Updated: Mar 2, 2020
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. I pondered for a while before deciding to release this article, because intermittent fasting is a controversial subject when it comes to food relationship and weight loss.
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
Improved stress resilience
Improved cognitive function
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.
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 8 years ago. 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
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 start to binge eat 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 caveman 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.
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. It is thought that is may be to do with the complexities of a hormonal system of a woman and monthly hormonal fluctuations.
One study (conducted on rats) (2) has shown that prolonged periods of time with fasting seized periods, caused ovaries to shrink and created infertility. Same study shown decreased testosterone levels in male rats. However, as there are no human studies available yet, it is impossible to say whether that would also happened to humans.
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?
And although it works 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.