Intermittent fasting. You’ve heard of it. Your suitemate has heard of it. Your fitness-enthusiast friend definitely knows about it. The newest weight-loss fasting trend has spread across the country, from research laboratories to kitchens and even to college campuses — is Yale one of them?
According to several students, the answer is yes.
Intermittent fasting first went mainstream in 2012 when doctor and UK-based BBC journalist Michael Mosley published a book on the practice. And while weight loss is one commonly lauded effect of intermittent fasting, two Yale students currently practicing intermittent fasting also told the News that fasting allows them to take their minds off food for portions of the day, eliminating some of their cravings and allowing them to focus on other pursuits.
But before you skip breakfast: Think twice. According to several Yale clinicians, the science behind intermittent fasting remains unclear.
The alleged benefits of intermittent fasting seem to stem from calorie restriction rather than eating during specific times, according to Clinical Director of the Yale Metabolic Health and Weight Loss Program Artur Vargas Viana. Several studies, he said, have shown that people trying and sticking to the fad consume fewer calories than others who eat at any time of the day.
Though a small study suggested that intermittent fasting improves cardiovascular health and reduces body fat, Viana told the News that further research is necessary to make any definite conclusions about the fad. In addition, he said much of the existing evidence for intermittent fasting’s benefits has emerged from studies involving mice, not humans.
Fasting originates from religious groups and ancient philosophers like Socrates and Plato also took part in the practice, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. While more traditional fasting tends to set stricter limits — some groups may fast for 12 hours to multiple days to a month — modern versions tend to set softer guidelines.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, individuals who must take medication with meals or those struggling with eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia nervosa should definitely not try intermittent fasting.
According to Yale Health nutritionist Alisa Scherban, several of her patients have consulted her about intermittent fasting. While the majority are seeking to lose weight, others choose to fast to improve their digestive health, while others enjoy the structure the limited eating window provides. However, she added, these restrictions often have undesirable effects.
“When someone’s restricted in any way, a lot of times, that backfires and causes overeating,” Scherban said. “And cycles of that aren’t great.”
Scherban added that any diet must be sustainable. The best diets are those a patient can maintain, according to Viana and director of the Weight Management and Obesity Prevention Program Ania Jastreboff GRD ’11.
Jastreboff said she emphasizes to her patients that they should eat unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats. Instead of a strict set of dietary guidelines, she prefers to give patients options to diversify their eating habits.
“There’s not one right diet for everyone,” Jastreboff said. “People, all of us, are often looking for this one magical something that is going to work, and the point is, there’s not one right diet for everyone. Different things work for different people.”
Adrian Kulesza ’21 first gained interest in intermittent fasting by listening to health podcasts, and in January 2019, he began fasting for about 18 hours a day. In an interview with the News, Kulesza said that since many Yale students already skip breakfast, cutting food before noon wasn’t a significant adjustment. And since he already tended not to snack between meals, adopting intermittent fasting didn’t indicate an extreme lifestyle change.
“It just made me feel good, not having to crave food all of the time,” Kulesza said. “I just enjoyed the schedule, all of my food is going to be consumed in a four to six-hour window, and for the rest of the day once I got used to that. I had no cravings whatsoever. I still felt like I had energy, but I didn’t feel the need to eat food or snack.”
Another student told the News that they try to eat between noon and 8 p.m., usually skipping breakfast. Over the last month, the student said they have lost about 10 pounds, but emphasized that while the weight loss is nice, they also save time by fasting in the morning.
According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, women should consume 1,600 to 2,400 calories a day while men should consume 2,000 to 3,000.
Valerie Pavilonis | firstname.lastname@example.org