Can Intermittent Fasting (Skipping Meals) Make You Healthier?

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Maybe you’ve heard the often-repeated advice to eat small, frequent meals. Apparently skipping meals (even breakfast) is a surefire way to wreck your blood sugar and your metabolism. Moreover, even with our sedentary modern lifestyle, if we don’t eat every 2-4 hours and graze constantly we won’t have the energy to make it through the day. We must always carry 100-calorie packs in case hunger strikes, lest brain fog ensue.

Umm… no.

I know many health experts who disagree with this approach, and my own experience (not to mention scientific research) tells me that this just isn’t so. There are great health benefits to fasting for periods of time, if done in an informed way.

Health Myth: Eat Small, Frequent Meals

Here’s a few more “myths” you can ignore:

  • Eating small meals throughout the day keeps the fire of our metabolism burning and should we miss a meal, our body will jump into starvation mode and scavenge our muscle and brain tissue to survive.
  • Skipping meals leads to a slowed metabolism and certain weight gain.
  • Breakfast, being the most important meal of the day, should never be skipped, or one is at risk of tremendous overeating throughout the day, brain fog and impaired mental state.
  • To keep our bodies running optimally, we must eat small meals throughout the day of carefully portioned amounts of 600 calories or less, preferably from “healthy whole grains” and lean proteins.
  • This will also keep us from that ever-dreaded feeling of hunger which we all know causes us to shift into animal existence and eat everything in sight, especially chocolate cake.

Sounds logical enough, right? I believed it all for a long time.

The problem is: research and experience don’t back it up. In fact, discovering what the research really says about the topic of intermittent fasting (a.k.a skipping meals) was some of the most freeing information for me personally on my own health journey.

Health Truth: Give Eating a Rest

Conventional wisdom says that our bodies need a constant supply of food to keep running steadily and have stable blood sugar. While it is true that a constant supply of carbohydrates (which the body breaks down into glucose/sugar) will keep the blood sugar constant, it will be constantly elevated.

In all fairness, some people do succeed at losing weight with the grazing system, but it is a difficult model to follow as it necessitates constant access to food and many people eventually find that they hit a plateau. This plateau makes a lot of sense metabolically, as the body gets used to a constant supply of food and down-regulates the metabolism since it can count on a steady supply of the same amount of calories.

It’s not exactly easy to hear in a world where snacks and packaged foods abound, but some studies have shown very positive benefits from caloric restriction diets (see sources below). Researchers at US National Institute on Aging report that animal and human studies about caloric restriction show that when calories were reduced by 30-40%, the subjects tended to live a lot longer (30% longer actually!).

When You Eat, Eat Fat

That alone might make a case for caloric restriction and small meals, except for one thing that every low-fat dieter knows: the subjects (animal and human) were miserable and showed signs of depression and irritability.

Ever felt that way on a diet?

Unfortunately, the study that showed benefits from overall caloric restriction also included a low-fat diet, often recommended for weight loss. Fat does contain more calories per gram, so it was the logical source to cut down on.

In primate studies, cutting down fat and dietary cholesterol caused problems including making the primates more violent. The body actually vitally needs fats for hundreds of processes throughout the body, so when caloric restriction became fat restriction, health problems followed.

What if there was a way to accomplish the life-extending benefits of caloric restriction without bypassing real meals or saying goodbye to steak forever? Thankfully, there is!

The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting basically refers to occasionally reducing or eliminating food intake for a period of time. There are many ways to approach this (which we will cover in this post). In studies, this was often done with alternate-day fasting, though there are many ways to incorporate fasting.

When I first heard of it, intermittent fasting seemed to go against all the health advice I’d ever heard. Emerging research is showing that fasting is not a threat to overall health, but it actually has many health benefits.

Here are some of the biggest benefits of skipping meals:

Cancer and Heart Disease Prevention

Studies have shown that the benefits of caloric restriction can be obtained in ways besides just reducing overall calories (especially by cutting fat) and that some other methods might be more effective.

One study found that when lab animals were allowed to eat freely on every other day, they actually consumed the same total number of calories as a group that was allowed to eat freely every day. The difference was that the group that fasted every other day showed longer life, increased resistance to disease, and improved insulin sensitivity.

Human studies back this up too, showing that when human subjects fasted on alternate days they not only showed the same benefits as caloric restriction groups, but also showed an increased ability to lose weight and improvements in coronary heart disease risk factors.

Studies (like this one) have even demonstrated a reduced proliferation of cancer cells in subjects who practiced intermittent fasting, and another study showed that alternate-day fasting led to better reception of chemotherapy in cancer patients and a higher cure rate.

Mental Health

It turns out that fasting occasionally can be good for mental health and repair also. As the study from the National Institute on Aging found:

Dietary restriction (DR; either caloric restriction or intermittent fasting, with maintained vitamin and mineral intake) can extend lifespan and can increase disease resistance. Recent studies have shown that DR can have profound effects on brain function and vulnerability to injury and disease. DR can protect neurons against degeneration in animal models of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases and stroke. Moreover, DR can stimulate the production of new neurons from stem cells (neurogenesis) and can enhance synaptic plasticity, which may increase the ability of the brain to resist aging and restore function following injury.

Not just extended lifespan but better resistance to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s as well as stroke! The study also found that intermittent fasting had a positive anti-aging effect on the brain.

Life-altering diseases aside, won’t restricting calories through fasting lead to the mental fog and sluggishness that we’ve been warned about (and perhaps even experienced) from not eating regularly?

I suggest that, when done correctly, logic points to intermittent fasting actually being better for mental clarity and energy levels. Yes, if the body (and brain) are used to running on a constant supply of fast carbs, cutting these out may lead to brain fog and sluggishness. However, if the body is getting the proper nutrients and an adequate supply of beneficial fats and proteins, it is more likely to adapt without negative symptoms.

On to more benefits!

Fitness and Health

Besides the benefits in reducing the risk of cancer, heart disease, and neurological problems, fasting actually helps facilitate weight loss and muscle growth. This actually seems logical if we think about it.

If a person has consumed food (especially carbohydrates) right before working out, the glucose from this food is still floating around in the bloodstream or is in the liver and muscles as glycogen. This is a fast fuel for the body, and it will choose to burn through this before resorting to burning fat cells, which take slightly more effort to break down.

When a person eats immediately after working out, these glycogen receptors and stores are refilled and some of the positive effects of the workout are cut off. This is how it works: The right kinds of high-intensity and resistance workouts can increase the body’s own natural production of growth hormone and slow aging. When food, especially food containing fructose, is consumed after workouts, it binds to the same receptors as growth hormone and prevents uptake of all the growth hormone the body has made.

Fasting for at least an hour before and after working out can ensure the most uptake of growth hormone, and contrary to popular belief, does not cause muscle wasting or inability to work out effectively.

How to Incorporate Intermittent Fasting

When it comes to fasting, there is no single method that is best for everyone, but personally I take my cues from Dr. Pompa’s research, among others (also check out Valter Longo and the Fasting Mimicking Diet).

There are some important factors to keep in mind that make fasting more effective and beneficial.

  1. Fasting is easiest and most effective if the body is used to utilizing fats and proteins and is not dependent on fast-acting carbohydrates for energy. If the body is used to that constant supply of fast energy, total fasting will not be a pleasant experience.
  2. If, however, you have eliminated grains and sugars and your body is a fat-burning machine, fasting can actually be refreshing and energizing. It gives your body a break from digestion and lets it focus on cell regeneration and waste removal.

This is logical: think about times you have been sick and naturally didn’t eat because you weren’t hungry. This gave your body a break from digestion so it could use its resources to fight your illness.

The great news is that you don’t even have to go without food for a whole day to reap the benefits of intermittent fasting! There are several easy ways to incorporate small fasts with minimal effort:

16-Hour Fast/8-Hour Eating Window

Also called time-restricted eating (because you eat only at certain times), this is one of the easiest forms of fasting to start with, and you can still get the benefits listed above. You also get to eat each day, and in my experience feel only mildly hungry if at all. The basic idea is that you eat all your meals during the day in an 8-hour window (10 am to 6 pm for instance) and don’t eat late at night or during the night if you wake up.

This gives you a 16-hour fast during a 24-hour period with only minor adjustment to your normal eating schedule. This also seems to be the best option for women, as extended fasting can actually be counterproductive.

I go into my approach to time-restricted eating in this post, and this is a great place to start for most moms/women.

24-Hour Fast Still Eating Each Day

I heard this one from Dr. Eades, one of the top bariatric doctors in the country. The basic idea is that from 6 PM one day to 6 PM the next day, you fast, and alternate fasting days and eating days. The benefit here is that you can eat dinner after 6 PM one night and then eat breakfast and lunch the next morning, so you are never going a day without eating. This type of alternate-day fasting is what is referred to in many of the studies above with the highest cancer and heart disease benefits.

Full Alternate-Day Fasting

Some people think that for the first couple weeks, it is good to do a full alternate day fasting to help the body rid itself of toxins. If you want to attempt this, simply use the 24-hour fast method above and repeat for two weeks.

You can also just try the novel approach of eating only when you actually get hungry, not just when you crave food. Let your body feel hunger every once in a while. If you aren’t hungry in the morning, don’t eat. If you aren’t hungry at dinner time, don’t eat. It seems like such a novel concept, though really, shouldn’t it be common sense?

Tips for Fasting

It can be difficult to adjust if you aren’t used to fasting. Here are some tips that can help you stay the course:

  • Drink lots of water. Lots!
  • While I don’t generally recommend any beverages other than water on a fast, Pique Tea has some fasting-specific blends that can help you get through withdrawal symptoms and support the fasting process.
  • If anxiety or emotions come up (which happens), try tapping.

Learn more specifically from Cynthia Thurlow on What Makes Fasting Unique for Women in this podcast episode.

Bottom Line on Fasting

Our bodies came with great built-in feedback mechanisms, and to think that we must eat constantly to keep from being hungry (our body’s way of telling us to eat) isn’t even logical.

As I said, finding all this information was incredibly freeing for me personally. I no longer felt guilty when I skipped meals, especially breakfast, just because I wasn’t hungry. No longer did I feel forced to eat on a certain schedule. I also wasn’t worried I was cannibalizing muscle tissue by skipping a meal. I personally also slept much better and lost weight once I started incorporating fasting into my routine.

If you decide to try fasting, make sure to use common sense and ensure that when you do eat, you are getting enough nutrients and protein. Small children and pregnant women should eat an optimal diet and should let hunger guide their eating.

If you’re just getting started, I’d also recommend checking out the Zero fasting app, which can make getting started a lot easier and help you to stick with a fast longer via the built-in timer.

This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Mariza Snyder, a functional practitioner. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.

Have I freed you from the bonds of snacking? Are you open to trying fasting? Perhaps you are fasting today, like I am? Let me know below!

Fasting- can skipping meals make you healthier
Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


132 responses to “Can Intermittent Fasting (Skipping Meals) Make You Healthier?”

  1. Karen Giacalone Avatar
    Karen Giacalone

    Thank you so much for this! It makes me so happy to see IF getting more attention. Like most people, I thought it sounded way too extreme, and probably unhealthy, the very first time I heard about it. But eventually I listened, and I began fasting on a 16/8 schedule this past September, after reading, “Delay, Don’t Deny” by Gin Stephens. I HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone considering IF, as it answers every possible question one could have, while explaining it all in a very conversational and reader-friendly way. I’ve lost 10 pounds so far, with almost zero effort, even despite the recent holiday season. What I love most about IF is that it’s a lifestyle, not a diet, which means there’s no “cheating”- only “planning”. If something comes up that prevents me from keeping to my schedule, I don’t stress about it; I just get back to it the next day. It is so incredibly freeing to finally be rid of the diet mentality that’s normally forced upon us by the diet industry, and to feel totally relaxed around food. I basically eat whatever I want, within reason: I’m gluten free, and I do eat as cleanly and organically as possible, avoid processed foods and GMO’s, etc… BUT if I really want a dessert, or something that’s considered “bad”, I’ll go ahead and have it- with no guilt whatsoever. My appetite has decreased naturally over time, thanks to appetite correction, and I’m now much more discriminating about what I eat. I literally find myself stopping to consider if a particular food is “window worthy” before eating it! I’ve also recently begun attempting to exercise in the fasted state, with surprising success (especially for a notorious fainter, ever since childhood!) I had no idea that I should wait an hour after exercising to eat, however, so thanks for the tip!! I really wish it were called “scheduled eating” instead of intermittent fasting, because the word “fasting” just freaks people out, and keeps them from trying it. Maybe we can start a petition.. 😉

  2. Ran Avatar

    My kids have only ever eaten when they’re actually hungry. Some days snacking all day, other days eating one or two big meals but leaving it to that.
    They have never been overweighted or unhealthy. They don’t typically get sick when all the rest of their class mates are spreading germs around.
    I decided to try out their approach (by accident at first). After noticing how I did not lack energy (against my previous beliefs), I decided to quietly keep it up. Happy to see my secret “fasting” isn’t a ‘no-no’ after all!
    What made me feel safe to try their approach was a research I found out about where kids were given full responsibility to choose from a table set with healthy choices from all food groups, and over the duration of the study, every child ate a perfectly balanced diet (maybe not every day, but in total they did).

  3. Catherine Avatar

    The intermittent fasting works well for me as I never, ever get “hangry.” I am simply not hungry when I wake up and only start feeling “peckish” around 11:00am. I am also a a Health Coach and Vedic Educator and am trained to teach the basics of Ayurveda. Ayurveda postulates that there are three body types (called “doshas” based on the elements): Vata (air & space), Pitta (fire & water) and Kapha (earth & water). Everyone has all of the elements, there are just one or two that dominate. I am primarily Pitta-Kapha, which is fire, earth and water. This means I have an excellent digestion (fire) and can also go long periods without eating (earth). Vatas, however, are the type that gets light-headed if they go for a long time without eating. I mention this because Ayurveda is a nicely balanced system of eating, NOT because I think it is the only way to go! And, unlike many diets, accounts for differences in body types.

    The bottom line is that everyone is different. You have to find out what works for you. I don’t believe there is “one way” to eat or to live. We have been provided with these wonderful and adaptable things called “bodies” and Earth has provided us with so many wonderful things to eat, including fruit. Food, even certain foods, are NOT the enemy. There are too many people trying to get on the bandwagon of a particular diet and claim it is the only way to go. That is simply not true.

    There are, however, three things I recommend to my clients: get enough sleep, drink enough water and go through an elimination diet to find out what foods may not be good for YOU. This means, for instance, eliminating dairy, gluten, eggs, etc. for about 4 weeks, then go through a process of elimination. Try each food for a day or two and see how your body reacts.

  4. Kath Avatar

    Does intermittent fasting have to be constant? I like to vary my foods, as well as the way I eat. Can IF be seasonal, or maybe a week or two a month ? I am not doing IF to lose weight or for health reasons, sometimes I just don’t want to eat. and sometimes I like to celebrate with my friends. Occasionally I will graze; I don’t drink alcohol and most of my food is fresh and organic with a variety of protein, fats, vegetables, and fruits and a more high fat low-carb diet -no grains or sugars.

    1. Katie Wells Avatar

      It’s fine to vary it. The most important thing to do is to listen to your body, since everyone is different and what works best for one person will not be ideal for someone else…

  5. Vanessa Avatar

    What about portion sizes? If I’m having two meals in that smaller time window how do I know I’m getting enough macro and micro nutrients? Should I be eating more or the same amount of food in a shorter amount of time to make up for the skipped meal? Should I just be following recommended daily intake of fat and protein etc for the day and split it up in two? I never know if I’m eating to much or two little with this diet and that diet. I could really use some direction. Thanks so much Katie for this post and all the rest!

  6. Ambra Avatar

    I’ve been reading about all the benefits of fasting but as a nursing mother i’m not ready to try it yet. I have however been telling my husband all about what i’m learning on your postcasts… he’s really keen to try it but is a little bit under weight as is. What would you recommend for a man who is underweight but interested in fasting for all the other benefits?
    Thanks so much!

  7. Paul Jolie Avatar
    Paul Jolie

    I have been using the intermittant fasting program for over 5 years. In the last 2 years, I have gone to OMAD, one meal a day. I take supplements that give me my daily 90 nutritional requirements. I am 77 years old and own a unique personal training fitness and therapy studio. I feel great and have lots of energy. I see the trend going this way. Be sure to check out the fantastic documentary called “The Real Skinny On Fat”. Research is coming on really strong.
    Thanks for this really nice article on fasting. I will share with my client family

  8. Suzanne Avatar

    I have been intermittent fasting for about 6 months, but use a different method than you described. I fast once or twice a week for 18 hours and just try to schedule it when it fits well. I am interested in what you think of this method of intermittent fasting.

  9. Ashley Avatar

    Hi Katie:) thank you for your beautiful blog. I’ve been a reader for years. I also have five young kids, so I totally get it if you can’t respond to this. But perhaps someone else might?

    What do you consume while block fasting? As in, just water and lemon? Green tea with coconut oil? Herbal teas with coconut oil? I have unintentionally fasted over the years simply by being too busy to eat and I never felt deprived. We eat a whole food grain free diet though…
    I’m currently nursing but just finished your podcast on gene expression and stem cell repair, Dr Mindy addressed breastfeeding and you mentioned simply fasting from dinner to dinner.

    I actually have thyroid cancer and have been managing it for three years naturally. I recently had another baby and my thyroid is giving me a bit of a rough go. I’m not asking for medical advice nor do I hold any person responsible for an answer. I’m just a person speaking with other similar open minds. I’ve briefly passed fasting over over the years, why? I don’t know?! So I’m just curious what others might consume during a block fast. Coconut oil, fats in teas… as mentioned above? Thanks guys!

  10. Alba Avatar

    Hi Katie,
    I’m wondering how fasting might affect the digestive system. When I feel hungry and go through a period of time without eating I often have stomach pain when I do eat. Similar to gastritis pain. Any thoughts on that?

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