Did you know that, if you’re a woman, fasting could lead to hormonal imbalance and could lead to fertility issues if not done properly?
Chances are, if you are health and fitness savvy, you’ve heard of intermittent fasting and its benefits for fat loss and overall health.
Intermittent fasting is a term used to describe an eating pattern that sets aside a specific period of time during the day for eating while the rest of the day is devoted to fasting. Intermittent fasting (IF) has become increasingly popular in recent years.
Unlike most diets that tell you what to eat, intermittent fasting focuses on when to eat by incorporating regular short-term fasts into your routine. IF does not involve tracking calories or macronutrients. In fact, there are no requirements about what foods to eat or avoid, making it more of a lifestyle than a diet.
It's more like a schedule than diet
(IF) is more like an eating schedule than an actual diet.
While doing IF, people only eat within a relatively narrow range of hours during the day. Intermittent fasting simply means you go a period of time without eating, usually between 12 to 48 hours. This length of time is known as your fasting window, during which time you only consume liquids, such as water, herbal tea, or broth.
This way of eating may help you consume fewer calories, lose weight and lower your risk of diabetes and heart disease. Intermittent fasting may be more effective than a traditional diet for weight loss, according to a study published in the Journal of Translational Medicine.
The research found that people who did IF saw a significant decrease in fat mass over a period of eight weeks.
Another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that those who did IF reduced their body weight and body fat percentage over an eight-week period. They were also able to decrease LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure.
There’s evidence that IF, when done properly, might help regulate blood glucose, control blood lipids, reduce the risk of coronary disease, manage body weight, help us gain (or maintain) lean mass, reduce the risk of cancer, and more.
New research studies suggest that intermittent fasting helps optimize insulin levels, promote weight loss, facilitate cellular repair and even control gene expression to promote longevity and disease protection. People who practice IF report feeling more energetic and wake with a feeling of alertness and excitement to start the day.
However, a number of studies have suggested that intermittent fasting may not be as beneficial for women as it is for men.
Did you know that, if you’re a woman, fasting could lead to hormonal imbalance and could lead to fertility issues if not done properly? For this reason, women may need to follow a modified approach.
Here is a short beginner’s guide to intermittent fasting for women.
Plenty of options for the schedule
There is not a one-size-fits-all protocol for intermittent fasting. Each person responds differently to how many hours they fast and how often they practice IF during the week.
It does take some experimenting in the beginning to see if IF is right for you and which protocol allows your body to thrive.
Intermittent fasting simply means taking a break between meals. This break can be similar to normal evenings spent not eating (not eating from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. would be a 12-hour fast), slightly longer (7 p.m. to 11 a.m. is a 16-hour fast), and even several days.
The type of fasting you practice depends on your individual body and preferences, in addition to what you're trying to accomplish. Many people prefer to simply skip breakfast, stretching out the period between dinner and their next meal, while others want the more extreme challenge of a multi-day experience.
There are several styles of intermittent fasting. The primary and most popular way to do IF is the 16:8 style. This style pairs 16 hours of fasting with 8 hours of eating. For example, you would stop eating at 8 p.m. and wait to eat again until noon the next day.
Intermittent fasting simply means you go a period of time without eating, usually between 12 to 48 hours. This length of time is known as your fasting window, during which time you only consume liquids, such as water, herbal tea, or broth.
Some experts recommend drinking low-calorie green vegetable juices and taking supplements while fasting to help keep vitamin and mineral intake consistent, while others believe only water should be consumed. Like many topics in the health realm, the rules around intermittent fasting are subjective, depending on who you ask.
If you fast for less than 24 hours, you’ll also have an eating window. This is the time allotted for meals before you begin your fast. For most people practicing intermittent fasting, their eating window is between six to 12 hours. The most common fasting times are 12,14,16, and 18 hours.
For example, if you were to do a 12-hour fast, your eating window would be 12 hours. You could start your eating window at 7 am and end at 7 pm. You would break the fast the next day at 7 am.
Although some of the intermittent fasting methods online seem more intense than others (some can last upwards of 48 hours), the beauty of intermittent fasting is that you get to choose and experiment with how long you fast. This not only allows you to determine how intermittent fasting can fit in within your lifestyle but to discover the fasting sweet spot that helps you feel best physically.
Does it affect women differently than men?
Yes! A woman’s physiology is different than a man and we know that men and women respond to fasting differently. Women are quite sensitive to periods of fasting.
If intermittent fasting is not done correctly, it can contribute to hormonal imbalances. When a woman’s body senses she is in a state of starvation, the hunger hormones levels, ghrelin and leptin, are affected. These hormones can more easily trigger a woman to binge, which is often followed by periods of restricting and then binging again. This pattern leads to an unhealthy relationship with food and a more critical body image.
Because this chain of reactions happens on a very specific, regular cycle in women, GnRH pulses must be very precisely timed, or everything can get out of whack. GnRH pulses seem to be very sensitive to environmental factors and can be thrown off by fasting.
There’s even some evidence that missing a single regular meal (while of course not constituting an emergency by itself) can start to put us on alert, perking up our antennae so our bodies are ready to quickly respond to the change in energy intake if it continues.
So, while some women who try IF say it’s the best thing that’s happened to them since grapefruit, others report serious problems, including binge eating, metabolic disruption, lost menstrual periods, and early-onset menopause. This has happened in women as young as their mid-20s.
Fasting can also interfere with ovulation. A woman’s body is wise, and when it senses that there may not be enough food available, hormones shift in a way that can inhibit ovulation thus preventing pregnancy. In a biological sense, when the body senses starvation, it knows it is not the right time to get pregnant. Female bodies are exquisitely tuned to any threats to energy and fertility.
Is it good for everyone?
Experts warn that intermittent fasting can also be risky for certain people. Those who have low blood pressure, low blood sugar, or other potentially risky health problems should consult their doctor first.
People who are taking insulin or other medications that affect the blood sugar may struggle with IF because they need to eat more regularly to prevent blood sugar drops.
Anyone who has an eating disorder or a history of eating disorders should avoid intermittent fasting. IF may too closely resemble the cycle of bingeing and purging and trigger a relapse.
If you are on medication that must be taken with food in the morning or before bed, IF may not be the best choice, but there are ways to make it work. Anyone who is pregnant or plans to get pregnant should focus on eating healthfully instead of on weight loss. Remember to check with your doctor first, if you are unsure.
Intermittent fasting may work amazingly well for some people, and terribly for others. Most importantly, if you do decide to give intermittent fasting a try, be sure to listen to your body’s feedback.
Easing into intermittent fasting by starting with shorter fasting windows can help with initial symptoms of hunger and discomfort. But if it becomes too uncomfortable, be honest with yourself, accept it, and move on.
At the end of the day, nothing can have a greater impact on your health than a diet consisting of real, whole foods, and a lifestyle that prioritizes your physical, mental, and emotional well-being.