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Can Intermittent Fasting Cause Eating Disorders?

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Can Intermittent Fasting Cause Eating Disorders? Let’s dive in! Intermittent fasting has fast become the most hyped diet trend out there, championed by movie stars, music legends, and well-known business tycoons as the best way to lose weight, build muscle mass, get a metabolic switch, and so much more. While it is beyond doubt that intermittent fasting has a lot of benefits, some hidden dangers and pitfalls are not often discussed by advocates and even first-timers of this radical dietary trend. 

As more and more people take to intermittent fasting, some new studies and insights continue to shed light on the practice. One of the emerging concerns is whether intermittent fasting could cause an eating disorder.

The Lowdown on Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting is all about fasting for a certain number of hours daily, known as the fasting window. Outside the fasting window, you can eat whatever you want in a period known as the eating window. To keep yourself sated during fasting, you can have lots of water, lemon juice, and bulletproof coffee to keep yourself going, but your main lookout is not to consume anything with calories.

Opinions remain divided as to at what age you can start intermittent fasting, but that is because IF is a new diet trend, and research on it is still in the nascent stage. There are many intermittent fasting schedules, the most popular being 16/8 fasting, the 5/2 diet pattern, and the OMAD (one meal a day) schedule

The benefits of intermittent fasting are weight loss, reduced insulin sensitivity, reduced inflammation, improved heart health, possible cancer prevention, improved brain health as observed by brain sciences, and anti-aging effects, among others. 

Can Intermittent Fasting Cause Eating Disorders?

Can Intermittent Fasting Cause Eating Disorders? What Do Studies Say?

While intermittent fasting has many proven benefits, it is not a diet trend that works for everyone and could also be dangerous to some people. Proponents of intermittent fasting claim that it is helpful because it mimics the eating pattern of our long-gone ancestors, who were hunter-gatherers and had to go for long periods without food. 

However, cut to now, some claim that we have evolved since then, and in these times of plenty, it is not natural or practical to fast for prolonged periods. Some people could develop eating disorders if they adhere to intermittent fasting. 

A recent study was published in the Journal of Eating Behaviors. The new study explored intermittent fasting in adolescents and young adults in Canada. This Canadian study of adolescent health behaviors has described the prevalence of IF from a large sample of young people, namely young women, men, and transgender individuals in Canada.

The new research also looked at the association between eating disorders and intermittent fasting and concluded that IF was directly associated with eating disorders. This study was done under the auspices of the University of Toronto, and the researchers used a questionnaire to examine the behaviors and psychopathology. They aimed to see if the patterns and attitudes were similar to those of people with eating disorders. 

The questionnaire also looked at different eating disorders like binge eating disorder, laxative use, and compulsive exercise. The study participants results indicated that healthcare professionals must be more aware of the potential correlation between intermittent fasting and eating disorders and understand that dietary practice and diet culture among young intermittent fasters are often discussed on social media and that there is a need for proper guidance. 

Limitations of the Study and the Need for Continued Research

This new study sheds some light on the potential of developing eating disorder behaviors with IF, but it comes with several limitations. Firstly, the study could not determine if Intermittent fasting led to eating disorders or if it was the other way around. 

Additionally, the data collection method was dependent on self-reporting by the participants, which leaves room for potential errors. Also, while the sample size was diverse, there still exists a potential for including selective bias based on the methods used. 

Again, there is an excellent possibility that the participants interpreted the survey questions differently, thereby increasing the likelihood of response bias. And to round it off, the survey questions possibly could not have considered all eating disorders and associated behaviors. 

Indicative Signs of Eating Disorders With Intermittent Fasting

Some of the telltale signs that indicate that you may have slipped into an eating disorder unknowingly while doing intermittent fasting are:

  • You skip meals using intermittent fasting as an excuse
  • If you feel depressed or guilty when you eat in your fasting window
  • You severely restrict food intake on top of intermittent fasting to achieve more weight loss. 
  • If you have a morbid fear of weight gain
Can Intermittent Fasting lead to Eating Disorders?

Some Reasons for Avoiding Intermittent Fasting

Here are some risk factors why intermittent fasting is not for everyone; check them out.

If You Have a High-Calorie Requirement

If you are underweight, have an issue with weight gain, are under 18, or are pregnant or breastfeeding, do not attempt intermittent fasting because you will need more calories as a daily requirement for development. 

If You Have an Eating Disorder

There is a high association between intermittent fasting and bulimia nervosa. If you are prone to an eating disorder, you should avoid intermittent fasting. Some risk factors for eating disorders are having a family member with an eating disorder, impulsivity, perfectionism, and mood instability. 

Additionally, avoid intermittent fasting if you cannot cope with hunger pangs, are prone to overeating and have a risk of binge eating in feeding windows, have high blood pressure, or feel dehydrated, tired, and irritable. 

We also wrote another article – How to deal with hunger while intermittent or water fasting?

The Way Out

Notwithstanding the risk factor of developing an eating disorder, most people qualify for intermittent fasting by understanding the facts and science behind it and after gaining insight from qualified professionals. If you are keen on intermittent fasting, schedule a meeting with a dietician or a health professional who can inform you about the right food choices, go for a wholesome daily nutrition routine, and avoid binging on fast food or high-carbohydrate food. 

You could also try intuitive eating, a practice where you eat when your body tells you to eat, keep an eye on your body weight, journal your appetite, and keep a positive attitude during periods of fasting. 

Conclusion – Can Intermittent Fasting Cause Eating Disorders?

While research indicates that there may be a connection between intermittent fasting and the most common eating disorders, it is too early to come to a rigid conclusion. Most people do not have any problems with intermittent fasting, and its health benefits far outweigh any potential risks. Give intermittent fasting a try, and you will be surprised at its efficacy and usefulness in banishing weight gain and leading you to better health. 

Want to know what you can Drink While Fasting? What Can You Drink during Fasting

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