16:8 Intermittent Fasting: How To Banish Cravings With This Science-Backed Diet

mbg Contributor By Allison Young
mbg Contributor
Allison Young is a freelance writer based out of Phoenix. She writes about health, fitness, travel and relationships.

Image by Marc Tran / Stocksy

Skipping meals has gone from a taboo thing we avoided at all costs to a legit way of eating, thanks to increasing scientific research (not to mention, loads of celebrity and medical expert endorsements) supporting the benefits of intermittent fasting.

Not to be confused with traditional dieting, which revolves around counting calories and forbidden foods, intermittent fasting (IF) is an eating schedule where you go without food for a certain amount of time—and science has its back. As well as helping you lose weight, studies show that intermittent fasting can curb cravings, improve blood sugar control, lower inflammation, delay aging, and lower risk of disease. As if that weren't enough, it's also been linked to better sleep, more diverse gut bacteria, and improved mood.

Given the slew of benefits, it may not be a question of whether you should try intermittent fasting but rather which type of intermittent fasting to try. There's the 5:2 model (eat normal calories five days a week and only 500 calories the other two days); alternate-day fasting (one day you eat normally, the next you eat very little); OMAD (as in "one meal a day"); and then there's 16:8 fasting, which limits food to an eight-hour eating window each day.

How the 16:8 fasting schedule works.

The 16:8 diet plan comes with all the benefits of fasting (plus, recent research finds that it may lower blood pressure), and proponents plug its built-in flexibility and ease to follow. Instead of calorie counting and changing your eating behavior each day, there's consistency. Perhaps even better, you pick the eating window.

So what should that eating window be? "Whatever works best for your schedule," says Will Cole, D.C., functional medicine expert, mbg Collective member, and best-selling author of Ketotarian. If you can't live without breakfast, slot your food earlier in the day (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.). If you prefer an early dinner, eat in the middle of the day (11 a.m. to 6 p.m.). If you're someone who regularly goes out with friends for late dinners, schedule your eating hours later in the day (1 p.m. to 9 p.m.).

Contrary to popular opinion (and moms everywhere), there are no rules around how many meals you have to squeeze in or whether or not you have to include breakfast. In fact, no data actually proves breakfast makes you healthier or weigh less. "Skipping breakfast is completely OK," assures Cole. "Since fasting decreases your hunger hormone ghrelin, you'll be able to stay satisfied well into lunch."

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Time to get started with 16:8 fasting.

Once you decide on a general eating window, and talk to a professional to make sure IF is right for you, it's time to jump in—but not necessarily all in. "If you haven't fasted before, going straight into a long period of fasting can be a shock to your body, so I would suggest gradually increasing your fasting time," says Cole. Some experts suggest starting just a couple of days a week and working your way up, while others recommend gradually increasing your fasting window from 12 to 14 to 16 hours. "It's important to listen to your body and increase your fasting hours as you feel like you can," he adds.

Even though food is off limits during fasting hours, non-caloric drinks and exercise are not. Research says they could even stave off hunger. For liquids, that includes water, black coffee, and unsweetened tea (just skip the cream and sugar). What's more, exercising in a fasted state can supercharge your body's fat-burning potential—but again, listen to your body. "If your body is used to fasting, it shouldn't affect your energy levels when it comes to exercising," says Cole. "However, every person is different, so some people may not be able to handle exercising during the fasting window and may do better exercising some time after their eating window or right before so they can replenish their energy right after."

16:8 meal plans to get you through the day.

Now for the food. Yes, 16:8 fasting gives you the freedom to consume what you want during the eating window, but it's not an excuse to go pancake-pizza-Pringles wild.

"During your periods of eating, you need to stick with a clean, whole foods diet," says Cole. "Since some of the benefits of fasting include reduced inflammation, loading up on junk food during your eating window can perpetuate this inflammation. And with inflammation being the underlying contributing factor in almost all modern-day health problems, this is something you definitely want to keep under control."

That means yes to clean proteins, healthy fats, and carbohydrates from whole food sources. Skip the ultra-processed foods and drive-thru; just don't skip the focus on delicious. With less time spent on food prep and planning, it may even make you more creative in the kitchen.

Here's an idea of what to eat (and when to eat it) on a 16:8 fasting diet, depending on when you start eating for the day:

Early eating window

8 a.m.: egg and veggie scramble

12 p.m.: apple and almond butter

4 p.m.: chicken and veggie stir fry

Evening decaf tea

Midday eating window

Morning black coffee or tea

11 a.m.: banana peanut butter smoothie

2 p.m.: avocado toast with pistachios

4 p.m.: dark-chocolate-covered almonds

6 p.m.: turkey meatballs & tomato sauce over whole wheat (or zucchini noodle) pasta

Late eating window

Morning black coffee or tea

1 p.m.: blackberry chia pudding

4 p.m.: carrots and hummus or guacamole

9 p.m.: grilled salmon, vegetables, and quinoa

Ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.

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