Health & Wellness

Intermittent Fasting: A New Way to Eat?

Narrowing your eating window might be a path to better health

By Katrina Caruso


If you’ve been having a hard time shedding those last few pounds or getting a handle on healthy eating, intermittent fasting (IF) could be your key to success. It’s not a diet in which you cut out certain foods, but rather, an adjustment to your eating pattern.

Basically, when following the IF method, you schedule your meals within a specific window of time, and outside that window, you fast.

The most typical and popular eating pattern is the 16/8 method, which is also the easiest to maintain—you restrict daily eating to an eight-hour period and fast over the other 16 hours. For example, if you eat between 12:00 and 8:00 p.m., you fast from 8:00 p.m. until noon the next day.

During 16/8, people tend to eat two large meals a day. If that seems impossible, there are lots of variations of 16/8, in which people experiment with the number of fasting hours. If the idea sounds far-fetched, think about a day on which you slept in: you’ve probably fasted intermittently without thinking about it.

When your body is feeding or in a “fed state” (within the 3–5 hours post eating, during digestion), it produces more insulin, which makes it difficult to burn fat. After the fed state, the body enters the “post-absorptive state,” when digestion is complete. After 8–12 hours, the body enters the “fasted state,” in which insulin levels are their lowest.

Fasting can also help improve overall health, because it disallows snacking and can help cut out excess calories throughout the day. In addition, a small-scale 2010 study at the University of Illinois, Chicago, found that IF is an effective weight-loss strategy for obese adults, with subjects able to adapt to the eating pattern quickly. There is potential for other benefits, too: fasting can aid with cellular repair and brain health, protect against diseases such as cancer, and even contribute to a longer lifespan.

IF isn’t a simple fix, and cutting out one meal a day can be difficult. Most advocates for the diet suggest starting slowly.

Finally, remember that it’s always advisable to speak to your doctor first before making a significant lifestyle change.


Photo: iStock/Dmytro Lastovych.