The Slim Science Behind Fasting Diets
Investigating the Health Trend That’s All the Rage!
If each new year brings with it a new diet plan that promises the world to those who follow it, 2019 is shaping up to be the year of fasting. If you’ve missed the hype, fasting is quite a bit simpler than other nutrition trends like the keto diet or Weight Watchers program. Instead of counting calories or limiting sugars, you just don’t eat. Supporters argue that by putting your body into a “fasting state,” you can shed pounds and damaged internal tissue, increase your energy, promote cellular repair, lower bad cholesterol, and even protect against neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Chances are you have a friend or loved one who’s tried out some form of fasting and discovered dramatic benefits. But before everyone starts skipping meals, it’s important to examine the research. Writer Julia Belluz at Vox splits the fasting trend into four categories. The first, “intermittent fasting,” cuts out or drastically limits your calorie intake intermittently. For example, thousands of people follow the popular “5:2 diet,” during which you eat normally on weekdays but consume less than 500 calories on Saturday and Sunday. Second is the “time-restricted feeding,” where you only eat during a four- to six-hour window each day — followers usually skip breakfast or dinner. The third category is “periodic fasts.” With this diet, extreme fasters abstain from food for several days, opting for calorie-free fluids instead. Finally, there is the “fasting mimicking diet,” which involves intaking highly limited, plant-
based calories for several days each month. People who use this technique like it because they believe they get the benefits of fasting without missing out on key nutrients. The underlying philosophy behind fasting for weight loss is pretty self-evident — if you don’t eat for periods at a time, you’re bound to burn off some weight. But proponents say the diet’s success can be attributed to more complex factors as well. They argue that as the human race shifted from hunter-gatherers to world-conquering agriculturalists, we left our evolutionary path. Before crops existed, we weren’t wired to eat three square meals every single day. Instead, we made do with what we could find, often fasting for days at a time out of necessity. regarding disease prevention and longevity. Autophagy, the process by which the body eliminates and replaces damaged cells, is believed to accelerate during intermittent fasting. As the thinking goes, the faulty cells die first during fasting, enabling the stem cells to start regenerating key tissues. The science backs up some of these claims, but there are a few issues regarding fasting research. Most of the research behind fasting doesn’t examine its effect on weight loss, and most of it comes from animal trials, not human trials. Though there are a few human trials on fasting that show it can improve health, they In addition, some researchers who advocate fasting point to the benefits it can offer
have very small sample sizes, and there is not enough data to be conclusive.
It’s worth noting that fasting to lose weight can be an extremely difficult strategy to stick to, and according to one literature review, as many as 40 percent of fasters drop out of the diet. Furthermore, at least one study indicates that fasting is not superior to the average calorie-counting diets. In short, fasting is promising, but the data is inconclusive. It may help you live longer and fight off disease, but it is also notoriously tricky. The average dieter is just as well off with regular calorie counting, especially if you’re not looking to get too intense with your diet plan. Before you start skipping dinner every day, visit your doctor. If they say fasting is right for you, go for it. Just because the jury is still out doesn’t mean you can’t reap the benefits of the trend — just go into it with a healthy attitude, be safe, and understand that fasting is not magic.
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