Intermittent fasting (IF) is regaining popularity in the new year after some recent studies have suggested that it is as effective for weight loss as eating less. As a former intermittent faster, I agree that IF helped me lose weight, reduce body fat, eat healthier, and wake up feeling more energized.
Even though IF has amazing benefits, I’ve come to notice that some researchers and nutritional educators tend to avoid discussing the consequences of intermittent fasting. And, why IF is an advanced dieting protocol that might not be best for those who are right at the beginning of their healthy eating journey.
That’s why I’m here to share the five pros and cons you should know before you considered intermittent fasting.
Pro #1: Eat Fewer Excess Calories
One of the biggest benefits of IF is that it can help you eat fewer excess calories. What I mean by this is that when you are IF you are eating within a specific “eating window” and fasting within a specific “fasting window.” For instance, I used to eat for 4 hours out of the day and fast for 20 hours (8 of which I slept). That meant out of the 16 hours I was awake 12 hours were spent not eating. For a former snacker that was huge, because those 4 hours I was “allowed” to eat I wanted to get in as many calories as possible for “healthy” foods. That greatly reduced the number of excess calories I was able to consume per day.
Con: The problem is that it created an overfocus on calorie counting. I know the calorie counters are going to come for me because I to be one of you so I get it. The reason that this is problematic from a healthy eating standpoint is that not all calories are equal. Just because you are consuming 1,400 or 1,800 calories per day doesn’t mean those calories are from real, whole foods. So, you might not be eating the vitamins and minerals your body needs to thrive.
What to do instead: Instead of focusing on the calories, ensure that you’re prioritizing eating real food. Whether you IF or not, eating real foods is a healthy eating strategy that gets you results. Make sure you’re mostly eating real food during those eating windows.
Pro #2: Reduce Stress Eating
To be honest, IF helped me immensely in getting in control of my stress eating. As I’ve already mentioned eating within a specific eating window limits the number of excess calories you’re consuming. Eating windows also limit the times that you can eat. Since my eating window was only four hours long and I wasn’t typically stressed during those hours I didn’t tend to eat for the sake of eating.
Con: Though it can help reduce stress eating, I think it’s important to note that it doesn’t actually eliminate your stress eating habits. More importantly, it doesn’t help in identifying the triggers that cause you to stress eat. So, you will likely get great results when IF because the times you would eat for stress are outside your eating window. When those stressful times fall within your window, it could lead to an all-out binge, especially when you’re eating window is as short as mine was.
What to do instead: I promise I’m not saying this as a nutritional professional, but as someone who herself needed to heal after years of emotional eating. If you noticed that you’re “stress eating” I highly recommend that you work with a licensed health professor or emotional eating counselor. I did and it honestly did wonders in helping end the toxic relationship I had with food. Definitely, something to consider if you’re in the same boat.
Pro #3: Reduce Body Weight
I purposely put this in the middle of the list, because I know that weight loss is often the reason that many people try IF. I honestly don’t think it’s the most important, which I explain further in the cons. From a practical standpoint, you are going to lose weight for a number of reasons. For one, you’re reducing the amount of food you could possibly eat by having an eating window. Secondly, you’re probably counting every single calorie you consume, which means you’re likely more aware of the foods you’re eating. And lastly, you’re likely eating more consistent meals at consistent times rather than “grazing” during the day.
Con: Similar to calorie counting, there can often be an overemphasis on weight loss. What this means is that at some point you’re not going to lose any more weight. I know that is a harsh reality for some, but it is something that I think too often is not discussed. For many, this can lead to disappointment and feelings of failure that you haven’t achieved your weight loss goals.
What to do instead: Implementing a long-term weight-loss strategy is ultimately what I recommend for anyone on a weight loss journey. At the end of the day, weight loss is a marathon, not a sprint. Even though IF can give you some quick results, in the beginning, the expectation that weight loss will continue to be fast can set you up for unnecessary disappointment.
Pro #4: Manage Food Cravings
When you first start fasting you might want to eat your own arm, but long-term IF can be extremely helpful in managing your food cravings. In the beginning, all you think about is food. As fasting becomes apart of your lifestyle, you may notice that your desire to binge eat the moment your eating window begins will likely dissipate.
Con: I want to clarify that not all cravings are “bad” and treating them that way can be problematic. You craving certain foods for a variety of reasons and at times those food cravings are a signal from your body that shouldn’t be ignored. Due to eating within a window you might feel the need to ignore your hunger cravings. Those cravings could be a signal that you’re low in an essential nutrient your body needs or that you’re straight-up hunger and need to eat.
What to do instead: If you’re craving something, ask yourself is this really a food craving or am I actually hungry? For instance, if it’s a snack you can ask yourself, can I eat a little bit of what I’m craving? If I’m still craving more, am I actually hungry and need to eat a meal before giving in to my craving again? The point is that not all cravings are bad and learning to identify cravings from hunger takes practice. Go out there and start practicing!
Pro #5: Eat More Consistently
A common obstacle that my clients often struggle with when I first start working with them is eating consistently. That’s why one of the biggest benefits of IF is that it can help you prioritize eating consistent meals. Whether your eating window is 4 hours or 8 hours, having consistent meal times is going to be one of the easiest ways to ensure you’re getting the right amount of food to help you thrive.
Con: While I’m a huge proponent of consistent meal times, one of the challenges of IF is that it can encourage people not to listen to their bodies. What I mean is that you might not eat, because it’s not within your eating window, but your body might need to eat. Conversely, you might be like I was with a 4-hour eating window and eating when I actually wasn’t’ hungry.
What to do instead: Learning to listen to your body is key to making healthy eating a part of your lifestyle. I know that everyone says this, but doesn’t tell you how to practically do it. What I recommend for you to do is treat meal times as guidelines, not rules. What that means is if you’re hungry (I told you earlier how to identify that vs. a food craving) you should eat. I know it will be hard at first to ignore the rules and listen to your body. I promise that doing so will create new freedom and help you become more confident with your food choices.
There you have it! Five pros and cons you should think about before starting intermittent fasting. Did I forget any pros or cons? Let me know below!
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