This morning, I opened an email from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics with this article:
Intermittent fasting diet takes off pounds, makes people healthier
Now listen, I love dietetics. I love that there is a field that is all about helping others live happier, more fulfilling, and healthier lives. But THIS makes my blood boil.
(Disclaimer: If you’re currently suffering from an eating disorder or might find this information triggering, I highly encourage you to not click on the link. There is a lot of food fear that could easily be triggering.)
Let’s look into intermittent fasting a little further.
Intermittent fasting is essentially alternating periods of eating and fasting. Depending on who you talk to, every version is a little different. Typically, you may be required to go without food for nearly an entire day. In the version mentioned in the article, participants were required to consume only 750-1,100 calories per day from food bars, soup packets, and tea.
The article claims that of the 100 participants, 70 stuck with the diet. On average, dieters lost around 5 pounds in 3 months, experienced less inflammation, lowered blood pressure, and experienced “no serious adverse side effects”. They ate only the diet products provided for these 5 days.
This article made the assumption that intermittent fasting is a quick, easy way to lose weight. In a diet culture that is always looking for the next “cure” to our “obesity epidemic” (pssst. is that actually a thing?), fear-mongering articles like this convince us that starving ourself – but calling it a nice name like Intermittent Fasting! – will solve all of our health problems.
It is completely true that chronic disease is something we can’t just ignore. Most people know someone that has diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or other serious conditions. But as dietitians, health professionals, and people who EAT (aka everyone), we cannot assume that starving ourselves will take care of all of this.
Sure, this research study may have found improved health outcomes with intermittent fasting – like lowered blood pressure, lowered inflammation, diabetes control, etc. But nothing was said about the long-term outcomes of this research. Did they gain the weight back like 90% of dieters? Were their chronic diseases cured? What did the participants say about the diet? And what about the costs?
These people no longer have the freedom and trust to make food choices from a place of self-care. It’s a restricted lifestyle. Restricting to that level can easily lead to an obsession with food. Have you heard of the Minnesota Starvation Experiment? These men followed a semi-starvation diet for 6 months –> which led to an obsession with food, depression and apathy, and later extreme overeating once the diet was over. What does that sound like to you?
Also did you know that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses? Are we really going to promote intermittently starving yourself when this is even a risk? The DSM-V criteria for anorexia are as followed:
1. Restriction of energy intake relative to requirements leading to a significantly low body weight in the context of age, sex, developmental trajectory, and physical health.
2. Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though underweight.
3. Disturbance in the way in which one’s body weight or shape is experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight.
What does this sound like?
Instead of jumping on the Intermittent Fasting bandwagon, how about taking a sensible, weight-neutral approach toward health – one that focuses on making healthier choices that support your lifestyle, promotes balance and self-care, and trusting that your body can tell you what it needs to support optimal health?
What do you think about Intermittent Fasting? Have you known anyone that has tried it? Let me know your thoughts!