Intermittent fasting, where people eat for just a few hours a day and fast for the rest, has become quite the dieting trend of late – but does it actually work?
While intermittent fasting may help you to lose weight and promotes health, it is not however superior to conventional calorie restriction diets, scientists have found out in the largest investigation on intermittent fasting to date.
One of the most popular versions of intermittent fasting is the “5:2 diet”. This allows five days of unrestricted eating and two days (usually non-consecutive) eating a very low-calorie diet, typically about 500 kcal. The diet’s biggest appeal is the flexibility to tailor it to your lifestyle.
Curious about whether it works as a long-term diet, scientists from the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) and Heidelberg University Hospital followed 150 overweight and obese people for a year to track the effects of intermittent fasting against two weight loss plans.
At the start of the study, they were randomly classified in three groups: One third followed a conventional calorie restriction diet that reduced daily calorie intake by 20 percent. The second group kept to a 5:2 dietary plan that also saved 20 percent of calorie intake over the whole week. The control group followed no specific diet plan but was advised, like all other participants, to eat a well-balanced diet as recommended by DGE. Following the actual dieting phase, the investigators documented the participants’ weight and health status for another 38 weeks.
The result may be as surprising as it is sobering for all followers of intermittent fasting. The researchers found that improvements in health status were the same with both dietary methods. “In participants of both group, body weight and, along with it, visceral fat, or unhealthy belly fat, were lost and extra fat in the liver reduced,” says DKFZ’s Ruth Schübel.
The scientists conclude that there are many paths leading to a healthier weight. Everybody must find a diet plan that fits them best and then just follow through with it.
Questions however still remain about intermittent fasting, specifically whether all methods (such as the warrior diet, where you only eat one large meal in the evening) are similarly effective.