Intermittent fasting (IF) is literally a lifesaver for many people who struggle with obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, and other conditions. But it can be life-threatening for others.
I write about Intermittent Fasting because of the positive impact this protocol has had on my life. I’ve lost a significant amount of weight at a time in my life when my weight wasn’t budging, other than to increase.
I knew that continuing to gain weight would also have health implications. In fact, I had already been experiencing joint pain from excess weight. So, I started reading about Intermittent Fasting and looking for the support of like-minded people.
But here’s one of the most important things I learned, Intermittent Fasting is not for everybody. I’m alarmed when I come across people on Facebook and other IF support groups who are clearly severely underweight already.
They say that they’re fasting to get the benefits of IF. The problem is that, when a person is malnourished, there are no benefits, only harm.
WHO SHOULDN’T TRY INTERMITTENT FASTING
I share information about Intermittent Fasting and I feel a deep sense of responsibility toward my readers. This information is intended to help those who are trying to live healthily and/or lose weight.
I come from the perspective of what’s been helpful to me. I’m not a nutritionist or medical professional. And I don’t believe that anything in this world is a one-size-fits-all either.
To me, the key is living a healthier lifestyle. And if you’re already underweight, IF is not healthy for you.
Check in with your doctor before starting an IF regimen for this and other health reasons. Know unequivocally that you’re healthy enough to handle it.
Here’s a general list of who shouldn’t be following this protocol:
- If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, don’t follow an intermittent fasting protocol. Restricting nutrients at a time when they’re crucial to a developing fetus or child is bad. Start intermittent fasting after you’re done with the pregnancy and breastfeeding.
- If you’ve suffered from an eating disorder, intermittent fasting may trigger unhealthy eating patterns and behaviors, so don’t do it in this situation. The same applies if you’re currently suffering from an eating disorder.
- If you’re malnourished or have excessively low body fat, intermittent fasting makes the situation worse. It can lead to severe hormonal imbalance, lack of ovulation, and amenorrhea (missed periods). Depending on how underweight or undernourished you are, the effects could be much much worse. At a minimum, make sure your BMI score is above 18.5.
- If you’re taking medications or have a medical condition that could be adversely affected by extended periods of food restriction, intermittent fasting isn’t for you.
- If you’re highly stressed and not sleeping well, hold off until those symptoms are regulated or at least reduced. Starting when your cortisol levels are very high can have a negative effect by exacerbating those problems.
Let me start by saying that there are different types of eating disorders. For some, the symptoms are overeating. Others don’t eat at all. And others exercise excessively even when it’s harmful. Ultimately, eating disorders are deeply rooted, complex, and dangerous if not taken care of in time.
Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and compulsive eating disorder are some of the most common.
Because intermittent fasting extends the number of hours we choose not to eat during the day, I’m going to focus mostly on eating disorders that lead to low body weight and malnutrition. This is usually the result of excessive restricted eating.
But I want to be clear, this does not mean that intermittent fasting is okay to practice with other eating disorders.
I also want to point out that eating disorders aren’t a simple lifestyle choice. They’re disruptive to people’s lives and can even be fatal. Nobody “chooses” it.
This psychological problem has genetic and environmental components too. Remember that psychology and brain chemistry don’t happen separately, they’re intertwined. This is both physical and mental.
To learn more about the symptoms and behaviors associated with eating disorders, go to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) website.
WHY IS INTERMITTENT FASTING NOT RECOMMENDED FOR PEOPLE WITH EATING DISORDERS?
Very simply stated, when a person is suffering from an eating disorder, they’re constantly preoccupied with their weight, their body shape, and/or food.
Changing eating patterns through intermittent fasting can worsen an already unhealthy focus on eating.
As an example, a person who barely eats because of their preoccupation with weight can use intermittent fasting as a socially acceptable reason to extend their timeframe of food deprivation.
If the person is malnourished, they can cause serious harm to their body.
Even if the person isn’t malnourished yet, the psychological effects could lead to worsening unhealthy patterns of behavior around food.
Compulsive eating can also be triggered after a period of food deprivation and cause physical and mental harm.
WHY ISN’T INTERMITTENT FASTING RECOMMENDED FOR PEOPLE WITH EXCESSIVELY LOW BODY FAT?
When we fast, we give our bodies enough time to expend the energy from glucose or sugar in our bloodstream and then dip into our fat stores for energy. If you have very low body weight, or a very low Body Mass Index (BMI), you may not have enough fat stores for energy.
What happens then, is your body starts going for energy from sources that are necessary for survival, like protein (muscle mass). Your brain is also affected.
When you’re dipping into energy from sources necessary for survival, all the benefits attributed to intermittent fasting are thrown out the window. And beyond that, your health and possibly your life, are also being discarded.
HOW DO I HELP SOMEBODY WHO MAY HAVE AN EATING DISORDER?
If you’re concerned about yourself or another person who think may have an eating disorder, know that you’re not alone. There are a lot of resources available to help a loved one recover.
This list provides more information about eating disorders, signs, symptoms, effects and how to help somebody you believe needs assistance:
- National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)
- National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
- 6 Common Types of Eating Disorders (And Their Symptoms)
- Mayo Clinic: Eating Disorders
DO YOU THINK YOU SHOULD TRY INTERMITTENT FASTING?
The purpose of intermittent fasting is to improve health. If you fall under any of the categories mentioned above, then intermittent fasting isn’t for you.
And it’s okay. Nothing is one-size-fits-all.
Your physical and mental health is what’s most important here. The same goes for your loved ones.
If you believe that you or a loved one may have an eating disorder, help is available. You’re not alone. Tap into the resources provided to address these concerns.
Because one thing is true, you’re a very special and important part of this world. Let’s keep you healthy and able to share everything that makes you so special.
Comment below and tell me what you think about intermittent fasting and eating disorders.