Caloric restriction (CR) and related time-restricted diets have been popularized as means of preventing metabolic disease while improving general well-being. However, evidence as to their long-term efficacy, adverse effects, and mechanisms of activity remains incompletely understood. The gut microbiota is modulated by such dietary approaches, yet causal evidence to its possible downstream impacts on host metabolism remains elusive. Herein, we discuss the positive and adverse influences of restrictive dietary interventions on gut microbiota composition and function, and their collective impacts on host health and disease risk. We highlight known mechanisms of microbiota influences on the host, such as modulation of bioactive metabolites, while discussing challenges in achieving mechanistic dietary-microbiota insights, including interindividual variability in dietary responses as well as other methodological and conceptual challenges. In all, causally understanding the impact of CR approaches on the gut microbiota may enable to better decode their overall influences on human physiology and disease.