SHOULD I be fasting? This question has cropped up several times in clinic this month, leading to some interesting conversations. As with all things nutritional, the answer is yes for some people, and no for others.

Fasting is a broad term, encompassing everything from a short 12-hour stint of not eating, to the extensive week-long juice fasts – and all variations in between. There is a long history of fasting in Eastern traditions like Ayurveda where cleansing and fasting practices take place during the change of seasons. This is echoed in naturopathic traditions, with spring and autumn seen as ideal times to fast and cleanse.

A true fast includes time for rest and self-reflection, giving your body and mind space to cleanse and heal. The effects extend further than just a few pounds of weight loss and can be a deeply life-transforming experience.

But, taking time away from the demands of work and family life to rest and fast just isn’t an option for many people. Equally, long periods of fasting are not suitable when dealing with certain chronic health issues as the body struggles to adapt to not eating.

Over recent years intermittent fasting has become popular, particularly the 5-2 approach of eating fewer calories for two days out of seven. This has been shown to stimulate weight loss and improve blood sugar balance and insulin sensitivity in overweight individuals.

There is more to food than simple calorific value though, and it’s important to be eating the right foods on both the normal and fasting days.

Newer research is highlighting the benefits of 12-hour overnight fasting or eating within a 12-hour window each day. So, for example, if you have breakfast at 8am, you have till 8pm to include lunch and evening meal. After 8pm there’s no food, just fluids (not alcohol!) until breakfast the following day.

This type of fasting has been shown to help reduce inflammation, give cells throughout the body time to carry out healing and repair work, and support the balance of healthy microbes in the gut. Some animal studies also show benefits for memory and cognitive function and decreasing the effects of ageing.

Sally Duffin is a Registered Nutritionist (MBANT). Find her online at or join the Facebook group ‘Nutrition in York’.