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Is Intermittent Fasting Good For Women?

If you’ve thought about intermittent fasting and want to reap the benefits, but you've also heard it's no longer considered 'healthy' or not ideal for women, then this article is for you.

What is intermittent fasting?

It's a way of eating that involves a predetermined period of time to consume your caloric needs and a set period of time to fast or break from eating. With intermittent fasting, the focus is on when you eat, while what you eat remains up to you. For this reason, I don't consider I.F a diet in the conventional sense, but rather a pattern of eating.

Types of Intermittent Fasting

  • 16:8 - Fast for sixteen hours, consume food within an eight hour period.

  • 5:2 - Five days of eating how you 'normally' would followed by two days of restricting calorie consumption to 25% of your caloric needs. 

  • Eat Stop Eat - This involves fasting for 24 hours once or twice a week.

The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

  • Reduced symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and leaky gut

  • Better gut microflora balance

  • Reduced inflammation (first and foremost in the digestive tract)

  • Improved liver health

  • Improved cognitive function

  • Menopausal and postmenopausal weight loss

  • Improved metabolic health

  • Improved insulin sensitivity

  • Better balanced triglyceride and cholesterol levels

  • Activated autophagy; the process whereby new cells 'eat' damaged cells and regenerate new ones. It’s an important repair process and positively changes the expression of genes relating to longevity and disease prevention.

How To Know If Intermittent Fasting is Right For You?

First, consider what type of fasting might be most realistic and sustainable for your lifestyle. For instance, when do you use the most energy and thus when will you need food in your day? This will help guide when to begin or end your fasting times.

Once you decide, start slowly.

For instance, try fasting for just 3-5 days a week, rather than for a full 7 days. Avoid any extended fasts (24 hours +) and instead consider a 16:8 or even a 14:10 to begin.

After a few days, ask yourself - "How do I feel when intermittent fasting?"

If the answer is lighter, clearer, more energetic and happy, then I.F may suit your body, health and lifestyle.

However, Stop Fasting Completely & Reassess, if:

  • You skip a menstrual bleed or your cycle becomes irregular (not relevant if you're in peri-menopause).

  • You notice your hair starts to fall out.

  • You begin to feel the cold much more than usual.

  • Your digestive function slows right down (you become constipated).

  • You're no longer recovering well after a workout.

  • You're less tolerant of stress.

  • Your libido seems to decline.

  • You experience significant weakness or dizziness.

Tips For Intermittent Fasting & Women

Intermittent fasting has a different effect on women than it does on men. The reasons vary, and the research is limited but we know that:

  • Women are more likely to dangerously calorie restrict in their eating window, than men.

  • Women are more sensitive to calorie restriction than men because they have an inbuilt protective mechanism to ensure that they're less likely to ovulate if in a state of starvation. This is to avoid becoming pregnant when there is a food shortage.

  • Anovulatory cycles mean no progesterone production and progesterone is essential for many bodily functions outside of pregnancy.

If you want to try intermittent fasting, consider the following for best results.

  • Prioritize getting enough protein.

  • Eat before training. Unkile the research on men, studies show that women perform better if they eat before their training time.

  • Don’t cut calories in your eating window, if you don't aim to reduce fat mass.

  • Don’t remove major food groups.

  • Make it painless - try eating dinner by 7pm and have breakfast at 11am.

  • If you exclude one meal in your day, make it dinner (when you need the least energy) over breakfast or lunch.

  • Consume a high fibre meal with good quality fats and proteins prior to your fast. This will keep you feeling satiated for longer.

AVOID Intermittent Fasting if You

  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding

  • Are trying to conceive

  • Have fertility issues

  • Have period changes or hormonal imbalance (PCOS is an exception)

  • Have an eating disorder or a history of disordered eating

  • Are going through a period of high stress

  • Have chronic anxiety

  • Are burnt out (have adrenal 'fatigue')

  • Have thyroid dysfunction

  • Are chronically ill, depleted or have low vitality

What Can I Eat While Fasting?

  1. Black coffee is ok. Polyphenols in coffee encourage cells to recycle and go through autophagy.

  2. Stevia and monkfruit sweeteners are ok. Avoid erythritol.

  3. All herbal teas are ok. Avoid any fruit-flavoured herbal teas.

  4. Diet sodas are a grey area. I don’t advise this for health reasons and some information suggests that fake sugars trigger a metabolic response. That being said, you can now source stevia-sweetened soda waters which would be fine.

  5. Soda water and water are ok (unless you’re choosing to do a dry fast). Avoid coconut water.

  6. Apple cider vinegar and lemon juice are a grey area. I believe the benefits outweigh any metabolic response. They are both bitter, rich in potassium and alkalizing.

  7. Most herbal medicines and tableted (non-gel cap) supplements are ok. Avoid fish oils, MCT oil, coconut oil, hemp, flax, CBD, CoQ10, cod liver oil, exogenous ketone supplements, protein powders, and fat-soluble nutrients.

Nb. Anything else will initiate an insulin spike, and metabolic response bringing you out of your fasting state.

Need more support to find the right style of eating for you and your lifestyle?

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