Intermittent Fasting has become very popular since many nutrition coaches, celebrities and influencers started advertising it as a panacea from all the diseases. Is it good for people with IBS? In this articles I will give my point of view about IF for people with IBS.
Intermittent Fasting has been practiced for centuries in many cultures. Even though different cultures involve different aspects, such as duration, reasons for fasting, the practice itself, all fasts have one thing in common, which is to cleanse the body and sacrifice. Christians are giving up some foods for lent, Muslims observe Ramadan as a sacred month of fasting, Jewish people have 25-hours fast followed Yom Kippur, and Buddhists fast from noon to dawn to practice self-control.
There are many types of Intermittent Fasting diets. The most popular are:
16:8 fast diet when you eat during 8 hour window and fast for 16 hours. Most recommended is to have breakfast at 10am and stop eating at 4pm. When you fast, you are allowed to drink non-calorie liquids, such as water and non-sweetened tea.
5:2 fast diet requires to fast 2 days a week by eating 500kcal a day which can be eaten in one sitting or spread out for the whole day. The rest 5 days you can eat normally without restricting any foods.
Alternate day fasting, as the name suggests, you alternate eating days with fasting days. On fasting days you can either eat 500kcal a day or restrict calories. Other days you eat normally.
24-hour fast allows you restrict food intake for 24 hours. For example, if you had breakfast at 8am, your next meal will be after 8am the following morning. This type of fast is usually done 1-2 times per week.
There are other Intermittent Fasting diets that exist, not to mention religious ones; however my article is not about them but about how Intermittent Fasting can affect IBS.
Many people with IBS are looking for alternatives and try to find easy solutions to their problem. They go to Google for answers and may come across about information how Intermittent Fasting can be beneficial for gut health and help with IBS symptoms. They may have listened to someone saying that it cured their IBS or eliminated the symptoms. However, these are all the anecdotal stories that are not supported by science, and if it helped someone, it doesn’t mean it will help you.
Even though Intermittent Fasting has its place and time. I do not recommend it for people with IBS and let me tell you why. First of all, there is not enough research and evidence that IF is helping to cure IBS. In fact, there are more studies showing reduction in symptoms when people have regular meal consumption and identify food triggers by following a low FODMAP diet.
The reason people start feeling better when fasting is because no food reaches the intestines to trigger the symptoms. No food – no symptoms.
Fasting for prolong time can lead to overeating later and trigger the symptoms. Larger meals may have greater amount of FODMAPs, which could have been spread out throughout the day, but were eaten in one meal. Also, larger meals will take longer to digest and absorb all the nutrients, letting the food sit in the gut fermented by bacteria. These bacteria produce gas which leads to bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhea.
If your gut lining is hypersensitive, increased hunger may trigger pain in the abdomen which will make you feel confused about your IBS since you have not eaten anything. Larger meals may also cause abdominal pain due to distention on your bowels.
People who fast for a long time may have nausea, fatigue, dizziness, headache and other adverse symptoms, which may prevent them from doing their daily activities, such as work, study, exercise, running errands, doing work around the house or favorite activities. In addition, driving a car or operating machinery when fasting and experiencing dizziness may lead to endangering yourself and others.
Ongoing fasting without a supervision of health professional may lead to nutrient deficiencies. So, if you ever decide to fast, please get a help. You need to consume certain nutrients on a daily basis to maintain your nutritional status. If you have any deficiencies and want to fast, you are putting yourself at risk of developing conditions which are associated with nutrient deficiencies.
Fasting for prolonged time may develop an eating disorder, because people may see symptom improvement. However, it is not sustainable and will not be beneficial long term.
Moreover, if you have other conditions along with IBS, such as diabetes or eating disorder, fasting may not be right for you, because these conditions require consumption of regular meals throughout the day. It is not recommended to fast during pregnancy because you are depriving your fetus from getting necessary nutrients for development.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not against Intermittent Fasting, and I think it may be beneficial in some cases, but I do not believe it is suitable for IBS.