Fasting Too Far
Over the years there have been more trendy diets than you can shake a stick at. From the Atkins Diet to the Cabbage Soup Diet, each eating regime claims to be the best thing to lose weight and to get healthy. Yet, recently, there has been a trend towards very extreme diets. Some of the most extreme involve fasting for extended periods of time.
Known as Intermittent Fasting, these diets could be problematic at best and dangerous at worst because of the unhealthy attitude they allow followers to form surrounding food and eating. However, there are many celebrities and big-names in the public eye who are extolling the virtues of this way of eating and are defining it as a way of “biohacking” your body to achieve greater success.
Gary Vaynerchuk and Jack Dorsey are just two big names who actively promote a lifestyle of calorie restriction, claiming that it helps them to achieve a superhuman level of focus. It can be very easy to get caught up in the hype. After all, if such successful businesspeople can reach their peak by adopting this type of eating pattern, surely the rest of us could also reap the benefits? Yet, experts are concerned that for some followers of the trend, fasting could very easily cross over from being helpful to being harmful. So, is fasting really beneficial for your overall health and wellness? Or is it just a step too far towards developing an eating disorder?
What Does Fasting Really Look Like?
There is nothing new about fasting. In fact, for millennia people have been fasting for religious purposes. As long ago as the Roman era, Aristotle and Plato were saying that fasting helped to clear the spirit, mind and body, and all major religions from Hinduism to Islam and from Christianity to Buddhism have rules regarding abstention from all food or certain food groups at certain times. However, food restriction to “biohack” your body and achieve a new level of success is something very new and has only hit the mainstream within the last ten years or so.
There is no single form of fasting diet. All IF (intermittent fasting) regimes involve stopping food consumption and then resuming it within a certain time window. One of the most popular methods is Leangains or 16:8 – an eating pattern that requires the follower to fast for a period of 16 hours then eating two or three meals in their 8-hour eating window before fasting for another 16-hour stretch. For example, the individual would stop food consumption at 8pm and refrain from eating again until 12 noon the next day. There are many other forms of Intermittent Fasting, though, that involve a much more restrictive schedule. One such regime is the 5:2 diet which involves eating pretty much anything you like for 5 days of the week as long as you only eat 500 calories a day on the other two consecutive days. While this may not sound too bad, bear in mind that 500 calories is half of the amount of daily calories recommended by doctors for a child of 2 years). There’s also the eat, stop, eat method. This requires followers to fast for a full 24 hours before eating again. And let’s not forget full-blown fasting which sees followers of the regime going for days, weeks or even as long as a month without consuming any food at all.
It’s clear to see, when you look objectively at the principles of most of these fasting regimes, that they can’t be healthy for your body. Some experts say that, of all the types of intermittent fasting regime out there, Leangains is probably the safest to follow. Yet, even that way of eating can lead to problems for those who are potentially vulnerable to developing disordered eating behaviors. And as for the more restrictive regimes that involve long-term fasting for a full day at a time, these are a real red flag for dieticians and doctors who believe that this kind of lifestyle can lead to harmful feelings about food and eating and can trigger a full-blown eating disorder to kick in.
Why Do People Fast?
A quick browse of the internet will reveal countless vloggers and bloggers as well as mainstream celebrities who tout the belief that fasting gives them better skin, relief from digestive problems, clearer thinking and a more stable blood sugar level, as well as improved sleep. And all of that is before we mention fasting’s supposed ability to help us maintain a healthy bodyweight, allegedly without any great effort.
Some followers of intermittent fasting do report that they experience benefits, but many more report that they experience some major problems too. Feeling faint, dizzy and light-headed is a common side-effect, while mood swings are another. In some very extreme cases, some extreme fasters have even suffered a cardiac arrest due to a lack of salts and electrolytes that cause imbalances in the body and atrophy of the heart.
Can Fasting Lead To Eating Disorders?
The big question that many people are starting to ask is whether fasting could lead to eating disorders. Is it a gateway pattern of disordered eating that could lead to anorexia, binge eating or bulimia?
The main problem with fasting is that it simply isn’t sustainable in the long-term. Nobody can live the rest of their life fasting for whole days at a time or virtually starving for two days a week. It just isn’t practical or desirable. This leads to a raft of emotions and feelings that can certainly trigger an eating disorder. Feeling guilty about eating on a fasting day, or about having a snack outside the designated eating window is a symptom of the kind of thinking and behavior that is associated with all of the main eating disorders. Someone who is susceptible to developing an eating disorder can very easily be triggered by a fasting regime, and even someone who has never before shown a tendency towards an eating disorder may find that they begin to experience some of the signs of developing one. Those who have genetic predispositions to eating disorders or those who have a challenging home life should certainly avoid any kind of fasting regime.
An Increase In Eating Disorders
Around 8,000,000 million people in the USA have had a diagnosis of an eating disorder. Yet those numbers are probably a lot higher. We need to remember that many people suffering from binge-eating disorders, bulimia and anorexia fail to seek help for their problem. Even more worryingly, even the official figures are rising year-on-year, meaning that the true figure is likely to be significantly greater that those seen on paper.
YouTube and Instagram are hotbeds of inspiration where would-be biohackers can find plenty of encouragement to try a fasting regime. With those in high powered positions now actively extolling the benefits of this way of eating, not only as a way of maintaining the desirably slim physique, but also as a way to become more successful in the workplace and in life, it’s easy to see how pervasive this trend can be. There are whole communities on business-focused sites like Slack that are dedicated to fasting and which have thousands of users.
When CEOs advocate fasting as a way to be more productive and to get ahead in the business sphere, it’s only a matter of time before this attitude filters down through the ranks until employees at every level begin to believe that they should be adopting this lifestyle in order to fit in at work and to give their career a boost.
The Normalization Of Disordered Eating
Intermittent fasting is becoming increasingly mainstream and this is key to why it is so linked to the development of eating disorders. As more celebrities, CEOs and influencers come out into the open about their fasting lifestyles, this way of eating becomes normalized. When fasting becomes normalized, disordered eating patterns become normalized. Those who are at risk of eating disorders and those who have them already then run the risk of failing to recognize that they have a dangerous problem. After all, if celebrities and entrepreneurs can eat this way and still be beautiful, famous and successful, why can’t they?
Normalizing disordered eating behaviors also makes it easier for those with full-blown eating disorders to hide their problem from others. If intermittent fasting is an acceptable diet to follow, it becomes very easy for those with eating disorders to use it as a mask to disguise their condition. It’s all-too-easy for someone with anorexia to refuse food saying that they aren’t in their designated eating window, or that it’s a fasting day. As a result, it will take longer for friends and family members to notice that they have a problem and it will take exponentially longer to get them the professional help that they need to get better.
When Does Fasting Become An Eating Disorder?
Fasting can all-too-easily become an eating disorder, but where are the lines drawn?
Experts say that a fasting regime is classified as an eating disorder if the individual’s activities, behaviors and thoughts are primarily focused on food, their body, exercise and weight and if this interferes severely with their socialization, their health, their spontaneity and their quality of life. Fasting may also be classified as an eating disorder if the individual also struggles with distress about their own body image, and if they feel anxiety, stress or depression when unable to follow their fast regime as planned. Individuals who are using fasting as a form of coping strategy to ease stress, depression or anxiety are also said to have an eating disorder.
Can Any Kind Of Fasting Regime Be Safe?
At present, there is limited research available to show how fasting regimes can affect the body and mind, and even fewer about how it can impact on health and well-being in the long-term. Therefore, doctors and experts have varying opinions.
Some believe that if fasting is carried out under medical supervision it can offer certain benefits including weight loss, improved vitality and disease prevention. However, even those experts say that intermittent fasting is a label that can mask eating disorders and this is why professional supervision of a dietician or doctor is so important. Experts also agree that anybody who is in recovery from a previous eating disorder or who has a genetic predisposition to one should never try any form of fasting diet. While the population in general may not develop an eating disorder simply by following a fasting regime for a few months, experts still advise that the extreme fasting methods like those that involve fasting for several consecutive days are avoided as nutrient deficiencies can occur.
How Do You Know If Your Fasting Has Gone Too Far?
There are several signs that a fasting diet has got out of hand. There are a number of symptoms to look out for including:
- Behavioral changes – becoming more isolated, more perfectionistic and obsessive
- Losing weight rapidly
- Mood swings
- Lack of focus and energy
- Changes in nails, hair, nail, digestion or skin
If you have been fasting and notice any or all of these symptoms in yourself, you should return to a normal eating pattern immediately. If you find that you feel guilty about doing this or even find that you’re unable to return to a normal way of eating, you should immediately seek out professional support.
Although fasting regimes may be a popular trend at the moment, that doesn’t mean that they’re a good choice of lifestyle. While some people may be able to adhere to an intermittent fasting diet for a short period of time, many people should steer well clear of this way of eating. Whether or not celebrities and high-powered executives believe that fasting is the instrument of their success, experts say that it should always be approached with caution and should only be done under the supervision of a medical professional. It would be wise to listen to their recommendations. Contact The Meadowglade today in order to learn how we can help!