If you have thought of about losing weight in recent years, you have probably considered intermittent fasting. The weight loss claims are all over the place on the internet and social media. It seems almost too good to be true the results that some individuals say the have had.
I don’t think there is a one-fits-all approach to eating. I am open to the idea of using intermittent fasting when someone is interested in it. However, we also need to have a good look at whether it is the best option. No matter what weight loss approach we take, healthy weight loss only includes approaches that supports mental and physical wellbeing. So, let’s dive in and talk about what you need to consider…
What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting (IF) is a routine of eating during the day, where there are set periods of times with no calorie intake (calorie-free fluids are allowed). Outside these fasting windows of time, are your eating periods when all calories are consumed.
The typical fasting periods are 16 hours of a day, a 24-hour fast on alternate days, or a 2-day-a-week fast on non-consecutive days. In terms of the calories consumed during the eating periods, they may be unrestricted or consumed based on other dietary interventions (i.e. calorie limit, macronutrient targets).
What is the hype?
Research to date has shown some interesting potential benefits of intermittent fasting with respect to blood cholesterol, glycemic control and weight loss and changes in abdominal fat distribution in people with obesity. However, these results may be hard to generalize to everyone, since many of the studies have been small and short term.
It is important to note that both intermittent fasting and short-term calorie-restricted diets produce similar weight loss results in people with obesity and people with type 2 diabetes. Intermittent fasting is simply a different way to approach weight loss.
Being the curious Registered Dietitian that I am, I decided to try intermittent fasting, to see what the hype was all about for myself. I tried intermittent fasting for a month last year and, I have to say, it was such a great learning experience. I have always been a 3 meals per day, and snacks, kind of gal! I rarely go longer than 6 hours during my waking hours without eating. For me intermittent fasting was a big shift from my usual eating habits.
Without question, the experience helped me develop a clearer perspective on intermittent fasting, and how to decide if intermittent fasting is the right fit for someone.
3 Real Considerations Before Starting Intermittent Fasting
It may be triggering for those with a history of disordered eating
I encourage women to listen to their bodies. Listening and responding to our hunger cues is part of having a healthy relationship with our body. Unfortunately, many quick-fix weight loss programs create a “restriction” and “meal-plan" mindset. Essentially, you are told to eat a set amount of food for a meal, snack or for the day, and anything more is labeled as “wrong”. Women often go hungry to lose weight. They stop trusting that their bodies are telling them what it needs. Listening and responding to our hunger cues is part of healing our strained relationship with our bodies from years of dieting and weight fluctuations.
With intermittent fasting it has the potential make you ignore your hunger cues. You are controlled by the clock and not your hunger cues. During my time with intermittent fasting, each day, in the last 2 hours before my first meal of the day, I WAS HUNGRY! I was tired, grumpy and definitely running on empty.
Even beyond that, for those who have a history of eating disorders or disordered eating, might find the strict timeline rules triggering. Control and restriction are often major parts of disordered eating behaviours. The rigid timeframes for eating with intermittent are just another type of control and restriction around food, even if calories are unrestricted during the “eating” periods.
If you have a history of disordered eating or a diagnosed eating disorder, intermittent fast may not support you in your recovery and maintaining a healthy relationship with food and your body.
If you are taking meal dependent medications
Some prescription medications are meal or food dependent. Some medications (e.g. thyroid medications) need to be taken away from other food, because they many are not absorbed as well if taken along with food.
On the flip side, there are many medications that should be taken with regular meals, to ensure avoid some not-so-fun side effects. For example, some medications, like antibiotics, non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and Metformin, can be hard on the stomach. It is encouraged to take them with food to lessen the stomach upset. Skipping breakfast with intermittent fasting may mean dealing with more stomach upset.
Some diabetes medications, such as Diamicron (Glizclazide) and insulins, can put you at a greater risk of a low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) when meals are missed or delayed. If you are taking medications for diabetes, it really comes down to safety. Check with your diabetes educator or primary care provider before giving intermittent fasting a try.
If you have reactive hypoglycemia
Reactive hypoglycemia is low blood sugar that occurs within four hours after eating. Unlike hypoglycemia caused by diabetes medications, reactive hypoglycemia is a result of the body producing too much insulin.
Symptoms of reactive hypoglycemia may include anxiety, fast heartbeat, irritability (feeling very stressed or nervous), shaking, sweating, hunger, dizziness, blurred vision, difficulty thinking and faintness. In other words, you feel awful and it can impact your ability to go about your day.
The main treatment for reactive hypoglycemia is eating small balanced meals and snacks throughout the day, generally every 3-4 hours. Intermittent fasting simply would not allow for this, and inadvertently set you up for low blood sugars. Again, in this situation it really comes down to safety.
Ultimately, no matter what, we need to take an individual approach to weight loss, to make sure we are not compromising your mental and physical health in other ways. As for me, after a month of intermittent fasting (16 hour fasting and 8-hour window of unrestricted eating), my body weight did not change, and I found myself too hungry and irritable during my busy workday. It wasn’t for me. However, I am glad for the insights it gave me so that I can better way the pros and cons with the women I work with.
I’m a dietitian who works closely with women in Collingwood, Blue Mountains, Thornbury, Grey Bruce and beyond to help them achieve their health and weight loss goals so they can feel confident and live their best life. Find out how you can achieve success by booking your free discovery call today.