Intermittent fasting is a diet that has built momentum over the past few years for its supposed benefits on health and weight loss. In this blog, we will look more into what intermittent fasting is and why it is not right for you, especially if you’ve struggled with chronic dieting, disordered eating or an eating disorder.
What is it?
Intermittent fasting involves a period of fasting designated by a particular eating window. These fasting periods range from 16 hours to a maximum of 1.5 days and usually are no longer than 24 hours. Intermittent fasting functions on the idea that during your eating window, you are allowed to have complete freedom and flexibility with your food without caloric restriction. Unlike other diets, this diet does not restrict food intake or calories consumed but rather dictates when you are allowed to eat.
Types of Intermittent fasting
1. Alternate day fasting
As the name suggests, this type of fasting alternates between feeding and fasting days. There is an option in this type of fasting that allows for “modified” fasting days which can either be full fasts or less than usual caloric intake.
2. Whole day fasting
Again as the name suggests, this type of fast involves fasting for multiple days per week. These fasting days can be either extremely low calorie or can be a full fast.
3. Time restricted feeding
This type of fast is one of the more popular types of intermittent fasting to be found today. This type of fasting involves eating for a certain amount of time during the day and fasting for the remainder.
Why You Shouldn't Try Intermittent Fasting
1. Interferes with the Social Aspect of Eating
As we all know, eating is not just about nourishment but is also a social activity. It allows family, friends, and people to come together to celebrate special occasions or just spend time together and connect over food. With those following a shortened eating period of intermittent fasting, this may pose challenges when it comes to social gatherings surrounding food. This also poses the issue of possibly missing out on special events, family suppers, birthday dinners, or even missing spending time and connecting over a meal with your spouse and children because it is not within your eating window.
2. Low Energy Levels
In a 2016 systematic review, researchers found that some intermittent fasting participants experienced symptoms such as constipation, headaches, lack of energy, temper, and lack of concentration. Eating enough nutrition throughout the day is incredibly important for simply maintaining energy levels which help to combat these symptoms. Intermittent fasting may pose a challenge to some individuals especially if this restricted eating pattern alters their daily activities or skews their hunger levels. Fasting for prolonged periods also puts the body into a “starvation” mode. This may then lead the body to conserve energy and begin to use muscle protein as fuel due to not receiving enough energy from food.
3. Increased Hunger
As our last point mentioned, if a person’s energy levels are low and there is a lack of energy in the body, the body may then respond with increased hunger cues due to fear of “starvation”. Everybody’s hunger and fullness cues are unique and different. This means that some people may not acclimate well to shorter periods of eating. If someone is used to experiencing hunger regularly throughout the day, these fasting periods may then cause increased hunger and cravings throughout the day that you cannot honor because of your “fasting” window.
4. Digestion Complications
With intermittent fasting, food is consumed in large quantities in a short amount of time. This may cause some individuals to feel digestive discomfort because of the quantity of food consumed so quickly. This then can lead to digestive issues such as cramping, abdominal pain, indigestion, and bloating. For those more prone to digestive problems or even those struggling with IBS, this may not be a good fit for you especially if you are more prone to cramping, abdominal pain, and bloating.
5. Disordered eating
If you are someone with a history of disordered eating, this is definitely not recommended for you. Rather than following one’s internal hunger and fullness cues, intermittent fasting calls for a set of “rules” around food that could be potentially triggering for those who have struggled with food in the past. As mentioned previously, increased hunger is also something that one may experience with intermittent fasting. Someone struggling with a “binge-restrict” mentality may also find their eating disorder symptoms exacerbated by this type of diet. A 2016 study also found that some individuals following intermittent fasting had an increased preoccupation with food.
As dietitians, we believe that any diet that encourages you to disregard your body’s innate hunger and fullness cues is not likely to be sustained. We also believe that these types of diets further separate your connection and relationship with your body. It is incredibly important to nurture your body and provide your body with sustainable, consistent nutrition. If you are trying to decide if intermittent fasting is right for you, always speak first with a registered dietitian for personalized advice and supervision.