Considering a Diet Change? Fast First, Study Says

·2-min read
Photo credit: DragonImages - Getty Images
Photo credit: DragonImages - Getty Images

Overhauling your diet in pursuit of better health is never easy. Swapping microwave dinners for meal prep requires time and effort – and to cap it all off, there’s a risk that your body might not be ready to reap the benefits of your hard work. Specifically, your gut microbiome might not be ready.

The billions of health-promoting organisms in your digestive tract multiply or decrease according to what you feed them, but this change is often slow. If your diet has been less than optimal for a while, you might not have enough good bacteria to extract all of the benefits from a nutritious meal. Unless, that is, you fast first.

In a recent study at the Max Delbrück Centre for Molecular Medicine, researchers divided overweight people who were about to embark on a new healthy-eating regimen into
two groups. One group followed a liquid-only diet for five days before the plan started; the
other ate as normal.

Among those who fasted, scientists noted a rapid increase in healthy, immunity-supporting and blood pressure-balancing bacteria. Surprisingly, benefits were detected even three months later. Both groups had spent those months prioritising a diet of fruit, veg, wholegrains, pulses and fish; yet the fasters still maintained lower bodyweights and healthier blood markers.

Embarking on a five-day fast without medical supervision is inadvisable – frankly, it’s a bit extreme. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to boost your health with a shorter food-free period. Hungry for evidence? Consult our list of science-backed controlled-eating protocols. The benefits are worth working up an appetite for.

Less is More

Done right, fasting offers an effective short cut to better health. Chew over these strategies.

16:8 Method

Eat all of your calories in an eight-hour window, while fasting for the other 16. Studies show that this helps you shed fat while holding onto muscle.

5:2 Diet

Eat normally for five days per week, then restrict yourself to about 800kcal on the other two. A study found that this helps to improve insulin sensitivity.


Fast for a 24-hour period twice a week – for example, stop after breakfast at 8am one day, then fast until breakfast the following day, so you still get to eat at least once every day.

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