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Kathy’s Window: How about intermittent fasting?

Find out about the potential benefits and pitfalls of intermittent fasting. And Kathy's opinion on the matter.

An over-50 Generation Xer sees life through a new lens: Kathy’s Window is where Kathy shares her thoughts on the world through a new lens. From growing up in the 70s and 80s to having three Generation-Z kids, and going through certain experiences in her life, she now sees the world in a different way. Ideas that were considered the norm in the 70s, 80s and 90s are now no longer socially relevant or acceptable. Kathy explores the new ideas through the lens of someone who has been on both sides of the ‘glass’.

IN my last article, I wrote about my experience with excessive fasting. At the end of the article, I mentioned intermittent fasting and that I would go into it. So, here we go.

Intermittent fasting is much less severe than what I did and is popular in the diet or wellness world and has been for quite a while. It is a lifestyle of switching from eating to fasting according to a regular, planned schedule. There are several types of intermittent fasting. Some people eat normally one day and fast the next day – not eating either for a single meal or for a window of time or even the whole day. Others fast one day every five days. And then others fast every day for a certain number of hours, eg, eight hours or 12.

(Please check with your doctor before considering intermittent fasting, especially if you have suffered from eating disorders in the past, have diabetes, kidney stones or any other medical problems. Fasting can also affect the electrolyte balance of those with high blood pressure and heart disease.)

Why do people do intermittent fasting? Is it actually beneficial? There are conflicting views on this, and I’m going to share both sides of the argument.

ALSO READ: Kathy’s Window: Modesty and consent – who do women’s bodies belong to anyway?

The benefits

Those who advocate for intermittent fasting say that it can cure chronic diseases due to its weight-loss effects and its ability to tackle internal inflammation. They believe that the digestive system thrives on the rest it’s given during the time of fasting and that fasting helps them to lose weight. They believe it may help reduce the inflammation caused by some diseases and that things like blood pressure, heart disease and immune issues can decrease while a person is fasting. Some people believe that it can help with insulin resistance. They also say, according to Natural Living Family, intermittent fasting can help with energy for exercise. It can also help with autophagy – a process where our body cleans out damaged cells and renews and regenerates healthier cells.

Intermittent fasting does cause weight loss as the body taps into its fat stores for energy as it no longer has access to glucose which is the basic energy molecule the body uses to function. Glucose is found in all foods but is most readily available in carbohydrates. When we eat regularly, any excess glucose that is not burned up can be stored as glycogen and then later as fat. When the body runs out of glucose, it will first tap into the glycogen, then into the protein storage in the muscles for energy, and then eventually into the fat stores by a special work of the liver. This is called ketosis and is the basis of the popular keto diet.

Not enough long-term studies and my thoughts on fasting

According to Trifecta, a website that actually speaks highly of intermittent fasting, there aren’t enough studies yet to assure us that fasting is healthy in the long term. And the studies with positive results were mostly conducted on animals.

The problem I have with intermittent fasting is that it’s just like any diet or weight-loss programme – none of them works long-term. According to HAES® – The Health at Every Size Movement, several studies have been made that show that less than 5% of people who cut calories to lose weight, ie, diet, put the weight back on, or even more, 2–5 years later. According to the book, Anti-Diet, by Christy Harrison, a lot of the diseases that are supposedly linked to obesity, like high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes, are diseases that are caused by weight yo-yo-ing (your weight going up and down frequently) and not being overweight. As noted in her book, chronic dieting has many negative health markers.

If you look at before and after pictures produced by diet companies, most of them are a few months or a year later. Very few keep track of a person’s progress five years down the line. That’s because dieting drops our metabolism, and the weight starts climbing back up. Our bodies are in a famine state when we eat too few calories and will find any way to get us to eat, increasing the appetite-stimulating hormones, hence the inability to stop ‘cheating’ on the diet and binging. People blame it on their lack of willpower, but it’s just their body trying to survive. After a while, if that doesn’t work, the body lowers the metabolic rate so that it can obtain as much energy as it can from the lower energy intake. Our bodies aren’t interested in how we look but rather in ensuring we have enough energy to survive and thrive.

According to the Center for Discovery for Eating Disorder Treatment, fasting has some possible negative side effects. They are as follows:
1. Fasting can lead to an increase in the stress hormone cortisol which can lead to food cravings. (And just think, stress hormones in your body for extended periods cannot be good for overall health.)
2. Binge eating is a side effect of fasting.
3. It is easy to get dehydrated when you fast as a lot of our liquid intake is found in our food. People who fast can also tend to forget to drink, or water doesn’t taste nice because of the ‘fasting breath’.
4. It can lead to tiredness and disrupted sleep patterns.
5. It can cause anxiety and depression and affect mood, eg, make you irritable.
6. It can cause eating disorders. (I had never thought I was fat until I’d been fasting for a while. Eating too little changed my mental concept of my body and exacerbated the problem.)

The ‘benefits’ from fasting come from the high stress-hormone/cortisol levels in the body. Stress hormones can give you a euphoric high and can cause all sorts of benefits like lowered blood pressure, energy for exercise, etc. But the body can’t maintain those levels in the long term. Those benefits are short-lived as they are caused by cortisol and not a remission of health problems. Yes, I believe it may work for some people, but in general, it’s not healthy.

ALSO READ: I was fatphobic, and now, I’m fat

Chronically elevated cortisol levels

Here are some of the problems that can arise in your body from chronically elevated cortisol levels (according to SelfHacked):

1. Immune system dysfunction
2. Raised blood sugar
3. Memory loss and reduced serotonin in the brain
4. Muscle wasting
5. Sexual dysfunction
6. Heart disease

Please be advised that my opinion and my personal experience may have clouded my impartiality in this regard, but I hope this article helps you see some of the perspectives about fasting. I also encourage you to do your own research. Be aware that diet or wellness companies often use persuasive ideas and words to get you to sign up for their website content, their products or services, often without offering proper scientific proof of their statements. So, do your work diligently.


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