A small study from the University of Florida looked at how a new type of fasting – dubbed “feast and famine fasting” – impacted subjects’ health.
The premise of the study is that straight up fasting is too hard, and cutting calories indefinitely is also hard. What if instead, subjects rotated between extremes? On fasting days, participants ate 25 percent of the calories they needed. On feasting days, they ate 175 percent. That’s around 650 calories on a fast day and 4,550 calories on a feasting day. The findings were pretty surprising!
People in the feast and famine fasting group showed a slight increase in a gene that promotes longevity. This group also had decreased insulin levels, which means that feast and famine fasting may also help protect you from diabetes.
The catch? Supplementing with antioxidants on fasting days actually decreases feast and famine fasting’s benefits.
The researchers think that putting our bodies under intermittent stress like this actually helps them heal, and antioxidants put a damper on that good stress. Study co-author Christiaan Leeuwenburgh explains, “You need some pain, some inflammation, some oxidative stress for some regeneration or repair. These young investigators were intrigued by the question of whether some antioxidants could blunt the healthy effects of normal fasting.”
What I found most interesting about the study, though, was that overeating was tougher for many participants than undereating. Co-author Michael Guo said, “Most of the participants found that fasting was easier than the feasting day, which was a little bit surprising to me. On the feasting days, we had some trouble giving them enough calories.”
Fasting is a hot topic in health science right now. There have been numerous studies looking at how fasting impacts everything from longevity and weight loss to fasting and our overall immune health. Most of these studies are not long-term, so it’s important to take these findings with a grain of salt.
The authors of this study stress that more research is needed before we can say for sure whether feast and famine fasting is a good long-term plan. We need studies with more than 24 participants to test whether these findings hold up with a larger group. Leeuwenburgh also says that future studies should look at a wider range of health markers: tracking more genes and examining muscle and fat tissue.
Image Credits: Feast and Famine Fasting photo via Shutterstock