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January 14, 2020
by Ruth Gordon, MA, MSW, LCSW

Intermittent Fasting and Circadian Clock

January 14, 2020 09:45 by Ruth Gordon, MA, MSW, LCSW  [About the Author]

Just about all species — humans, animals, plants and some microbes are influenced by their circadian clock.  The circadian clock controls every hormone.  It is found in the hypothalamus and is called the suprachiasmatic nucleus which is a cluster of nerve cells.

 The circadian clock serves as a master clock in one’s anatomy. It coordinates every biological clock in the body in virtually every tissue and organ.

The so-called intermittent fasting diet was the most popular dietary regimen in 2019.  There are several avenues of approach to this method of eating.  Some appear, scientifically, to provide a more successful experience than others.

In 2018, when Dr. Michael Mosley filmed a tv documentary on the BBC, Eat Fast Live Longer and published his book, The Fast Diet, interest in intermittent fasting was revived.

Hippocrates in the fifth century BCE recommended fasting for certain types of illness.  Religious rituals, protests on grounds of ethical, political and social violations, as well as initiation rites have all included fasting in one form or another. Many individuals have grown up believing that one should stuff a cold and starve a fever (or is it the other way around?)

Now, it is known that individuals with diabetes, eating disorders,  and bi polar disorder, are poor candidates for this type of nutritional control.  The practice is discouraged for pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding.

There are many approaches to intermittent fasting.  Recent research indicates that a program of eight hours of feeding and sixteen hours without food has advantages over the so-called 5:2 method — fasting for two nonconsecutive days per week, or the every other day fast.

While there are no food restrictions, such as those on the keto diet, practitioners are encouraged to eat fruits, vegetables, healthy proteins and to go easy on sugar and processed food.  However, if one wishes to eat an occasional ice cream cone, the diet has not been destroyed.

Flexibility, which is a hallmark of intermittent fasting, is one of the reasons for its popularity.  The inconsistency that has been observed in human behavior is that routines and pliancy, which might appear to oppose one another, actually work together happily when a proper balance is maintained.  It turns out that intermittent fasting serves both of these masters.

This is where the circadian clock becomes important.  While there are variations due to lifestyle and environment, humans are diurnal creatures. The body flourishes best with activity during the day and sleep at night.

 It has been posited that sugar, which is brought into the body through insulin, goes directly to the body’s fat cells.  One tends to lose weight when insulin levels go down.  It makes sense to narrow food consumption to daytime hours, when physical activity is more likely to occur.  This practice allows the body to burn off fat (which stores the sugar). Another suggestion is to avoid snacking.  The body needs time to divest itself of accumulated fat.  When these habits are accompanied with a boycott, so to speak, of nighttime eating, the likelihood of successful weight loss is increased.

Not all researchers agree with these findings.  In fact, there has been little formal study of the phenomenon of intermittent fasting.  Until reliable research is provided, it is not possible to determine the actual benefits of intermittent fasting.

Opposing studies contend that intermittent fasting does not have a lower dropout rate of participants or a significant difference, over time, in amount of weight lost.  While advocates report important metabolic changes that accompany intermittent fasting such as lower triglyceride levels, decreased cholesterol, blood pressure, weight, fat mass, and blood glucose, challengers deny these claims.

 It has been commonly accepted that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  Proponents of the intermittent fast disagree.  Amarish Davé, D.O. contends that fasting is an effective way to deal with mental health issues like depression and anxiety.  He bases his belief on evidence that BDNF (brain-derived neurotropic factor) stimulates formation of neuronal networks, which, in turn, are helpful in alleviating depression.

Davé also argues that fasting can increase the production of the hormone Ghrelin (a hunger hormone) that appears to increase when an individual fasts.Ghrelin is associated with elevated moods. Davé believes that Ghrelin may be a magical elixir for treating anxiety and depression.

The word, “diet” is derived from ancient Greece and the word “diaita”.  “Diata” was meant to encompass an entire lifestyle.  Under this rubric it was understood that there was an ideal body type and that type was male.  Clearly, it was impossible for a woman to ever achieve the consummate esthetic.

Early Christians, who deplored gluttony, believed that the appearance of fat was evidence of sin on the body.  In fact the Bible contains three times as many diatribes against fat as it does against homosexuality. An example:  Job 15:27 (NLT)

“These wicked people are heavy and prosperous; their waists bulge with fat.”

Beliefs regarding perfection in the human body segued from ancient Greece to the rest of the western world.  Currently, judgments about the link between attitudes toward food and practices regarding health, mental and spiritual well-being preserve prejudice against evidence of fat on the body.

The diet industry is valued at $72 billion.  With this degree of profitability it is certain that supposedly “new” regimens and products will be brought to market for years to come.

Common sense would dictate that consumers take the time to investigate the benefit of maintaining a particular weight and ratio of fat to muscle in the body.  Women maintain the downside position in popular thought as the female body is blessed ,by nature, with more fat than the male corpus.

If fasting, intermittent or otherwise, allows an individual to live an enjoyable existence, longterm, it seems reasonable to incorporate that into one’s lifestyle.  “New” medical findings appear that disparage ideas that were formerly embraced with great exuberance and anticipation.  The benefit of separating judgmental reasoning from the realities of gender, body type, sustainability, and inclination would appear to be obvious.  Fat (however that is defined) is neither good or bad.  Neither are bones, hair, organs or glands.  Something to consider.





“Circadian Rhythms”


“Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss”


(06/21/19) “Why Diet Culture is Toxic — Even For Those Who Don’t Diet”


American Heart Association (03/22/19) “Time Restricted Eating is Growing in Popularity But is it Healthy?”


Chastain, R. (05/19) “Recognizing and Resisting Diet Culture”


Davé, A., D.O. (10/08/18) “Could Skipping Breakfast Relieve Depression?”


Graber, C. (01/30/18) “The Ancient Origins of Dieting”


Kohok, S (06/03/19) “ Why is Intermittent Fasting So Popular?”


Martin, C. (01/02/2020) “What is Intermittent Fasting And Does it Really Work?”


Tello, M., MD. (06/29/18) “Intermittent Fasting: Surprising Update”


Winkle’s, V. (08/06/15) “What Are Circadian Rhythms And What Happens When They’re Out of Whack?”

About the Author

Ruth Gordon Ruth Gordon, MA/MSW/LCSW

I bring with me +30 years of experience as a clinician. My Masters degrees are from: Assumption College, Worcester, MA, Master of Arts in Psychology & Counseling/ and Boston University School of Social Work, Boston, MA, an MSW in Clinical Social Work. This is the 11th year I have written a monthly newsletter that is sent to approximately 500 individuals. The archive can be found on my website,

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