To start things off, I support intermittent fasting (IF). Also, IF is not inherently good, bad, right, wrong, or sub-optimal. It’s just like every other weight management strategy, it could be ideal for you, your health, and your lifestyle.
IF is good for some people and not good for others. If you’re able to do IF and you enjoy it, more power to you. If it doesn’t work with your goals, eating habits, or schedule, that’s totally fine. It’s more important that you’re consistent, happy, and making progress. Meal frequency, frankly, is irrelevant if you’re checking all those boxes.
Fitness enthusiasts have been practicing IF for a while now as it allows them to eat huge meals while still maintaining the physique they want. This is the most attractive part of IF dieting. To be able to eat massive amounts of food at the end of the day allows folks to indulge their “inner fat kid” on a daily basis. For the people that are trying to improve their relationship with their food: this is your first red flag.
It’s possible that some people function very well and experience newfound health benefits as a result of IF. The opposite is true as well, as I’ve witnessed IF exacerbate disordered eating symptoms and intensify obsessive-compulsive tendencies in dieters.
I’ll address a number of drawbacks to help you decide if intermittent fasting meshes with your needs, preferences, and lifestyle. Bear in mind that this is coming just from my point of view, using the research I’ve read, the intermittent fasting that I’ve done myself, and working in the fitness world for over 15 years.
I strongly recommend that you analyze your own habits, personality traits, relationship with your food, and lifestyle to determine if intermittent fasting is right for you.
Before I jump in and get started, I’d love to generate some intelligent discussion and hear about your individual experience with IF, so please include your ideas/thoughts/recommendations in a reply, text, FB, or IG message.
Intermittent Fasting is the Bee’s Knees
For the fast few years, the fitness industry has been crushing hard on intermittent fasting, paleo, and keto. It’s very easy to interpret these weight loss methods and systems as “right” or “wrong” or “good” and “bad”. It’s far too easy to think in black and white terms, ignoring or being oblivious to the less obvious shades of gray in between these clear-cut lines.
There is a tendency to believe that IF is the “best” meal frequency. This one is easy to refute. First, meal frequency doesn’t matter all that much save for a few scenarios. Second, EVERYBODY IS DIFFERENT. What’s best for you might be unsafe for another. Intermittent fasting could be very dangerous for a type 1 diabetic, possibly life-threatening.
There are several common examples of distorted thinking surrounding intermittent fasting and the lengths people will go to follow this diet which include:
Intermittent fasting may be the answer for you. It could provide a variety of benefits and help some people achieve all their goals. However, it is not the end-all-be-all of nutrition like it’s trumped-up to being. It works well for some people and it doesn’t for others.
If you’re curious about intermittent fasting and feel it’s right for you, please try it and experiment with it. If you enjoy it, keep using it – but don’t feel obligated to force it into your lifestyle or allow it to dictate your thoughts, emotions, or day-to-day activities.
Let’s Pretend Magic is Real
Be real for a moment, having huge portions and still losing weight is awesome. Intermittent fasting provides that opportunity for people. Having a higher meal frequency doesn’t allow for this, that’s for sure. This component of having bigger meals through IF isn’t bad, wrong, or misleading, but it tends to get abused. Abused to the point that people don’t even consider how many calories they’re eating in a day. The laws of thermodynamics still apply.
Calories do count.
Eating large portions and eating late at night is not necessarily bad. It comes at a cost. To backload nearly a whole days worth of calories to the evening so you can gorge yourself into a stupor while watching Dancing With the Stars seems like doing IF for the wrong reasons.
Meal frequency doesn’t matter at all if you’re not paying attention to energy in vs. energy out.
Take this story from Jordan as a testament to that fact.
“I remember when I first began Intermittent Fasting, at 17 years old, I was under the impression that total energy intake was irrelevant. As long as I followed my eating schedule and ate foods which were ‘Warrior Diet approved,’ I could eat as much as my heart desired.
"Initially, it was exceedingly difficult to eat large amounts within my short 4-hour eating window; I would have a giant salad, a chicken breast or two, maybe a bowl of oatmeal and then call it quits.
"Unsurprisingly, I saw rapid and incredible fat loss.
"However, after several months of following this routine, I became proficient in the sport of gorging myself and was soon eating truly disturbing amounts of food. Somewhat comedically, how much I was capable of eating at any one time promptly became a daily challenge; I would seek to impress my friends and family, placing bets on how much food I could shovel down my throat, and would regularly eat myself into a food-coma simply because I could.
"Eventually, though, my fat loss came to a standstill. The more I was able to eat in that 4-hour window the less weight I lost. In fact, after several months of IFing, my weight began to steadily creep back up.
"Not only was I clueless as to why this was happening…but I was pissed! I was following the program to a “T,” strictly adhering to my feeding window, solely eating “clean” and organic foods, and even started cycling my carbohydrates and fats. The fact that I was gaining weight made no sense whatsoever.
"After several months of troubleshooting and finally looking into the research, I realized the problem was stemming from the fact that I was eating between 3-4,000 calories on a nightly basis. It didn’t matter that I was Intermittent Fasting because at a bodyweight of 125lbs I was eating well above my maintenance caloric intake.”
Never Feel Full Again
Despite eating comically large portions, many IFers report having a lot of trouble getting full.
Yes, even after eating an entire day’s worth of calories in a single sitting. Intermittent fasters also reported instances of feeling massive amounts of anxiety over needing to eat much more than their caloric needs.
They couldn’t help but continue to eat. This logically leads to an increase in the likelihood of overeating and binge eating issues. This is a very real problem that can happen to intermittent fasters.
It makes sense that, if our bodies know we only eat within a very short time frame each day, getting a sensation of fullness or satiety would limit the number of nutrients our body could get. Our bodies adapt and change hormonally to our lifestyle – eating habits included. This is one of those adaptations.
It’s likely that you won’t experience the same or similar difficulties as outlined above when practicing intermittent fasting. However, if you do, please understand that intermittent fasting is not your only option to reach your goals.
Intermittent fasting can sometimes promote the avoidance of social interactions. Rather, it can promote social anxiety resulting in chronic avoidance of social situations. It’s worth sharing that a broad spectrum of eating disorders have been linked to social phobias, so IF isn’t alone here, which speaks to disordered eating in general rather than intermittent fasting.
Think about those consequences for a moment. Do you really want to risk becoming even more socially awkward? I’m already walking on thin ice, there. Increasing anxiety to the point of causing symptoms of chronic social isolation is in no way going to promote long-term success or happiness for that matter. It’s not like you want to be prescribed Xanax and Wellbutrin just so you can be intermittently fasting.
Maintaining a healthy diet with a caloric deficit is a difficult task alone and for some people adding another rule or restriction like predetermined feeding times can be excruciatingly isolating.
How comfortable would you be if you had a social event, say a birthday party for a close friend, during a designated fasting period? You would likely get a lot of pressure from friends and family alike, be tempted by the food and drinks, or risk breaking your fast in some other way prematurely.
While there’s nothing wrong with declining an invitation to an event, it can develop into a problem if someone consistently avoids social interactions simply because it doesn’t coincide with their eating schedule.
Most importantly, you could be inadvertently teaching your children disordered eating if they don’t quite understand what you’re doing, or even a passing comment like “I can’t eat breakfast” or “I shouldn’t eat” could be damaging to their long-term relationship with food if not explained properly.
Another thing to consider is obsessing over what foods they will be breaking their fast. I’ve noticed among IFers is a tendency to daydream or fantasize about how much and what they’ll eat later in the day, spending a huge chunk of their time and emotional efforts planning for the perfect meal, neglecting work and social interactions in order to do so. Some people have even gone so far as to nap during the day to make the fasting phase go by more quickly. And if these folks who’ve planned the “perfect meal” get invited out during their eating window, they’ve to choose between what they’ve been perseverating over all day or spending time with friends and family.
Intermittent fasting has proven to be an effective and realistic lifestyle of eating. Some people have trouble practicing IF in a flexible and reasonable manner, often harming their relationships with friends, family, and with food.
Many people who practice intermittent fasting are only doing it under the false assumption that it is better than other forms of eating. For the right person, intermittent fasting is a healthy eating strategy when done correctly.
With the surge of popularity, people are attaching their identity and self-worth to their intermittent fasting eating habits. Let me be clear: the way you eat does not define you as a person. Everyone has their own story with food and they’re all just as valid as the next. If intermittent fasting is working for you and it feels sustainable, go for it. If it isn’t working for you, there are lots of different options, one will be just right for you.