Does Intermittent Fasting Work?

Diet trends come and go, but intermittent fasting, a form of dieting based around periods of non-eating followed by periods of concentrated eating, has somehow endured.

In 2020, it became the most popular form of dieting in the US, according to the Food Information Council’s Food and Health Survey, and it remains a significant part of diet culture. Proponents claim it can help with everything from weight loss to cholesterol and blood sugar management, despite some less than promising research.

headshot of Rachel Rodgers
Rachel Rodgers, associate professor of applied psychology.

So, does intermittent fasting really work? It’s a complicated question with an equally complicated answer, he says Rachel Rodgersan associate professor of applied psychology at Northeastern University.

Rodgers, who specializes in body image, disordered eating and health-related behaviors, spoke to Northeastern Global News about her skepticism around intermittent fasting, the issues with diets more generally and why modern food production has made eating in moderation nearly impossible. Her comments have been edited for brevity and clarity.

What is intermittent fasting?

That is an important question because what people call intermittent fasting can look quite different. There is intermittent fasting that is alternating days on which people eat ad libitum, those being called “feast days,” and those where their intake is much reduced, “fast days.” It can look like time restricted fasting where people will not eat for a certain amount of consecutive hours and then eat the rest of the time. It can be periodic fasting, whereby you might fast for up to 24 hours twice a week but not on alternating days. So, it really depends.

What is the professed benefit of intermittent fasting?

I’m not convinced about the benefits. In terms of the clinical literature, we really don’t know that much. There are three or four clinical trials that have been conducted on these behaviors, only one of which was a really rigorous one with follow-ups where people were assessed multiple times after the end. The rest of the literature is piecemeal in terms of what the studies actually look like, what they were actually assessing.

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