The lovely image above comes from pxhere.com.
It’s all the rage these days, though nothing new: intermittent fasting. Fasting is a regular practice in many religious traditions, and people have implemented it for themselves for centuries. Scientific reports dating back to the early 20th century show that periodic fasting and/or low caloric intake over the lifespan is correlated with longer life expectancy and better health outcomes compared with the standard eating pattern (i.e. daily and full caloric consumption). There are a few different types of intermittent fasting that are most common:
- Eat during an eight hour window, and fast for the remaining 16 hours of the day. Most folks choose to eat between 12pm and 8pm. Basically, skip breakfast and don’t eat at night. This is one of the most popular forms of fasting among dieters today, with droves of bloggers, vloggers and media personalities touting their success on this plan.
- Similarly, some folks choose to eat during a 12 hour window every day (rather easy), some choose 10 hours, and still others opt for longer or shorter fasting times. The point is, lean into your body’s normal fasting phase (after all, we all must fast when we sleep) by not eating several hours before bed, and in most cases, several hours after waking.
- Eat five days a week, no restrictions. Fast completely for two days a week.
- Some folks fast three days a week, others one. Some argue that as part of this fast, it is permissible to consume up to 500 calories in one meal on a fast day.
- This involves fasting for a few days in a row (or longer), rather infrequently– once per month or even less often.
- This requires consuming between 50% and 80% of the ‘standard’ caloric requirement for one’s body for years on end– usually over the entire lifespan. Reflecting on my anorexia I find this fact dubious, but the science evidences its efficacy. Look it up.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about 16:8 and 5:2, which are probably the most popular today. Google the former, and plenty of videos will populate with dieters’ testimonies glorifying their weight loss success using one of these approaches. Naturally, I decided to try it for myself.
I went for 5:2 (fasting two days per week), without any specific reasoning in mind other than it appealed to me to have what I consider two “pure” days every week– no eating, which means no bingeing, weight gain, or food obsession. In short order, I found myself in a familiar pattern. I was fasting in alternation with wild, out of control binges of food and alcohol on eat days. It’s a pattern I’ve lived nearly ten years.
Bulimia is widely misunderstood to necessarily involve vomiting or laxative use. While these purge methods are popular, there are two significant exceptions to the rule. Purging, according to the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illness, Edition 5 published in 2013) may involve forced, excessive exercise to compensate for a binge, or it may involve a fast. That’s right– years of binging followed by fasts and hours-long compulsive exercise signaled bulimia after all, contrary to my previous knowledge which dismissed this destructive pattern as sub-clinical.
So what about intermittent fasting? Is it possible, as an ex- or especially as a current bulimic, to engage in this practice non-pathologically? No doubt there are recovered individuals out there who find total, freeing success with intermittent fasting despite their disordered past who would respond, “Yes! It’s possible!” But I won’t lie, I have serious doubts, driven by my past, present, and recent foray into intermittent fasting that a bulimic can engage in fasting behavior in a non disordered way.
Fellow recoverers and sufferers, beware: intermittent fasting may trigger disordered behaviors. Doubtlessly, this practice works for lots of people, and even saves some from food and weight issues. However, for ED folks, it can quickly turn into another abusive behavior in disguise.