Food and Your Mood: Why Intermittent Fasting?



New Year, new diet. As the New Year comes along, so does the opportunity to commit to a healthy lifestyle (and genuinely commit this time around). The conversation surrounding intermittent fasting has stirred in recent years and for good reason. Evidence in animal and human studies demonstrates that gradually changing your eating patterns this year can benefit you in the years to come. 



Rather than restricting what you eat, you restrict when you eat. Instead of cutting carbs, go ahead and eat your favorite pasta dish – as long as it’s within the time frame you set for yourself. This makes it easier to apply to everyday practice since you don’t have to think too strictly about what you’re eating. The “16/8 method” is a popular approach, where the eating period is consistently restricted to 8 hours of the day, such as 12-8 p.m. The rest of the day is considered the fasting period. After a meal while in the “fed state,” your insulin levels rise in order to control your blood sugar. Insulin then signals the body to store glucose in muscle and adipose tissue and stimulates glycogen and fatty acid synthesis. Insulin also prevents fat breakdown. During the “fasted state,” the body undergoes metabolic switching as insulin levels decrease, and your body can burn fat instead. Intermittent fasting promotes a fasting state and thus weight loss.



Now, I understand you may be wondering why you should even bother committing to skipping your morning breakfast. I get it – that everything bagel breakfast sandwich is the highlight of your morning. What if I told you that you could live longer and improve your mood? Both animal and human studies have demonstrated that intermittent fasting decreases blood pressure, lipid levels, and resting heart rate. These systemic changes have long-term benefits by preventing chronic conditions. Skipping that first meal of the day can help reduce overall calorie intake; caloric restriction while consuming the daily recommended value of nutrients has induced antidepressant-like effects in an animal model of depression. Calorie reduction has demonstrated an increase in longevity, memory, quality of life, and a reduced risk for psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders.



Alongside the potential to reduce total calories through intermittent fasting, fasting itself also displays antidepressant effects. Fasting promotes tryptophan and serotonin availability and the release of endogenous endorphins to improve mood. Fasting can also enhance memory through a hippocampal ghrelin (the “hunger hormone”) receptor that promotes neurogenesis. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a neurotrophic factor involved in many antidepressants that supports brain health that also increases in concentration during the fasted state. In combination with anti-inflammatory foods like turmeric, blueberries, and tomatoes, intermittent fasting also reduces anxiety. Though studies continue to investigate intermittent fasting and its broad range of effects on various systems, it seems safe to say that the physical and mental benefits make it worth considering.



Keeping all of these perks in mind, tackle that New Year’s resolution – make this year your healthiest one.




  1. Rafael de Cabo, Mark P. Mattson. Effects of Intermittent Fasting on Health, Aging, and Disease. New England Journal of Medicine, 2019; 381 (26): 2541 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMra1905136
  2. Effect of caloric restriction on depression. J Cell Mol Med. 2018 May; 22(5): 2528–2535. Published online 2018 Feb 21. doi: 10.1111/jcmm.13418
  3. Singh, H., Kaur, T., Manchanda, S. et al. Intermittent fasting combined with supplementation with Ayurvedic herbs reduces anxiety in middle aged female rats by anti-inflammatory pathways. Biogerontology 18, 601–614 (2017) doi:10.1007/s10522-017-9706-8
  4. Fidianingsih I., Jamil, NA., Andriani, RN., Rindra, WM. Decreased anxiety after Dawood fasting in the pre-elderly and elderly. J Complement Integr Med. 2018 Oct 12;16(1). doi: 10.1515/jcim-2017-0172.

Audrey Wagner

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