Intermittent fasting: methods and benefits

Intermittent fasting involves disrupting normal eating patterns with periods of prolonged fasting. We will explain the different methods and benefits.

Fasting involves the removal of some or all food and drink for a specific period of time. There are various types of fasting.

Intermittent (or interval) fasting has recently attracted a lot of public interest. Regular eating patterns are interrupted by recurring periods of fasting. The aim of intermittent fasting is long-term weight regulation.

Different types of intermittent fasting

There are various ways to fast intermittently. One method is the 5:2 diet. This involves eating normally for 5 days then reducing calorie intake to around a quarter of the usual amount for 2 days. For most people, this equates to around 500 kcal of energy.

Another type of intermittent fasting is the 16:8 method. This involves restricting eating to an 8-hour window then going without solid food and beverages with calories for 16 hours. Normal food consumption can be resumed on the weekend or the 16:8 pattern can be continued.

Dinner cancelling is also regarded as a type of intermittent fasting. This involves not eating dinner on certain days, leading to a period of about 14 hours of fasting.

What are the advantages of intermittent fasting?

Nowadays, food is readily available virtually 24/7 at a reasonable price. We are surrounded by temptation. However, if our body is constantly provided with food, there is no need for it to draw on its reserves. This results in excess calories being converted into fat deposits in the body and thus weight gain. Intermittent fasting forces the body to draw on its reserves for a specific period of time. That is the advantage of intermittent fasting. One thing is for sure: our body doesn’t need to be constantly provided with food. Three main meals and, if necessary, two small snacks throughout the day generally suffice.

What are the disadvantages of intermittent fasting?

Long-term studies have yet to rule out potential negative health effects. It is currently unclear as to whether the body’s nutritional needs can be covered in the long term despite periods of fasting. As to whether this type of weight regulation is far better than others remains to be seen. It is also unclear as to what role intermittent fasting plays in the development of eating disorders.

Author: Stéphanie Bieler BSc, Swiss Society for Nutrition SSN

Published on: 7 June 2019

Dietitian Stéphanie Bieler

Ernährungsberaterin Stéphanie Bieler Stéphanie Bieler (BSc Dietitian, Bern University of Applied Sciences) works at the Swiss Society for Nutrition SSN in Bern. She primarily focuses on maintaining a balanced diet across various age and target groups. Stéphanie Bieler writes articles for Helsana on the topic of nutrition.




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