Advice on Intermittent fasting (IF) is popping up everywhere. Intermittent fasting is a popular dieting trend that involves alternating periods of eating and fasting. While it has been linked to several health benefits, we need to also be aware of the dangers of intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting creates an ‘eating window’ of a few hours a day. Eating, and sometimes drinking, outside this window is considered a no-no. This eating window can either be in the morning, which incorporates the overnight fast, or in the afternoon, lasting until lunch the following day.
Intermittent fasting enthusiasts claim that an extended fasting period – beyond the traditional time between meals – promotes weight loss, cellular repair, improves insulin sensitivity, increases levels of human growth hormone (HGH), and alters gene expression in a way that prevents disease and promotes longevity. There are definitely some health benefits associated with this eating style, but it’s not for everyone. The clue is in the first benefit. If a person is overweight, is pre-diabetic or has any condition where excess fat is a factor, then intermittent fasting may well be a valid goal to aim for. Even people who are at normal weight can find some benefits: insulin production is lowered which keeps blood sugar levels from rising thus reducing the risk for type 2 diabetes. Reduced insulin stops food from being converted into fat.
There are social problems with IF and they begin when you start to take the whole thing too seriously. To give just one example, breakfast with the family or friends is something you just can’t do any more, unless your eating window is a few hours in the morning. If that’s the case, then family dinners become forbidden territory. There are those who actually have cut down their eating to one meal a day (OMAD). This allows them to remain in a constant state of ketosis, which while may be good for wight loss, is not a state anyone would want to remain in long term.
There are other more serious health dangers of intermittent fasting:
Hunger and cravings – When you reduce your calories/kilojoules or go for extended periods of time without eating, you WILL experience increased hunger, at least to start with.
Headaches and lightheadedness – These are the most common side effects of intermittent fasting. They typically occur during the first few days of a fasting regime.
Digestive problems – these can vary from annoying to serious. Symptoms like constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and bloating may occur while doing any fast. Some people actually cannot leave their homes due to extreme discomfort caused by symptoms like those mentioned above.
Mood changes – “Hangry” anyone? Intermittent fasting can cause impatience, irritability and crankiness. Not to mention difficulty concentrating.
Electrolyte imbalances – Severely limiting calories can disrupt the balance of essential electrolytes in the body, such as sodium, potassium and magnesium. It can also be dangerous for people with conditions such as diabetes. People who take medications for blood pressure or heart disease may be more prone to these imbalances.
People who need to take their medications with food — to avoid nausea or stomach irritation — may not do well with any type of fasting. Some medications need to be spread over a day and should be taken with food.
Sleep disorders – Some people may experience insomnia and sleep disturbances while following an intermittent fasting protocol, others find they sleep better. Any change in the body’s rhythm can affect sleep. One thing to keep in mind if your sleep is affected, poor sleep can cause weight gain.
Weight loss – (My main reason for abandoning this diet fad.) Intermittent fasting may cause underweight or older adults to lose too much weight.
There is insufficient evidence how fasting might affect older adults. Human studies have looked mostly at small groups of younger adults, and then only for relatively short periods of time.
It has not been well documented that intermittent fasting can be risky in some cases. If you’re already underweight, you’d be at risk of losing even more weight, which can affect your bones, your immune system, and drain your energy levels. Any type of fast can put older adults at risk of severe muscle loss, or “sarcopenia”, which can be almost impossible to recover from. Anyone with a history of eating disorders should probably not try any kind of fasting.
In conclusion, any type of fasting should be approached with caution, especially if you have a lower-than-average BMI, need to take medications at specific times of day or are diabetic. If you’re overweight and think intermittent fasting maybe the answer for you, then proceed gradually and make sure you consult with your health expert if any symptoms arise.