Fasting After A Binge - Is It Worth It?

Does fasting after a binge work?
Nutrition
Binge Eating Disorder
Written By:
Julia Zakrzewski, RD

We can all remember a moment when we ate way more than we had planned. You feel uncomfortable, and the immediate thought of more food is a total turn-off. But skipping your next meals and fasting isn’t a long-term solution after a binge. There is a greater risk you’ll end up overeating at your next meal too!  Keep reading to learn why fasting after a binge doesn’t work precisely as you’d expect and what you can do instead.

What Is Fasting? 

When people are fasting, they avoid consuming food and flavored beverages, anything that contains calories. 

You may have heard of a fad diet called intermittent fasting (IF). IF has grown in popularity over the last ten years and several variations exist. They all promise rapid weight loss results and metabolic-boosting effects. 

Some people attempt to fast after a binge to offset the number of calories they consume. This strategy is closer to skipping a meal, which can be a slippery slope. 

Skipping meals can be viewed as a type of punishment for overeating. It can strain your long-term relationship with eating. Chronically skipping meals can also make it harder to get all the nutrients and vitamins you need in a day to stay healthy. 

Is Fasting Healthy? 

Any potential metabolic benefits related to fasting will be highly individualized. This is because many factors influence a person’s metabolic rate, such as sex, age, and general health status. 

We know that fasting can impact areas of your health beyond your metabolism. Some studies have shown that long periods without food may impact fertility and the ability to reproduce. 

This review from 2022 indicates that men who fast may have more problems with reproductive health due to reduced levels of androgen (sex hormones) and decreased libido.1 Reducing androgen may be helpful for women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome because they tend to have higher androgen levels. More research is needed in this area, but interestingly, fasting can affect the sexes differently. 

Any cardiometabolic health benefits, such as lowered cholesterol levels, linked with fasting are observed in people who lose weight. Specifically, people who lose more than 5% of their baseline weight.2 This data suggests that fasting is not producing benefits. The improvement is coming from weight reduction, which can be achieved through methods other than fasting. 

What Is A Binge? 

Binge eating is defined as consuming more calories than what your body needs to function in a specific amount of time. The end of a binge is subjective, but familiar scenarios can be when the food is all eaten, there is abdominal discomfort, or you get interrupted while eating and abandon the food.3 

Everyone, at some point, has consumed more than they need; it’s a normal part of the human experience. However, if the frequency of a binge increases and you feel guilty after eating, it could be the right time to meet with a Dietitian and get formally assessed. 

Binge eating disorder is a severe mental health condition. It requires treatment from experienced healthcare providers and sometimes medication.4 

Does Fasting After A Binge Help? 

Fasting after a binge is unlikely to have a significant impact on the metabolism. Going without food will leave you hungry, susceptible to mood swings, and frustrated! That’s because swinging between two extremes, like being too full and then feeling extreme hunger, is physically and mentally draining. 

A small study from 2021 asked 64 participants to self-report their hunger levels and emotions over 21 days. And the end of the study, a significant link was found between varying hunger levels and negative emotions. This study, and others, suggest that going too long without food can impact your mood, productivity, and general outlook.5,6,7 

6 Things You Can Do Instead Of Fasting After A Binge

1. Practice Self-Compassion 

Kindness goes a long way, and practicing self-compassion is pivotal for making meaningful nutrition changes. 

Remind yourself that your metabolism can handle excess calories. One binge does not make you bad and should not impair your long-term health. 

2. Build A Consistent Meal Plan 

A binge is more likely to happen when you are hungry and have skipped a meal. To prevent this from happening, follow a consistent eating schedule throughout the day. A well-timed snack can also help too. Choose options high in fiber, and add a lean protein or healthy fat to round out the snack. Popular options include plain greek yogurt with unsalted nuts and seeds. 

3. Incorporate Gentle Movement 

Avoid over-exercising to try and burn off the calories after a binge. It is unlikely to help your metabolism and can increase your risk of stomach upset and cramping. 

Instead, opt for light movement to help your natural digestion process. Go for a brief walk and let gravity and your body do the rest. 

4. Keep A Food Diary And Document Any Triggers 

Logging your experiences and identifying triggers for a binge can be an eye-opening experience. Bringing this data to an appointment with a Dietitian can help them understand your situation and offer tailored solutions. 

5. Listen To Your Hunger Cues 

Eventually, after a binge, you will feel hungry again. Listen to what your body needs and choose foods or snacks that will make you feel happy and satisfied. Instead of worrying about your next portion size, pay attention to the moment you feel full.  

6. Avoid Restricting Food 

Short-term food restrictions can increase your cravings.8 The denial can lead to future binge-eating episodes. Instead, work on including all your favorite foods in different portions throughout the week. The healthy plate model is a great guide to help you build balanced meals.9 

Work With A Registered Dietitian 

A binge can happen to anyone. Learning how to handle these scenarios can help you react in a health-forward approach in the future. Nourish has a team of Registered Dietitians who specialize in binge eating disorder treatment. We can help you reach your goals and improve your relationship with food and nutrition. Connect with an RD today to start making changes! 

References 

  1. Cienfuegos, S., Corapi, S., Gabel, K., Ezpeleta, M., Kalam, F., Lin, S., Pavlou, V., & Varady, K. A. (2022). Effect of Intermittent Fasting on Reproductive Hormone Levels in Females and Males: A Review of Human Trials. Nutrients, 14(11), 2343. 
  2. Varady, K. A., Cienfuegos, S., Ezpeleta, M., & Gabel, K. (2021). Cardiometabolic Benefits of Intermittent Fasting. Annual Review of Nutrition, 41(1), 333–361. 
  3. Binge Eating Disorder. (n.d.). NAMI Michigan. 
  4. Amianto, F., Ottone, L., Abbate Daga, G., & Fassino, S. (2015). Binge-eating disorder diagnosis and treatment: a recap in front of DSM-5. BMC psychiatry, 15, 70. 
  5. Swami, V., Hochstöger, S., Kargl, E., & Stieger, S. (2022). Hangry in the field: An experience sampling study on the impact of hunger on anger, irritability, and affect. PloS one, 17(7), e0269629. 
  6. Ackermans, M. A., Jonker, N. C., Bennik, E. C., & de Jong, P. J. (2022). Hunger increases negative and decreases positive emotions in women with a healthy weight. Appetite, 168, 105746. 
  7. MacCormack, J. K., & Lindquist, K. A. (2019). Feeling hangry? When hunger is conceptualized as emotion. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 19(2), 301–319. 
  8. Meule A. (2020). The Psychology of Food Cravings: the Role of Food Deprivation. Current nutrition reports, 9(3), 251–257. 
  9. MyPlate | U.S. Department of Agriculture. (n.d.).