Intermittent Fasting & Eating Disorders

This might come as a surprise but--I'm unashamed to say--I have developed an eating disorder. I started noticing the signs about a month ago--after trying to combine intermittent fasting protocols--where I admitted to a few people that I don't really have control over my food intake during my feeding window. And by admitting it, I realised that what I considered as a 'healthy' habit had become an obsession.

But before I continue, let me clarify that intermittent fasting will not cause an eating disorder in everyone and it is certainly not the sole contributor. I know that there are a few factors that caused mine--I recently removed carbs and fruits from my diet, and even challenged myself to eliminate sugar and gluten for 60 days straight (which, of course, I failed). I wouldn't have noticed anything wrong with my constant need to remove food groups, if not for the increase of binge eating episodes. Once I did some research, I discovered that I have orthorexia--an obsession with healthy eating. There was no denying after I evaluated my food decisions. And I knew, that if I didn't start making changes, things would only get worse.

Intermittent fasting is not a bad thing. In fact, I'm still an advocate and I still practice it. But to say that it didn't contribute to my obsession with healthy eating is a lie. Yes, I started with a desire to eat better, but it slowly became more than that. Just last weekend, I looked into all the ingredients of a juice store menu just to pick a cup that contained the least number of tropical fruits in the mix (because tropical fruits are 'bad'). There were other blends that I thought would make a good smoothie, but I chose the 'healthiest' one instead. Does that sound extreme? I didn't think it was, but from a normal bystander I'm sure many would think it is a little 'too much'. This has resulted in me offsetting any supposed 'unhealthy' food choices with exercise and further restrictions on my food intake, leading to more binge eating episodes.

You see, for a while, I was under the illusion that if I eliminated so-called 'bad' foods for a season, I'll learn to get used to living without these 'bad' foods (which aren't 'bad' like junk food bad to begin with). Heck, I've been omitting carbs almost completely, thinking the cravings would stop. Thankfully though, I noticed the signs before things got physically and psychologically worse--before the missed periods, osteoporosis, body shaming, and depression set in.

So, what do I plan to do?

I've watched the stories of a handful of fitness Youtubers, who have previously struggled with eating disorders whether orthorexia or binge eating (often a combination of both). One of the reasons that stood out, and seemed to be what caused mine, was restriction--putting restrictions on what I can and cannot eat, and when I can and cannot eat. Yes, there are foods that I no longer miss from eliminating from my diet--these foods aren't foods I love and crave before I eliminated them. But for those that I do love, I've struggled to avoid. And the more I avoid them, the more I think about them. The more I think about them, the more I consume them during 'cheat' meals. This cycle repeats itself and if it hasn't already wrecked my insides, it will soon enough. So to counter this, I'm lifting the food ban and extending my feeding window to eight hours instead of one hour.

It's time I ate carbs and fruits again.

This sounds easy to do, but I'll be honest, eating rice scares me. I often wonder how people struggle with eating disorders--what was so difficult about doing or eating something--but I don't wonder anymore. Fear is fear, whether rational or irrational.

I'll also eat two meals a day. 

Having two meals will dampen my appetite. I'll be returning to the 16:8 protocol after a year of OMAD. The warrior fast/one meal a day is too restrictive, and the lean gains protocol would be much better at helping me curb any desire to overeat.

Will I eat normally again?

Yes, I will. If there's one thing I'm good at, it's my will to succeed. After all, my obsession with healthy food started with that same will power. I know that the changes I make will help me become better, not just mentally but physically as well. I'm just glad I haven't gone too deep in--noticing the problem in its early stages.

If you have orthorexia, know you're not alone. It's not widely talked about, but many have gone before us and many have beaten it. And if we had the will to obsess over our health, we have the will to truly be healthy. We can certainly build a healthy relationship with food.

Do you have orthorexia? 

I'll share more about my warning signs in the next post, but here are two websites that are helpful with self-diagnosing: NEDA and WebMD. If you suspect you have orthorexia, it is better to confirm it sooner rather than later.

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