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February 08, 2023

Overeating after intermittent fasting could lead to a binge eating disorder

Experts offer tips like staying hydrated and meal prepping while on the fad diet to avoid binges

Mental Health intermittent fasting
Binge eating and intermittent fasting Karen McCutcheon/Pexels

A new study from Texas A&M University adds to evidence that intermittent fasting could increase the risk of binge-eating and other eating disorders.

Intermittent fasting remains a controversial topic. It is touted for its short-term weight loss benefits and for its ability to improve insulin sensitivity and heart health; studies have also suggested, however, that it can increase the risk of hypoglycemia and muscle wasting caused by a lack of protein.

Some researchers have also found a link between the diet and eating disorders, in particular binge eating disorder.

Intermittent fasting focuses on when people eat, rather than how much they eat. The diet includes periods of fasting or restricted calories. During the non-restricted periods, people can eat as much as they like.

Two of the most common ways people practice intermittent fasting are by fasting or limiting themselves to 500 calories on two non-consecutive days of the week, or by following the 16/8 method, in which they restrict their daily calories to an 8-hour window and fast during the other 16 hours.

A new study from Texas A&M University adds to evidence that intermittent fasting could increase the risk of binge-eating and other eating disorders. Jordan Schueler, a PhD candidate in the department of psychological and brain sciences at Texas A&M, said his team wanted to see if ignoring hunger cues for extended periods of time could lead to binge eating, or episodes of eating a significant amount of food in a short period of time while feeling a loss of control.

The findings, published in the journal Appetite, included data on almost 300 undergraduate college students. Almost 24% of the study participants were currently engaged in intermittent fasting, 16% had done it previously and 61% had never tried it.

All participants were asked to complete questionnaires about their intermittent fasting status, impulsivity, intuitive eating, disordered eating behaviors and mindful eating.

Schueler told FOX News that they were surprised to find that the students who had previously engaged in intermittent fasting were the most likely to binge, not current practitioners.

"One explanation is that those who are actively engaging in IF may still be ‘successfully’ engaging in rigidity and self-control around their eating behaviors," Schueler said.

"However, it is common to experience a rebound effect following severe caloric restriction, during which binge-eating occurs. Our finding suggests that although IF does not appear to be a risk factor for binge-eating while one is actively engaged in the diet, it may have lasting effects on one's relationship with food."

The researchers also found that intermittent fasters were less likely to listen to their body's hunger and fullness cues and instead relied on external rules.

Other experts have found that suppressing natural hunger cues, as intermittent fasting necessitates, can lead to disordered eating, especially for people who also suffer from a poor body image or who tend to use food as a coping mechanism. In a Canadian study, intermittent fasting was linked to all eating disorder behaviors, including binge eating, vomiting, laxative use and compulsive exercise, among women. Among men, it was associated with compulsive exercising. A 2010 study found that fasting increases the risk of binge eating and bulimia.

Signs of disordered eating

Registered dietitians say that if you do practice intermittent fasting, you should be vigilant about any red flags that point to disordered eating.

Some warning signs include being overly strict about the timing of meals, feeling ashamed or guilty if you can't keep to the time restrictions and avoiding important social events because they take place outside your designated window for eating. If you are overly focused on eating throughout the day or feel sick, weak or dizzy due to hunger, then you may also be at risk of disordered eating.

People engaged in intermittent fasting are advised to listen to their bodies. If you start to feel weak or dizzy during one of you fasting periods, then you should eat something.

Overeating frequently during your allotted eating window to the point where you feel uncomfortably full can also be a sign of disordered eating. So is using intermittent fasting as an excuse to skip meals and severely restricting calories beyond recommended levels to accelerate weight loss.

Tips for avoiding overeating

To reduce your risk of frequently overeating and developing a binge-eating disorder while fasting, experts say to follow these tips:

Avoid distracted eating. Don't eat in front of the TV or other screens.

• Don't eat too quickly. Slowly chew your food so you can enjoy each bite more.

Don't eat straight from the box or packaging. Take time to prepare nutritional, homemade meals filled with vegetables and fiber-rich foods.

• Do consume a nutrient-rich diet during your selected eating windows. If you don't eat enough, you will have more intense cravings and more nutritional deficiencies.

• Stay busy. Boredom and loneliness can contribute to overeating.

• Remain flexible. Depending on your energy exertion on a particular day, you may feel very hungry hours before your eating window. On these days, it is okay to adjust your eating period.

Stay hydrated at all times and drink a large glass of water right before your first meal after fasting.

Prep the first meal after fasting so you can avoid turning to junk food to immediately satisfy your hunger.

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