Every other article about intermittent fasting talks about its benefits and how amazing it is. But no one talks about the challenges one faces when fasting. After all, intermittent fasting (or rather IF) is an extreme way of dieting. Humans have been eating several meals a day for hundreds of years. We can’t just switch to caveman-eating and expect everything to be normal.
Before I show you the side effects, here are some popular benefits of intermittent fasting:
- Reduces insulin resistance and lowers risk of type 2 diabetes
- Rejuvenates cells
- Can help you live longer
Intermittent fasting die-hards are probably in the defense mode right now. But you should relax – I’m not trying to convince anyone to quit intermittent fasting. I just want to show you the other side of it that no one talks about. It’s entirely up to you to decide if intermittent fasting is for you or not. No single approach works for everyone.
Frankly, I tried intermittent fasting for only a few weeks and realized it wasn’t for me. So the side effects of intermittent fasting that I’ll be sharing in this article are not from my limited personal experience but rather from the experiences of intermittent fasting practitioners. Note that not every intermittent fasting practitioner experiences these side effects. And some of the side effects are short term. But every intermittent fasting beginner should be aware of them.
But before we go further, let me answer a question that’s probably lingering on your mind. While intermittent fasting may have its benefits (for some), it does have its side effects as well.
1. Being Uncomfortably Full After Eating
Most of us are used to eating several meals a day. This makes it easy to consume enough food without being overly full. But with a small feeding window, you have to eat one or two big meals. These big meals can leave you feeling uncomfortable and constipated. Furthermore, eating big meals at night can reduce the quality of sleep.
Most times you’ll be very hungry when the fasting period ends. So you’ll eat a lot of food and also eat again after a few hours before you start fasting again. With IF, you have to learn to handle big meals and you should be comfortable with your stomach being stretched out for a few hours. Also note that digesting a big meal can put stress on the body.
2. Obsession With Fasting And Feeding Window
Some IF dieters obsess over when they’ll eat. They go to the extent of counting down hours and minutes to the feeding window. This leads to an obsession over food and folks start thinking about food all the time. Other dieters stop following IF dieting protocols and extend the fast period in order to lose weight faster.
Unfortunately, this leads to unhealthy weight loss and regain of weight in future. These obsessions don’t last long so the dieters eventually go back to old (unhealthy) eating habits. Surprisingly, some dieters like IF because it reduces the obsession of eating after every few hours. They prefer the simplicity of one or two meals a day.
3. Over-Reliance On Coffee
Many intermittent fasting plans allow dieters to drink coffee to control hunger and stay energized. But drinking coffee regularly can lead to addiction. And as you may know, drinking caffeine can lead to poor sleeping habits, stress, and anxiety – causing weight gain in return.
4. Hunger And Food Cravings
Hunger and cravings are usually a challenge for anyone trying to lose weight. If you can’t control hunger and curb your cravings, you won’t lose weight. Some people experience hunger pangs even when they eat six meals a day. So fasting makes their hunger much more intense. But realize it’s natural to feel hungry at the start of an IF diet and your body may get used to hunger with time.
5. Reduction In Athletic Performance
It’s okay to train moderately when fasting. But doing intense workouts like power-lifting, cross-fit, or high intensity interval training can hurt you. Research shows that athletic performance usually diminishes when fasting. In a study, Senegalese researchers tested the athletic performance of runners during Ramadhan and during non-fasting time.1
And they found that the athletic performance of the athletes reduced significantly during the month of Ramadhan. Other studies also show increase of fatigue after intense workouts when fasting.
Many people experience heartburn when practicing IF. Sometimes, the heartburn rectifies itself after 5–6 weeks, but if it doesn’t, then you should see a doctor. The heartburn happens because the body is used to your old eating pattern, so it releases acids at certain times. And when you change the eating pattern, it’ll try to stick to previous eating behaviors.
Headaches are a common occurrence during fasting. Most folks complain of mild headaches every now and then, while others experience them throughout. Drinking enough water helps relieve the headaches in some cases.
[Also Read: Herbal Teas To Relieve Headaches]
8. Negative Effect On Pregnant Women
Some studies show that fasting during pregnancy does not affect the fetus or the mother.2 But you may want to avoid IF during pregnancy. Let hunger dictate what you eat during this period. Don’t starve yourself or the fetus in the name of intermittent fasting. After all, fasting may not be beneficial during pregnancy. In fact, the intermittent fasting side effects on this list can make life harder for you during pregnancy.
9. Frequent Diarrhea
Many IF PR practitioners experience diarrhea after fasting. But how severe it is depends on how long the fast was. Longer fasting duration causes explosive diarrhea. This is caused by high fluid intake – drinking a lot of coffee and water.
10. Brain Fog
Brain fog and feeling sluggish are also common with many IF dieters. But the brain fog usually disappears after some time. In fact, some studies show that long term fasting improves brain function.
11. Negative Effect On Women’s Hormones
Some women who try Intermittent Fasting claim to experience missed periods, metabolic disturbances and early-onset menopause. Women’s reproductive hormones are highly sensitive to energy intake. So going for long hours without food affects the functionality of these hormones. Other negative effects include: adult acne and obsession over body image.
12. Low Energy
Low energy is one of the biggest concerns for folks who want to try intermittent fasting. And it’s a genuine concern. Fasting results in low energy and weakness. This can stop you from exercising or staying physically active.
Does Intermittent Fasting Enhance Weight Loss?
I didn’t mention weight loss as one of the benefits of intermittent fasting and here’s why – it’s the total number of calories you consume in a day that determines weight loss, not when you eat.
Intermittent fasting can help reduce the total number of calories you consume in a day. Most intermittent fasting methods give you a small feeding window to eat all your daily calories. And it’s hard to overeat if you only have a few hours to eat. Subjects in a study were able to reduce their calorie intake by up to 8% when practicing intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting helps with weight loss only if you restrict your calorie intake too.
Note that intermittent fasting can help you lose weight only if you maintain a calorie deficit. Besides that, it has no weight loss benefits. So eating one or two meals a day won’t help you lose weight if you overeat.
[Also Read: Calories Do You Need To Maintain Weight]
A group of researchers from Netherlands conducted a study to find out if intermittent fasting has weight loss benefits. They divided their subjects into two groups. One group was on a regular diet and another on an IF diet – they all ate the same number of calories and had the same diet composition. And the researchers found no difference in body fat and lean body mass of the two groups after the study was complete.
I hope this article gave you an insight on the challenges of intermittent fasting. Now, you’ll be more prepared if you choose to try it. Note that these side effects are not specific to any method of intermittent fasting. So you may or may not experience them, depending on the approach you take. And others only last for a while and disappear.
Don’t feel the need to practice intermittent fasting if it doesn’t work for you. You can lose weight even when eating several meals a day.
Have you tried intermittent fasting before? What side effects did you experience?
|↑1||Chaouachi, Anis, John B. Leiper, Hamdi Chtourou, Abdul Rashid Aziz, and Karim Chamari. “The effects of Ramadan intermittent fasting on athletic performance: Recommendations for the maintenance of physical fitness.” Journal of sports sciences 30, no. sup1 (2012): S53-S73.|
|↑2||Alwasel, S. H., Z. Abotalib, J. S. Aljarallah, C. Osmond, S. M. Alkharaz, I. M. Alhazza, G. Badr, and D. J. P. Barker. “Changes in placental size during Ramadan.” Placenta 31, no. 7 (2010): 607-610.|