Can Intermittent Fasting Reverse Type 2 Diabetes—And Is It Safe?

DiabeticsHealth & Wellness

The intrigue usually stems from a scenario like this: you’re in the supermarket and you bump into an acquaintance you haven’t seen in a while. You’re stunned by how svelte she looks. “My word, you look great … how did you lose so much weight?” Your friend then reveals that the magical weight loss solution is intermittent fasting. 

“Oh yeah, I’ve heard about that,” you say. Although you briefly read about it in a magazine or half-listened to a talk show segment describing this diet fad, you’re not really entirely sure what intermittent fasting is all about. And thanks to the unexpected run-in at the store, curiosity has got the best of you. Right then and there, you decide to give intermittent fasting a try. However, if you have type 2 diabetes, will you be the proverbial cat that curiosity kills? In other words, is it safe to try intermittent fasting if you have diabetes? 

What Is Intermittent Fasting?

“Fasting” doesn’t sound too appetizing, does it? Perhaps you’re thinking that if you have to starve yourself to lose weight then it’s just not worth it. If that’s what you’re thinking, then let’s call intermittent fasting (I.F.) by another name that better describes this method of achieving weight loss and overall health: time-restricted feeding. 

There are different approaches to intermittent fasting, including doing periodic 24-hour fasts. But a more sustainable approach is through time-restricted feeding (TRF). TRF tells you everything you need to know about the central tenet of this weight loss approach: All the calories you will consume from both food and drink are confined to a specific window. The most popular method, and one that has shown the most promise in research studies, is an 8-hour calorie-consuming window and a 16-hour fast. And research suggests the earlier you stop eating in the day, the more weight loss success you’ll have.

However, don’t jump into the deep end just yet, especially if you have type 2 diabetes. Fasting for 16 hours a day can create dangerous blood sugar spikes. Moreover, when you’re used to eating throughout the day and snacking late at night, suddenly switching to a 16-hour daily fast may prove difficult. 

A more reasonable approach is starting with a 12-hour fast. Then, week by week, if you feel like your body has adjusted well, you can increase the fast by an hour until you’re fasting for 16 hours a day or even longer. 

But before going any further, let’s get something out of the way: if you have type 2 diabetes, you should consult your physician or registered dietician before trying I.F. 

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting For Diabetes

Weight loss is the main reason why people give I.F. a go. Obviously, if you consume less calories a day, it’s easier to lose weight. And indeed, many people who limit their calorie intake from, say, 11 in the morning to 7 at night, do end up eating less than they normally would. In fact, some people eat only one meal a day. If you have type 2 diabetes, however, you should still eat three well-balanced meals for blood-sugar stability. 

But not all people who follow I.F. consume less calories. Nonetheless, weight loss is still possible and here’s why: when you constantly eat throughout the day, your fat cells are unable to burn energy. Instead, your body burns sugar. And the sugar that isn’t burned is stored as energy in your fat cells and so the cycle repeats itself. 

For those with type 2 diabetes, greater insulin sensitivity and lower blood sugar levels are potentially the biggest benefits of intermittent fasting. In a study from the University of Alabama, participants who stuck with an early, eight-hour time-restricted calorie window (7 a.m. to 3 p.m.), experienced significant improvements in insulin sensitivity, insulin levels as well as blood pressure. The cherry on top was that the appetite of the participants in the early-feeding group was reduced. 

Fasting also lowers inflammation in the body. Excess inflammation may cause a wide variety of ailments. Virtually every disease with “itis” at the end is an indication of excess inflammation. 

Dangers Of Fasting For Those With Type 2 Diabetes

Many people who embark on the intermittent fasting diet skip breakfast. (Some refer to I.F. more as a lifestyle than a diet because other than avoiding obviously unhealthy foods, you are not limited by food choices.) If you eat or drink calories at midnight, with a time-restricted feeding plan, you wouldn’t be able to eat until at least noon the following day. You would indeed then be skipping breakfast. Doing so may, as mentioned above, cause dangerous dips in blood sugar levels. But you shouldn’t be eating late at night anyway. Late-night eating is associated with a greater risk of diabetes. A more practical approach to I.F. would be to stop your feeding window by 7 p.m. If you have your first calories of the day at 9 a.m. the next day, you’ll be fasting for a respectable 14 hours. 

If you’re eating lots of high-carbohydrate and high-sugar foods, don’t expect miracles with I.F.. And make sure you’re not skipping meals during the feeding window. Continue to eat three balanced meals a day; just squeeze them into your feeding window. One of the meals during the feeding window can be a light meal if you’re not especially hungry. 


According to the National Institute on Aging, hundreds of animal studies and scores of human clinical trials have shown that intermittent fasting can lead to improvements in health conditions such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancers and neurological disorders. One more condition that the NIA lists: diabetes. Just make sure if you give I.F. a try, do so under the supervision or guidance of a doctor. And make sure you’re using a continuous glucose monitor or at least doing a few glucose pricks a day to make sure your blood sugar hasn’t dropped too low or spiked too high.


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