribed times when you can eat and others when you can’t. Some of these diets have you limit the hours in the day that you will eat, such as only eating within a 10, seven, or five hour window during the day and abstaining from food for the remaining hours. Others have you fast on some days and eat normally on others.
With alternate day fasting, you switch off days of fasting with days of eating as you like. While some people may eat nothing on their fasting day. Most people use a modified fast on those days that allows them to consume about 25% of their normal caloric intake. This typically amounts to about 500 calories. On the feasting days, ADF adherents can eat as their typical meals and snacks.
Why Should I Fast?
There are many different ways people use fasting–and just as many reasons for doing it. Sometimes, fasting is used to lose weight or gain mental clarity. Often, it has been a part of spiritual endeavors and religious traditions, such as when people fast for Lent or Ramadan. Additionally, various forms of food abstinence have been used for centuries to treat or heal various ailments. Other people take on fasting regimes as part of dopamine fasting, which aims to limit stimulation, such as from screens, food, and sex.
And just like with the ADF diet, fasting doesn’t have to mean going completely without food. Instead, it can be used in a truncated manner so that you are simply limiting the foods or calories instead of eating nothing.
Does Alternate Day Fasting Work?
The success of many diet plans, particularly long term, is questionable. However, some are easier than others and offer more convincing evidence of their efficacy. Diets are notoriously hard to stick to. And what works for one person, may or may not work for you. However, alternate day fasting does have a good track record and studies suggest that it may offer some advantages over traditional caloric reduction diets. The bottomline though is that for ADF to work, you need to follow the plan. If so, it’s likely to yield positive results.
If you are a person who wants to eat normally half the time and think you will be okay with consuming a very limited diet on alternate days, then this may be a good option for you.
Why Does Alternate Day Fasting Work?
There are several reasons why alternate day fasting, or other intermittent fasting diets, may work for you. The biggest one is probably that it is easy to understand and even easier to implement. It’s a relatively simple concept: eat what you want one day; eat very little the next. Another bonus of this plan is that it lets you eat all the delicious foods you love, while also providing enough caloric restriction on the fasting days to still result in weight loss.
Also, as long as you are truly sticking to the 500 calorie limit on the abstinence days, you are primed to lose weight simply because you are consuming less fuel than you’re burning. Plus, the fasting days put your body into a caloric deficit that requires your body to dip into fat stores for energy, which prompts weight loss—and may boost your metabolism.
Is Alternate Day Fasting Safe?
Assuming you are generally healthy, medical researchers believe that alternate day fasting is relatively healthy, so long as you can tolerate the fasting days. Many doctors and health experts may promote simply adopting a generally healthy diet, with some calorie restrictions if weight loss is the goal, rather than opting for the severe limitations required by ADF. However, many also endorse this plan as a relatively easy way to get to eat the foods you enjoy while also cutting calories to lose weight.
Note that just because ADF is safe for many people does not mean it is safe for you specifically. If you have any health concerns or chronic conditions, it’s imperative to check with your doctor before starting any diet or drastically changing your eating habits.
Heath Benefits of Alternate Day Fasting: Is It Right for You?
Some research has shown impressive health benefits to periods of intermittent fasting. These include losing weight, burning fat, and boosting metabolism. Some scientific studies also point to other potential health benefits of fasting diets, such as some prevention of diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and some cancers. Interestingly, scientists believe that going without food can even improve cognitive function.
Like any diet, alternate day fasting is only as good as your ability to follow it. It’s important to consider how well you tolerate being hungry. Some people do fine with hunger and acclimate quickly to their fasting days. Others struggle to cope with being famished. They may end up craving food all day and/or end up feeling irritable, light-headed, unproductive, sleepy, or just generally bad.
Also, consider if you will be able to stick to the limited food intake on the fasting day. Will you be able to stick to a normal diet on your feasting days? Or might you overindulge on those days, going way over your normal eating? While you can eat what you like on your non-fasting days, if you gorge, you might undercut the benefits of not eating much on your fasting days.
Also, think about what your goals are. For some people that will be weight loss. Others seek to improve their will power or mental clarity or simply want to undertake alternate day fasting as a challenge or to try out the popular trend. For many overweight adults, ADF offers a nice balance of getting to eat without guilt on some days, while doing the work of limiting calories only every other day. Ultimately, if the concept of the ADF diet appeals to you, then it might be a good fit for you.
Who Should Not Try Alternate Day Fasting?
While ADF can be a great idea for some people, others should not try it. Alternate day fasting can be dangerous for people with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, and those who take medications that require food to be taken with their medicine.
People who have eating disorders also should not do alternate day fasting as this approach to eating may exacerbate their challenges with healthy eating. Additionally, people who need a steady supply of calories, such as children, teens, and young adults who are still growing, pregnant or breastfeeding individuals, and some people with chronic illnesses, should avoid fasting.
Things You Can Eat on a Fasting Day
Typically, people aim to eat between 500 and 600 calories on a fasting day. These calories can be made up from anything you like. However, most people tend to choose low-calorie foods so that they can eat more quantity to keep their tummies feeling as full as possible. Good choices include fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. Soups are also recommended because they tend to keep hunger at bay.
No or low calorie beverages are also allowed, such as water, carbonated water, coffee, and tea. Drinking a lot of liquids can help you to feel full, so people tend to sip on drinks to help them get through their fasting periods.
Things You Can Eat on an Eating Day While Alternate Day Fasting
Eating days are intended to be your normal eating day. So, aim to stick to the quantity and types of foods you typically ate before starting your alternate day fasting diet. If this was a burger and fries or pasta with chicken, feel free to indulge.
However, if you want to boost your weight loss potential (and the general nutrition of your diet) you can also veer toward healthier fare on these days—just eat your normal quantities unrestricted. Leaning towards lean proteins, leafy dark green vegetables, whole grains, and low fat dairy, while limiting processed foods, sugar, and high fat foods is recommended,
Tips for Getting Started With Alternate Day Fasting
Set yourself up for success when you start out on your alternate day fasting diet by following these tips:
Establish your fasting diet goals
Decide what your goals are. Once you know what you hope to gain from fasting every other day, you’ll be more likely to achieve that result. Also, when you have a specific alternate day fasting result in mind, you can then track your progress. Some people choose to pursue every other day eating in order to reduce fat mass or body weight or to reach a normal weight. Others want to lose weight in order to reduce their likelihood of getting high blood pressure, heart disease, or diabetes.
Others want to try a calorie restriction diet but also want to be able to eat some of their favorite foods. You might list the foods you want to enjoy on your feasting days, such as cake, chips, or fried chicken. Then, you can use this list as motivation to make it through any hunger pains you experience on your fasting days.
Alternatively, if your aim is to lose a certain number of pounds, generally reduce your body weight, or simply weight management, periodically monitor your dieting results. Then, you can adjust your plan as needed, depending on your ADF results.
Create a schedule
It can help to keep you on track if you create an eating schedule for yourself. Decide which meals, snacks, and drinks you will consume on your fasting days. Having those foods readily available and setting up specific times to eat them can also help you stick to your fasting schedule. You might also want to create an eating plan for your eating days so that you have something to focus on and look forward to when you feel hungry due to calorie restriction on fasting days. Also, be sure that you schedule special events when you want to eat normally, such as birthday parties and dinners with friends, for your feasting days.
Mentally prepare yourself
Hunger pains can be difficult to handle. Take time to consider strategies for getting through any hunger you will experience. Alternate day fasting also requires a lot of will power. You’ll likely be hungry and may be tempted to eat more than you’re allowed on the eating every other day diet. Knowing what you’re getting into can help you feel more prepared to handle whatever challenges you face as you take on one day fasting and only eating every other day. Additionally, you can remind yourself about the big benefit of this program—that every other day you get to feast.
How to boost your self control
Think about what you will do to help yourself stick to your diet. You might write down your intentions so that you can review them if you will power wavers. You can also come up with ideas of what to do to distract yourself from wanting to eat more than intended. These strategies may include going on a walk, doing some stretching, drinking water, meditating, watching a TV show, talking to a friend, or listening to music.
Pick what you’ll eat
Selecting the foods you’ll be eating on your fasting and feasting days before you start will help streamline your efforts once you’ve begun the diet. While you can eat high fat foods on your fasting day, it’s optimal to limit going overboard so that you don’t blow all your calories all at once. Pick foods with a variety of textures and flavors, so that you have things to eat that you will enjoy even if you don’t get to eat a lot on your fasting days. Also, aim for energizing foods, such as fruits and proteins that will keep engaged with what you are eating–and feeling full longer. What you want to avoid is fog eating, which is absent-minded, emotional overeating and the consumption of foods that leave you feeling dragged down or tired rather than revived and nourished.
Add in exercise
If you’d like to boost your ADF weight loss potential, exercise regularly in addition to fasting every other day. Burning more calories by adding regular physical activity into your days will accelerate losing weight.
Alternate day fasting offers a nice compromise between being on a diet and eating what you want. ADF is a fasting regime that can promote weight loss using daily calorie restriction only half the time. For many people it provides an awesome balance of eating and dieting as they strive for weight loss or other health goals. You only need your dieting will power on fasting days and get to enjoy the perks of normal eating every other day. So, if alternate day fasting seems like a good fit for you, give it a try. Knowing you can eat what you like on your feasting days, while putting your body into weight loss mode on your fasting days, is sure to motivate you to achieve your diet goals.