Nicholas Nassem Taleb has argued that many systems become more robust when subjected to random shocks (a property he calls Antifragile in his book of that name).

One of the systems he applies his thinking to is human bodies. He argues that we are adapted to have a very variable diet (including some fasting as well as varied sources of nutrients). He argues that a steady diet is worse for the body than one involving regular fasting (both complete fasting from all food and regular fasting from some food groups especially meat). This idea has gained some credence in the 5-2 diet.

One interviewer summarises his idea thus (my emphasis):

Like all systems, he believes that our bodies need to maintain randomness in order to live.

He told the crowd, “We are part lion and part cow. The lion intermittently eats protein and fat, when it can hunt, and the cow steadily eats grass for nine hours a day.” According to this theory, intermittent fasting, and inconsistent meat intake are what our bodies are best evolutionarily suited to.

The author champions religion for the same reason. He is Orthodox and therefore is banned from eating proteins and fat on Friday and Wednesday. “Religion is beneficial because it forces us to randomize and vary our food intake, just as it forces you to vary your mood and place of worship.”

Is there any evidence that this sort of variability in diet has a significant effect on health?

  • 3
    Very similar: skeptics.stackexchange.com/q/15605/19407
    – Is Begot
    Oct 5, 2016 at 19:29
  • @IsBegot I missed that question when I searched. But this question is asking about the more general principle about substantial variation in diet (the specific 5-2 diet would be just one example of dietary variation). Taleb has some theoretical ground for his assertions; the issue is whether these have any basis in medical or nutritional science.
    – matt_black
    Oct 6, 2016 at 12:07
  • Right. I was just pointing it out, not flagging as a duplicate.
    – Is Begot
    Oct 6, 2016 at 16:11
  • the two options aren't mutually exclusive. I can eat a varied diet that's still a "steady" diet. E.g. I'm on a rather strict low-carb diet inspired by Atkins at medical advise. It's steady, in that I follow it for years at a time without deviation. It's also varied, in that I eat a lot of different things.
    – jwenting
    Oct 7, 2016 at 12:15
  • Our bodies need randomness! instead of steadily eating all the time i just have these burst of eating - it totally changed my life. I fast the whole night, then break the bank by downing a fat-carb combination, intensifying the blow by some caffeine, fast again for 4 hours, lightning attack of protein-carb-fat (20 minutes of rage!) then fasting again, and nother six hours later: boom! carb-protein-fat. My body does not know what hit it.
    – bukwyrm
    Jul 7, 2023 at 12:30


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