Your best friend won’t stop talking about it, your favorite Fitfluencer swears by it, and even Jennifer Aniston makes a living from it. “It” is Intermittent Fasting (IF) – the newest diet to make your rounds in the spotlight. And with supposed benefits like impressive weight loss, increased energy, improved metabolism, better bowel health, and reduced inflammation, it doesn’t seem to be leaving the wellness spotlight anytime soon. (Even a moment? The slow carb diet.)
Before trying IF for yourself, it is important that you know more than just how the intermittent eating plan can affect your body, but also your mind. Here experts discuss the possible psychological effects of IF.
What is Intermittent Fasting Again?
“Intermittent fasting cycles between periods of full fast, modified fast (often very low in calories), and” feasting “(days with no food restrictions),” says Yasi Ansari, MS, RD, CSSD, a registered nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics . “Intermittent fasting is also defined as periods of calorie restriction between periods of normal caloric intake.”
Unlike keto, for example, and other popular diets, IF is best described as an eating pattern or plan that dictates when you eat, not what you eat. Intermittent fasting also comes in several forms, which you can change depending on your schedule and needs. Here is a breakdown of the most common types of intermittent fasting:
Alternative fasting during the day: Alternate between days of eating and days of fasting when you don’t consume any food or drink other than non-calorie drinks like water, coffee and tea without milk.
Daily fasting for a limited time: Restriction of admission to waking hours, usually without restrictions. Fasting for 8-12 hours a day, most of it during the time you are sleeping.
- 16: 8 method: One of the most popular intermittent fasting diets is to eat whatever you want for eight hours and then fast for 16 hours.
Modified weekly fasting: There are many different combinations of ways you can choose to fast such as:
- 5: 2 method: This method involves eating normally five days a week and fasting the other two days. During this time, reduce your caloric intake to 500 to 600 calories per day.
- 6: 1 method: Similar to the 5: 2 approach, but you only reduce your calories or fast for one day a week.
- 24 hours fast: This protocol requires fasting twice a week (excluding calorie-free drinks) for two non-consecutive 24-hour windows.
Whichever method you choose, IF can and will affect more than just your shopping list. (Chances are, all those hours of no food will result in fewer goodies on your next grocery run.) While you might expect some physical effects from intermittent fasting, know that IF can affect your mind as well.
What are the psychological effects of intermittent fasting?
It can mess up your moods.
If you’ve ever been hungry (and who hasn’t?), You know that having a sufficiently empty stomach can lead to irritability and anger. Thanks to intermittent fasting, if you are able to spend enough hours without food, it is very likely that your mood will change noticeably.
Are you feeling grumpy? This is because the blood sugar level has fallen and “an increase in cortisol (the stress hormone)” [which happens] when people get excessively hungry, ”says Susan Albers-Bowling, Psy. D, a psychologist at Cleveland Clinic and author of Eating Mindfully and Hanger Management.
The drops – and eventual spikes in “feasting” – in blood sugar can be particularly bad for diabetics, as they can cause a lack of blood sugar control and affect the need for diabetes medication and insulin, Ansari says.
Struggle? That also checks. “There’s also a hormone called neuropeptide Y that signals people to get more aggressive when they get really hungry (back to cavemen, when you just had to eat when you were fighting or having dinner),” explains Albers-Bowling.
It could make you more anxious.
TL; DR: The more cortisol flowing through your body, the more likely it is that you will feel stressed out. “There is some evidence [that] Restricting eating habits can increase the stress hormone cortisol, which can lead to changes in food preferences, cravings and mood, ”says Ansari.
For your information, high levels of cortisol have also been linked to increased fat storage. So if you’re trying to lose weight, IF can potentially work against you.
It can make you tired …
While a small pilot study found that intermittent fasting might improve your nightly zzz, other studies show that it is more likely to cause sleep problems. According to a study published in the journal Nature and Science of Sleep, fasting may decrease the amount of REM sleep (the super deep restorative closed eye) due to increases in cortisol and insulin during fasting. (Good news: you can actually eat to sleep better.)
Depending on which intermittent fasting method you choose, you may stop eating hours before bed. This can be positive as eating just before bed is not good for your health and can potentially lead to weight gain, acid reflux and excessive gas, and trouble sleeping. But an empty, growling stomach can make it difficult to close an eye, says Michal Hertz, RD, a nutritionist in New York City.
And let’s face it, your overall mental health depends on getting enough sleep: “Changes in sleep patterns, quality and duration can lead to fatigue and discomfort [your] Mood the next day, ”says Ansari.
“If you cannot eat during certain periods of time, it can have an impact on social situations with friends and family that involve food,” says Ansari. And skipping a friend’s time can lead to feelings of loneliness and social isolation, which can lead to depression, according to the American Psychological Association.
Skipping social obligations due to diet restrictions is also a characteristic symptom of anorexia, and those with anorexia report having fewer friends, social activities, and less social support, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.
For some, it could increase the risk of an eating disorder.
Both Albers-Bowing and Hertz agree that the strict rules of intermittent fasting, when to eat and when not to eat, can trigger for someone with a history of eating disorder or at risk.
“Anorexia is basically about creating restrictions and strict rules on eating, ignoring hunger and abundance, and worrying about foods, all of which have the potential to be perpetuated and exacerbated by IF.” (Similarly, have you heard of orthorexia? It’s the eating disorder masquerading as healthy eating.)
The diet can also cause “fear of loss of control (with food)” and “overeating on unrestricted days,” says Ansari. Both are symptoms of an eating disorder. In fact, one study found that women who reduced their caloric intake by 70 percent for four days and then ate “normally” for three days for a total of four weeks had more thoughts about food, were more afraid of losing control, and were more likely to eat too much Eat when hungry.
IF could also cover up a pre-existing eating disorder, says Albers-Bowling. “People don’t express concern when they say, ‘Oh, I’m not eating because I’m on this new fasting diet …” she says.
If you find that you are not getting distracted by eating or are eating more than you would if you hadn’t fasted, chances are that IF is not for you. And if you’ve had eating disorders or a poor relationship with food in the past, professionals recommend avoiding intermittent fasting altogether.
Bottom line: IF could be detrimental to people’s relationship with food, but especially risky for those who have had eating disorders in the past, says Hertz. “This is because they are at a higher risk of using the rules and restrictions as a means of enabling and exacerbating their eating disorder.”
It can affect your cognitive skills.
“When you fast, you also change the neurotransmitters that are accessible in the brain,” says Albers-Bowling. “So if you cut back on foods that increase your serotonin levels, your brain may have less of that feel-good chemical,” which can make you more impulsive. Think about it when making food choices.
Obviously, the evidence is conflicting – as is the case with much of the current research on intermittent fasting and the points in this article. Have a headache? Equal. Unfortunately, there is just a lot that we don’t fully understand about IF at this time.
Your perception of hunger may change.
Intermittent fasting is at the root of gaining mental control over hunger while ignoring your body’s cues that you are hungry (which, incidentally, is caused by a hormone called ghrelin).
Recent research suggests that IF, by lowering the hunger hormone ghrelin, may also lower appetite and, in turn, aid in weight loss. According to animal studies, these IF-induced changes in ghrelin can also increase dopamine (pleasure hormone) levels in the brain.
But “Hunger is like when your neighbor knocks loudly on your front door,” says Albers-Bowling. “If you try to ignore the clues, it’s like putting your hands over your ears and saying, ‘I don’t hear you, maybe they’ll go away if I wait. ‘The hunger is knocking even louder and hoping you will answer. Eventually, if you don’t answer, the hunger signs will stop knocking. This damages your relationship with hunger forever. “
So should you give IF a try?
Intermittent fasting isn’t for everyone – period, says Ansari. “Intermittent fasting can put certain people at health risk, including people with diabetes, pregnant or breastfeeding women (as inadequate nutrition can put a growing or breastfeeding baby at risk), and people with a history of eating disorders. ”
However, as with any nutrition plan, it is a personal choice. If you choose to fast intermittently, Ansari recommends that you consult with a registered dietitian to ensure that you are “meeting your optimal nutritional needs” and that you continue to include a variety of foods in your diet on fasting days.
Also super important? Take care of your body, including your growling stomach, says Albers-Bowling, and of course your mind.
(Also Read: Does Intermittent Fasting Help You Lose Weight?)
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