The Ethics And Environmental Impact Of Intermittent Fasting: 6 Things To Consider

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The Ethics And Environmental Impact Of Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting (IF) has become popular as a dietary approach for weight management and overall health improvement. In cycling between periods of eating and fasting, IF offers a flexible and often more sustainable alternative to traditional diets. While much of the discourse around intermittent fasting focuses on its health benefits and efficacy, less attention is given to its ethical and environmental implications.

This article looks at the ethics and environmental impact of intermittent fasting and aims to explore these often-overlooked aspects. Examining how intermittent fasting affects individual health and intersects with broader ethical considerations and environmental sustainability. 

Understanding these aspects is important for making choices about eating habits that are good for both personal health and the planet.

Understanding Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting is a time-restricted eating pattern that alternates between periods of fasting and eating. It does not prescribe specific foods but focuses on when you should eat them1. There are several popular types of intermittent fasting, including:

  1. 16/8 Method
    • Involves fasting daily for 14-16 hours and restricting eating to an 8-10 hour window2. For example, if you finish your last meal at 8 pm and don’t eat until noon the next day, you’re technically fasting for 16 hours. Many people find this method to be the simplest, as it usually involves skipping breakfast and eating two or three meals of food intake within the eating window.
  2. 5:2 Diet
    • Involves eating normally for five days of the week and restricting calorie intake to 500-600 calories on the other two days3. On fasting days, people might have two small meals of 250-300 calories each.
  3. Eat-Stop-Eat
    • Involves a 24-hour fast once or twice a week4. For example, if you finish dinner at 7 pm, you would not eat again until 7 pm the next day. This method can be challenging but is straightforward since it only requires fasting for one or two days.
  4. Alternate-Day Fasting
    • Involves alternating between days of normal eating and days where you either fast completely or consume only a 500-600 calorie restriction diet5. This approach is more intense and can be difficult to sustain in the long term.

In most free-living clinical studies, participants are not required to restrict their caloric intake during the time-restricted eating window. This makes it easier for people to stick to the diet since they don’t have to count calories. In contrast, traditional comprehensive weight management programs include caloric restriction, either as a low-calorie diet (LCD) or a very low-calorie diet (VLCD) in specific situations6,7, along with physical activity and behavior modification8.

Time-restricted feeding has shown benefits such as decreased energy intake, body weight, body fat, blood pressure, blood glucose, triglycerides, improved glucose tolerance, and reduced inflammatory markers9.

Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

The following has been associated with various health benefits and effects of intermittent fasting, including:

  1. Weight Loss
    • Intermittent fasting can reduce calorie intake by limiting the eating window, which can lead to a natural caloric restriction and continuous energy restriction on weight loss10. This method helps reduce body weight while maintaining muscle mass and a healthy body mass index, as the body uses fat stores for energy during fasting11.
  2. Improved Metabolic Health
    • IF can improve insulin sensitivity and reduce blood sugar levels, potentially benefiting individuals with type 2 diabetes12. It may lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, contributing to heart health13. It can also reduce markers of inflammation and metabolic disease risk markers linked to various health and disease processes14.
  3. Cellular Repair Processes
    • Fasting triggers autophagy, a process where cells remove damaged components, which can promote cellular health and longevity15. It also increases levels of human growth hormone (HGH), which can aid in fat loss and muscle gain16.
  4. Brain Health
    • Some studies suggest that intermittent fasting may enhance brain function and protect against neurodegenerative diseases. IF may also improve mood and mental clarity due to stabilized blood sugar levels and reduced oxidative stress17.
  5. Heart Health
    • IF can reduce cardiovascular risk factors, such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglycerides, and inflammatory markers, which can also prevent cardiovascular diseases18.

The Ethics And Environmental Impact Of Intermittent Fasting

Ethical Considerations

  • Promotion of Healthy Lifestyle: Intermittent fasting is often marketed as a health trend with numerous benefits. However, there is an ongoing debate about whether it promotes genuine wellness or contributes to unhealthy eating patterns and an obsessive focus on body image.
  • Vulnerable Populations: IF can be risky for individuals with a history of eating disorders, those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or people with certain medical conditions. Ethically, it’s important to consider the potential harm to these vulnerable groups and ensure that IF is not universally promoted without adequate warnings.
  • Societal Pressure: The growing popularity of IF can create societal pressure to conform to this eating pattern, driven by media portrayals and celebrity endorsements. This pressure may lead individuals to adopt IF for the wrong reasons, such as unrealistic body image goals, rather than for health benefits.

Environmental Impact

  • Reduction in Food Consumption: IF often leads to a decrease in overall food consumption, as meals are skipped or condensed into shorter eating windows. This reduction can potentially lead to lower food production demands, decreasing the strain on agricultural systems.
  • Mindful Eating: IF promotes more mindful eating habits, as individuals become more aware of their hunger cues and eating patterns. This mindfulness can lead to reduced food waste, as people tend to eat more deliberately and less impulsively.
  • Comparison with Other Dietary Trends: When compared to other dietary trends, IF might have a different environmental impact. For example, a plant-based diet combined with IF could amplify positive environmental effects, while an IF pattern centered around resource-intensive foods might not yield the same benefits.

Final Thoughts

Intermittent fasting has garnered significant attention for its potential health benefits, but it is crucial also to consider its ethical and environmental implications. Ethically, IF can promote a healthy lifestyle for many but may also pose risks, particularly for vulnerable populations. It may influence social behaviors and cultural practices, sometimes generating societal pressure to conform to specific body image ideals. Additionally, the trend can exacerbate economic disparities, highlighting the need for equitable access to resources and information.

From an environmental perspective, IF offers potential benefits through reduced food consumption and waste, promoting more sustainable eating habits. However, its impact on agricultural practices and resource utilization depends on the types of foods consumed and the broader dietary patterns adopted alongside IF. Comparatively, IF can complement other dietary trends, like plant-based diets, to enhance environmental sustainability.

Adopting intermittent fasting should be a thoughtful decision that balances your personal health benefits with ethical considerations and environmental impacts. Public health campaigns and policies can help guide you toward informed and responsible choices. This way, your eating patterns can contribute positively to your well-being, social ethics, and environmental sustainability.


1 Diet Review: Intermittent fasting for weight loss. (2024, May 9). The Nutrition Source. https://nutritionsource.hsph.harvard.edu/healthy-weight/diet-reviews/intermittent-fasting/

2 Streit, L., & Ajmera, R., (2023, August 1). What is 16/8 intermittent fasting? A beginner’s guide. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/16-8-intermittent-fasting#basics

3 Johnson, J. (2019, January 28). How to do the 5:2 diet. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324303#what-is-the-52-diet

4 Hill, A., (2022, July 5). Eat Stop Eat review: Does it work for weight loss? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/eat-stop-eat-review#basics

5 Harvard Health. (2017, May 31). Eat only every other day and lose weight? https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/eat-only-every-other-day-and-lose-weight-2017053111791

6 Capstick, F., Brooks, B. A., Burns, C. M., Zilkens, R. R., Steinbeck, K. S., & Yue, D. K. (1997). Very low calorie diet (VLCD): A useful alternative in the treatment of the obese NIDDM patient. Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, 36(2), 105–111. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0168-8227(97)00038-7

7 Mathus-Vliegen, E. M. H. (2005). Long-term maintenance of weight loss with sibutramine in a GP setting following a specialist guided very-low-calorie diet: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel group study. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 59(S1), S31–S39. https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602172

8 Kirkpatrick, C. F., Bolick, J. P., Kris-Etherton, P. M., Sikand, G., Aspry, K. E., Soffer, D. E., Willard, K., & Maki, K. C. (2019). Review of current evidence and clinical recommendations on the effects of low-carbohydrate and very-low-carbohydrate (including ketogenic) diets for the management of body weight and other cardiometabolic risk factors: A scientific statement from the National Lipid Association Nutrition and Lifestyle Task Force. Journal of Clinical Lipidology, 13(5), 689-711.e1. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacl.2019.08.003

9 Vasim, I., Majeed, C. N., & DeBoer, M. D. (2022). Intermittent fasting and metabolic health. Nutrients, 14(3), 631. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14030631

10 James, D. L., Hawley, N. A., Mohr, A. E., Hermer, J., Ofori, E., Yu, F., & Sears, D. D. (2024). Impact of intermittent fasting and/or caloric Restriction on Aging-Related Outcomes in Adults: A scoping review of randomized controlled trials. Nutrients, 16(2), 316. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu16020316

11 Gunnars, K., (2023, October 9). How intermittent fasting can help you lose weight. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/intermittent-fasting-and-weight-loss

12 Yuan, X., Wang, J., Yang, S., Gao, M., Cao, L., Li, X., Hong, D., Tian, S., & Sun, C. (2022). Effect of Intermittent Fasting Diet on Glucose and Lipid Metabolism and Insulin Resistance in Patients with Impaired Glucose and Lipid Metabolism: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. International journal of endocrinology, 2022, 6999907. https://doi.org/10.1155/2022/6999907

13 Santos, H. O., & Macedo, R. C. (2018). Impact of intermittent fasting on the lipid profile: Assessment associated with diet and weight loss. Clinical Nutrition ESPEN, 24, 14–21. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clnesp.2018.01.002

14 Patterson, R. E., Laughlin, G. A., LaCroix, A. Z., Hartman, S. J., Natarajan, L., Senger, C. M., Martínez, M. E., Villaseñor, A., Sears, D. D., Marinac, C. R., & Gallo, L. C. (2015). Intermittent Fasting and Human Metabolic Health. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 115(8), 1203–1212. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2015.02.018

15 Shabkhizan, R., Haiaty, S., Moslehian, M. S., Bazmani, A., Sadeghsoltani, F., Saghaei Bagheri, H., Rahbarghazi, R., & Sakhinia, E. (2023). The Beneficial and Adverse Effects of Autophagic Response to Caloric Restriction and Fasting. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 14(5), 1211–1225. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.advnut.2023.07.006

16 Ho, K. Y., Veldhuis, J. D., Johnson, M. L., Furlanetto, R., Evans, W. S., Alberti, K. G., & Thorner, M. O. (1988). Fasting enhances growth hormone secretion and amplifies the complex rhythms of growth hormone secretion in man. The Journal of clinical investigation, 81(4), 968–975. https://doi.org/10.1172/JCI113450

17 Gudden, J., Arias Vasquez, A., & Bloemendaal, M. (2021). The Effects of Intermittent Fasting on Brain and Cognitive Function. Nutrients, 13(9), 3166. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13093166

18 Malinowski, B., Zalewska, K., Węsierska, A., Sokołowska, M. M., Socha, M., Liczner, G., Pawlak-Osińska, K., & Wiciński, M. (2019). Intermittent Fasting in Cardiovascular Disorders-An Overview. Nutrients, 11(3), 673. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11030673


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