Intermittent fasting – What’s it all about?

As summer is now upon us, many are turning to the latest fad diets in hopes to get that “summer body.”

A diet that has become quite popular lately is “intermittent fasting.” Although it is an unusual way to diet, many are trying it out to lose weight and burn fat, which begs to ask the questions; what exactly is intermittent fasting? Is this a healthy method for weight loss? Does it prevent diabetes?

What is intermittent fasting?

Unlike traditional dieting methods where there are many restrictions and rules to follow about what to eat, intermittent fasting focuses on when to eat, not to eat. It is a pattern of eating that switches between cycles of eating and fasting periods.  Typically, eating periods can last up to 8-12 hours whereas fasting periods last for about 12 -16 hours. There are many different types of fasting diets based on the hours or days of fasting which can make the research hard to interpret.

How does it work?

The diet is promoted to help with fat-burning from lower insulin levels when fasting. However, most people will usually lose weight because they are eating fewer calories than before, so it is difficult to say what really causes weight loss.

There is research on whether this diet can help a person eat less without being hungrier but not all studies show the same result.  There is also debate on whether this diet raises metabolism, as typically low-calorie diets can lower metabolism (meaning your body burns fewer calories on a daily basis).

Also, a diet can only work long-term if a person can stick with it.  In research studies, these are known as drop-out rates. Some studies show dropout rates to be similar for intermittent fasting compared to other diets, making it less likely to work in the long-term.

Is it healthy?

There is plenty of research that healthy diets should include good quality food with a balance of nutrients. What and how much a person eats will still impact their health and risk of chronic diseases. It is not as simple as meal timing. There are likely ways to combine both aspects to achieve the desired results.

Unfortunately, without long-term research studies, it is too early to say the impact of the intermittent fasting diet. Anyone considering this diet should discuss it with their health care provider especially for those with diabetes, people with a history of disordered eating or people with higher nutritional needs such as the young, elderly and pregnant women.

Does it prevent diabetes?

Short-term research has found that it can help with weight loss and lower the risk for some diseases. It has been recommended for people who are at risk for type 2 diabetes; this includes people who are obese, have high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. Any diet that helps to lose body fat can result in reducing the risk of chronic diseases and even be a way to manage diabetes.

Intermittent fasting may work short-term for some people. For many, it may be less risky compared to other diets where whole food groups are eliminated. As with other diets, losing weight too quickly can result in regaining the lost weight (and more). More research is needed before strong recommendations can be made for intermittent fasting. If you’ve been considering this diet for a variety of the reasons mentioned above, remember that creating lifelong healthy eating patterns first is key, and doesn’t necessarily need to be paired with fasting to see results.

For more information about any of the free services offered by the Minto-Mapleton Family Health Team, visit or call the Drayton/Palmerston office at 519-638-2110 or Clifford office at 519-327-4777. Like the team on Facebook (Minto-Mapleton Family Health Team) and follow on Twitter (@MintoMapleton) for healthy living tips and information on upcoming programs and events in the area.

Written by Cara Croll, RD, CDE with Linda McComb, dietetic student volunteer

Cara Croll