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What are the psychological effects of intermittent fasting?

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Intermittent fasting is an eating protocol that involves total or partial abstention from eating for a specific period of time (eg. g., for 12 hours a day) and take in the food and nutrients that are needed during the rest of the day, when fasting is not being practiced. We are talking about a practice that has been gaining fame in recent years, with its lights and shadows.

Among the different psychological effects of intermittent fasting, it should be noted that these could be both positive and harmful, so it would be advisable consult with professionals before putting it into practice and, in any of the cases, it should be carried out progressively and not start suddenly by practicing a fast dragged on.

In this article we will explain in more detail What are the different psychological effects of intermittent fasting?, but first we are going to see what intermittent fasting really consists of and what the best known types of fasting are.

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What is intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting is an eating protocol that consists of refraining from eating partially or totally for a period of time concrete and eat the food and nutrients necessary to maintain a balance during the period of time in which the fast is not done (p. For example, intermittent fasting for 16 hours a day, so that you eat the necessary food in 2 or 3 meals during the remaining 8 hours of the day in which you are not fasting).

It should be noted that this practice should be supervised by a professional expert in the field so that it is not harmful and it is also important to say that the practice of intermittent fasting is not a diet but rather a protocol of food, which means that it is about the way in which meal times are distributed and there is no established plan that indicates what to eat as it usually happens with diets.

Benefits of intermittent fasting

However, you also have to know that when intermittent fasting is practiced it is very important that, during the feeding period, you try to carry out a balanced diet with all the necessary nutrients, which means that fasting should not be an excuse to binge eat and eat uncontrollably processed foods high in sugars and saturated fats as this would negate the potential benefits of fasting intermittent.

On the other hand, there are various types of intermittent fasting, among which we must highlight those that we are going to briefly explain below.

1. 12-hour intermittent fasting (12/12)

This type of intermittent fasting is the shortest and, therefore, the simplest, so perhaps it would be the most recommended. In all cases, when starting to practice intermittent fasting, you should start with this type first. of fasting and then go progressively towards the practice of longer fasts, always under control and supervision.

In addition, this would be a fairly accessible fast, since if we count the approximately 8 hours that we sleep and the period of 3 hours that should elapse between dinner and going to bed, sleep, we would already have fasted 11 hours, so simply waiting to eat breakfast 1 more hour when we get up we would have already fasted 12 hours if too much effort.

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2. 16-hour intermittent fasting (8/16)

This is the most popular type of intermittent fasting and consists of fasting 16 hours, so that 2 or even 3 meals are usually distributed in a period of 8 hours. Those who practice it normally what they do is skip breakfast and wait to eat food for the first time at lunchtime (p. g., fasting from 9 p.m., at dinner time, to 12 noon, at lunch time).

3. 20-hour intermittent fasting (4/20)

Here we would already be talking about a fairly long fast that requires a prior adaptation process and also greater control and supervision. In this case we would help for 20 hours a day, so we only eat food for the remaining 4 hours, being the most common to make 2 meals during that period (p. fasting from 9 p.m., after dinner, until 5 p.m. the next day, eating one meal at 5 p.m. and another at 8 p.m.).

4. OMAD eating plan or 23-hour fast (1/23)

This type of intermittent fasting would be the longest among the best known, also known as the plan of OMAD (“One Meal A Day”) diet which, as the acronym of its own name in English indicates, basically consists of in eat only one meal a day. Here we would already be talking about a fairly expensive type of fast, so it would not be highly recommended to practice it long-term, like the 20-hour fast, since it could be harmful.

If intermittent fasting is put into practice, it should be noted that the protocols that have the most scientific evidence with Regarding their long-term benefits, they would be the 12-hour and the 16-hour ones, in addition to being the easiest to follow and the least restrictive. However, it is always advisable to consult a professional first as it could be very harmful in people vulnerable to its effects (eg. ex.. people with diabetes, hypertension, an eating disorder, etc.).

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The possible psychological benefits of intermittent fasting

There are numerous testimonies, as well as some studies, that affirm the existence of various benefits of the practice of intermittent fasting; however, more research is still needed on this, especially with humans, so that we can make more solid statements.

Below we will briefly explain the main psychological effects of intermittent fasting that are beneficial, according to various investigations carried out based on this protocol of feeding.

1. Increased self-control around food

One of the main psychological effects that the practice of intermittent fasting could bring would be an increase in self-control, since with this protocol one of the possible objectives sought it is establishing greater self-control regarding hunger and satiety, thus regulating the hormones responsible for it (ghrelin and leptin). In addition, it could help in some cases to combat emotional hunger or boredom.

This would be possible in those cases in which a person eats by inertia several times a day, even if he is not hungry and, through fasting, you could train yourself to be able to differentiate between hunger cues, so that you only eat when you feel hungry real.

On the other hand, the opposite effect could also occur and the person loses control with respect to food and binge when you break your fast. Therefore, it is important not to start this protocol, especially if it is a very long and long-term fast, without the help, control and monitoring of a nutritionist and even a specialized team that is made up of several professionals (eg. g., doctor, nutritionist and psychologist).

However, it must be emphasized that a short 12-hour fast, where hardly any noticeable effort is made, is not the same as intermittent fasting for 23 hours. hours, so that you could take more risks and it is more likely that you could suffer anxiety about food, although we will talk about this later in more detail. detail.

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2. Higher levels of concentration

Another possible benefit of practicing intermittent fasting is that many people manage to increase their concentration while fasting and this could be justified from an evolutionary point of view since our most remote ancestors had to go hunting fasting and for this they had to have tuned several cognitive functions to be able to to get it.

In addition, some studies have indicated that when a person is fasting, the levels of some neurotransmitters in their brain increase, such as orexin and norepinephrine, which are associated with concentration in a way that can help us be more focused on what we are making. For this reason, perhaps the practice of intermittent fasting could be more indicated for those people who, for reasons of work, they need to be very focused on their tasks and also their work does not require a high level of demand physical.

At the same time, intermittent fasting may be contraindicated for those with physically demanding jobs. In any of the cases, it would be best to consult a specialist and, once fasting is being put into practice, it would be important to do a self-analysis about the physical and mental state to be aware of whether this feeding protocol brings us well-being and improves performance or, on the contrary, it is harming.

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3. Protection against depression

In some research conducted with subjects suffering from depression, it was observed that a substance produced in the brain, known as BDNF (“brain-derived neurotrophic factor”), was almost absent in these people who were depressed as opposed to those who were not. As a result of the results, it could be concluded that the production of the neurotransmitter BDNF could protect us against depression.

In other studies carried out on intermittent fasting, it was observed that the practice of this dietary protocol helped boost BDNF production consistently, so its practice could help against depression, as well as be beneficial for various cognitive functions.

However, depression is a fairly complex process, in which several factors intervene, so in addition to intermittent fasting, it would be necessary to carry out several guidelines such as maintaining healthy social relationships, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep and rest, eating a healthy diet, etc.

4. could enhance neuroplasticity

When a person practices intermittent fasting, from certain hours, if it occurs in his body a metabolic process known as “ketosis”, moment from which, after having the energy from carbohydrates, it is obtained from the fats of the body. Some studies have stated that when you enter ketosis, by alternating the way of obtaining energy between different processes, the plasticity of the brain is also stimulated.

When we talk about brain plasticity or neuroplasticity, we are referring to the ability of the brain to create new connections neurons, this being an essential process when acquiring new learning, storing memories or new knowledge, among others processes.

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Possible negative effects of intermittent fasting

After having seen the various positive effects that intermittent fasting could bring us, it is worth mentioning that we can also find some negative effects when it comes to fasting. practice long-term fasting, so it would be important to be vigilant when fasting to detect as soon as possible any indication that fasting is harming.

Among the main psychological effects of intermittent fasting, we must highlight some that, if they occur, are very negative. Next we are going to see those possible negative effects, resulting from the long-term practice of this feeding protocol.

1. Eating disorder

Among the psychological effects of intermittent fasting, we cannot forget that the practice of intermittent fasting could trigger the development of an eating behavior disorder or enhance some symptoms, and, therefore, it, worsen the prognosis.

This could be because intermittent fasting could be used as a tool when making a marked restriction of calories ingested from food throughout the day in cases of anorexia or bulimia nervous. Also, in cases of bulimia nervosa, fasting could increase anxiety levels that could precede a possible binge eating, so fasting could increase the frequency with which a person with bulimia nervosa binge eats food.

It could also increase the number of binge eating in those people who suffer from a binge eating disorder, so the practice of intermittent fasting would also be contraindicated in these cases.

2. Anxiety

Among the possible psychological effects of intermittent fasting, it should also be noted that the practice of this eating protocol could increase cortisol levels, a hormone that is released in the brain in response to certain levels of stress, so that from certain levels this would lead to an increase in anxiety levels.

It is also possible that anxiety is caused by the desire to eat food, this being more common during the first days in which intermittent fasting is practiced.

In those cases in which a basic person has a predisposition to suffer certain levels of anxiety, The best thing to do would be to consult a mental health specialist. before trying intermittent fasting, as it may trigger anxiety symptoms.


First of all, it must be emphasized that fasting is not for everyone, since many people could do more harm than good And, should someone decide to do any type of intermittent fasting, they should first consult a professional who is specialized in this type of protocol and, when starting, the most appropriate thing would be to start with the shortest intermittent fasting (12/12).

Secondly, we must be alert to any indication that could indicate that fasting is harming us, both physically (p. g., dizziness, headaches, fatigue, etc.), as well as on a psychological level (eg. g., obsession with food, irritability, anxiety, etc.).

Thirdly, it is important to note that intermittent fasting is not a panacea, much less by itself, since to enhance the possible effects it must be accompanied by a lifestyle healthy, through a healthy eating plan, a good rest, maintaining an active and healthy social and family life, as well as through regular exercise physical.
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