Fasting has gained a lot of interest in the weight-loss community in these most recent years. However, scientific evidence backing up its health benefits have been both limited and sparse. A new study is addressing this gap between widescale public interest and science, concluding that a type of intermittent fasting, the 16:8 diet, has some real potential for weight loss.

People who follow the 16:8 diet exclusively eat during an eight-hour window. In the study’s case, 23 obese volunteers could only eat between 10 AM and 6 PM. For the 16 hours in between, they consumed only calorie-free drinks, such as water.

For the following 12 weeks, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Applied Health Sciences measured the participants’ fat mass, blood pressure, and cholesterol and glucose levels. The results were then compared to a separate weight loss trial, carried out between 2011 and 2015.

Participants who were on the 16:8 diet ingested around 350 fewer calories than the control group, helping them lose about 3% of their body fat. Their blood pressure also dropped by around 7 mm Hg, on average. However, fat mass, as well as insulin resistance and cholesterol levels did not register variation compared to the control group. Longer-term, large-scale randomized controlled trials are required to assess the weight loss and health benefits of the 16:8 diet.

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What makes the 16:8 diet particularly appealing is the fact that it’s easy to follow consistently. Compared to other fasting techniques, such as alternate fasting where a person eats normally every other day, fewer participants dropped out of the 16:8 diet.

Although the study is rather limited in samples size, the findings support the assertion made by previous studies that intermittent fasting has weight loss effects. Krista Varady, one of the study’s authors and associate professor of kinesiology and nutrition at the University of Illinois, says that the major takeaway of their research is that people looking to lose weight don’t necessarily have to count calories or cut certain foods in order to meet their goals.

Overall, scientists aren’t sure yet what to make of fasting. Previous studies on animal models — which are easier to deploy over large sample sizes and in highly controlled environments — have come up with mixed results, either reporting no effects or even conflicting results.

The jury is still out on fasting diet, but preliminary results do seem to suggest that there’s something to them. More rigorous studies with large sample sizes will hopefully settle the debate soon.

“The 16:8 diet is another tool for weight loss that we now have preliminary scientific evidence to support,” Varady said. “When it comes to weight loss, people need to find what works for them because even small amounts of success can lead to improvements in metabolic health.”

Scientific reference: Kelsey Gabel, Kristin K. Hoddy, Nicole Haggerty, Jeehee Song, Cynthia M. Kroeger, John F. Trepanowski, Satchidananda Panda, Krista A. Varady. Effects of 8-hour time restricted feeding on body weight and metabolic disease risk factors in obese adults: A pilot studyNutrition and Healthy Aging, 2018; 4 (4): 345 DOI: 10.3233/NHA-170036.