Who can and who should not fast?
Intermittent fasting/ time-restricted eating has many health benefits. But just like everything else you can do for health or weight loss, it’s not for everyone.
There are some situations in which intermittent fasting should be avoided. In certain conditions you can still fast but you need to take precautions.
Here are several circumstances in which fasting should be avoided or where you should proceed cautiously.
Pregnancy and intermittent fasting
If you are pregnant you should not be fasting. Your growing baby need a constant supply of high quality, nutritious food to grow properly.
Restricting food can can affect your baby’s health. You may find that your appetite is slightly increased so you would find it very hard to fast anyway.
Eating lots of high quality protein and vegetables, particularly green leafy ones, is very important.
Eating lots of sugary processed food can increase your baby’s risk of developing diabetes later in life.
Breastfeeding and intermittent fasting
Your new baby needs a constant supply of nutrients to grow and flourish. You need to eat well to make sure you produce good quality breast milk and remain healthy while doing it. You may even find that your appetite increases and you need to eat more food than usual to produce enough breast milk.
I lost weight in all by pregnancies. I spent most of my time throwing up and my appetite was zero until about 7 months in. But when I was breastfeeding, I was absolutely ravenous. That was when I put on weight.
This is not the time to be doing intermittent fasting.
You need to be careful during breastfeeding to make sure you’re not snacking on poor quality, processed food that will make you fat without adding any nutritional value.
If you have suffered from eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia for example, you should not fast. You must have a healthy relationship with food before attempting intermittent fasting. Some people find that they cannot control binge eating after breaking their fast.
It’s not unusual to eat a bit more than you normally would after breaking your fast. You may feel like you need a reward after abstaining from food for so long. For me, it was like giving myself a huge pat on the back for not eating for so long.
After a while I realised that I was just making myself feel stuffed and uncomfortable and I went back to normal portions. Gradually, the need to overeat disappears if you stick to intermittent fasting.
Things might be different if you have, or are recovering from an eating disorder.
Children and fasting
Young children should not fast. There is nothing wrong with a child missing the occasional meal. After all, being sent to bed without dinner is a common way of disciplining children. Beyond that, there is the risk of slowing down growth and development with prolonged fasting.
During the Muslim month of Ramadan, children are not required to fast until they reach the age of puberty. In Catholicism fasting is restricted to people between 18 and 59 years of age.
To improve the health of your kids, minimise sugary drinks and highly processed food and give them nutritious, real food instead. This will keep them full for longer and remove the need for unhealthy snacking in between meals.
Are you underweight or malnourished?
If you are very thin and have a body mass index (BMI) of 18 or less you should not fast.
If you are sick or recovering from a serious illness, you should avoid fasting until you’re well.
Fasting induces a small amount of stress in the body which may not help if your health is already compromised.
Medication and intermittent fasting
If you are on medication for certain health problems you should fast with great care and with the co-operation of your doctor.
High blood pressure medication
Fasting usually causes your blood insulin levels to go down. This is usually followed by increased sodium loss and water loss from the body in the form of increased urination.
As you loose water from the body, your blood pressure will tend to go down. If you are taking blood pressure medication this may cause your blood pressure to go down even further.
As your weight goes down over time, your blood pressure may also go down with it. If you’re taking medication to lower your blood pressure already, this may also cause a dangerous drop in your blood pressure.
If you plan to start fasting you should work with your doctor. He/ she can adjust your medication to make sure your blood pressure does not drop too fast and too low.
If your blood pressure is too low, you may feel dizzy and collapse (faint). You need to be mindful of this.
If you are diabetic and you are on medication you should fast with care. Fasting usually leads to a fall in blood sugar. Without adjusting your medication, your blood sugar could fall so low that you start to feel weak and dizzy.
Eventually, you might collapse and become unconscious. This is even more important if you’re on insulin.
You need to work with your doctor to lower your medication if you want to fast.
Are you going through some stressful life changes? Do you have high cortisol (stress hormone) levels?
Are you really stressed out right now? Maybe you’re moving house, changing jobs, going through a break up or some other type of emotional crisis?
This might not be the time to start intermittent fasting, especially if you’re new to it. Fasting induces low levels of stress, just like exercise. In the right amount and context, this is good for the body, but it’s something you can do without if you’re already under a lot of stress.
Make sure you get enough good quality sleep at night. Do some deep breathing exercises, pray and meditate and spend time with positive and supportive friends and family.
When you are more balanced, then you may come back and consider intermittent fasting to improve your health.
Intermittent fasting and time-restricted eating has lots of wonderful health benefits from weight loss, lowering blood pressure, blood sugar and inflammation to name a few.
But like anything else that can affect your health, you should enter into it deliberately and with care.
There are some times in your life where intermittent fasting and time-restricted feeding are not the best options for improving your health.
Just because other people are doing it doesn’t mean it’s right for you, right now. That’s ok.
Focus on the things you can do to make sure you’re healthy and can live your best, healthy and productive life.
Do you have any concerns about intermittent fasting and time-restricted eating? Let me know in the comments.