Intermittent fasting has enjoyed a recent surge in popularity. Also known by it’s initials, IF is a type of diet characterized by periods of eating interspersed with periods of fasting. The exact method varies. Some of these diets require you to go for several hours without food, while others limit caloric intake during certain times. No matter which variation is used, they all share a few characteristics that can trigger disordered eating.
While it is possible to lose weight in a healthy manner with intermittent fasting, you may not be the type to thrive on this style of eating. It’s important to recognize when intermittent fasting is straying into disordered eating. Look for the following warning signs:
- You feel anxiety about food. Eating is half of what drives IF, it shouldn’t stress you out.
- You’re experiencing extreme fatigue. While somewhat lowered energy is expected, you shouldn’t feel like you’re going to fall flat on your face in the middle of your day.
- Your hormones are off. Mood swings, changes in your menstrual cycle, and difficulty sleeping can all be symptoms of hormonal imbalance, which can be a side effect of eating disorders.
Worried that these warning signs could be indicative of an eating disorder?
Here are some of the characteristics of intermittent fasting that can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food.
The primary issue for most people is that this method cannot be maintained. There aren’t many people who are willing to skip periods of eating or stray from their normal meal times. It can also create tension in social situations, such as meetings or events scheduled during periods of fasting. This can snowball, moving you from a safe approach, to an unhealthy relationship with food.
This type of diet can become disordered behavior because the focus is on not 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.
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, this freedom is a set up for failure. When you go from starving yourself to binging on high-calorie meals, you’re 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. Take our self-assessment to see if you might be at risk.