Intermittent Fasting

— Written By Tracy Davis
en Español / em Português

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Eat Smart Move More North Carolina logo with green background.If weight loss is a topic of interest, you may have heard about intermittent fasting as a strategy for dropping pounds. This “diet plan” has been around for years, but a recent resurgence has garnered popularity once again.

Intermittent Fasting is sometimes called Time Restricted Eating and refers to an eating pattern that requires fasting, or not eating, for a period of time each day or week. There are several types of intermittent fasting plans. Alternate-day fasting involves eating a normal diet one day and either fasting entirely or having only one small meal of less that 500 calories the next day. The 5:2 weekly fasting plan means 5 days of normal diet followed by 2 days of fasting. Both of these fasting plans can be difficult to sustain, cause discomfort, and may be harmful to some people. The last type, daily time-restricted fasting, may work for a small percentage of people. This plan allows normal intake of food, but only within an 8-hour window each day.

Kelly Nordby, RDN, LDN, in her post “Can Intermittent Fasting Help Us Lose Weight?” on March 31, 2023 explains how metabolism works in the body. “When we eat food, it is broken down into sugar in the blood that our cells use for energy. Insulin is the hormone that enables the sugar to leave our bloodstream and enter our cells to be used by the body for energy. If our cells don’t use all of the sugar from the food that we eat, then this gets stored in our bodies as fat. The more fat cells our bodies have, the less efficiently our insulin can work to lower our blood sugar, leading to insulin resistance. Higher blood sugar can also cause inflammation. Insulin resistance and inflammation are highly linked to increased risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, and obesity.”

The theory behind intermittent fasting is that during the period of fasting, insulin is lowered causing the fat cells to release their stored sugar to be used as energy by the body, which can result in weight loss. However, numerous studies have shown little difference in weight loss when comparing groups that ate all of their calories in an 8-hour window and those who ate the same number of calories without any time restriction. Studies did show weight loss success among participants who reduced their caloric intake by 25 percent, regardless of fasting practices. This points to what we already know: shedding pounds is more about what and how much we eat, rather than when we eat.

Intermittent fasting should NOT be used as a diet strategy by those with diabetes, eating disorders, pregnant or breastfeeding, or require food with medications. The timing of food intake (when we eat) is extremely important for these individuals.

For some, intermittent fasting may be a safe strategy for modest weight loss. Because it limits the time window for eating, it can reduce the number of calories that we consume during the day. This can be especially effective for those who tend to be nighttime boredom snackers. It sets a natural stopping point for eating each night. However, if we use our eating window as a license to eat as much as possible during that window, it can produce the opposite result. It is important for everyone to practice mindful eating and refer to our own calorie needs.

For anyone wanting to improve the nutritional quality of their diet, reduce risk of chronic disease, and maintain a healthy weight, there are three eating patterns that are highly recommended: DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), Mediterranean, and MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay). For additional information, visit