Fasting and Mental Health: It Needs Some Attention
I’ve written and shared a lot about the health and weight loss benefits of fasting. Probably not surprising considering that we’re a site on fasting and the benefits are constantly being shown by studies.
But a term I loved reading was fasting starves the body while nourishing the soul and maybe we should be talking about this more. In a world where mental health is being assaulted more and more – fasting might provide us with some answers.
The CDC has some alarming stats on mental health and the growth is pretty scary.
Sadly the studies are pretty lacking at the moment when it comes to fasting vs mental health but there are some so far which look promising.
The (Potentially) Good
- A study on aging men found that those on a Fasting and Calorie Restriction (FCR) dietary regimen saw improvement in mood states and nutritional status.
- A 24 hour fast in mice decreased anxiety-like behavior and also improved memory.
- Studies on middle-aged rats found that intermittent fasting combined with Ayurvedic herbs reduced anxiety via anti-inflammatory pathways.
Yes, I’m well aware 2/3 of those studies involve rodents. The bulk of the benefits really comes from anecdotal stories.
It’s hard not to go near a fasting community and hear about the increase in energy levels and mood people experience while during a fast.
The problem here is we’re also pretty open to bias. Knowing we’re doing well with our fast and improving our health might improve our mood but that doesn’t mean it’s going to help someone struggling with depression.
Especially since it’s potentially a way to mask eating disorders under the guise of ‘healthy fasting’.
I don’t think it’s something that should be undertaken casually by a depressed person because of the poor attitudes that can too easily creep in and because of the negative message it sends yourself. I used to regularly skip meals while I was depressed, because I was convinced that I didn’t deserve to eat. I hadn’t earned the right. Did this help me in any way? No, I didn’t even get thin; I frequently ate junk when I did eat and when I did eat on my own, I often had sugary snacks. By putting off meals, I only gave myself the message that I didn’t care to take care of myself and that I was inclined to punish myself for my poor state of mind.
Skipping meals was really not a positive experience for me and I don’t recommend undertaking it lightly or as a miracle cure.
Part of feeling healthy is eating regular, healthy meals. Taking care of yourself is one way to tell your inner self that you are worth being cared for. It’s also one thing that I, at least, neglected greatly when I was depressed. Taking care of my self, including my mind, body and emotions, is part of my daily routine now that I’m recovering from my depression and I recommend doing to same for anyone suffering from emotional or mental issues.
There are a lot of anecdotal stories on both sides of this.
At this point, I don’t really know if we need another study focusing on the weight loss benefits. I would love to know if IF could become a useful tool in the fight against our mental health issues.
If you’re looking to work on your fasting (whether that’s for mental health or not) there are some great books on the subject. Eat Stop Eat was one of the first on the market and still one of the best guides giving you a full A-Z. You can get the entire audiobook complete free with an Amazon Audible trial. Even if you decide to cancel, you still get to keep the whole thing. See for yourself here.