Should You Try Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting works very well for some women and not so well for others. Its up to you whether or not you add it to your routine.
If you decide to give it a try and see how you feel, keep in mind that you dont have to fast every day. For a gentler approach to achieve the benefits of intermittent fasting for women, try doing a couple shorter fasts per week. And keep in mind that you can change your fasting schedule to align with your cycle, skipping days when fasting doesnt feel good to you.
Alternatively, you can pass on fasting altogether. Health is personal experiment and see what feels right for your body.
And speaking of health being personal, why not take my Power Type Quiz? Its a free quiz that gives you health and lifestyle tools tailored to your unique biology, to help you become your best self. Give it a try!
Are There Any Benefits Of Intermittent Fasting For Women
Based on what we know, intermittent fasting probably affects reproductive health if the body sees it as a significant stressor.
Anything that affects your reproductive health affects your overall health and fitness.
Even if you dont plan to have biological kids.
But intermittent fasting protocols vary, with some being much more extreme than others. And factors such as your age, your nutritional status, the length of time you fast, and the other stressors in your lifeincluding exerciseare also likely relevant.
And, as we mentioned in the research update box above, there may be some support for trying intermittent fasting in women who have PCOS.
But for most women, intermittent fasting is probably not the best approach.
Too Much Stress On The Body
Find a way to reduce stress, whether we are talking about meditation techniques or just finding activities that give you a sense of relaxation. But we may also be causing ourselves dietary stress, an unknown but very important aspect.
Dietary stress can be caused by irregular meals or eating too much processed food, sugar, gluten, or other inflammatory foods. Otherwise, we will experience all sorts of inflammation within our bodies that may hit different parts.
For example, many people complain about leaky gut, meaning the lining of the intestines is damaged. This will cause bacteria or other harmful substances to penetrate more into our system.
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How Many Days A Week To Fast
Depending on your chosen schedule, you can practice intermittent fasting anywhere from every day to once a week.
The popular thought is to implement daily fasting. In my opinion, a daily fasting schedule allows for consistency in our day, which is one of the most important reasons for success with any health routine.
Following a consistent schedule, regardless of which one you pick, can help avoid feeling depleted of energy or feeling like youre riding a rollercoaster. It will also train your body to burn fat while also having enough energy to tackle everyday tasks.
What Are The Types Of Intermittent Fasting
There are many different approaches to IF. Some people pick one to three days during the week when they eat minimally, if at all. Another technique, known as a fasting mimicking diet, severely restricts calories for five days in a month.
One of the more common IF approaches recommended for weight loss involves what is called 5:2 fasting, where you eat normally for five days in a week but seriously restrict calories, down to around 500 a day for women , for any of the remaining two.
Other people use a time restricted eating process, eating normally during any 8 to 12 consecutive hours in a day and fasting for the remaining hours. A TRE plan prohibiting food during a 16-hour window, known as 16/8, is what the Galveston diet recommends for midlife women.
Certain liquids are always allowed indeed are encouraged during fasting hours when little to no food is consumed. These include black coffee, teas , and water.
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A Word From A Nutritionist
Intermittent fasting has many potential benefits, but some women may want to avoid it unless their doctor has cleared them.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should not fast or try to do alternate-day fasting.
Fasting while pregnant or breastfeeding may threaten a childs development. While the babys development and milk production require adequate calories during pregnancy and breastfeeding, you may not get enough calories while fasting.
If you are trying to get pregnant, you should also not engage in intermittent fasting because it can make it more difficult for you to conceive. IF can impact fertility, cause changes in the menstrual cycle, disrupt metabolism, and even cause women to experience early menopause.
Women who suffer from disordered eating conditions, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge-eating disorders, should not participate in intermittent fasting because they may be at risk of developing additional eating disorders if they eat too little or too much.
Why Its Hard For Women To Get A Six
We know low-energy diets can reduce fertility in women. So can being super lean. 3 4 5
When you think about it, it makes good evolutionary sense that the body might want a little emergency padding on the abdomen.
Human females are unique in the mammalian world. Get this: Nearly all other mammals can terminate or pause a pregnancy when conditions arent right.
If it doesnt seem like a good time to raise young, embryonic development is paused until conditions improve .6
Youve known this since middle school health class: Female humans cant pause pregnancies.
In humans, the placenta breaches the maternal blood vessels, and the fetus is in complete control.
The baby can block the action of insulin in order to hoard more glucose for itself. It can even make the mothers blood vessels dilate, adjusting blood pressure to get more nutrients.
That baby is determined to survive no matter what the cost to the mother. This phenomenon, which scientists actually compare to the host-virus relationship, is whats known as maternal-fetal conflict.7 8
Once a woman becomes pregnant, she cant sweet-talk the fetus to stop growing. The result: Fertility at the wrong timelike, during a famine could be fatal.
Hence, a little calorie-storage pooch is reproductively protective in case times get tough.
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But Why Does Eating Less Put Our Bodies On Alert
For many years, scientists believed a womans body fat percentage regulated her reproductive system.
The idea was this: If your fat stores dipped below a certain percentagesomewhere around 11 percenthormones would get messed up and your period would stop.
Boom: no chance of pregnancy.
From an evolutionary standpoint, this made a lot of sense. For our ancestors, who didnt have access to Costco and Amazon, a low food supply would be cause for major concern.
So if you were losing body fat, your body might assume there isnt much to eat, and try to prevent reproduction.
But the situation is actually more complicated than that. Female bodies seem to go on alert even before body fat drops.
As a result, women who arent especially lean can also stop ovulating and lose their periods.
Thats why scientists now suspect that overall energy balancehow many calories youre eating versus how many youre burningmay be more important to this process than body fat percentage.
What The Research Says About Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting has been around for a long time. Still, recent studies show that it helps maintain a healthy weight, weight loss by improving metabolism and decreasing insulin levels. IF also reduces inflammation, and it has a detoxifying effect, a great help when it comes to preventing chronic disease.
There is some promising evidence that suggests intermittent fasting improves stress resistance and longevity. Generally, these data show better results if the intervals are fewer hours of eating, with more hours of fasting . So the more the body stays in fasting mode, the better it gets at managing glucose and insulin levels, which triggers all those health benefits mentioned above.
You can find details on the IF research in these articles:
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So Is Intermittent Fasting Bad For Women
Well, not necessarily.
But certainly, fasting is not for everyone.
And the truth is, some women shouldnt even bother experimenting. Dont try intermittent fasting if:
- youre pregnant
- you have a history of disordered eating
- youre chronically stressed
- you dont sleepwell
- youre new to diet and exercise
Pregnant women have extra energy needs. So if youre starting a family, intermittent fasting isnt a good idea.
Ditto if youre under chronic stress or if you arent sleeping well. Your body needs nurturing, not additional stress.
And if youve struggled with disordered eating in the past , you probably recognize that a fasting protocol could lead you down a path that might create further problems for you.
How Your Diet And Too Much Stress Can Work Against You
When you consistently consume less energy than you expend, youre known to be in a negative energy balance.
Being in a negative energy balance is how you lose weight. So its exactly what many people try to achieve by dieting.
But when its extreme, or goes on too long in the context of other stressors, it may be to blame for the hormonal spiral we see in some women who fast.
Negative energy balance doesnt just result from eating less food.
It can also result from:
- poor nutrition
- too little rest and recovery
Heck, we can even use up energy by trying to keep warm.
Any combination of stressors could be enough to put you into excessive negative energy balance and stop ovulation. For example:
- training for a marathon and nursing a flu
- too many days in a row at the gym and not eating enough fruits and vegetables
- intermittent fasting and busting your butt to pay the mortgage
You might be thinking, Did she just reference paying the mortgage?
Psychological stress can play a role in damaging your hormonal health.
Our bodies cant tell the difference between a real threat and something imaginary generated by our thoughts and feelings.
These threats can increase our levels of the stress hormone cortisol. And cortisol? It inhibits our old friend GnRH.
Quick reminder: Disrupting GnRH creates a cascade effect that can suppress your ovaries production of estrogen and progesteronehormones that are critical for reproduction.
Thats the theory, anyway.
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Intermittent Fasting May Affect Men And Women Differently
There is some evidence that intermittent fasting may not be as beneficial for some women as it is for men.
One study showed that blood sugar control actually worsened in women after three weeks of intermittent fasting, which was not the case in men .
There are also many anecdotal stories of women who have experienced changes to their menstrual cycles after starting intermittent fasting.
Such shifts occur because female bodies are extremely sensitive to calorie restriction.
When calorie intake is low such as from fasting for too long or too frequently a small part of the brain called the hypothalamus is affected.
This can disrupt the secretion of gonadotropin-releasing hormone , a hormone that helps release two reproductive hormones: luteinizing hormone and follicle stimulating hormone (
For these reasons, women should consider a modified approach to intermittent fasting, such as shorter fasting periods and fewer fasting days.
Intermittent fasting may not be as beneficial for women as it is for men. To reduce any adverse effects, women should take a mild approach to fasting: shorter fasts and fewer fasting days.
Intermittent fasting not only benefits your waistline but may also lower your risk of developing a number of chronic diseases.
The Best And Worst Diets For Sustained Weight Loss According To Registered Dietitians
So, does it actually lead to weight loss? Anecdotal evidence has led proponents of the plan to believe so. For the people who can adhere to IF, it does work, Kumar says. But fans of the approach claim theres so much more to IF than just a lean body. Lori Shemek, PhD, a nutrition and weight loss expert in Dallas and author of How to Fight FATflammation, explains to clients that IF may improve their insulin sensitivity , reduce inflammation, and boost longevity by bettering the health of your mitochondria , she says.
Intermittent Fasting And Reproductive Hormones
One way fasting affects reproductive hormonesin both women and menhas to do with something called the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis. Thankfully, this is more commonly known as the HPG axis.
Its not important to know exactly how the HPG axis works, but in case youre interested, heres what happens:
In women, LH and FSH stimulate the production of estrogen and progesterone, which we need to release a mature egg and to support a pregnancy.
In men, they stimulate the production of testosterone and sperm.
Because this chain of reactions happens on a very specific, regular cycle in women, GnRH pulses must be timed precisely, or everything can get out of whack. Eggs arent released, periods stop MAYHEM!
Heres the big takeaway: GnRH pulses seem to be very sensitive to environmental factors, and can be thrown off by fasting.
Even short-term fastingsay, three dayscan alter these hormonal pulses in some women.
Theres even some evidence that missing a single mealwhich, of course, isnt an emergency by itselfcan start to put our hormonal system on alert.2
This may be why certain women run into problems with intermittent fasting.
Hormonal Changes And Menstrual Cycles
Some animal research suggests that intermittent fasting may lead to hormonal changes and undereating. In people with ovaries, these changes may negatively affect menstrual cycles and fertility .
However, most studies are old and have been conducted in animals. Human studies are needed to fully understand how intermittent fasting may affect reproductive health.
Furthermore, postmenopausal individuals may experience different effects from intermittent fasting. Menopause causes changes that can decrease insulin sensitivity and lead to weight gain, and intermittent fasting may help improve these outcomes .
Restricting daily food intake to a particular time window may cause increased food intake and weight gain, as well as short-term hunger and weakness. Older animal studies indicate that intermittent fasting may interfere with fertility.
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Is Intermittent Fasting Safe While Pregnant Or Breastfeeding
Because when you are pregnant you are eating for the health of two people, fasting is probably not a good idea. Rather than thinking about losing weight, concentrate on what your body needs to do for the baby. Eat properly to boost maternal fat stores for breastfeeding later.
Remember, the food and nutrients you eat are building your childs body and developing their brain. Some pregnant women struggle to have adequate iron stores. Not eating your complete food requirements could cause iron deficiency, starving your baby of needed iron. Your baby is receiving the required nutrition from your body so youve got to make sure its there.
As for breastfeeding and fasting, its best to avoid long fasting periods because your baby needs nutritional milk, and fasting may affect both production and quality. While there is not a ton of research or medical warnings not to, Id recommend not fasting longer than 12-14 hours if breastfeeding so as not to interrupt milk production. Definitely, if you find your milk supplies drying up, try stopping your fasting and eating more regularly throughout the day to see if that helps resolve the issue.
Does Intermittent Fasting Make You Want To Eat More
You may feel like you are famished when you get to your eating window, but as long as you eat healthy food and keep your calorie count around 1200-1500 per day, you will soon get used to eating less. An excellent way to make sure that you eat what you should when you have an eating window is to meal prep. Spend an afternoon and prepare your meals for the week. Everything you need to eat clean will be ready and waiting in the fridge.
When To Stop Intermittent Fasting
If youre feeling obsessive, unhinged, and consistently lethargic, ease off.
Stop intermittent fasting if:
- your heart starts going pitter-patter in a weird way
- your interest in romance fizzles (and your lady parts stop appreciating it when it happens
- your digestion slows down noticeably
- you always seem to feel cold
Add some snacks, and/or shrink your nightly fasting time to 12 hours or less.
Dont get caught up in doing it right. As weve seen from coaching over 100,000 clients, there are many ways to transform bodies, and none of those methods require you to be perfect.
(To learn why, read: Nearly 1 million data points shows what it REALLY takes to lose weight and get healthy.
Types Of Intermittent Fasting
How to intermittent fast is important because you want to maintain proper nutrition in your overall diet and not put yourself at unnecessary risk. Weight loss is never a one-size-fits-all approach, says Taylor. Intermittent fasting may be sustainable for some people, while others find that this approach just isnt for them.
If you want to try intermittent fasting, youll first need to figure out how youre going to incorporate this style of eating into your life, especially when it comes to things like social events and staying active, she advises.
Ready to explore your options? Here, Taylor explains some of the most popular intermittent fasting methods.
1. Time-restricted eating
In this option, you have set fasting and eating windows. For example, you fast for 16 hours of the day and are able to eat for only eight hours of the day.
Since most people already fast while they sleep, this method is popular. Its convenient, as you extend the overnight fast by skipping breakfast and not eating until lunch. This form of fasting is a safer bet for many people who are interested in trying intermittent fasting for the first time, says Taylor.
Some of the most common ways are:
- The 16/8 method: Only eating between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
- The 14/10 method: Only eating between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.
This method of intermittent fasting can be repeated as often as youd like or even done once or twice a week whatever your personal preference is.
2. The twice-a-week method