Intermittent Fasting: Is the Wait Worth the Weight?


Purpose of Review

We review the underlying mechanisms and potential benefits of intermittent fasting (IF) from animal models and recent clinical trials.

Recent Findings

Numerous variations of IF exist, and study protocols vary greatly in their interpretations of this weight loss trend. Most human IF studies result in minimal weight loss and marginal improvements in metabolic biomarkers, though outcomes vary. Some animal models have found that IF reduces oxidative stress, improves cognition, and delays aging. Additionally, IF has anti-inflammatory effects, promotes autophagy, and benefits the gut microbiome. The benefit-to-harm ratio varies by model, IF protocol, age at initiation, and duration.


We provide an integrated perspective on potential benefits of IF as well as key areas for future investigation. In clinical trials, caloric restriction and IF result in similar degrees of weight loss and improvement in insulin sensitivity. Although these data suggest that IF may be a promising weight loss method, IF trials have been of moderate sample size and limited duration. More rigorous research is needed.

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Fig. 1



Intermittent fasting


Calorie restriction


Intermittent calorie restriction


Energy restriction


Time-restricted feeding


Prolonged fasting


Alternate-day energy restriction


Continuous energy restriction


Randomized controlled trial


Glucose infusion rate


Insulin sensitivity


Reactive oxygen species

ad lib:

Ad libitum


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

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Funding Sources

This work was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health [UL1TR001430, P30DK046200, T32DK007201].

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Correspondence to Mary-Catherine Stockman.

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Mary-Catherine Stockman declares that she has no conflict of interest.

Dylan Thomas declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Jacquelyn Burke declares that she has no conflict of interest.

Caroline M. Apovian has received research funding through grants from Sanofi-Aventis, Orexigen, Aspire Bariatrics, GI Dynamics, MYOS, Takeda, Gelesis, Vela Foundation, Dr. Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Foundation, Coherence Lab, Energesis, Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Eli Lilly, and MetaPrteomics LLC; has received compensation from Nutrisystem, Zafgen, Sanofi-Aventis, Orexigen, Novo Nordisk, GI Dynamics, Takeda, Scientific Intake, Gelesis, Merck, Johnson & Johnson, Amylin, EnteroMedics, Arena Pharmaceuticals, Rhythm Pharmaceuticals, and Xeno Biosciences for service on advisory boards; and owns stock in Science-Smart LLC.

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This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

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This article is part of the Topical Collection on Obesity Treatment

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Stockman, M., Thomas, D., Burke, J. et al. Intermittent Fasting: Is the Wait Worth the Weight?. Curr Obes Rep 7, 172–185 (2018).

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  • Intermittent fasting
  • Fasting
  • Obesity
  • Calorie restriction
  • Metabolism
  • Insulin resistance
  • Weight loss