Understanding the Connection Between Intermittent Fasting and Mental Health

Explore the influence of Intermittent Fasting on mental health as we uncover latest research on pros and cons to find out if it's a fit for you.

  • Published: 8/16/2023
  • 4 min. read

Intermittent fasting focuses on when you eat versus what you eat. This time restricted eating approach has been praised by its supporters as a way to get healthy and lose weight. Some also suggest a boost in brain function and mental wellbeing, while others experience the opposite, reporting symptoms like fatigue and difficulty sleeping. Learn about the recent research on intermittent fasting for mental health and if it’s right for you.

Fasting mental health: what the research says

Intermittent fasting has been associated with health benefits such as encouraging weight loss, regulating appetite hormones for less cravings, and potentially improving cell strength for healthy aging (1). But what about its impact on your mood and mental health? 

The link between intermittent fasting and mental health is in its early stages, but some emerging evidence suggests it can improve mood, reduce stress and depression symptoms, and benefit our brains. 


Since fasting can be an easier way to lose weight and manage health for some people, it may also enhance feelings of success and boost mood. In a study done on healthy women, fasting helped increase positive feelings such as achievement and reward (2).  

Another reason intermittent fasting works to enhance the frame of mind for some people is because it can reduce mindless eating. Since intermittent fasting restricts the time you eat, it can help you consider whether you’re experiencing true hunger or just eating out of habit or using food as a way to avoid difficult emotions. 

Fasting may also be associated with negative moods for some people. Especially during the first few weeks, getting used to food restriction and decreased availability of glucose, which is the brain’s main and preferred source of fuel, can cause fatigue and irritability. 

Some studies reported an increase in negative emotions such as depression, anxiety, anger, tiredness, and tension during short term fasting, yet others found mood enhancement (3). It comes down to your body and what works best for you.

Stress and depression 

In a study review, it was reported that people who fasted had lower anxiety and depression scores when compared to groups that did not fast (4). However it's important to note that this review mainly focused on longer fasting periods such as for Ramadan. 

Other research has shown that fasting may reduce symptoms of depression, but doctors do not regularly recommend it as a treatment (5). This may be in part because other studies suggest fasting can actually increase feelings of sadness, worsening depression symptoms (6). 

Brain health 

Intermittent fasting can improve brain function by increasing what’s called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) (7). This is a key regulator of cognitive performance and brain health. Age-related loss of BDNF has been associated with reduced memory, learning, and an increased risk for Alzheimer’s. 

Longer fasts can also trigger a cell cleaning mechanism called autophagy. Autophagy is when our cells recycle and breakdown harmful substances. This self cleaning and healing process may help prevent certain types of cancer, encourage healthy aging, and boost brain health including preventing degenerative diseases such as Alzehiner’s (8), although the research being done is mainly on mice or rats, so more research is needed in the area and no solid conclusions can be drawn on humans yet. 

Fast for mental health 

Fasting can be adjusted according to what works best for your lifestyle and personal preferences. Some patterns reduce calorie intake for some of the days per week, such as with 5:2, while others restrict eating on a daily basis, such as the 16:8 in which eating is limited to an 8 hour window. 

If you’re new to fasting, ease into it by trying a longer eating window, like starting with 12 hours of eating and 12 hours fasting and tune into how it makes you feel. Make sure to drink lots of water and focus on nutritious foods during your eating window that keep you satisfied through your fast. 

If you do decide that you want to try fasting for mental health, it's also important to eat healthy foods during your eating window to support overall health and benefit your brain. Make sure to eat enough calories, including healthy fats such as fish, nuts and seeds and bright colored fruits and vegetables such as berries and leafy greens. It’s also essential for mental wellbeing to aim for a holistically healthy lifestyle including getting enough sleep, socializing, reducing stress and moving.

Ready to give intermittent fasting a try or want some extra support with your current mental health plan? Download an intermittent fasting app like Lifesum.

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All of the content and media on Lifesum is created and published for information purposes only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Users should always consult with a doctor or other health care professional for medical advice. If you have or think you are at risk of developing an eating disorder, do not use the Lifesum app and seek immediate medical help.