7 Intermittent Fasting Tips For People With A History Of Eating Disorders

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Intermittent Fasting Tips For People With A History Of Eating Disorders

Intermittent fasting has garnered attention for its potential health benefits, including weight management, insulin sensitivity, and improved metabolic health1,2,3.

However, for individuals with a history of eating disorders, navigating the world of intermittent fasting requires careful consideration and specialized guidance.

Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that entails cycling between periods of eating and fasting, with various protocols dictating the timing and duration of these intervals. While it holds promise for many, its implementation demands caution, particularly for those with a history of eating disorders.

Eating disorders, encompassing conditions like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder, are pervasive and complex mental health illnesses affecting millions worldwide. These disorders disrupt individuals’ relationships with food, body image, and overall well-being.

Considering the intricate interplay between intermittent fasting and eating disorders, it’s imperative to approach this topic with sensitivity and awareness.

Let’s review these disorders and discuss intermittent fasting tips for people with a history of eating disorders.

What Is Anorexia Nervosa?

Fasting and anorexia may share specific characteristics, leading to potential confusion, but they are fundamentally distinct concepts. Anorexia nervosa is a formally recognized mental health condition characterized by particular patterns of disordered eating and body image concerns4.

In contrast, fasting, including intermittent fasting, is a deliberate approach to managing energy intake over defined periods5.

Anorexia nervosa is prevalent among adolescents and young adults and manifests as a psychological condition defined by severe caloric restriction, distorted body perceptions, and an overwhelming fear of weight gain or failure in weight loss4,6.

Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa

Individuals suffering from this eating disorder experience a profound fear of weight gain, coupled with a distorted body image, and may struggle to grasp the gravity of their condition4,6. Those affected by this eating disorder must undergo an evaluation using the eating disorder examination questionnaire.

Over time, these disordered eating behaviors can lead to adverse consequences:

  • Mental health complications, such as depression, anxiety, and difficulties with concentration
  • Gastrointestinal disorders such as constipation, bloating, or persistent feelings of fullness
  • Weakness and loss of muscle mass
  • Episodes of dizziness and fainting
  • Irregular or halted menstruation
  • Hair thinning or fallout
  • Compulsive exercise

What Is Binge-Eating Disorder?

Individuals with BED (Binge Eating Disorder) may consume large quantities of food rapidly, regardless of hunger cues. Emotional distress or relief frequently serves as a catalyst, triggering episodes of binge eating.

While binging, a person may experience a temporary sense of release or relief, yet afterward, they often grapple with feelings of shame or a loss of control7.

Symptoms of Binge-Eating Disorder

Individuals with BED commonly endure profound feelings of distress and unhappiness concerning their overeating habits, as well as dissatisfaction with their body shape and weight7.

Emotions of guilt, shame, and significant psychological distress frequently accompany these episodes.

Other dangerous behaviors include:

  • Ingesting excessive quantities of food despite lacking hunger cues
  • Opting to dine alone due to feelings of embarrassment or shame
  • Continuing to eat even when uncomfortably full
  • Experiencing emotions of guilt or disgust toward oneself

Intermittent Fasting Tips For People With A History Of Eating Disorders

People with a history of eating disorders or disordered eating patterns should use caution with intermittent fasting. Restricting food intake through fasting can potentially trigger or worsen disordered eating habits.

1. Understand motivations.

Understanding your motivations for wanting to try intermittent fasting is essential. Often, people are drawn to intermittent fast for potential benefits like weight loss, improved health, or increased energy.

However, those with a history of eating disorders need to assess whether those goals can be achieved healthily without fasting. Those who may be at risk of developing disordered eating may become preoccupied with food restriction, which can trigger relapse.

Carefully evaluating your motivations and being honest about the risks, given your personal history, is crucial. Consider whether you’re romanticizing fasting as a “quick fix” versus sustaining long-term healthy habits. Your health and well-being should be the priority.

If you have reservations about whether intermittent fasting suits you, it may be best to pursue other lifestyle changes under the guidance of your treatment team. Sustainable success comes from adopting healthy, balanced behaviors over time.

2. Consult with a doctor.

Before embarking on intermittent fasting, especially if you have a history of eating disorders, it’s strongly advised to speak with a doctor. Your doctor can assess whether intermittent fasting is safe for you or recommend any necessary adjustments.

They will likely evaluate your current physical and mental health to determine if you’re stable enough to undertake fasting. This step is crucial because restrictive eating patterns like intermittent fasting can trigger individuals recovering from eating disorders or those prone to disordered eating habits.

Your doctor may offer proper guidance on how to approach intermittent fasting healthily, maximizing its health benefits, or they may advise against fasting altogether if the risks are too high.

It’s best to have the supervision of a doctor when making significant dietary changes. Your doctor can monitor for any worrisome signs, such as drastic weight changes, imbalances in electrolytes, or fainting episodes.

3. Start slow.

When starting intermittent fasting, it’s important not to jump into longer fasts too quickly. There are various intermittent fasting approaches that you can take advantage of. Aim to start with 12-14 hour fasts, avoiding fasting for 16+ hours at first. This allows your body time to adjust to the new eating schedule.

For example, you could stop eating at 8 pm and only eat again at 10 am-12 pm the next day. This allows for a solid 12-14 hour fast while still eating regular meals.

As your body adapts over a few weeks, you can gradually increase your fasting duration if desired. But take it slowly, only extending the fast by an hour or two per week.

4. Listen to your body.

For people with a history of eating disorders, hunger cues may be distorted after chronic restriction or cycles of restriction and binging. Listening closely to your body when intermittent fasting is essential to be aware of any concerning signs.

Pay close attention and break your fast at the first feelings of headache, nausea, dizziness, excessive fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, or heart palpitations.

Don’t try to push through hunger or discomfort. The benefits of intermittent fasting should never come at the expense of your physical or mental health.

Trust your body’s signals. If you feel unwell, drink some water and have a small nutritious snack to break your fast gently. Listen with compassion to what your body is telling you.

5. Stay hydrated.

Staying hydrated is essential when intermittent fasting, especially during the fasting periods. Be sure to drink plenty of water, herbal tea, broth, or other unsweetened beverages.

Water helps flush toxins and prevents dehydration during fasting windows. Herbal teas can provide antioxidants and other beneficial compounds. Broth contains electrolytes that help maintain energy and hydration8,9.

Avoid fruit juices, sports drinks, soda, and other sugary drinks, as those can spike blood sugar levels, negating some of the benefits of fasting10,11.

6. Have a support system.

Having a solid support system is crucial when trying intermittent fasting, especially if you have a history of disordered eating. Enlist the help of loved ones, your therapist, doctor, or others who understand your food and body image journey. Tell them you’ll try intermittent fasting and ask them to check in periodically.

Develop an action plan for what to do if intermittent fasting triggers eating disorder behaviors and unhealthy body thoughts. Having a plan can help catch concerning patterns early before they escalate.

7. Consider alternatives.

Intermittent fasting may not be the best approach for everyone, especially those with a history of disordered eating. It is important to consider alternatives that may be a better fit.

If you find intermittent fasting triggering or concerning, talk to your doctor about developing a healthy eating plan that works for you. Many options beyond intermittent fasting can help improve your overall well-being without the same risks.

Final Thoughts

Finding an eating pattern that nourishes your body and doesn’t lead to obsessive thoughts or disordered behaviors is the most essential approach.

Prioritizing your overall well-being and seeking guidance from a supportive healthcare team are essential steps in managing intermittent fasting safely. Remember to be patient with yourself and prioritize self-compassion throughout the process.

With the guidance of your doctor and a commitment to self-care, you can embark on your intermittent fasting journey with confidence, knowing that you’re taking proactive steps towards improved health and well-being.


1 Institute of Medicine (US) Subcommittee on Military Weight Management. Weight Management: State of the Science and Opportunities for Military Programs. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2004. 4, Weight-Loss and Maintenance Strategies. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK221839/

2 Freeman AM, Acevedo LA, Pennings N. Insulin Resistance. [Updated 2023 Aug 17]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507839/

3 Nystoriak MA, Bhatnagar A. Cardiovascular Effects and Benefits of Exercise. Front Cardiovasc Med. 2018 Sep 28;5:135. doi: 10.3389/fcvm.2018.00135. PMID: 30324108; PMCID: PMC6172294.

4 American Psychiatric Association. (2023). What are eating disorders? Retrieved May 20, 2023.

5 Patikorn C, Roubal K, Veettil SK, et al. Intermittent Fasting and Obesity-Related Health Outcomes: An Umbrella Review of Meta-analyses of Randomized Clinical Trials. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(12):e2139558. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.39558

6 Moore CA, Bokor BR. Anorexia Nervosa. [Updated 2023 Aug 28]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459148/

7 Brownley K, Berkman N, Peat C, Lohr K, Cullen K, Bann, C, Bulik C. Binge-Eating Disorder in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med. 2016 September 20; 165(6): 409–420. doi:10.7326/M15-2455.

8 Popkin BM, D’Anci KE, Rosenberg IH. Water, hydration, and health. Nutr Rev. 2010 Aug;68(8):439-58. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00304.x. PMID: 20646222; PMCID: PMC2908954.

9 Guo X, Xu Y, He H, Cai H, Zhang J, Li Y, Yan X, Zhang M, Zhang N, Maddela RL, Nicodemus-Johnson J, Ma G. Effects of a Meal Replacement on Body Composition and Metabolic Parameters among Subjects with Overweight or Obesity. J Obes. 2018 Dec 26;2018:2837367. doi: 10.1155/2018/2837367. PMID: 30687550; PMCID: PMC6327254.

10 Alamri A, Burzangi AS, Coats P, Watson DG. Untargeted Metabolic Profiling Cell-Based Approach of Pulmonary Artery Smooth Muscle Cells in Response to High Glucose and the Effect of the Antioxidant Vitamins D and E. Metabolites. 2018 Nov 30;8(4):87. doi: 10.3390/metabo8040087. PMID: 30513640; PMCID: PMC6316736.

11 Crichton G, Alkerwi A, Elias M. Diet Soft Drink Consumption is Associated with the Metabolic Syndrome: A Two Sample Comparison. Nutrients. 2015 May 13;7(5):3569-86. doi: 10.3390/nu7053569. PMID: 25984744; PMCID: PMC4446768.


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