Skip to contentSkip to search
TELUS Health logo
TELUS Health logo
Skip to main content

Intermittent fasting: the pros and cons

Woman eating a strawberry

Intermittent fasting is a diet plan that involves alternating between fasting and eating within a specific time frame. It’s gained a lot of popularity in recent years, largely as a way to lose weight. 

Beyond weight loss, you may have heard claims about additional health benefits of intermittent fasting, such as improvements in heart health, a reduction in cancer risk, and even protection against Alzheimer’s and dementia. While a few small studies have shown promise, much more research is needed to evaluate whether these claims are true. 

With intermittent fasting, there is no set rule for when to fast, or for how long. Some people prefer to fast on alternating days, eating normally on every other day. Another popular method is to fast for a certain number of hours each day. An example of a daily fasting structure could be eating normally between 11am and 7pm, and fasting for the remaining 16 hours. 

If you’re in good overall health, intermittent fasting is one way to reduce your caloric intake without restricting the foods you can eat. As with any diet plan, intermittent fasting has its pros and cons.

The pros

Calorie restriction without food restriction

One of the biggest selling points for intermittent fasting is that it helps people reduce their calorie intake without restricting what foods they can eat. Since you’re eating fewer meals per day, the logic is that the meals you skip will create a calorie deficit. 

It’s also possible to overindulge on intermittent fasting. While the point is to be able to eat your favourite foods during your eating window, it’s still important to follow a balanced diet overall, with plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lean protein.

May have a positive impact on blood sugar regulation

Some research has shown that intermittent fasting may help to reduce insulin resistance in overweight individuals with type 2 diabetes and prediabetes. The caveat here is that weight loss in general tends to help with insulin sensitivity in people who have diabetes, and so far the research has shown intermittent fasting to be pretty comparable to other weight loss diets in this regard. 

That said, if intermittent fasting feels easier for you, then it might be a more sustainable option than a traditional calorie-restricted diet. The longer you can stick with an eating plan, the more benefit you’ll see. 

May help improve cardiovascular health

Some studies on intermittent fasting have indicated potential benefits for cardiovascular health. There is some evidence that fasting can help to reduce blood pressure and inflammation, two factors that can lead to heart issues over time. 

Again, there is a caveat. These results are not necessarily specific to intermittent fasting. Safe, appropriate weight loss tends to result in improved cardiovascular health, regardless of the method. As with most of the potential pros for intermittent fasting, you’ll see the best results if you can stick with intermittent fasting long-term.

The cons

Can be inconvenient for socializing

While intermittent fasting doesn’t restrict what you can eat, it can still feel restrictive in other ways.

If you have an active social life, intermittent fasting can be inconvenient. Having a strict eating window can mean turning down plans to go out for brunch, dinner or drinks if those plans don’t line up with your window. The social aspects of eating can be just as important as the nutrition itself, and if you find yourself having to miss out on shared meals with friends and family due to your intermittent fasting schedule, this diet is unlikely to be sustainable for you in the long run.

Limitations on who should do intermittent fasting

Like any diet plan, intermittent fasting comes with its own set of potential risks. There are certain groups of people for whom intermittent fasting may not be safe or healthy. These groups include pregnant people, people on medications that need to be taken with food, shift workers, and anyone with a history of disordered eating. 

Intermittent fasting may not be safe for people with chronic conditions that are impacted by diet. Though intermittent fasting holds some promise for blood sugar regulation, if you have or are at risk for diabetes it’s imperative to consult your doctor before embarking on a fast. 

More research is still needed

Though studies thus far have shown promise, much more research is needed before we can know for certain whether intermittent fasting has real health benefits. The bulk of the research done on humans so far has focused primarily on weight loss. Most of the research on other potential benefits, such as brain health and longevity, have only been done on animals. The small size of the studies done so far also makes it tough to draw any solid conclusions about whether intermittent fasting can benefit the general population. 

The bottom line is that intermittent fasting might be an effective way to manage your weight, if it works for you. At this point, researchers don’t know if intermittent fasting is any better for you than any other diet plan, and it’s certainly not a cure-all.

Before embarking on any new eating plan, it’s a good call to consult a health professional, such as a registered dietitian. Registered dietitians on the TELUS Health MyCare app stay up-to-date on the latest nutrition research, and they can help you determine whether intermittent fasting is appropriate for you. Book an appointment in the TELUS Health MyCare app to see a registered dietitian from your device.

*Registered dietitian services are available in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario