Recently, intermittent fasting has become popular as a somewhat less painful but fast route to weight loss.
It is an eating schedule that flip-flops between eating and fasting in an orderly scheme. Intermittent fasting focuses on “when to eat”, while many diets are about “what to eat”.
Basically, it’s eating within its weight loss plan, where you fast for 16 hours and eat within an 8-hour window. Or the 14/10 variation, which involves fasting for 14 hours and eating within a 10-hour window, as well as other variations.
There are also other benefits aside from weight loss. Studies have suggested that intermittent fasting may be more valuable than other diets that reduce inflammation and improve inflammation-related conditions like arthritis, asthma, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer’s.
However, it is not a home run yet. New findings from the University of Toronto published in Eating Behaviors have linked intermittent fasting to eating disorders and other potentially dangerous compulsive behaviours.
Link between intermittent fasting, eating disorders and compulsive behaviours
The data from nearly 3,000 adolescents and young adults initially collected by the Canadian Study of Adolescent Health Behaviors were analyzed by the University of Toronto.
Scientists found a link between IF and all disordered eating behaviours in women.
“That includes binge-eating, as well as compensatory behaviours like vomiting and compulsive exercise,” said Kyle T. Ganson, PhD, MSW, assistant professor at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work Researchers at the University of Toronto, while speaking to Healthline on the new study.
“For men, those who tried the diet routine were also more likely to report compulsive exercise.”
Ganson said the results did not come as a shocker.
“Given that we know that dietary restraint/restriction is a major risk factor for eating disorders, we hypothesized that IF, which is in many ways a more regimented practice of dietary restraint/restriction, would also be,” he said.
The results were similar in young adults and adolescents, who are even more at risk of developing eating disorders.
Social media contributing to eating disorders
Ganson said that IF shouldn’t be considered a “benign dietary trend” as its acceptance is consistently growing.
He said health professionals should “understand contemporary dietary trends, like IF, are commonly discussed among young people, particularly on social media.”
He suggested conducting more thorough evaluations of young people’s dietary habits and that, as needed, appropriate guidance be given to them.
“This study points out that faddish behavioural practices, like intermittent fasting, that develop quickly and become reinforced through social media can produce unanticipated harmful effects,” Sullivan said.
He emphasized the need for prompt action to lessen the risks brought on by this and other trends.
“The only way we can avoid serious adverse outcomes is to be alert for trends such as these and to intervene quickly when we see evolving health risks,” he said.
Is IF a healthy weight loss option?
Dr Jessica Folek, director of bariatric surgery at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills, a division of Northwell Health in New York, says IF helps in “ameliorating gut hormone levels, specifically lowering insulin levels, which decreases our risk for insulin resistance and diabetes, decreased markers for inflammation, and decreased visceral fat.
However, more intensive studies are needed to validate these results satisfactorily, and recent research didn’t show the benefits of using IF.
“A recent randomized controlled trialTrusted Source did not demonstrate superior weight loss in comparison to traditional calorie restriction diets,” she confirmed.
It did, however, show a significant decrease in muscle mass compared to traditional diets.
“Typically, about 20 to 30% of weight lost is lean body mass,” she said.
Despite its popularity and growing acceptance, new findings suggest intermittent fasting may cause eating disorders and other compulsive behaviours, especially in adolescents and young adults.
While some studies also point to its benefits, more research is still needed to prove that intermittent fasting is a healthy and suitable weight loss and management option.
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