Created by functional medicine practitioner Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC—who now has a New York Times bestselling book out by the same name—the idea of intuitive fasting goes something like this: It’s similar to intermittent fasting, in that you only eat in certain windows. But instead of living by someone else’s rules, you figure out which eating and fasting window works best for you and your body.
Intuitive fasting promises similar benefits to intermittent fasting: A supercharged metabolism, weight loss, improved energy, the list goes on. But some critics have taken to TikTok, saying intuitive fasting isn’t possible and promotes a disordered way of eating.
In order to learn more about the concept of intuitive fasting, we went straight to the source: Dr. Cole himself. Here’s what he had to say about it.
How intuitive fasting works
Intuitive fasting sounds almost impossible—you listen to your body, and it tells you when to fast, right? Not exactly.
Actually, Dr. Cole guides people through a four-week program so they can figure out which method of fasting their bodies feel best on. “I built a protocol to actually build metabolic flexibility so people can tune in to their intuition,” he explains. “Every week is a different fast. You focus on a different aspect of health, so it’s a proverbial yoga class for your metabolism. Think about it like this: I’m not very flexible. I go to yoga class, and it won’t be natural for me. I could say ‘yoga’s not for me,’ but if I continue to show up to this practice, I’ll eventually get flexible. Most people’s metabolisms aren’t flexible to start out.”
Confused? Dr. Cole goes on to explain that he wants people to experiment with different types of fasting and grow intuition that way.
“Over the course of the four weeks you’ll be able to evolve the protocol and you can adjust it accordingly and intuitively. Many people will be a lot better in four weeks, but not fully there. Most people would benefit from two to three cycles of this four-week program. The goal is to evolve the protocol as people gain greater intuition.”
Dr. Cole’s four-week intuitive fasting program is broken down like this:
- Week 1: 12/12—you fast mainly through the night and break it at breakfast
- Week 2: 14/18—You fast for a 14-hour window and eat in an 18-hour one.
- Week 3: A non-consecutive OMAD fast “A more tradition fast is 23/1, and it’s a lot of calories in a one-hour window,” says Dr. Cole. “I allow you to get your calories in a two or four-hour window.”
- Week 4: You’re back to the 12/12 while increasing carbohydrate intake .”I consider this a sort of the Shavasana at the end of a yoga class,” says Dr. Cole. “At that point, you’re in tune and rooted in your body to know how food and fasting impacts you.”
What can you eat during intuitive fasting?
You may have noticed that during week four, Dr. Cole instructs intuitive fasters to increase carbohydrate intake a bit. For the most part, intuitive fasters will be eating a keto-like diet.
“You can’t fast your way out of a poor diet,” Dr. Cole says. “If you tap into ketosis, you get extra benefits from fasting, including regulating the gut. I bring a flexible keto approach that works with a woman’s cycle in a gentler way than traditional keto. We do less fasting around period and ovulation time, and there are a lot of vegan and vegetarian keto options. It’s therapeutic and helps improve intuition.”
Dangers of intuitive fasting
Intuitive fasting sounds pretty reasonable, right? So, why the backlash? Many experts say intuitive fasting can trigger people with a history of eating disorders—and Dr. Cole is the first to say that anyone with a history of eating disorders should steer clear of intuitive fasting unless their doctor thinks it’s OK.
“Intuitive fasting is actually quite moderate as an eating approach—we’re not talking extreme calorie restriction,” he says. “It’s sustainable for women and people who just want to tap into the benefits. But even a measured or moderate diet can be abused if someone struggles with disordered eating. I’m not saying people with a history of disordered eating can’t do it, I just want them to get the go ahead from their doctor first.”