Forms of intermittent fasting exist in religious practices in various groups across the world. Religious fasting regimens include, but are not limited to, Vrata in Hinduism, Ramadan fasting (Islam), Yom Kippur fasting (Judaism), Orthodox Christian fasting, Fast Sunday (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), and Buddhist fasting. Certain religious fasting practices, like Buddhist fasting, only require abstinence from certain foods, while others, like the Jewish fast on Yom Kippur, last for a short period of time and would cause negligible effects on the body.
Conversely, a 2013 study completed by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine, presented the exact opposite, showing increased reactions in receptors on the tongue, when participants were given artificial sweeteners. Their study concluded that if the receptors are capable of detecting sweetness, even though calories aren’t present, a hormonal response (insulin release) is likely.
Weight-loss resistance can often be due to an underlying hormone imbalance. Leptin resistance occurs when your brain stops recognizing leptin's signals to use your body’s fat stores for energy. This causes your body to continually store fat instead of using it. Intermittent fasting has been shown to improve chronic inflammation that can dull the brain’s leptin receptor sites.
While it’s not technically fasting, some doctors have reported intermittent fasting benefits by allowing such easy-to-digest food as whole fruit during the fasting window. Modifications like these can still give your digestive and metabolic system a needed rest. For example, “Fit for Life” was a popular weight loss book that suggested eating only fruit after supper and before lunch.
Based on this, researchers from the University of Alabama conducted a study with a small group of obese men with prediabetes. They compared a form of intermittent fasting called “early time-restricted feeding,” where all meals were fit into an early eight-hour period of the day (7 am to 3 pm), or spread out over 12 hours (between 7 am and 7 pm). Both groups maintained their weight (did not gain or lose) but after five weeks, the eight-hours group had dramatically lower insulin levels and significantly improved insulin sensitivity, as well as significantly lower blood pressure. The best part? The eight-hours group also had significantly decreased appetite. They weren’t starving.
IF as a weight loss approach has been around in various forms for ages, but was highly popularized in 2012 by BBC broadcast journalist Dr. Michael Mosley’s TV documentary Eat Fast, Live Longer and book The Fast Diet, followed by journalist Kate Harrison’s book The 5:2 Diet based on her own experience, and subsequently by Dr. Jason Fung’s 2016 bestseller The Obesity Code. IF generated a steady positive buzz as anecdotes of its effectiveness proliferated.
IF makes intuitive sense. The food we eat is broken down by enzymes in our gut and eventually ends up as molecules in our bloodstream. Carbohydrates, particularly sugars and refined grains (think white flours and rice), are quickly broken down into sugar, which our cells use for energy. If our cells don’t use it all, we store it in our fat cells as, well, fat. But sugar can only enter our cells with insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas. Insulin brings sugar into the fat cells and keeps it there.
I believe this is a disservice to those, like me, with a history of eating disorder. It has made experimenting with IF unnecessarily stressful. Despite my worry about what might happen (reading all these baseless cautions), I went ahead and experimented. In my experience, contrary to this “expert advice”, IF has been the most profoundly effective intervention I’ve experienced for my bulemia.
When you eat a meal, your body spends a few hours processing that food, burning what it can from what you just consumed. Because it has all of this readily-available, easy to burn energy (thanks to the food you ate), your body will choose to use that as energy rather than the fat you have stored. This is especially true if you just consumed carbohydrates/sugar, as your body prefers to burn sugar as energy before any other source.