Weight loss: Are there any risks to the "intermittent fasting" 16:8 diet?

Are you trying the 16:8 diet for weight loss? Some studies say you might be at a risk of developing unhealthy habits

Intermitted fasting: 16:8 diet
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The 16:8 diet plan, better known as "intermittent fasting", is often championed by people who have lost weight. It's well-known to be used by amateur athletes all over the world and (in conjunction with a healthy diet and the best exercises for weight loss) it's anecdotally and scientifically proven to get results.

The concept – restricting your meal times to eight hours a day, and fasting for the remaining 16 hours – is simple enough in theory. The idea is the narrow window prevents snacking and forces you to carefully structure your intake of calories, while the periods of fasting each day helps prevent the body from accruing fat.

It's an enormously popular diet plan with a fair bit of science behind it: for example, one study, published by researchers from the University of Illinois, Chicago, found intermittent fasters consumed fewer calories, lost more weight and had lower blood pressure readings than people who ate all day. If you're already eating healthy food, it's a bonus, as your meals are even more carefully structured to provide all the nutrition your body needs.

However, there's concern in the scientific community that intermittent fasting could encourage people to develop unhealthy binge-and-purge habits later in life, especially impressionable groups such as adolescent girls.

Intermitted fasting: 16:8 diet

(Image credit: Getty Images)

One study conducted by the Oregon Research Institute found fasting increases the onset of binge eating and bulimic pathology during a five-year cycle.

Intermittent fasting should be fine, provided it is regulated and the participants are eating enough healthy food in their allotted eight-hour time window. However, don't let your great results allow you to slide into more extreme behaviour, like making the eight-hour window shorter and the fasting time longer.

This is the sort of thing that leads to unhealthy binge-and-purge habits. The above study found the longer fasting periods, such as going 24 hours without food, increased the likelihood of binge-purge behaviour.

If you're feeling tempted to extend your fasting period and go for longer and longer periods without food, perhaps intermittent fasting isn't for you. developing simple, self-reported eating habits, using healthy cooking methods like the best grill or best steamer, is a more sustainable way to eat in the long term.

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.