The Potential Downside to Intermittent Fasting


Intermittent fasting isn’t for everyone. As mentioned in my previous blogs on this topic, those with adrenal fatigue and poor insulin control cannot jump into intermittent fasting overnight. It takes a skilled plan to move you from feeding frequency to control blood sugar — the often quoted three meals and two snacks a day to insulin sensitivity and then reducing the number of meals you have to three per day with no snacks and no crashes between meals. This must be done before embarking on intermittent fasting or you most likely will not get the benefits you desire from intermittent fasting.

But there is a darker side to intermittent fasting — It can lead to orthorexia, a disordered eating pattern where one becomes obsessed with eating what one deems “healthy food.” This just like any other eating disorder can become destructive. If a dietary regimen has strict guidelines, it can feed into the control mechanism that is often at play in disordered eating.

On the other side, hunger induced by the fasting can lead to binging above and beyond what would be considered a healthy refeeding cycle. That hunger physically may result in a feeling of fullness but the brain and emotional centers may not get the right message to stop feeding at the full signal. Or even worse, we might rationalize the over eating due to the fasting that preceded it.

Danger Signs to Watch For While Intermittent Fasting:

• Becoming obsessive, down to the minute, with the fasting and feeding time window.
• Feeling overly full from the large meals causing the desire to restrict intake.
• Rationalizing larger meals than what is prescribed after a fast.
• Dodging family friends and events to control your exposure to foods during fasting periods.
• Consuming large amounts of caffeine to kill your appetite between feeding.

There can be a “dark side” to intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is fine for some, but not for all. The studies show also that men tend to handle it better than women from a body chemistry and hormones standpoint.

According to Stafani Ruper’s, Paleo for Women, a review of the evidence on intermittent fasting, Ruper found that sex differences on studies with rats suggest a heightened sensitivity to starvation in females as opposed to males, in particular in terms of the adrenal stress response, which is harmful to reproductive systems and sleep cycles. One of these studies (Martin et al. 2007) suggests that this kind of physiological response in women may be a clue to the higher prevalence of anorexia in women than men.

Common symptoms of starvation including of elevated hunger and heightened cognitive and motor activity, along with the accompanying reproductive shutdown, may increase female survival in periods of famine (see also Hoyenga and Hoyenga 1982), but may also represent an evolutionary basis for women’s greater vulnerability to anorexia thanks to its distinctive cognitive-physiological accompaniments. This means fasting may be more likely to act as a dangerous trigger for eating disorders in women than in men.