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Diabetes Diet

Using the Good Stress of Fasting for Diabetes Control

We can use the stress of intermittent fasting to manage diabetes better.


Lots of stress is bad for anyone and especially for those of us who have diabetes. But ironically some stress is healthful. That’s especially true about intermittent fasting.

High levels of stress lead to high levels of blood sugar of people with diabetes. There really is a “stress-diabetes connection.”

Some stress is good

There is also a connection between a lower level of stress and better health that most of us intuitively understand but seldom consciously appreciate. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche captured the outline of this concept in 1888 when he wrote the famous words, “What does not kill me makes me stronger.”

More recently the probability researcher Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote in his 2012 book Antifragile that he wondered “how people can accept that stressors of exercise are good for you, but do not transfer to the point that food deprivation can have the same effect.” Exercise certainly stresses our bodies, and few of us doubt that we need it. Likewise, going without any food puts stress on our system. While going without food for too long will lead to starvation, which can kill us, not eating all of our three square meals a day can help us.

We need to know the difference. And the world’s greatest thinkers starting with the Buddha and Aristotle have always told us that the key is moderation. Too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing.

Our bodies built to fast

Going without food for most or all of one day is actually what human bodies do best. The paleo diet people are certainly on to something when they emphasize that before the agriculture revolution, which genetically came just 500 generations ago, all of our ancestors were hunter-gatherers.

When our ancestors settled down and grew crops of grain and raised animals that we could usually rely on for our meals we began to regularly eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Before that we relied much more on luck and certainly had to wait days between a kill. The food environment was, as Taleb writes, unplanned and haphazard. What our bodies most need now is “to remove is a few meals at random, or at least avoid steadiness in food consumption.”

Fasting in diabetes practice

That, in essence is what intermittent fasting is all about. And it works. “I have been treating type 2 diabetes with intermittent fasting for over a year with 90 percent plus response rates,” Dr. Jason Fung wrote in 2013 as a comment on the website of the “Diet Doctor” Andreas Eenfeldt, M.D.

The “Four Simple Steps to a Healthier and Leaner Life” that Dr. Eenfeldt recommends are exercise, low-carb, sleep, and intermittent fasting. They lead to lower blood sugar and lower insulin.

Like Dr. Eenfeldt’s recommendation for his patients, for me as someone who has had type 2 diabetes for more than two decades, intermittent fasting is one of the most important arrows in my quiver. Do you fast?

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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  • Jane at

    At almost 68, and diabetic…I have recently started IF….I try to go 18-20 hours but I usually make it to 16-17. I LOVE IF. My doctor put me on insulin, Metformin, trying to put me on a statin, prandin, wanted to add Lantus, etc.

    I came home just defeated. Then I decided that the doctor was behind times….and researched insulin resistance. The insulin I was shooting up INCREASES insulin resistance. So, IF has been lowering my bg over the course of three months….I only test before I eat…105, 125, 118, etc….but I try to do lo carb. However, I love fruit and that probably wacks it a bit. I’ve slowly lost weight…a few pounds a month, but need to exercise more. I think IF is the answer to diabetes….and I do this every day. Feel better. It’s hard in the beginning…took a month to settle into the routine, but I am sleeping better. I am going to seriously look into the Paleo diet.

  • Sheryl at

    Hi! I do 16:8 (commonly known as the 8 hour diet). I fast for 16 hours a day with an 8 hour eating window (no I don’t eat for a full 8 hours, ha ha!) Since doing this I have more energy, am clear-headed, and need less caffeine in the morning. I also follow a low glycemic load diet (Dr. Thompson’s Low Glycemic Load Diet), and feel better than I did 30 years ago.

    By the way, thanks for a great blog which I’ve followed over the years…although I do think you gave Dr. Thompson’s book a poor review several years ago. It’s the only plan that is sustainable and works for me.

    • David Mendosa at

      Thanks for your forgiveness of my review, Sheryl!

  • Diane at

    I IF – intermittently!

    Joking aside, IFing is the only way that I lose weight. But I do find it hard, and if the motivation isn’t 100%, I can’t do it.

    The best way for me to IF is to eat a 500 calorie meal at 2PM on my fast day. That way I have two 18-hour fasts back to back. I know that the purists say a real fast is 20 hours minimum, but this works for me.

    • David Mendosa at

      Diane, I’m another one who intermittently does intermittent fasts from after lunch one day to breakfast the next. That’s pure enough for me!

  • Richard at

    I have been an intermittent faster and found it very helpful, improving my BG, mood and energy levels. I popped over here today because of physical stress, which I think has raised my BG. I have just had surgery to plate a collarbone. For the past two weeks following the break my BG has been sitting stubbornly around the 6-7 mark. This morning it is 8.2 (I had the surgery 14 hours ago and I am still in the hospital bed). This probably shows a good example of an increase due to stress! Hopefully I will be released this morning and I can get on my exercise bike to “burn it off”!

    Thanks for a great resource David. It was the second one I found after I was diagnosed three years ago, via a referral from Gretchen’s site and book. With the advice I have read I have managed to get my hba1c to stick at 4.8-5.0 without medication, though hopefully temporarily!

  • Elizabeth at

    Thanks so much for replying. I just spent a happy few minutes enjoying your photo blog. Wonderful! will be back to read more. Thanks again, Elizabeth

    • David Mendosa at

      Thank you, Elizabeth, for letting me know that my photo essays brought you some pleasure!

  • Elizabeth at

    PS I have never been overweight so I don’t need to lose weight. Thanks

    • David Mendosa at

      While fasting has other benefits besides weight loss, Elizabeth, this is the only one that I know anything about. So I don’t know how to answer the question in your previous message.

  • Elizabeth at

    Hello and thank you so much for your informative site. I am told I have type 1.5 diabetes. Developed diabetes that was diagnosed about 6 years ago and controlled with metformin. Starting about 2 years ago, I’m using small amounts of Lantus at night (8units) and Prandin at carb-meals. I noticed that while recently after surgery my blood sugar dropped on the whole and I went without the insulin or Parandin (mostly) for a week. I was having mostly broth. Do you think that fasting might be a good idea with this weird type of diabetes? I’ve been told to eat something every two hours but I’m rarely hungry. I’m also going to try the berberine after reading about it on your site. Thanks again so much.

  • irene at

    That is exactly what I do.I was amazed at how exhilerated I felt the day after a fast.My Grandson who is an Olympian has had success with it also.Not for weight control but he says it helps with his focus and concentration

  • David at

    I’ve been using the 5:2 fasting diet since January, 2015. Primarily consists of a 600 calorie diet two nonconsecutive days of the week. It was tough to do the first few weeks. However, I have lost 3 pounds per month and on fast days I do not have to take insulin because my glucose levels are around 90-100. So far it seems to be working well.

  • Brenda Carlson at

    Sorry to bother you David, which protein drink was that? Love all your articles-always so thoughtful and respectful. Thank you!

    • David Mendosa at

      Thanks for asking, Brenda. Based on the latest and best information that I have, I now drink the Healthy ‘n Fit brand. It comes in several different flavors, and I love the chocolate taste.

  • Irene at

    I have been using fasting for several months now and find it very helpful in weight management.
    I also have been using the protein drink that you recommended in the last newsletter. It is difficult to find but very good.
    Thanks for all the tips you share with us. They are very much appreciated!

    • David Mendosa at

      I appreciate your message, Irene. Glad I can help.

  • Jane at

    I don’t fast currently. For those that do, what sort of mental preparation if any do you use? I have found that my digestion is better and I feel better if I eat smaller meals, but spread throughout the day. The premise of the articles is that this isn’t helpful to the body, which I didn’t know.

    Even just thinking about fasting gets my mind jittery. It conjures up ideas of deprivation. I suppose fasting would also assist with consuming less calories which was what your previous blog was on. Looking forward to anyone’s experiences doing this. Thanks.

    • David Mendosa at

      Interesting question, Jane. I guess all the mental preparation that I give myself is realizing that I ate too much the day before and will balance it out today by skipping dinner. That way it doesn’t feel to me like I am depriving myself.