The amazing effects extend to muscle maintenance and heart health.
Most people try to fast with one goal in mind: to lose weight.
But science has also discovered health benefits linked to whole-day, alternate-day, and time-restricted fasting, says Carolyn Williams, Ph.D., a registered dietitian.
But according to a registered dietitian, Carolyn Williams, Ph.D., science has also uncovered health benefits associated with whole-day, alternate-day, and time-restricted fasting.
Scientists believe that the benefits of short-term fasting may come from the structured 24-hour meal break they offer.
“Even if you don’t change the content of your diet, by controlling the time period in which your calories are consumed, you give your body a pause from a constant onslaught food,” says Williams.
You might be skeptical, but Williams says at first she was too.
She studied the research, looked at the data, and even tried a time-restricted fast herself. “I expected the fast to affect my blood sugar because I’m prone to low blood sugar and I know how I get without eating,” Williams says.
But Williams was surprised to learn that she had no problem going 16 hours without eating. Her method: She stopped eating after dinner and fasted from 7 p.m. at 11 a.m., following the popular 16:8 pattern of intermittent fasting, leaving an 8-hour-long window for eating.
“I find I’m really not hungry; in fact, sometimes I have to remind myself to eat lunch,” says Williams.
While more studies are needed to see whether if fasting is effective for a long-term diet, there is no doubt that it works in the short term.
By abstaining from eating for at least 12 hours (ideally 16), your body begins to burn glucose and can start using fat for fuel, says Williams. Studies show that you can expect to lose 3-8% of your body weight in just a few as three weeks.
Compared to low-calorie diets, intermittent fasting tends to trigger greater loss of belly fat, research suggests. Anecdotally, Williams says you feel more energy and clarity of thought.
Here are a few other potential benefits of intermittent fasting, each supported by research.
Intermittent fasting may help maintain muscle.
Whenever you restrict calories and lose weight, some of that weight comes from reduced muscle mass, both for intermittent fasting and traditional calorie-restriction diets.
However, at least one study conducted at the University of Illinois by the Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition suggests that intermittent fasting may be more effective at maintaining muscle mass.
The study compared overweight and obese adults who followed a low-calorie diet with subjects of similar weight who restricted calories through intermittent fasting. After 12 weeks, the researchers found that both diets were equally effective in reducing body weight and fat mass, but less muscle was reduced by the group that fasted.
Intermittent fasting may target belly fat.
Overweight people who could select any 10-hour period to eat as long as they abstained from eating the other 14 hours of the day saw a reduction in waist circumference and visceral abdominal fat after 12 weeks, as stated by the journal Cell Metabolism’s report.
Intermittent fasting may reduce the risk of diabetes.
The study of Cell Metabolism mentioned above has also shown the potential of intermittent fasting to reduce the risk of metabolic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
All of the studied participants were diagnosed with Metabolic Syndrome, a group of health problems including excess abdominal fat, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and abnormal levels of cholesterol or triglycerides, which together increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.
Each participant saw improvement in all common markers of metabolic syndrome after 12 weeks.
A related study in the journal Translational Research found that alternate-day fasting, in which participants restricted 75% of calories on a “fast day,” followed by a “feed day” with no calorie restriction, resulted in clinically significant reductions in blood sugar and insulin resistance.
Intermittent fasting may lower high blood pressure.
A study published in Nutrition and Healthy Aging showed that participants who did 16:8 intermittent fasting without counting calories significantly lowered their systolic blood pressure compared to a control group after 12 weeks.
Intermittent fasting can fight inflammation.
Inflammation is your body’s natural way to fight infection, disease, and injury. But there’s another kind of inflammation, chronic inflammation that can silently trigger heart disease and diabetes.
Smoking, mental stress, and a regular diet of fried, fatty, or sweet foods are common causes. Several studies have shown that intermittent fasting may induce an anti-inflammatory effect that reduces the risk of metabolic diseases and even improves lung function in people with asthma.
In addition, a reduction in inflammation due to short-term fasting appears to protect the brain from impaired memory and depression, according to an Obesity study.
Intermittent fasting may reduce oxidative stress.
Even when you’re not losing weight by doing an intermittent fasting routine, your cells may benefit from additional protection, according to a study by Cell Metabolism.
The study assigned men with prediabetes a 6-hour early eating period, where they could eat from 8 a.m. until dinner before 2 p.m. only, fasting the rest of the day, or a 12-hour feeding period.
At the end of five weeks, the researchers found that the men at the onset of rapid restriction improved blood pressure and insulin sensitivity (as expected), but also improved resistance to oxidative stress, where unstable molecules known as free radicals can damage proteins and DNA.
Intermittent fasting may help you live longer.
Rodent studies suggest that intermittent fasting, which is much easier to maintain than the extreme cutting of calories, may also increase life expectancy. In a study that compared rats that had unrestricted access to food with rats fed every alternate day, rats that fasted lived 83% longer than those that ate.
If you’re looking at how to start a health-boosting fast yourself, along with dozens of delicious recipes, healthy meals, and even keto meals, check out our page.