New research is giving insight into the multitude of potential health benefits one could receive through intermittent fasting—from fighting inflammation to chronic disease prevention. 

Lauren Wicks
December 26, 2019

Intermittent fasting has recently been announced as Google’s top trending diet of 2020 (yes, it beat out keto this year) and with endorsements from celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston and Chris Pratt, we can see why. Additionally, new research published today in the New England Journal of Medicine shows intermittent fasting could have a much bigger impact on your health than just weight loss—meaning this diet is likely not going away in 2020.

Intermittent fasting differs from most diets out there, as it’s less focused on what (or what not) to eat and is instead centered on when you eat. The most common forms of intermittent fasting are the 16:8 method or fasting for 16 hours a day and eating within an eight-hour window, and the 5:2 method, which alternates normal days of eating with calorie-restricted eating by 500 or more calories. 

Related: Should You Try Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss? 

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University reviewed dozens of scientific articles regarding intermittent fasting and the potential health benefits in humans and animals, and found that besides boosting weight loss, IF could also reduce inflammation, reverse aging and promote healthy aging, burn calories more efficiently and prevent common chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. The review shows intermittent fasting could also have brain health benefits—reducing the risk for neurodegenerative disorders and improving memory and other cognitive functions. 

The authors of this study believe this phenomenon of health benefits happens as fasting allows your body to make a “metabolic switch” from burning glucose to fat for fuel. The authors note that this switch is most powerful when one significantly reduces their calories by 500-700 calories for at least one day per week. 

Related: How This Mom Lost 105 Lbs. with Intermittent Fasting: 'I Went Into it Kind of Skeptical'

Lead author Mark Mattson, Ph.D., has been practicing intermittent fasting for 30 years. Our society follows a much different eating pattern, with most of us eating all throughout the day. This, said Mattson in an interview he did with TODAY, means we’re missing out on the health benefits that come with intermittent fasting.

“The evidence is accumulating that this metabolic switch triggers a lot of signaling pathways in cells and various organs that improve their stress resistance and resilience,” Mattson tells TODAY. “If you eat three meals a day plus snacks spread out...you may never have that metabolic switch occurring.” 

So, should you swear off snacking (or breakfast) for the sake of a healthier, leaner you in the new year? We asked Victoria Seaver, M.S., R.D., EatingWell’s Meal Plan Editor, what she thinks about intermittent fasting and its potential impact on our health.

“Intermittent fasting may sound like the golden ticket to weight loss and better health but the reality is it’s not as easy as it sounds. For one, refraining from eating when you’re actually hungry is hard. Plus, restricting food can also mean that when you do get to eat, you overeat. While you may lose weight at first (like you would on any calorie-restricted diet) it’s not certain to last.” 

“At the end of the day, the most successful diet is one that you can maintain for life. For most people, intermittent fasting isn’t that diet—nor is any diet that calls to ignore your body’s natural hunger cues.”

Related: 4 Ways to Ditch the Diet Mentality and Be Healthier

The Bottom Line

If you do decide to give intermittent fasting a try, weigh the potential pros against the cons beforehand to see if it is actually something you can commit to long term. If not, start smaller and commit to something easier, like drinking more water each day, not skipping breakfast in the mornings, incorporating more plant-based dinners into your week or adding in more exercise.

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