The strain of self-imposed starvation

Intermittent fasting (IF) was the shiny new kid on the block of the last couple of years.

It offered a novel way of limiting eating instead of the usual fad diets that quickly gain popularity only to fade into obscurity.

People in their droves bought the best-selling fasting diet books and tried the most popular 5:2 IF plan of fasting for two days out of seven or alternate days.

Other lengths of intermittent fasting such as skipping breakfast or skipping both breakfast and then lunch are known as 19:5 - signifying nineteen hours of fasting followed by a window of 5hrs to eat one daily meal. Nineteen hours can seem interminably long when your hungry and certainly puts the body under a great deal of pressure.

Sustained feelings of hunger cause the production of the stress hormone cortisol, a by-product of adrenalin as the body tries to cope with the uncomfortable feelings of self-imposed starvation.

The consensus was even though it could feel challenging to go for extended periods without food it was easier for some people than having to be conscious about the calorie content of every meal.

Fasting’s bubble was burst however by scientists at the recent European Society of Endocrinology’s annual meeting which reported fasting could have damaging side effects.

The research into IF was carried out by a team at Sao Paulo in Brazil. Ana Bonassa who lead the research said: “This is the first study to show that, despite weight loss, intermittent fasting diets may damage the pancreas and affect insulin function in healthy individuals which could lead to diabetes and severe health issues.

Previous research has also shown that short-term fasting can produce free radicals that can cause damage to the body’s cells and possibly increase the risk of cancer.

The team of researchers followed the effects of fasting every other day on normal adult rats over a three month period. It came as no surprise that the rats did lose weight but the amounts of fat tissue in their abdomen increased. Cells in their pancreas that release insulin it was reported was also damaged.

The conclusions from the study suggest further investigation using adult humans is needed to fully explore how people may be affected, particularly those who are pre-diabetic or diagnosed as diabetic.

If you do consider fasting as an aid to weight loss, it can be useful. However, it is advisable not to exceed 48 hrs.

It does mean that for that period of fasting your body wilt be denied many essential nutrients during your fast, and this might potentially cause physiological damage if you are trying to recover from an injury or illness. Remember that people observing religious fasting are allowed to be exempt from the arduous nature of fasting. In the case of women who are pregnant or for anyone who is infirm or living with a chronic disease such as diabetes when fasting could have serious health implications.

The jury is out for fasting on whether the effects on the metabolism are favourable or adverse effects on weight loss in the long term.

If you are on any course of medication, have heart problems, are pregnant or breastfeeding then you should not consider fasting until you back to full health.

If you have tried every diet from Atkins to the Zone and the Mediterranean and are an expert in knowing the calorie count of every foodstuff your challenge might be something else and not just food.

Emotional eaters struggle with yo-yo dieting that is not just about food and never about a lack of willpower. Maybe you have other reasons for your eating patterns.

If you’re ready to explore what they may be and to transform your relationship with food you can book an obligation free call with me via this page.




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