Growing up, we were all pretty much conditioned to eat three square meals a day: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Then, at some point, grazing became popular and people began moving toward five or six smaller meals throughout their day. Lately, various periods of fasting have become trendy.
Intermittent fasting and long term fasting are the two forms of fasting related to IBS. While intermittent fasting involves alternating between spans of eating and not eating, long-term fasting obstructs foods and possible fluids for prolonged periods of time (24-72 hrs).
Sloane Davis, certified nutritionist, shares her perspective on 3 meal schedule options:
Eating Three Square Meals a Day
- This may be ideal for those who are more sedentary.
- You are more likely to make healthier choices, since snacking is removed from the equation. No snacking in between meals means less calorie consumption for many.
- If you have gut issues, then this eating schedule gives the body more time to digest.
- You are able to sit down and eat larger meals, which promotes more satisfaction.
- If you are someone who has a hard time getting all your calories in, then you will need to eat more often.
- Eating only three times a day may make it harder to control your appetite and leave you more likely to overeat at your next meal.
- Not eating as much throughout the day may result in a decrease in energy, leaving you with less energy for your workout.
- It can be mentally challenging to steer clear of snacks.
- The metabolism isn’t stoked all day long because eating is less frequent, making some feel sluggish.
- This eating schedule would not be a good idea for someone with low blood sugar because they would need to eat more frequently throughout the day to keep their blood sugar stable.
Eating Five to Six Meals a Day
- Athletes who eat more frequently are likely to have more energy.
- You may not feel as deprived.
- You don’t necessarily have to plan a meal, which takes a lot of pressure off of meal planning and prep.
- It’s easier to eat on the go.
- You are less apt to get “hangry” or succumb to cravings because your stomach is never really empty.
- It is easy to overeat and gain weight.
- The “grab-and-go” mentality rarely results in choosing a salad or vegetables unless you have planned and prepped for it.
- You are more inclined to eat when you are not hungry just for the sake of eating.
Intermittent Fasting (IF)
- If you are someone who can go a long time without eating, then this diet may be good for you.
- Since you are only eating in a limited six- to 10-hour window, your overall calories may be less, which in turn may lead to weight loss.
- It is hard to not eat for a long period, and it may not be conducive to certain lifestyles or medical conditions.
- If you are someone who needs to eat every few hours, then this way of eating will be very difficult and lead to bingeing.
- Those looking to exercise may experience decreased energy from fasting.
Variants of IF
- Alternate day fasting (36 hour fast/12 hour feed)
- Meal-skipping (Random)
- Eat Stop Eat (24 hour fast, 1 or 2 times per week)
- Leangains (16 hour fast/8 hour feed)
- Warrior Diet (20 hour fast/4 hour feed)
While there have been no studies, anecdotally, people have said intermittent fasting helps with IBS. For example, Jon Mills @bdstrength on Twitter: "I have been playing around with intermittent fasting, somewhat to see if it benefits my IBS, but also to put some structure on my daily eating. I have some thoughts:
- Having an 8 hour eating window means I am hungry when I eat my first meal, and I enjoy it more.
- I can focus more in the morning because I dont have to worry about food
- I no longer eat late in the evening, which honestly tended to be food I didn't need and of a lower quality
- A lot of the benefits here have been psychological. I find food causes me less anxiety, and I use it to stave off boredom and stress a lot less.
- I am not being strict, some days I end it early or start late depending on my schedule.
- All in all, this experiment is pretty great."
Virginia Archer, @manager13655: "I had IBS since 2009 and I just couldn’t do low carb as it made my IBS worse and made my life unbearable. But 5 weeks into intermittent fasting and I can now drop the carbs. It's been 3 full weeks since my last IBS attack. I have lost 5kg and found a life!"
Lovey, @AlamoHoney1836: "Just anecdotal but I started keto 1 yr ago April & my IBS/colitis stopped flaring up w/in 3 weeks. I have had only 2 episodes since. I do intermittent fasting at 18:6 & that eliminated my bloating & indigestion."
Ellen, @ellenwalex: "I have complicated feelings about this kind of thing. I also had an eating disorder but intermittent fasting is the only thing that keeps my IBS in control. It's not inherently bad if you're getting enough calories and micronutrients."
However, according to Kirsten Jackson, RD:
- There is currently no evidence to support fasting for IBS.
- Fasting or irregular meals may worsen symptoms of IBS.
- Do not skip the ‘first-line’ advice which has been proven to benefit IBS symptoms e.g. stress management, fibre, fluid, exercise and regular meals.
- See a dietitian if you require individual IBS relief support.
Medically reviewed by Onikepe Adegbola, MD PhD, founder, Casa de Sante