Intermittent Fasting

Could eating fewer meals help us live longer, healthier lives?

Every day, we’re flooded with new “magical” dieting techniques that involve no self-control or discipline and are supposed to somehow yield results. On the other hand of the spectrum, you have draconian regimens that might be proven to work but require tremendous willpower to pull off. If you’re tired of those two extremes, but still want to cut some weight, why not try intermittent fasting? I won’t clobber you with baseless claims that start with “Science says,” or tell you that it’s imperative you take up fasting, but it’s just one of the options for you to consider to get in better shape and feel healthier.

In Theory

Let me start by reiterating the fact that scientific evidence in support of intermittent fasting is thin. That being said, it does exist. Again, it won’t make you lose 40 pounds in two weeks, but there are reasons to think it can help. So, how does it work?

It all starts with the idea that a reduction in calorie intake (by 30-40%) can help many animals live longer (in some cases, it extends their lifespan by a third). This doesn’t conclusively translate to primates, or humans, at least with the evidence currently at our disposal. However, even if eating less doesn’t help us live longer, most of the existing data suggests that consuming fewer calories a day lowers the risk of diseases common among the elderly, thus effectively extending our healthy years.

Because actual, continuous calorie restriction is hard to keep up, an alternative is intermittent fasting, or periodic fasting. This allows the faster to keep consuming the same daily amount of calories, while enjoying the benefits of being in a fasted state. Fasting is believed to act as a form of mild stress that makes your body work overtime to keep you safe and healthy, by keeping stressed neurons alive, sending “chaperone” proteins to help with molecular assembly within cells, getting rid of damaged cells faster than normal, and increasing insulin sensitivity (widely regarded as a key to weight loss).

In Practice

Intermittent fasting is not a diet, but a dieting pattern. The focus is not on consuming fewer calories – rather, it’s on entering the fasted state regularly to take advantage of its health benefits.

What does this mean for you? An easy and practical way to enter this pattern is to skip breakfast. Eat one meal at 1pm, and another one at 8pm. That schedule has you eating two meals (with no caloric restrictions), and fasting for 16 hours between 9pm and 1pm the next day. You can adjust the exact timings as you see fit, or as your lifestyle requires. You could skip dinner instead, or just shift the whole schedule by a few hours in either direction.

Some people swear by it. Some think it’s insane. If it sounds like something you can do, just give it a go and see how it feels. Don’t force yourself if it brings on unmanageable hunger pangs. And if the goal is to lose weight, combine this with regular exercise. It’s not the only way forward, but it’s just one of the dieting patterns that challenge the rather recent perception that we have to eat 3 meals every day. Here are some other tips on How To Shred Fat.

Find out More

The actual scientific papers describing research on calorie reduction in animals and intermittent fasting in humans are quite dense, but this Scientific American article is a good, cautiously worded introduction to the potential benefits of intermittent fasting.


Victor Allard is a writer, teacher, and proud owner of a well-trimmed beard. When he’s not writing about grooming and wellbeing, he likes to play any instrument he can get his hands on.