Fasting and intermittent fasting has been found in multiple studies over the years to possibly help with all sorts of health markers, from weight loss and immune support to cancer prevention and longer life. But a diet that just "mimics" a true fast can also provide health benefits, according to a recent report from the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California.

In the study, researchers gathered 100 adults, ages 20 to 70, and divided them up into two groups: 71 started a three-month cycle of a "fasting-like" diet—one low in calories, sugars, and protein, but high in unsaturated fats—while the rest ate normally. Once a month for three months, the experimental group would fast for five days in a row, eating only 750–1,100 calories per day.

The results were great for the fasters: Their indicators for cardiovascular disease declined, blood pressure became healthier, and inflammation fell. Their diabetes risk factors, like fasting glucose and metabolism hormone IGF-1, also went down. The results also showed: People on the diet lost an average of 6 pounds and up to 2 inches from their waistline, showing less body fat overall but with no loss of muscle mass.

“This study provides evidence that people can experience significant health benefits through a periodic, fasting-mimicking diet that is designed to act on the aging process,” said study co-author Valter Longo, Ph.D., director of the USC Longevity Institute. “Prior studies have indicated a range of health benefits in mice, but this is the first randomized clinical trial with enough participants to demonstrate that the diet is feasible, effective and safe for humans.”

Bottom line: If you're considering some drastic diet, maybe try this five-days-a-month method. Even if this trial is admittedly small, it's a promising sign for a reasonable, sustainable method to chip away at your body fat and get a little healthier without a monstrous amount of commitment.