Intermittent fasting can be a healthy diet practice when done correctly, but if not, can lead to mental, emotional and physical health problems, experts say.

Intermittent fasting is a popular diet based on restricting food intake for specific time intervals, such as permitting eating between noon and 8 p.m. each day, according to Marissa Pakiz, wellness services and nutrition education coordinator for Campus Recreation. Pakiz said intermittent fasting does not restrict any type of food or food groups. 

Steve Woita, assistant director for wellness and fitness services with Campus Recreation, said intermittent fasting can be long periods of time where someone does not consume any calories or the fasting changes on different days of the week. For example, an individual might fast and consume 500 or less calories for two days of the week, and the other five days of the week, they would control what they eat.

Woita said intermittent fasting has become popular in pop culture, like social media, so it’s appeal makes sense, especially among young people. Pakiz said she thinks people are enticed with this diet because it is more about when you eat and not what you eat. Also, there are a lot of sensationalized marketing claims around intermittent fasting, like rapid weight loss, decreasing blood pressure or improving insulin sensitivity, according to Pakiz.

“It’s important to know that there’s very limited long-term research on intermittent fasting,” Pakiz said. “The vast majority of studies that we do have are either animal studies or short-term human studies, so as far as these long-term health benefits, we don’t have very much research on them.”

Pakiz said depending on the intentions someone approaches intermittent fasting with, it can be healthy for college students to partake in. Woita also said intermittent fasting can be done in a healthy way when it is done appropriately. 

Pakiz said it is not recommended to utilize fasting as a method of restricting calorie intake with the intention of weight loss as the primary goal.

“Dieting is known to cause a lot of emotional and physical implications, and these negative consequences can include weight cycling, slow metabolism, muscle loss, body dissatisfaction or poor self-esteem,” Pakiz said.

Intermittent fasting is not recommended for those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, athletes, those with diabetes or those who have a history of an eating disorder, according to Pakiz.

Pakiz said there is nothing right or wrong with the time of day food is consumed, and it is more about finding a balanced eating pattern that works for your lifestyle. As long as individuals can still incorporate a variety of foods throughout the day, even if it is in a condensed window of time throughout the day, then that is still healthy, according to Pakiz.

Intermittent fasting becomes an issue when the individual experiences feelings of guilt or shame from not following the rules, according to Pakiz. 

“Healthy eating patterns always allow for some flexibility and should never make you feel guilty for any of your food choices, including the timing of food intake,” Pakiz said.

Pakiz said intermittent fasting can cause the body to go into starvation mode when food intake is restricted for long periods of time, making someone more agitated and irritable. Also, this can cause food preoccupation, difficulty concentrating, poor sleep quality or negatively affect someone’s self-esteem, according to Pakiz.

For college students who are interested in trying out intermittent fasting, Woita said he advises them to consult with a healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, such as one of the registered dietitians at Campus Recreation.

“Intermittent fasting takes a lot of willpower or mental strength,” Woita said. “It’s knowing upfront what your goals are, what you’re trying to achieve and making sure that you’re setting these healthy standards for yourself and in conducting intermittent fasting.”