Is intermittent fasting actually good for you?

The practice of skipping a meal or taking food within a specific window of time, along with dumping carbs, eating more protein, and eating more plant-based food is one of the trendiest weight loss plans today. And while trendy weight loss plans are regularly being studied (and often subsequently debunked), doctors are taking a second look at intermittent fasting as a potential way to get healthy in a sustainable way.

The New York Times lists four popular approaches to fasting: periodic fasting, which restricts food or drinks with calories for 24 hour periods; alternate-day fasting, which calls for a drastic calorie reduction every other day, and the 5:2 diet, which calls a dieter to fast for two days a week. The fourth, known as time-restricted, or intermittent fasting, is the method which has doctors sitting up with interest, simply because it is the easiest to follow. Harvard Health says this may be because the human body is in synch with the day-night cycle, and our metabolism has adapted to taking in food during the day and sleeping at night.

A small study on intermittent fasting has yielded positive results

The University of Alabama's Courtney Peterson was part of a team that studied the effects of intermittent fasting on obese men. One group was asked to eat only within an 8-hour window of 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., the other was allowed to eat within a 12-hour window of between 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Peterson tells the New York Times her team saw positive results in a group of adults who ate between 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. "It's shown to reduce the amount of fat in the liver, which is a risk factor for diabetes and cardiovascular disease," she says.

To get another opinion on these results, Harvard Health spoke to Deborah Wexler, a metabolic expert who teaches at Harvard Medical School. Wexler says, "There is evidence to suggest that the circadian rhythm fasting approach, where meals are restricted to an eight to 10-hour period of the daytime, is effective." She does, however, suggest using a method that not only works for you, but one that you'll stick with.

Going on an intermittent fast may be a lot easier than it sounds. Harvard Health suggests bypassing sugars and refined grains for fruits, vegetables, and other ingredients found in a Mediterranean-style diet. Avoid snacking, during the day and especially at night. And limit the hours in the day when you eat- the earlier in the day (7 a.m. to 3 p.m., or 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. are suggested windows) the better.