Intermittent Fasting in Eating Disorder Recovery
Intermittent fasting involves using short periods of fasting followed by shorter periods of eating to help your body lose fat, gain muscle, and balance hormones1— but is intermittent fasting safe for people in eating disorder recovery? Five years ago I tried it, and the outcome of this experience was lifechanging.
How Intermittent Fasting Affected My Eating Disorder Recovery
I want to preface what I am about to say by making it clear that intermittent fasting is absolutely not for everyone, especially not everyone trying to recover from an eating disorder. In fact, depending on the nature of your eating disorder, the act of purposely not eating for roughly 16 hours a day could be devastating to your recovery. If you're in recovery and wondering about intermittent fasting, talk to your doctor and/or therapist first.
My experience with my eating disorder recovery and intermittent fasting is just that: my experience. I want to write about it here to show people who may be feeling suffocated by what they perceive to be limited eating paradigms for those in recovery that there are many ways to eat that can healthfully support your recovery.
Intermittent Fasting Simplified My Eating Disorder Recovery
I spent almost every waking moment of my life thinking about food: what to eat, what not to eat, when I'd eat, feeling guilty about eating, calories in, calories out, and the list goes on. It was a sickening, never-ending cycle for me.
However, when I heard about intermittent fasting, I was intrigued. I'm not going to lie: the prospect of losing fat did appeal to me. I was perpetually bloated from binging and purging almost daily for years and I had no idea what my face truly looked like anymore. But what really appealed to me about intermittent fasting was that for 16 hours a day, I just didn't have to think about food. If I adopted this eating paradigm, I might be able to relax.
I spoke to my doctor expecting a fight, but to my surprise, he encouraged my decision. My therapist agreed. Both of these professionals did repeat a tenant of intermittent fasting though: during the eight hours a day you eat, you have to eat all the macronutrients and micronutrients your body and brain require to be healthy.
There could be no skipping meals or snacks and no starving myself. I was going to have to learn to listen to my body and not ignore its hunger signals.
Challenges of Intermittent Fasting in Eating Disorder Recovery
This proved to be the most challenging part of intermittent fasting for me. I was used to ignoring physical hunger cues.
Another challenge was learning to be mindful of my psychological hunger — the hunger that exists as a result of an emotion, and usually a negative emotion. Being stressed, tired, guilty, sad, or bored can all stir up the need to comfort yourself with food. This is not real hunger, but people can feel compelled to eat just the same. My psychological hunger is often what drove my bulimia.
I was going to have to learn not to eat my feelings.
It took a few months, but eventually, I settled into intermittent fasting. I did not restrict what I ate — even though I did eat mostly healthy, whole foods — I only limited when I ate. For this reason, I have been careful to call intermittent fasting an eating paradigm since, in the traditional sense of the word, it is not a diet — you do not deprive yourself of anything.
Did I fast every single day? No.
I'd learned that if I ate everything I was supposed to eat during my eight-hour eating window, I was, without exception, never hungry during my fast. If for any reason I hadn't been able to eat enough though, then I didn't fast. I ate. I prioritized fueling my body over an arbitrary sense of fulfillment over being able to tell myself I fasted.
Did I lose weight? That's hard to quantify. I don't weigh myself. I can say that my clothing got looser, my muscles stronger and the results of my workouts more noticeable.
I can say I slept better and felt generally calmer about my daily interactions with food. This is my experience of intermittent fasting in eating disorder recovery but as I said, it won't be everyone's experience.
Key Lessons from Fasting in Eating Disorder Recovery
I was lucky. I didn't hear about intermittent fasting until I was five years into my recovery. By the time I started fasting, I had years of mindfulness and a little therapy under my belt. I had some confidence to take on this new eating paradigm. I don't know if I'd recommend intermittent fasting to someone who is fresh to recovery. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone at any point in recovery, really.
Again, my point in sharing this experience with you is to simply encourage you not to be dissuaded if you're dispirited at the thought of there only one way to eat healthfully: there are many.
Find one that prioritizes your health and happiness.
What do you think about following any eating paradigm in eating disorder recovery? Share your thoughts in the comments.
- Gunnars, K.. "10 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting." Healthline, August 16, 2016.
Ghadery, H. (2020, June 30). Intermittent Fasting in Eating Disorder Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, December 1 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivinged/2020/6/intermittent-fasting-in-eating-disorder-recovery