Flying in the face of conventional wisdom, intermittent fasting, where one cycles between periods of eating and fasting, has become increasingly popular as further research examines its possible benefits. Recent research has suggested that altering conventional feeding patterns may have positive influences on how the body deals with inflammation and oxidative stress, insulin response, and hormone regulation. Fasting can simplify meal planning for those with busy schedules and possibly even improve body composition and increase lifespan. But, the extreme nature of the feast or famine eating pattern is often difficult for practitioners to follow all the time. What if one was to practice intermittent fasting, intermittently?
A study published in the recent issue of Translational Medicine aimed to answer this question, as researchers examined how various markers of health were affected if one were to practice intermittent fasting for only five days a month. In the six-month long randomized controlled, cross-over trial, overweight participants were asked to follow a “fasting-mimicking diet” (FMD) for five consecutive days each month and eat normally the rest of the month. There was no exercise component, all participants were asked to follow their normal routine. The FMD diet days included both extended periods without food and caloric restriction, as participants were asked to consume 750-1100kcals per day of foods low in carbohydrate, but high in unsaturated fat. Those in the experimental group were asked to follow the FMD diet for the full six months. Those in the control group, who followed an unrestricted diet, switched over to the FMD diet after three months. A total of 71 of the original 100 participants completed at least three months of the FMD diet. All participants, in both the experimental and cross-over control groups, experienced reductions in body mass index, blood pressure, fasting glucose, c-reactive protein, and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), with those in the experimental group who followed the FMD diet for the full six months experiencing slightly greater results. There were no serious adverse effects reported.
Researchers noted that they decided on five-day FMD cycles because several previous animal studies had shown that was the minimum needed to achieve the desired effects. They also theorized that longer periods of intermittent fasting would result in additional effects, but would decrease the likelihood of one sticking to the diet.
While the results were promising, it should be noted that it is difficult to discern if the effects were due to the decreased energy intake over the five-day FMD periods, altered feeding patterns, or the restricted nature of the FMD diet. On FMD days, participants did not consume any meat, dairy, or processed food, and subsisted off pre-prepared tea, vegetable soups, and whole food energy bars consisting of almond meal, macadamia nut butter, honey, pecan, coconut, flaxseed meal, coconut oil, vanilla, and sea salt. Further research is necessary to examine the root of the beneficial health effects.
Interested in giving intermittent fasting a shot, but afraid that the extreme nature of altering your eating patterns all the time isn’t something you can stick to? Research suggests that as little as five days per month may have positive effects on body composition and several other markers of health.
Dr. Damian Rodriguez is the health and exercise scientist for doTERRA International, LLC. He holds a doctorate in health science, a master’s degree in exercise physiology, and countless professional certifications. He has spent most of his life researching nutrition, exercise, and the lifestyle behaviors associated with optimal health. Along with his passion for health, as someone who lives with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is also involved in bringing awareness to autism spectrum disorders. There are varying opinions about many health and fitness topics. His opinions are his own and not necessarily that of doTERRA International, LLC. Consult your healthcare provider before making any changes to diet and exercise.