Intermittent fasting has enjoyed a recent surge in popularity. While it can be used as a tool to help with weight management, if you’re not careful, this type of diet can lead to disordered eating. Keep reading to discover what you need to know about intermittent fasting and eating disorders.
What Is Intermittent fasting?
Also known by its initials, IF is a type of diet characterized by periods of eating interspersed with periods of fasting. The precise method of how intermittent fasting works varies. Some of these diets require you to go for several hours without food, while others limit caloric intake during certain times. Common IF practices include fasting for 16 or 24-hour periods, or eating only within a four hour window during the day.
No matter which variation is used, they all share a few characteristics that can trigger disordered eating. The main commonality between the different forms of IF is a focus on when to eat rather than what to eat. Disordered eating and IF can occur hand-in-hand when the focus on weight and body images changes from a healthy lifestyle practice to an obsession that’s working against yourself.
Warning signs of eating disorders from intermittent fasting
While it is possible to lose weight and burn fat in a healthy manner with intermittent fasting, not everyone will benefit from this style of dieting. In fact, IF could trigger someone who is vulnerable to developing an eating disorder. it’s important to recognize when intermittent fasting habits become dangerous and start to resemble an eating disorder.
Look for the following warning signs if you’re starting to wonder if your intermittent fasting has gone too far.
- You feel anxiety about food. Eating and meal plans are half of what drives IF. It should be more of a hobby than a stress-inducer.
- You’re experiencing extreme fatigue. While somewhat lowered energy is expected, you shouldn’t feel like you’re going to fall over in the middle of the day.
- You don’t give yourself any grace. When you’re appropriately practicing intermittent fasting, there’s no problem giving yourself a break every now and then. Intense limits and guilt when you break the fast are signs that IF isn’t healthy anymore.
- Your hormones are off. Mood swings, changes in menstrual cycle, and difficulty sleeping can all be symptoms of a hormonal imbalance. This can be a side effect of eating disorders and should be checked out by a doctor.
Worried that these warning signs could be indicative of an eating disorder?
These and other warning signs should alert you that the diet has gone too far. The space between intermittent fasting and eating disorders starts to narrow when you develop an unreasonable fear of weight gain and a negative relationship with food, and professional help should be sought.
Issues with IF – an unsustainable approach
The primary issue for most people is that this method of fasting cannot be maintained. For many people it’s not feasible or useful to forgo periods of eating, such as skipping breakfast, or straying from normal meal times.
IF can also create tension in social situations, such as meetings or events scheduled during fasting days or periods. This can snowball, moving you from a safe approach to an unhealthy relationship with food.
Is intermittent fasting an eating disorder?
Intermittent fasting can become disordered eating behavior because the focus is on refraining from eating. Many diets lower calorie intake by swapping calorically dense foods with low-cal, nutrient-dense alternatives. IF seeks to minimize calorie intake by not eating at all. These periods of fasting teach you to ignore your body’s hunger signals.
When you begin to associate not eating with weight loss, it’s easy to acquire a fear of food. Your brain rewards you for starving yourself and can develop anxiety about mealtimes. It’s difficult to balance the healthy idea of eating for nourishment with the idea of fasting to lose weight.
So while intermittent fasting eating disorder is not a category listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it can surely snowball into disordered eating and warrant a formal diagnosis of Other Specified Eating Disorder.
Bad habits from intermittent fasting
Some IF diets go so far as to encourage adherents to eat whatever they are craving during their eating periods. While planned off-diet meals can provide a mental break, for some people this system could be a set up for failure.
When a person quickly transitions from starving himself to binging on high-calorie meals, he’s mimicking the behavior of eating disorders. Replacing nutritious foods with junk food is a pattern that could take years to correct.
If you’re worried that your eating habits may signal an eating disorder, it’s important to address this early on. The sooner you reach out for help, the better.
Get the help you deserve
Having a negative relationship with food turns your whole world upside down. Free yourself from food anxiety by starting treatment with Seeds of Hope today. Find hope, healing and happiness through a variety of treatment choices, from teletherapy to intensive outpatient and partial hospitalization. Get in touch today to find your recovery when you call 610-644-6464.