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Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss: Hope or Hype?

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Dr. Wissink, Dr. Schneider, and Dr. Dargis report no financial relationships relevant to this field of study.


• Intermittent fasting led to similar weight loss as continuous energy restriction in several human trials when compared head-to-head.

• Sustainability of intermittent fasting was similar to continuous energy restriction, but not superior.

• Other markers, such as insulin resistance and fat mass, improved more with intermittent fasting than continuous energy restriction in preliminary studies, and more research in this area could clarify whether added benefits exist with intermittent fasting.

Obesity in the United States is on the rise and contributes to significant numbers of chronic health conditions, including heart disease, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, and sleep apnea, along with an increased risk of cancer. The statistics are alarming. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. obesity prevalence was 42% in 2018, up from 30% in 1999, and the prevalence of severe obesity increased from 5% to 9% in that same time period. 1 The rise in pediatric obesity in the United States only compounds the future morbidity and mortality we will face as a healthcare system and as a society unless we can find sustainable solutions. And according to one study, only 15% of obese individuals successfully maintain weight loss in the long term. 2

Many factors contribute to the growing obesity epidemic. Certainly, an increasingly sedentary lifestyle is a factor, and medical providers often include physical activity in treatment plans to address obesity. But there also is a need for dietary interventions that are both effective and safe. Continuous energy restriction (CER), defined as lowering caloric intake consistently over time, currently is the most common dietary approach recommended to promote weight loss. It has been shown to reduce body weight and improve a variety of cardiovascular risk...