Let’s Talk About Intermittent Fasting

IFITWA~1Intermittent Fasting or, as I like to call it, repeated short-term starvation, has become all the rage. And while its evangelists would have you believe that it can help everything from inflammation to swimmer’s ear, there are some very real dangers.

It can cause problems for people who are dealing with blood sugar issues, and people who are pregnant. It can lead to decreased alertness, pancreatic damage, and increased cortisol levels and can cause us to develop unhealthy relationships with food and our bodies.

In an excellent piece from Bustle, Nutritional therapist Emily Fonnesbeck, RD pointed out:

Restricting your eating to only certain times during the day ignores your body’s needs, leaves you undernourished, and could cause the pendulum to swing to the other extreme once you do have permission to eat. This type of dysregulated, haphazard and chaotic eating pattern negatively impacts hormone balance, immunity, digestion, and sleep patterns. While intermittent fasting may appear healthy, it has the very real potential to make you unwell.

I don’t think it even appears healthy, but I understand how a world rife with fatphobia and the associated disordered eating would lead people to advocate for starvation.

As always, I want to be clear that people are allowed to do whatever they want with their own bodies. But it does not follow that I have to let them pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.

Looking through the research that supposedly “supports” intermittent fasting, you’ll find short-term studies, huge drop-out rates, focus on short-term individual numbers rather than overall and/or longterm health outcomes, and a looooot of animal studies.

Reader Jane Lincoln pointed out this study that illustrates many of the issues at once. It compared three groups – fasting, caloric restriction, and a control group. 38% of the people in the fasting group dropped out. Those who were in the fasting group struggled to eat the amounts prescribed.  Compared to a calorie restriction group and a control group there were “no significant differences between the intervention groups in blood pressure, heart rate, triglycerides, fasting glucose, fasting insulin, insulin resistance, C-reactive protein, or homocysteine concentrations at month 6 or 12.” The only significant difference was increased LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in the fasting group.

The study concluded, “Alternate-day fasting did not produce superior adherence, weight loss, weight maintenance, or cardioprotection vs daily calorie restriction.”

And since we know that the long-term result of almost every attempt at weight loss through caloric restriction is total weight regain, with many gaining back more than they lost, I think the actual conclusion is that intermittent fasting is just more risk with no benefit. Y’all, if it walks like a fad diet, talks like a fad diet, and harms people’s relationships with food and their bodies like a fad diet – it’s a fad diet.

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9 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Intermittent Fasting

  1. I have felt this for a long time before this became a fad. When I was deeply entrenched in a form of Christianity where we were urged, or let’s rather say coerced to fast (by manipulation and guilt), I fasted often. And it messed up my gut and metabolism. I’m still bearing the consequences many years later. But it’s amazing how many people tout it as “so healthy” and how wonderful they feel afterwards or even during it. The euphoric feeling it gives is just your adrenaline pumping through your body and that amazing feeling when you break your fast is your body so happy that it’s getting some food.

    1. I was brought up with a monthly fast, for church. The idea was that it brings you closer to God, as you put your physical needs aside for a day.

      However, the church DID say (quietly), that diabetics, pregnant women, and other people with physical issues that would making fasting dangerous for themselves or others, that they should not fast *from food.* They were instead told to choose one or two things to give up during that time. Sort of like a *reeeeaaaalllllyyyyy short* Lent. Although we didn’t practice Lent, so that phrase was never used.

      I wonder, then, if that’s how Jesus managed to fast for 40 days and 40 nights?

      Anyway, I think they really should have put that option out there, loudly, at the fore-front. I think it would have made the point about putting normal, personal needs aside for a day, in order to focus on the Lord, much clearer. And it would have been a whole lot less triggering for people with developed or developing eating disorders.

      The Fast Offering to be paid to the church (the monetary equivalent to what you would have spent on food/drink for that day) could simply be, “please give what you feel is an appropriate offering.” And if you gave up visual entertainment, you could offer the price of a movie ticket, or something.

      Mind you, as a young adult, I was grateful for years of practice, once a month, denying my body’s hunger and thirst that way, because as a young adult, I had a few times when I was unable to eat for a day or two, and I was able to bear it with equanimity, and not freak out over how hungry or thirsty I was. I already knew how to deal with it. But I also knew how annoying it was, so people in the same boat got all my sympathy, because it does take years to really become comfortable with it. And that’s once a month, for one day.

      NO WAY could I deal with fasting every other day! Even with full hydration.

      If I had to do it over again, I think I would probably do it with food fasting, and even hydration fasting (for ONE day per month), but with the full intention of preparing my body and my psyche for possible future emergencies, where food and/or water would not be available for short periods of time. I actually did find great value in the training/preparation for that, when the situations did, in fact, arise. I learned to maintain self control when I was hangry, and learned to do mind-over-matter, and not let it turn me into a mean person, but turn to prayer/meditation to maintain my normal, friendly, caring personality.

      So, yeah, I’d still do the food fasting while I could (I can’t, anymore, due to health issues that have developed), especially during the teen years, when learning self control while your body is screaming is a really valuable lesson to learn.

      The difference is that if I were doing it again, knowing what I know now, I would NEVER, and I mean ABSOLUTELY NEVER, compare it to dieting, or even mention the possibility of losing an ounce of weight. NO FASTING, AND PRAYING FOR WEIGHT LOSS! Also, I would ONLY fast if I had a real, true intent, because without real and true intent, it’s worthless. It’s just starvation. Now, would I try my best to find a real, true intent each month? Yes, I would. But if I couldn’t think of something specific to fast for that month, I’d say, “Nah, gonna skip it this time. I’ll fast from fasting, until I have a real reason to fast.” And instead of sneaking food and “cheating,” I would just announce it to my family, “I do not have any intent to fast this day, therefore, I will not be skipping food and drink.” I think limiting it to times when I CHOOSE to fast, WITH INTENT would make those fasts actually effective. Most of the time, growing up, the only real effect I got was practice doing without. A valuable lesson and preparation for future hard times, but NOT effective for whatever I was ostensibly fasting for, at the time. Fasting just to fast is pointless.

      Fasting for weight loss is worse than pointless. It is outright dangerous and long-term damaging.

      I wish that they had taught that! That they had taught, from the pulpit, “We encourage you to fast once per month, to train your spirit, and grow closer to God. But do NOT fast without true intent. Without intent, it is meaningless, and will only do harm. So, fast if you will, but do it RIGHT, or not at all. Parents, do not force your offspring to fast. Encourage them, but remember that it MUST be a personal choice, to fast for a specific thing, with intent, and if they have no reason to fast, they should not do it. Please allow them, as individual children of God, to choose for themselves. And also remember that if you have a medical or psychological reason that giving up food or drink would be harmful, then choose something else to give up *with intent* for one day, to dedicate that day to the Lord. Finally, if you see someone else not fasting on this day, remember that they may be fasting in a different way, giving up something they love, with the intent of re-focusing their time to the Lord, and you just don’t know it, so please, no judging other people if you see them eating on Fast Sunday.”

      I really wish that was how they taught it from the pulpit.

      1. Thanks for your input. I’d say, even if it was done like that, I would’ve been swept away with it as I have a weakness in this area. (In fact, weight loss was never my intention at the time. I had no body issues. The issues actually started when I became anorexic.) I always felt I had to give up something for “God.” Having to give up something dear to me for a deity no longer works in my life. I now choose to follow a spiritual path where I am in charge, where I have total autonomy and no subservience. But I get what you’re saying. It’s just not for me.

        1. Fair enough. I like that we can respectfully disagree and allow each other to have personal opinions.

          Also, slightly off-topic, but not really, since we do have a respectful back and forth, here, and not trolls, Thanks, Ragen, for moderating this comments section, and keeping it safe!

          I used to be part of another forum, that I thought was safe, but it turned out that it was not safe, at all. So, even if I goof up and get a comment moderated out, I’m still grateful for the safe space and moderation!

          GO, SAFETY!

  2. “But it does not follow that I have to let them pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.”

    This sums up the War on Obesity in entirely. “You have to be thin because it’s unhealthy to be fat!”

    No, it’s unhealthy to be starved, overworked, socially marginalized, treated with cruelty and neglect, get unnecessary organ amputations, be given experimental drugs that cause heart damage, or be denied treatment for a preventable illness unless you agree to one or more of the previous things, and we live in a society where those are considered the standard appropriate things to do to fat people. You’re excoriating us for being “unhealthy” (by a pretty narrow, tailored definition btw) while your actions, which you enforce militantly, are what’s causing the health issues you’re complaining about. That is the epitome of pissing on our heads and telling us it’s raining.

  3. But but but Jennifer Aniston is doing it and she is like my life guru.

    Just never ends. Not eating, for long periods of time. Good idea. The closer they get to prisoner status the healthier they feel. Don’t treat your body like a temple, treat your body like your are a sociopathic prison guard, and your body is a recalcitrant prisoner in a developing countries super max facility. You will have the body of your dreams!

    Too long to go on the side of a can of metrical-fast.

  4. This crap drives me nuts. Keto drives me nuts.
    I’m diabetic. I also still fight with my eating disorder. My messed-up relationship with food loves to praise me when I start restricting food.
    I tend to have paradoxical high blood sugars when I restrict food.
    This is not good.
    Also, whenever people say that getting into a state of ketosis is wonderful.
    This is literally something that diabetics try to avoid.
    Also, this crap has been around in other forms for years. I can remember trying something similar to the current keto diet some 30 years ago. There is nothing new under the sun.

  5. Thank you for this post. I’ve been occasionally told that fasting has some sort of magical properties. I’m glad to know you couldn’t find anything.

    1. I don’t know about the act of not eating or drinking for a set period of time having any magical physical properties, for the body or mind. I don’t think it really does.

      However, I do believe that the occasional choice to restrict one or two things from your normal routine, for a short time, and replace that with mentally focusing on something else, be it a deity, meditation, or just working toward a particular goal, is beneficial. Doing something like that on a reasonably regular basis, such as several times a year, for one or two days at a time, can be emotionally beneficial as you build up your self-control muscles.

      For example, if you want to change something about yourself, such as “I make too many negative statements,” you can “fast” from making negative statements for a day or two, with an actual end-time to the fast, after which you will be free to make all the negative statements you like. Or, you can say, “No more negative statements! Ever! Never ever ever! Oh, NO! I’m doing it right now! AAAAH! I’m a complete failure! AAAAAH!”

      Changing habits is hard enough when you’re adding something. When you’re trying to drop a bad habit, it’s easier to do it in small doses, with an end to the restrictive time, and then you can look back, do a post-mortem, and say, “Huh. That was hard. But I did it! How did I do it? What was the hardest time? Why was it so hard? At what point was it easier? What made it easier? What coping mechanisms helped? What coping mechanisms didn’t do a thing?” And finally, “Do I want to try this again? When?” Building up the self-control muscles in this way makes it easier to eventually drop that particular bad habit.

      BUT FOOD IS NOT A HABIT, BAD, OR OTHERWISE!!! Just want to make that clear. If you’re fasting from food, just because it’s food, that won’t help you, at all. There’s no miracle, magical, mystical property to simply not eating for a day.

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