Is intermittent fasting right for me if I struggle with binge eating?

food relationship wellbeing Apr 18, 2022
Is intermittent fasting right for me?
I get asked this from almost every single client, who comes through my clinic with a tendency to overeat, emotionally eat or binge, and seeks a sustainable, long-term weight loss solution. 
My personal and professional knowledge and belief is that each person is an individual and everyone's case will be different. Yet I wanted to present you with my most accurate knowledge that can help you make a decision of whether intermittent fasting is right for your unique body. 
Having helped women change their food habits, lose weight, make peace with food, overcome emotional eating and recover from eating disorders for years now, here is what I know and want to share with you when it comes to intermittent fasting.


What’s intermittent fasting all about?

Intermittent fasting has blown up massively as a health trend since 2017. It is simply a type of fasting, which means that food is consumed only for a certain window during the day. The most popular type of intermittent fasting is the 16:8, meaning that fasting happens for 16 hours of day and so food is only consumed in the 8 hour window. Some more extreme cases include not eating for longer periods of time, such as the slightly older trend- the 5:2 diet.
Some of the benefits of intermittent fasting include:
  • Increased and more stable energy levels
  • More stable blood sugar
  • Increased longevity
  • Improved stress resilience
  • Improved cognitive function
  • Weight loss
  • Lowered inflammation in the body.
And it's all down to a cellular process called autophagy (1), which means that the built up debris in our cells can clear out and make room for regeneration and better functioning of the entire body.
Clearing out of these ‘dead cells’ support longevity and smooth cellular functioning.
Sounds pretty good, right?
It’s undeniable that there are many many benefits to intermittent fasting and it can be a worthy tool in your health toolbox, if it is right for you. Especially when you’re in a need of a health boost and rejuvenation.
However, just like you cannot expect everyone to eat meat or be vegan, it is also unreasonable to expect intermittent fasting to work for everybody.
Science and research is still scarce when it comes to intermittent fasting in practice. But this is what I know and I have observed in my clinic.

Overcompensation and overeating

I was doing intermittent fasting before it was trendy (no, really), which must have been around 10 years ago now. I have read up on autophagy and quite frankly, who wouldn't be impressed with these lofty benefits that can take your health to the next level. Though back then, my goal was purely weight loss.
The issue I struggled with most was overcompensating and overeating during the 8 hour window, because even though it is for health benefits, it is still a way of restricting. Meaning, it felt like another diet.
Same story repeats with the majority of my clients. Even if the attitude going into it is relaxed, the overeating and overcompensation tends to somehow sneak back in.


Weight loss isn’t guaranteed

A systematic review (2) concludes that IF shows promise in tackling weight loss, however highlights that longer and bigger research is needed to confirm. 
Anyone inspired to try intermittent fasting for purely weight loss reasons, this may work just like any other diet. And just like any other diet it creates restriction, which may then result in overeating to rebel or creating food guilt. It is certainly not uncommon for women to start binge eating after doing intermittent fasting for a little while. So much for weight loss goals.

Fasting for men vs. women

Is there a difference for men and women when fasting?
From my clinical experience, there certainly is. One of the theories relates back to hunter-gatherer times: men used to walk for hours or days before they would make a killing, yet women where grazing much more often on berries and foraged foods. Women's bodies adapt to periods of starvation by storing extra energy in fatty tissue. 
Although it is solely a theory and nothing is yet solidly proven with science, I find that men respond to intermittent fasting much better than women and men benefit from increased metabolism and energy boost. It is thought that is may be to do with the complexities of a hormonal system of a woman and monthly hormonal fluctuations.

Who should NOT fast?

However attractive you find the benefits of intermittent fasting, if you do fall under one of these groups of people, I believe that intermittent fasting is NOT suitable for you.
Who should NEVER do intermittent fasting:
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding women
  • Underweight women and men (BMI 19 or under)
  • Women and men with history of eating disorders (including binge-eating)
  • Yo- yo dieters, people who emotionally eat and anyone who has unhealthy relationship with food
  • People with major health issues, like diabetes or hypertension, should always consult a healthcare practitioner before. 
Additionally, intermittent fasting can be dangerous for women who are prone to developing an eating disorder or unhealthy relationship with food, but have never experienced that before, as an extreme restriction works just like any other diet.
The bottom line question is- do you HAVE to do fasting to achieve lasting weight loss and better health and wellbeing?
Absolutely not.
And although it may work for many, it also might work against you if you have a love-hate relationship with food in the first place. My genuine suggestion is to be honest with yourself, before even trying intermittent fasting and if in doubt consult a healthcare professional.
Medical disclaimer
I am not a doctor, medical professional or a dietician. The information I provide is based on my professional experience as a Nutritional Therapist, studies provided and on my personal experience. Any recommendations I may make about diet changes, nutrition, supplements or lifestyle, or information provided to you on this website should be discussed between you and a medical or healthcare professional. The information you receive in these blogs does not take the place of professional medical advice.