I get asked very often what I think about intermittent fasting (IF). My sense is that people expect RDs to be either all-in or totally anti-IF, but the truth is that a lot of us are curious and taking our time to research and think through the potential benefits and downsides of this eating pattern. Even though I don’t practice fasting in my own life, I feel it’s important for me to be up to date on the topic and to be able to have an informed conversation about it with my patients rather than shutting the conversation down or making them feel judged for asking.
There are lots of elements to take into consideration for each individual, and I would be doing a disservice by offering a yes/no answer. That said, I know I haven’t done an actual blog post on this topic, so here is a very general overview of what I normally say when asked about IF.
First off, What Is Intermittent Fasting (IF)?
For a very simple description, the Mayo Clinic explains, “Intermittent fasting means that you don’t eat for a period of time each day or week.” There are a variety of regimens, but for some, this may mean eating normally one day and either completely fasting or eating just one small meal the next day; for others practicing intermittent fasting, it might mean eating normally, but within restricted windows each day or fasting two days each week.
IF is not the same as chronically limiting calories, as you’re still eating the same number of calories you’d require for the day, but the time window during which you’re ingesting those calories is what is limited. Sometimes you’ll see this called “time-restricted feeding.” It’s also important to make sure that what you’re eating within that time frame supports stable blood sugar so you can enjoy sustained energy, balanced mood and good mental functioning.
So, Should You Try IF?
As I tell my patients, we are still learning about intermittent fasting, which means that we don’t yet have any long term data or enough human studies to be able to make standardized recommendations, but some research has linked intermittent fasting to improvements in health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers and neurological disorders.
That said, something we’re also still learning about in relation to IF is who might benefit most and who it is definitely not a good idea for. One example I feel it’s important to highlight is that if you have an active or past eating disorder or are prone to emotional eating or binge eating, I generally would not recommend practicing intermittent fasting as the time restrictions may be triggering.
Another thing to note: medical studies — conducted in controlled research settings — are different from real life, so take that into consideration as you consider whether intermittent fasting is for you. We likely will have more data as time goes on about sustainable approaches for everyday life in the populations it may be most helpful for, but we still have much to learn there.
Most importantly, regardless of what approach you take, it’s important to tune in to your body and get familiar with the signals it sends you about what’s working and what’s not— and to trust those internal cues.
Bottom line: If you’re interested in exploring intermittent fasting, talk to your trusted healthcare provider for individualized recommendations.
If you want to hear my conversation about all intermittent fasting and intuitive fasting with leading functional medicine expert Dr. Will Cole, you can check out this podcast episode. Drama-Free Healthy Living with Jess Cording is also available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon, and more!