The Effects Of Intermittent Fasting On Womens Wellness
If youve been following health and nutrition for a while, though, you may have heard that fasting isnt great for women. There is some truth there: while some women feel great when they fast, others run into trouble, particularly with their hormones.
The good news is that there are alternatives to traditional fasting! This article will cover the benefits of fasting and the standard approach to fasting, as well as a couple gentler options that you may prefer if you find you dont do well with full-on daily fasts. Heres everything you need to know about intermittent fasting for women.
Intermittent Fasting While Breastfeeding
If youve had a baby and decided to breastfeed, you already know this is a demanding time for your body: You might still be recovering from childbirth, youre probably sleep deprived, and your whole life has been flipped around. Plus, that cute little human you made is now treating you like an all-you-can-drink buffet.
During this time, your body needs extra nurturing, extra nutrients, and less stress. For these reasons, intermittent fasting is likely not a good protocol for breastfeeding women.
Many moms are concerned about losing the baby weight, and may feel pressured and impatient to get their pre-baby body back. Women can still lose weight during this time, but more moderate approaches are safer and will likely yield better long term results.
For safe, sustainable weight loss, try a combination of moderate exercise , and portion management. We made a nifty little calculator to help you with those goals: The Precision Nutrition Calculator.
Ghrelin And Intermittent Fasting
Opposite to satiety hormone leptin, our body releases the âhunger hormoneâ-ghrelin at certain times and the level of this hormone drops down after a meal. Imbalance in this hormone is associated with increased food intake, which leads to obesity .
Studies show that overweight and obese people have just a slight drop in ghrelin levels after a meal, which means that they are still hungry even if theyâve eaten .
Intermittent fasting can help you to take this hormone under control. First of all, you can play around with the time you usually eat, which helps you to change the frequency of eating. Secondly, fasting decreases ghrelin production in general, which leads to the smaller amount of food you consume .
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May Be Beneficial For Heart Health
Heart disease is currently the worlds biggest killer .
Its known that various health markers are associated with either an increased or decreased risk of heart disease.
Intermittent fasting has been shown to improve numerous different risk factors, including:
- blood sugar levels
The effects of fasting on heart health need to be studied more in-depth in humans before recommendations can be made.
Studies show that intermittent fasting can improve numerous risk factors for heart disease, such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglycerides, and inflammatory markers.
Is Intermittent Fasting Safe For Women
Intermittent fasting is safe for most women, although you may want to take a different approach to it than a man might. However, if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to conceive, you should avoid intermittent fasting as well as any other kind of restrictive diet. Additionally, if you have a history of disordered eating, intermittent fasting may not be appropriate for you due to its restrictive nature.
Dr Kumaran notes that there are some exceptions to this. In women with PCOS, researchers have found that intermittent fasting may actually improve fertility due to the improvement of insulin sensitivity and reduction in glucose and insulin levels.
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How To Intermittent Fast
The key to intermittent fasting is to ease into it. To start, consider your schedule – what does your daily and weekly schedule look like? Decide when the best window to eat will be for you and your family. A common fasting window is between 7 PM and 11 AM the next morning. With this, you are fasting the majority of the time in your sleep, and can still eat dinner with your family.When youre not fasting dont go crazy with extra portions or poor food choices. Stick with nutritious whole foods for the best results. You cant expect to lose weight if you find yourself overeating during the eating periods. Tips: Intermittent fasting can seem challenging at first, but dont be discouraged. Work your way up to a full 16:8 fasting period, or try again if it didnt work the first time. Here are a couple of tips that can help set you up for success:
Intermittent Fasting And Hot Flashes
Insulin resistance is an important contributing factor when it comes to hot flashes. For the menopausal woman, intermittent fasting will help reduce hot flashes and many other uncomfortable symptoms. If you are an aging woman and suffer from hot flashes, also consider the following triggers:
- Hot drinks
- Spicy food
- Improve your memory
- Increase your stamina
Whats not to like? Women of all ages can benefit from intermittent fasting. However, its important to learn how to practice intermittent fasting safely.
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Womens Health: Precautions For Intermittent Fasting
When it comes to fasting and your health, moderation is essential. Start slow and build up to a 24-hour fast if thats your goal. Begin a moderate exercise protocol and gradually increase the intensity of your workouts as you become more fit. That way, you minimize your risk for amenorrhea, and your periods will stay regular.
Get the most benefits from IF and avoid potential challenges with these tips:
- Eat enough during your eating window: Intermittent fasting isnt about cutting calories or going hungry, so make sure you eat plenty of highly nutritious, healthy food. You may find yourself gradually eating less, and thats OK.
- Eat wisely: Fuel yourself with big nutrient-dense meals and avoid overly sugary or salty food. Healthy food will make fasting easier to stick with and itll improve your overall health.
- Begin with a 12-hour fast. Let your body and mind get used to intermittent fasting before you try an extended fast. Eat a late breakfast or an early dinner and do most of your fasting while you sleep.
- Fast gradually: When youre ready for a longer fast, choose two or three days per week for your extended fasts, and take a day or two in between to recuperate.
- Begin with moderate workouts: Save your intense workouts for non-fasting days until youve adjusted to fasting.
- Take a break when youre menstruating.
Please consult your doctor if you:
Live Longer Age Slower
Studies show extended fasting, intermittent fasting, and prolonged moderate calorie restriction may all increase longevity and decrease the effects of aging. Theres evidence that IF decreases inflammation, reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease, improves your metabolic health, and increases your cognitive function.
Intermittent fasting, for both women and men, may also help reduce the effects of aging including staving off fine lines and wrinkles. How can that be? IF can help improve your bodys ability to defend itself against free radical damage one of the primary factors behind aging skin.
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Problems With Intermittent Fasting
Ultimately, intermittent fasting is mild form of stress. So if your hormone imbalance is caused by stress, the added stress of intermittent fasting will hinder your healing process.
Moreover, fasting can be made even more stressful if you restrict your calories and under eat, which is easy to do when you skip a meal. When you under eat, your body assumes you are in a time of famine and produces the stress hormone cortisol. Chronically high cortisol will imbalance your other hormones and could cause you to lose your menstrual cycle.
In addition, stress will also increase the hormones leptin and ghrelin, which control satiation. Over time this can imbalance hormones and impair ovulation. This is why you need to carefully consider if intermittent fasting is the right approach for you.
If youre confused about how to eat to balance your hormones, reach out to us at
How Can Women Gain Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting And Still Support Hormone Health
Simple. By breaking up the fast so that her body doesnt go into panic mode. Two ways for women to reap the benefits of intermittent fasting without the side effects of hormone imbalance include the 5:2 fasting method, and the 12, 14, or 16-hour fast.
Before you consider trying one of these versions of intermittent fasting, there are a few boxes that should be checked off first.
- Stress level is low
- Youre getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep at night
- Youre not afflicted by hot flashes and mood swings
- No other nutritional deficiencies
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Intermittent Fasting While Pregnant
Like childhood and adolescence, pregnancy is a time of intense growth.
Weight gain is a desired outcome of a developing pregnancy, and is a sign of a healthy, growing baby.
Even though weight gain during this time is wanted, many women feel uneasy about the upward-creeping scale. Women who are especially body-conscious, or those who wanted to lose weight before pregnancy may still think about weight loss during this time.
Some women may even be advised by a doctor to manage weight during pregnancy.
Even if weight management is suggested by a medical professional, fasting is not appropriate during this time.
Instead of restricting food, focus on increasing nutrition: aiming to get adequate protein, healthy fats, quality carbohydrates, colorful vegetables, and fruits.
For more information on nutrition during pregnancy, check out our infographic: What to eat during pregnancy.
You can also improve health and regulate weight gain by exercising, provided thats been cleared by your doctor. If youre curious about what to do, weve got an infographic for that too: How to exercise during pregnancy.
Female Hormones And Intermittent Fasting
Insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia provoke increased androgen synthesis and decreased estrogen production . In our article âHow intermittent fasting can cure Polycystic Ovary Syndrome â, we discuss how it causes such an unpleasant health issue as PCOS and how you can treat it with intermittent fasting.
Women’s bodies are quite sensitive to a lack of nutrients, which creates concern about the benefit of intermittent fasting for female sex hormones. If intermittent fasting is done correctly and supported by a nutritious diet, you donât need to worry, it will not affect your menstrual cycle, fertility and overall health .
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The Science Of The Hormones Behind Cravings
The array of hormone changes during menopause are likely making you crave particular foods in higher than normal quantities. When we eat certain foods, our brain becomes excited and in turn creates happy, positive feelings. These good feelings make us want to keep eating those foods, regularly.3,4The types of foods that create this happy brain are called hyper-palatable foods aka comfort foods because they are quick and easy to digest. Comfort foods are typically sweet, salty, and/or fatty. Most people eat these types of food when they are tired and are looking for a late-night snack. By reducing the number of hours you eat, you can reduce the consumption of these comfort foods for successful weight loss.5
If all of the hormones in our bodies are balanced, we can sit down and eat a normal meal and our appetite hormone leptin will be released at the right levels to tell our brain that we are full and to stop eating. Then, if the body hasnt had any food for several hours, the hormone ghrelin is released from the stomach and signals our brain that we are hungry again.When we are in menopause and our estrogen and progesterone levels are low, it can lead to increased food cravings and less satisfaction after eating.3–5 The good news is that you can decrease your feelings of hunger directly by normalizing your estrogen levels with HRT which can also suppress hunger by decreasing levels of ghrelin and increasing the effectiveness of the appetite-suppressing hormone leptin.4
How To Balance Ghrelin Levels
If you have a sneaking suspicion your ghrelin levels are in need of some TLC, here are a couple of ways to balance them:
- Eat adequate amounts of protein. Protein helps you feel full and should be consumed with every meal. Studies show how eating protein promotes healthy ghrelin levels.
- Avoid sugar as much as possible. As you can see by now, consuming too much sugar disrupts hormonal balance, making weight loss seem an impossible feat. Be sure to read labels. If an item contains high-fructose corn syrup, dont buy it. A 2013 study published in Nutritional Diabetes shows how high-fructose corn syrup is one of the primary culprits of imbalance when it comes to hormones and weight gain.
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How Intermittent Fasting Can Affect Your Hormones
To understand why some experts are concerned about the safety of intermittent fasting for women, it’s helpful to have a little background on your hormones and how intermittent fasting can affect them.
Women produce large amounts of a compound called kisspeptin, which is a protein that’s highly involved in reproductionand extremely sensitive to stressors, like fasting.
When kisspeptin is released, it activates a hormone called gonadotropin-releasing hormone, or GnRH. GnRH then stimulates the release of follicle-stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone from an area of the brain called the pituitary gland.
In women, LH triggers the ovaries to produce and release estradiol, a form of estrogen, and progesterone, two of the most critical hormones in reproduction.
LH also signals your ovaries to release an egg during the ovulation period of your cycle. FSH stimulates the growth of follicles in the ovaries and also plays a role in estrogen production.
Some studies show that fasting decreases the production of kisspeptin, which, in turn, disrupts the production and release of estrogen and progesterone.
In theory, this means that some women could experience hormonal disruptions that result in things like mood swings and missed or irregular periods. And in extreme cases, it could lead to fertility struggles.
Many experts caution that fasting may cause hormonal disruptions in women, but more research is needed to fully understand how fasting may affect hormones in humans.
Apply The Concept Of Intermittent Living
Modern living has made our lives incredibly comfortable. Too comfortable in fact. According to this study, you can undo metabolic syndrome, inflammation and adrenal fatigue using the practices of intermittent living, such as cold baths, sauna, HIIT training, breathing techniques for intermittent hypoxia and intermittent fasting. This means that little stressors on our cells can be effective at promoting adaptation, mitochondrial repair and cellular healing.
For more on repairing hormones, watch my Fasting and Hormones playlist.
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Is Intermittent Fasting Safe
Intermittent fasting may sound harsh or an aggressive form of eating, however, as humans we have evolved with fasting and it is a pattern of eating that is evolutionarily very familiar for our bodies. So yes, intermittent fasting is safe, however, it is important to understand when intermittent fasting to use intermittent fasting and how to use it correctly. It is also not a recommendation I give to anyone with a history of an eating disorder, is pregnant, nursing, under the age of 18 or immune compromised. Always remember to consult with your physician before making any dietary modifications.
Stress Response & Energy Balance
The female hormones that control our monthly menstrual cycle are so responsive to the changes that occur in our physical body. The way intermittent fasting stimulates weight loss can trigger a stress response in our body if we are also experiencing stress from other areas in our lives. This includes mental stress from overworking, physical stress from over exercising, or even emotional stress from trauma.
It all comes down to our energy balance, which is essentially the balance between what we are putting in our bodies, and what energy our bodies are expending throughout the day. When we are in a negative energy balance for a long time our body enters a stress response. This triggers our reproductive system to shut down ovulation, as the body prioritises survival over supporting a pregnancy. This is when we will see women experiencing irregular menstrual cycles, anovulation, or amenorrhea .
Obviously for women who are wanting to conceive this is an issue. But what a lot of women dont understand is that even if you arent wanting a baby, ovulation and a healthy menstrual cycle is essential for health. The hormones secreted during our menstrual cycle influence all aspects of our being, and play balancing and protective roles in our mental, digestive, metabolic, immune, cardiovascular, and bone health.
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Womens Wellness: Should Women Do Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is quickly becoming one of the most popular ways to lose weight and improve overall womens wellness. Its no wonder: fasting really works well and produces amazing results for a lot of people. The benefits go beyond weight loss, too: fasting can lower inflammation, slow down aging, and give you a stronger brain.
The other nice thing about intermittent fasting is that its wonderfully simple: in a nutshell, you just without food for 12-18 hours a day, and then eat all your meals in the remaining hours.
When You Should Try Intermittent Fasting
In fact, intermittent fasting can actually help hormone-related conditions that are associated with insulin resistance. Heres when you should intermittent fast .
Consider Intermittent Fasting If You Have
Insulin-resistant PCOS- you can utilize intermittent fasting to stabilize your insulin levels. Actually, the longer you fast, the better! Even committing to intermittent fasting for one day a week can be effective.
Endometriosis- is an inflammatory condition. Intermittent fasting gives your body more time to reduce inflammation and heal itself.
Menopausal Weight Gain- during menopause your body becomes slightly insulin resistant and requires fewer calories. Intermittent fasting could be a great way to keep calories down to reduce or maintain your weight.
Avoid Intermittent Fasting If You Have
Adrenal Fatigue- if you have low energy, brain fog, or other symptoms of fatigue, intermittent fasting may not be best for you. To regain your energy, you need to decrease any forms of stress. Routine is soothing to the body and even skipping breakfast can cause some stress.
The key is to eat a balanced breakfast with protein, fats, and a little bit of complex and healthy carbs within an hour of waking. However, limiting your eating window to 12 hours would allow you to receive some of the benefits of fasting.
Hypothalamic Amenorrhea- is caused by stress of some kind so again you need to feed your body with constant meals during your waking hours.
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