By Niamh Brown
Experts have warned of the potential dangers of Intermittent Fasting (IF) as a means of weight loss as social media is rife with ‘New Year, new me’ stories.
IF has been described as more of an eating pattern rather than a traditional diet. It does not specify what foods someone should be eating; instead, it tells them when you should be eating them. The most common forms of IF are daily 16 hour fasts or fasting for 24 hours twice per week.
Queen’s University Lecturer Dr Tilman Kuhn has said that “Some studies show that IF works for some people for losing weight, it is not an approach that works for everyone. There are meta-analyses of dietary intervention studies to suggest that IF works equally fine compared to moderate daily calorie reduction. In general, a majority of people have a hard time with long-term weight maintenance with either dietary method.”
A systemic review of 40 studies conducted by Harvard University found that IF was effective for mild weight loss with a typical loss of 7-11 pounds over the course of 10 weeks. However, there was much variability in the studies with people with different body sizes participating. The length of this studies varied from 2 to 104 weeks.
Where IF may be as sustainable as other popular weight loss methods (ie. The ketogenic diet), it has become the subject of a lot of online discourse. This mostly revolves around the idea that it could be normalising disordered eating habits through prolonged restriction of food.
Rebekah Sloane, 26, from Warrenpoint runs an Instagram blog (@nerves_to_curves) that details her struggles with Anorexia and Bulimia believes that “it hides disordered habits more than normalising them. It hides the true consequences of what we can do to our bodies because people will say ‘it is only a diet’ but then it ends up becoming an illness rather than a diet.”
Dr Kuhn has admitted that IF could be a catalyst for eating disorders and that people with eating disorders should nor partake in IF.
He stated that “It seems that particularly mild forms of IF (16:8 /5:2) are safe for most people. If someone has a chronic disease, IF should only be practiced with support by a registered dietician or doctor. IF should not be recommended to people with eating disorders.”
Dr Kuhn went on to say that “IF is beneficial with regard to many hormones, particularly insulin. There is preliminary data from an American pilot study (Sutton et al., 2018, Cell Metabolism) to suggest that 16:8 IF compared to traditional calorie reduction may beneficially affect insulin sensitivity.”