Fasting Diets Gaining Acceptance

Genevieve Ramsington


Anahad O'Connor wrote “Fasting Diets Are Gaining Acceptance” for The New York Times "Well" section on March 7, 2016. In the article he lays out the evidence for fasting diets growing acceptance, and counter critiques some have of the eating style. He notes that currently fasting diets have celebrity endorsements, and are in the spotlight, but that there is research backing it up as well.

He first leads the reader through hypothesis based on anecdotal evidence and anthropological postulations. O’Connor describes types of fasting diets such as the 5:2 diet, which allows a person to eat what they want 5 days a week, and only consume 500 calories the other 2 days. He also mentions alternate-day fasting, and time restricted feeding.

According to O’Connor, critics say that these regimens are too hard for many people and there isn’t robust enough evidence to make widespread recommendations. Proponents say the research is growing, and indicates it has health benefits. O’Connor interviews those who have reviewed the research and those that are currently doing research on IF protocols, and with scientists beginning trials to study the effects of fasting on health and aging. It appears that there are positive benefits involving weight loss, and based on animal studies there could be benefits related to longevity, and hormonal regulation such as insulin and insulin like growth factor. In the end it seems that fasting is promising enough for further study, but may not ready to be widely prescribed.


Anahad O’Connor, a medical journalist for the New York times, wrote an excellent article. The article is well balanced and difficult-to-understand topics are are translated it in a way that the reader can easily comprehend. He balances anecdotes with current science that and is open about the limits of the research. For example when discussing mouse studies he is sure to note that animal studies do not always apply to humans, but then follows up with what human studies do show.

This is not to say the article is perfect. O’Connor does not do a good job at personally countering the experts he interviews, nor does he explain to the reader what the norm is. At one point he states “critics say that health benefits or not, various forms of intermittent fasting are too impractical for most people”. He does not say who these critics are, nor does he use this moment to tie in with later paragraphs where he quotes Dr. Varady, who has had close to 700 go through alternate day fasting trials with a 10 to 20 percent dropout rate. Without context the 10 to 20% means nothing, nor do I know if this can be used as a counter for the critics of the diet.

Spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics did not include people with a history of eating disorders in her list of individuals fasting is not for, and this seems like an oversight. None of the critics seem to have any data supporting intermittent fasting as harmful for the general population. Most of the critiques are based on the difficulty achieving such strict calorie reduction on fasting days, and emphasizing it being an inappropriate diet for those with certain medical conditions such as diabetes. All weight loss diets are hard for people to stick to, and every diet has limitations and contraindications for specific populations. It seems like the worst that can happen for a healthy individual without contraindications is someone tries it and isn’t successful. I am looking forward to more studies on fasting to be published.