Intermittent fasting may not be as safe as we thought

Intermittent fasting may not be as safe as we thought

Intermittent fasting is a popular diet trend that involves alternating between eating and fasting periods. It is believed to have various health benefits such as weight loss, improved insulin sensitivity and reduced inflammation.

A popular food trend is associated with dangerous eating disorder attitudes and behaviors among adolescents and young adults.

A recent study published in the journal Eating behavior has shed light on the potential negative effects of intermittent fasting, a popular dietary trend in which people abstain from eating for more than 8 hours. Although intermittent fasting is often promoted as a way to improve health and control or lose weight, few studies have examined its potential risks.

According to a study that analyzed data from more than 2,700 adolescents and young adults in Canada, intermittent fasting was found to be associated with disordered eating behaviors in women, including binge eating and compensatory behaviors such as vomiting and compulsive exercise. Men who practiced intermittent fasting were also more likely to report compulsive exercise.

The prevalence of intermittent fasting among adolescents and young adults has been observed. Overall, 47% of women, 38% of men, and 52% of transgender or gender nonconforming individuals reported intermittent fasting in the past 12 months.

“Given our findings, it is problematic how prevalent intermittent fasting was in our sample,” says lead author Kyle T. Ganson, Ph.D., MSW, assistant professor at University of Toronto Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work.

In all three groups, participants reported an average of 100 days they engaged in intermittent fasting during the past 12 months.

“The associations found between intermittent fasting and eating disorders are particularly salient, given the significant increase in eating disorders among adolescents and young adults since the beginning of[{” attribute=””>COVID-19 pandemic,” says Jason M. Nagata, MD, MSc, assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco, and a study co-author.

The findings provide a warning to healthcare professionals about recommending intermittent fasting as a means of weight loss, as it may facilitate eating disorder attitudes and behaviors.

“We need more education in healthcare settings and greater awareness in popular culture, including social media, of the potential harms of intermittent fasting,” says Ganson. “At this point, the proposed benefits are still unclear and unsupported by research, and the potential harms are becoming clearer.”

Reference: “Intermittent fasting: Describing engagement and associations with eating disorder behaviors and psychopathology among Canadian adolescents and young adults” by Kyle T. Ganson, Kelly Cuccolo, Laura Hallward and Jason M. Nagatad, 4 November 2022, Eating Behaviors.
DOI: 10.1016/j.eatbeh.2022.101681

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