Wow! This is such a wonderful and nuanced conversation about potential downsides to taking on intermittent fasting, especially for women and other folks who are estrogen-dominant.
There are some really important caveats at the start of the episode–if this is something folks are doing under the advisement of their doctor or as a part of a religious practice, that is not who Jen and Annie are raising concerns for.
Jen lists off 3 major concerns about intermittent fasting (IF):
Concern one. It can be problematic for hormonal health, especially for women and other estrogen-dominant folks. Jen doesn’t state it this way, she just says “women,” and I’d love to hear her adopt more inclusive language on that, but regardless, her point is still valid–most of the research on the benefits of intermittent fasting done on humans has been done on folks who are testosterone dominant. Folks with ovaries and a uterus have very different hormone profiles, and that impacts our abilities to be comfortable while fasting. We have a lower threshold for living in an energy deficit without negative consequences on our physiologies, and long periods of fasting can disrupt our hormone regulation.
Concern two. It might be used to justify or hide a binge-eating disorder or binge-eating episodes. I feel like I’ve witnessed this with someone close to me who has used IF as a weight loss strategy–we eat a meal together and then within the hour, that person can be eating an entire second meal. This person also, tellingly, talks about being “addicted” to certain foods, suggesting they feel out of control around those food triggers. Food restriction can lead to binge eating, and so it makes sense that these strict rules about when it’s ok and not ok to eat would also increase or support that pattern.
Concern three. Intermittent fasting can become a diet identity. This is probably my favorite part of the episode, as I’ve witnessed this group-think in so many people. “I’m paleo,” (or vegan, or gluten free, or whatever.) followed by a long list of pseudoscientific beliefs that go along with that eating pattern. Jen is far more diplomatic about this group-think than I am inclined to be–it’s culty and deeply dangerous tribalism, and I wish I understood why food was so prone to having this connection with identity.
The conversation ends with Jen stating one of the B365 mantras, “take the cherry and spit out the seed”–which emphasizes learning from our experiences. She learned from her time with IF, for example, that time boundaries can be helpful, and she was able to apply this to using hunger and satiety cues to identify those boundaries for herself. I love that Annie emphasizes the importance of enjoyment when it comes to finding healthy eating behaviors that work for us. This portion of the conversation is the piece I struggle to explain to anti-diet friends who believe that there is no sustainable route to fat loss, who believe that the only path that isn’t disordered involves letting go of physique goals. Jen says it better than I can, “The rules for me, the guidelines I follow aren’t about following a diet, it’s about following my body.”
Did you listen to this episode of Balance 365 Life Radio? What are your thoughts on finding healthy patterns of eating that avoid these concerns? I’d love to hear about it. Here is our comment policy.