Can intermittent fasting prevent (or reverse) diabetes and heart disease?

Intermittent fasting could be the answer to the obesity crisis– but does this foster unhealthy relationships with food?

Intermittent fasting
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Intermittent fasting is a simple weight loss diet philosophy. It’s been popularised by actors like Hugh Jackman, who reportedly used this to get lean for Wolverine. It boils down to one simple rule: don’t eat for a certain period of time. One of the most common ways to do this is to not eat for 16 hours, and cram all your food into an eight-hour window. 

Of course, there’s a little bit more nuance to it than that: you have to eat healthy, with chicken breast cooked on the best health grills or in an air fryer rather than breaded, floured, buttermilk-drenched and fried. However, the science in question – and the many examples of anecdotal evidence – often claim that once you’re used to intermittent fasting, you eat healthy, feel full after meals, metabolise fat more efficiently and don’t eat as much in the day. 

There have been quite a few studies on the subject, but the latest piece of research around IF is a feather in its cap. Researchers from The Endocrine Society have found that eating your calories in an 8-10 hour window is “a powerful strategy to prevent and manage chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease”.


(Image credit: Mark Deyoung/Unsplash)

The researchers found that our metabolism rises and falls at certain times of the day, helping us to metabolise food more efficiently at its peak and allowing our body to store more fat at its lowest. Spreading our meals out means they’re more likely to be stored as fat, while clumping them together and timing them when your metabolism is at its peak can help you store less fat. The end result of this is that coupled with plenty of exercise and a healthy diet content, weight loss can help manage and reduce the risk of metabolic diseases.

Researcher Satchidananda Panda, Ph.D said: "Eating at random times breaks the synchrony of our internal program and make us prone to diseases.

"Intermittent fasting is a lifestyle that anyone can adopt. It can help eliminate health disparities and lets everyone live a healthy and fulfilling life."

However, it’s not a magic bullet. Intermittent fasting still has a lacking of hard-and-fast research around it, and it has the potential to make people prone to binge eating and “yo-yo dieting”. Breaking a restrictive diet and piling the pounds back on leaves you increasingly at risk of metabolic syndrome, the precursor of the diseases listed above. The onus is on you to find a balanced, healthy and sustainable way to lose weight: some people will be fine with intermittent fasting, while it might not be suitable for others.

Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and is currently Fitness and Wellbeing Editor at TechRadar, covering all things exercise and nutrition on Fit&Well's tech-focused sister site. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.