Intermittent Fasting, Stress and Anxiety

A few people have commented about increased “anxiety” during Intermittent Fasting, so I thought I would share this discussion I had with someone about anxiety. As much as IF have brought people a more stress free life (along with all the other numerous health benefits) when it comes to eating, with others it also may amplify some underlying issues there are that need to be addressed (especially if one does IF too much too soon). It comes down to still keeping the “Intermittent” part in IF, and making it work for you….and knowing when it is not. The discussion went as followed (my reply below to his question about increased anxiety):

Anxiety is not good….then again I don’t know your lifestyle…your stress levels….do you worry about things at work….do you try and do too much for work all day….are you not finding down time to relax….are you obsessing over things you can’t control….have you had issues in the past with depression….have you had issues with obsessing over what you eat in the past….are you getting plenty of sleep…..are you wired on coffee all day? So many questions that health is a bigger part of.

I’ve had little anxiety attacks but it is usually when I am pushing my mind and body too hard…with trying to get too much done…worrying about something that has to do with work and money…stressing out about stuff that really doesn’t matter….staying up late and usually not getting any release with exercise or just a break. From there it will take me a day to shut off the computer and go do nothing…..the body needs to reset itself. IF may have been a factor because it gave me too much mental focus during a time I tried to do way too much. My brain shorted out eventually. Thinking too much is not the goal….enjoying life is. Just to be able to sit back and let the mind be free is how you don’t get anxiety….letting the ego side take over and give it the need to always do stuff is going to wear anyone down. For me I already enjoy being able to sit still and do nothing….for someone that can’t sit still or have high anxiety/stress levels, giving them more mental focus is like giving a race car to a teenager….not a good idea and will only lead to a crash eventually (which is usually depression). Fasting long ago was easier when people didn’t get so worried about stuff and had plenty of down time…..in today’s world of non-stop stimulation/cell phones/traffic/stress from work/deadlines/pressure to be the best you can be/gyms with electronic equipment and TVs all over the place/24hr bad news channels always giving you something to worry about……I think IF could just going to amplify any problems we already have that we are not addressing….IF just blows it up to a new level as now our brain gets more active but it’s still focused on the wrong things. There’s a deeper problem at heart that needs to be brought to light and let go of. The good news is that we have total control on what to focus on and what to let go of, but first we have to really see what is going on….as you can’t drop luggage you don’t even know you are carrying.

Giving this more thought here’s what I came up with:

  • daily routine fasting is not something 10,000 BC man did every day….he fasted when he had no food and he ate when he had it….so hence…the whole “intermittent” part
  • You autonomic nervous controls your heart, lungs, glands, stomach, blood vessels and other organs. It’s compromised of the SNS (fight or flight) and PNS (rest and digest)
  • Waking up you are in a SNS response (fiight or flight)…why? Because your body has to elevate cortisol to wake you up and it has to motivate you to go hunt for food. It also increases your mental alertness because it wants you to find food and be a smart hunter…as a dumb one may starve to death.
  • Fasting (IF) Daily will just keep the SNS going…hence why there may be an additional metabolism spike and fat burn (also the reason for increased mental focus).
  • Our daily stressors and lifestyles are not what they were 10,000 years ago. Paleo man didn’t wake up and worry about the monthly mortgage, paying off credit cards, world politics, what the stock market was doing, what time to pick the kids up from school, sitting in traffic for hours, or to finish up the report that has to be on the boss’ desk by Friday.
  • If you are already stressed and prone to anxiety, then turning up the SNS and keeping it going is going to amplify your underlying issues
  • You still need to find ways to destress in life….as you don’t just turn up the radio when you hear something going wrong with the car do you? (well maybe some people do…but it’s not going to hide the issue that could come back to do damage later). Take time off, go outside in nature, get away for a couple hours….let things become clear to you, see what you are really worrying about, what is really stressing you out….learn to let go, to detach from things you have no control of, just learn to live in the now and forget about the past or future.
  • Eating a large meal in the morning generates PNS responses therefore taking you more out of SNS and calming down your alertness

Either way…IF is meant to be….ready….Intermittent. So do it 2x a week….3x a week….1x a week….but not every day as that will not be a good way to start. That and listen to how your body responds…..as the level at which you stress out on things is completely different from the level I stress out about things….so I may be able to do it 5x a week…..but you may find it only works for you 2-3x a week. Believe me, if I find my plan isn’t working for me or I am going through more stressful times, then IF is put on hold. The real power of IF comes from knowing when and how to use it….and when to take a break from it.

Along that line it can also be important to generate a large PNS response towards night so you can fall asleep and recharge as part of the natural cycle of SNS during the day and PNS at night. If your sleep is compromised then so will your recovery ability to handle SNS the next day. So bigger meals at night (more with protein/healthy fats)…go to bed feeling satisfied and stress free….no news before bed.

Also work on the other lifestyle issues and stimulants that are causing excessive stress in your life and remove or just detach from them. Make your life more peaceful and enjoyable….don’t just turn up the car radio. (which is a main reason people turn to alcohol and drugs, to basically shut off the thinking part of the mind that is creating all the fear, self-doubt, worry, etc…, but that wears off and then the anxiety comes back….so hence people become addicted to the drugs/alcohol as it never makes the underlying issue be confronted and dealt with)

In the end….if eating all day works better for you emotionally then you are probably best sticking with it until you can address the other issues underneath (stress, worry, fear, lack of sleep, etc). If you want to try IF again you have to start slowly and do it once a week. See how your body reacts. Most people have problems because they try and do too much thinking more is better….when it never is. There is no one right way….but there are plenty of wrong ways. Keep the “Intermittent” part in IF and make it work for you!

Above photo by KevinLabianco

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