Not long ago, there was common nutrition advice floating around that urged people to eat many small meals throughout the day as opposed to fewer large meals in order to “stoke the metabolic fire,” a misconception that has since been disproved.
Currently, the nutrition world is buzzing with the reverse concept of not eating throughout the day at all. It’s referred to as “intermittent fasting” or IF.
What is intermittent fasting?
IF is simply an alternating period of eating and not eating. There are many different ways to fast, and methods vary from restricting overall food intake on certain days (as in the 5:2 method where 5 days are normal eating days and 2 days are restricted) to eating in designated “windows” (such as eating in an 8 hour window in a 24-hour period in the 16/8 method).
Is this a new trend?
Not exactly - people have been fasting for thousands of years. Some fasts are done for religious reasons, and sometimes fasting happens naturally, like when we’re sick or there isn’t food readily available. Intentional fasting for health reasons has gained popularity in recent years, and it’s important to understand the current research for health and safety reasons.
What should you know about the research?
It’s important to know that most of the IF research we have was done on mice. While certain results can may be applied to humans, we can’t assume everything that happens in mice will happen in humans.
The IF research we have in humans is limited. There is very little research done long-term, and most studies are done on obese subjects and/or men. Also, many of the studies that show improved health markers are observing positive changes that took place from weight loss, which doesn’t account for whether or not IF had an edge over following a healthier diet overall.
That said, there is some evidence that shows IF may:
And while this research seems promising at face value, we must note the limitations of these studies.
What’s the takeaway?
There isn’t enough conclusive research to know whether Intermittent Fasting will provide health benefits for you and your body. If you’re seeking to improve your health, we know that filling your plate with more plant-based foods, exercising regularly, and practicing mindfulness are all solid, research-backed ways to do so.