Women and Intermittent Fasting: Is It For You?
Are you friends, co-workers, or family members raving about the positive effects of intermittent fasting? Do their eating patterns all seem to be something different? Are you wondering what “intermittent fasting” is and whether it’s a good option for you? With so much health and wellness advice available for women, knowing what’s best for you can be challenging. Kroma Wellness is here to help.
Fasting is not a new concept, but intermittent fasting has become a trending topic over the last decade or two. In general, people seem to praise its health effects, but how does intermittent fasting affect women?
Let's explore what intermittent fasting is, its methods, how it may be different for women, and the potential health benefits women can enjoy following an intermittent fasting method.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Physicians have recommended fasting for thousands of years, and fasting is a longtime staple of many religious practices. In the mid-1900s, research began on the health effects of intermittent fasting, and that research is still ongoing today. There have been proven health benefits for intermittent fasting in the body and mind, showing that those ancient physicians may have been onto something.
Simply put, intermittent fasting involves refraining from eating for certain lengths of time during the day or week. There are a few different types of intermittent fasting plans. Some eliminate food entirely during the day, and others drastically reduce your calorie intake during set fasting periods.
The most significant similarity in each plan is that you don’t restrict calories during eating periods. Unlike traditional diets, there isn’t a list of foods you can and cannot eat. As with any healthy lifestyle, maintaining a balanced diet is always preferred, but you should never feel guilty about enjoying dessert at your girls’ night out.
Is Intermittent Fasting Different for Women?
It should come as no surprise that men and women are different. Women need to make sure they are getting enough nutrient-dense calories during the day. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of studies around intermittent fasting and women. Still, some have found that intermittent fasting can help increase the stress hormone cortisol, which could lower blood sugar levels below healthy limits and increase blood lipids, negatively affecting cholesterol.
Some studies on rats show intermittent fasting can cause female rats’ menstrual cycles to stop. While we are not rats, there has been anecdotal evidence of humans experiencing similar effects. However, intermittent fasting may positively impact reproductive health in women with PCOS or women who are overweight.
While it may seem like intermittent fasting isn’t the best option for women, that’s not entirely true. Intermittent fasting may have many health benefits for women despite its possible effects on their menstruation.
Overall, women attempting intermittent fasting need to ensure that they’ve modified their fasting plan to fit their health needs. Thankfully, as intermittent fasting becomes more popular, more women-specific research is being done.
If you are pregnant, hope to become pregnant, have experienced eating disorders, or have general questions about your diet, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before making significant changes to your diet.
How Can Women Intermittently Fast?
There are a lot of different ways to intermittently fast. You can decide which version is best for you depending on your health goals. Some eating patterns are more restrictive, like fasting for 24 hours every other day, and others are less restrictive, like fasting for 12 to 16 hours a day up to three days a week.
No matter which intermittent fasting method you choose, staying hydrated during both fasting and eating periods is essential.
While there are no restrictions during eating periods, you should eat nutrient-rich, whole foods to fuel your body and mind. You can always enjoy the occasional sweet treat, but make sure most of your calories are from lean protein, fiber, veggies, and fruits that are high in vitamins and minerals.
You can exercise while following any intermittent fasting pattern. Weight training and low-impact cardio are your best options, especially when you are first starting. During fasting times, you should not overdo physical activity.
Brad Pilon created the Eat-Stop-Eat pattern while in graduate school at the University of Guelph, Ontario. Your regular diet stays the same in this plan, but you fast for one to two 24 hour periods during the week. For example, if you stop eating at 6 PM on Wednesday, you fast until 6 PM Thursday. The days you fast should not be consecutive.
On fasting days, stick to liquids only. Water, tea, or coffee are good options, but remember to avoid putting any type of creamer or sugar in your drinks. It’s important to stay hydrated through liquids, as you are not getting any hydration from fruits or vegetables like you would on a typical day.
On your eating days, there are no restrictions. Of course, eating a balanced diet is always best. For women, 2,000 calories are recommended during eating periods.
The Fast Diet
Created by doctor-turned-journalist Michael Mosley and journalist Mimi Spencer, the Fast Diet is also known as the 5:2 Diet. In this intermittent fasting plan, you eat normally for five days of the week. On the other two days, you reduce your calorie intake by 75 percent, about 500 calories for most women.
You should spread the two fasting days throughout the week. On fasting days, protein is important — think lean meats, nuts, and legumes — to keep you feeling satiated for longer. Fruits and veggies are also important to provide fiber and other nutrients. Water and zero-calorie drinks like black coffee and teas can help you stay hydrated and feel fuller.
The Crescendo Method
The crescendo method is touted as one of the best options for women because it’s a more gradient eating pattern. On this plan, you fast for 12 to 16 hours at a time, two or three times a week (nonconsecutively).
For example, on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday, you would stop eating at 8 PM and begin eating again at 8 AM or 12 PM the next day.
As with all intermittent fasting methods, there are no set rules beyond the fasting pattern. During the crescendo method, you will spend much of your fasting time asleep. When you are awake, make sure you are staying hydrated with zero-calorie drinks, especially water.
Alternate-day fasting is exactly what it sounds like—you fast every other day.
There are two versions of this intermittent fasting pattern. In the first, you eat zero calories during fasting days. The only thing you would consume is zero-calorie drinks like water, black coffee, and tea. During your eating days there are no restrictions.
Another alternate-day fasting option asks you to reduce your calorie intake by 75 to 80 percent, to about 500 calories. This is similar to the 5:2 diet. On fasting days, your 500 calories should come from foods that will keep you feeling full and provide nutrients like lean meat, low-calorie fruits and vegetables, or broths.
At Kroma, we believe in intermittent fasting for 12-16 hours per day on our 5-Day Lifestyle Program.
The Leangains Method
Developed by Swedish nutritionist Martin Berkham, the Leangains plan follows a 16-hour fasting period each day, leaving eight hours to consume all of your daily calories. Although this is similar to the 16:8 crescendo method, the Leangains method outlines specific eating and fasting times to optimize strength and muscle gain.
During Leangains, you’ll eat three large meals at 1 PM, 4 PM, and 9 PM, and fast from 9 PM to 1 PM. On days with heavy workouts, eat meals high in carbohydrates and calories. On lighter days, stick to low carbs and high fats. You should schedule your workout before a big meal. During times of fasting, you can consume zero-calorie drinks.
What Are the Benefits of Intermittent Fasting for Women?
It should come as no surprise that this popular eating method can have many health benefits for women’s bodies and minds. Unless you are pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or are struggling with an eating disorder, intermittent fasting may be beneficial for your overall health.
Supports a Healthy Heart
Heart health is crucial for your overall health. There are many healthy changes you can make that have surprising benefits to your heart. One way to improve heart health is intermittent fasting. One significant risk factor for heart health is being overweight. When following an intermittent fasting diet, you may lose weight and improve your overall heart health.
Supports Healthy Metabolism
We throw the word metabolism around a lot, but what does it really mean? Technically, metabolism is a chemical reaction created in your body that converts calories from food into energy.
While intermittent fasting, levels of a hormone called norepinephrine can increase. Norepinephrine helps many bodily functions, including metabolism. It also helps break down fat in your blood.
Supports Emotional Wellness
There’s a proven connection between your body and mind. What and how you eat may affect your overall mental health, and intermittent fasting is no different.
Because you take longer breaks between eating times, your body may put energy typically allotted for digestion towards other functions, such as brain function. This may help boost your memory and learning abilities.
Intermittent fasting can also help with autophagy, our body’s natural self-cleaning process that replaces old cells with new cells. This is especially important for brain health, as autophagy can help reduce feelings of tension and help calm your emotions.
Supports Lean Muscle Retention
If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s normal to lose fat, water, and lean muscle in the process. Intermittent fasting helps you lose weight while retaining your lean muscle mass. Testosterone levels may go up, insulin resistance may decrease, and the human growth factor may increase during intermittent fasting. This is a perfect recipe for helping to retain and build lean muscle if your workout routine includes strength training.
Can Help to Reduce Inflammation in the Body
Inflammation is a natural immune response in our bodies. It helps protect healthy tissue from injury while stimulating your immune system to heal injured tissue. When inflammation goes into overdrive, it may cause more harm than good. One cause of inflammation is the foods we eat and how often we eat.
When you adopt an intermittent fasting plan, it helps reduce pro-inflammatory cells in the blood, called monocytes. While monocytes are crucial for healing, too many active monocytes can increase inflammation and cause a host of adverse side effects. Monocytes are less inflammatory when fasting than when fed.
How Do I Start Intermittent Fasting?
For anyone starting an intermittent fasting plan—women included—it’s best to start slow. The crescendo method’s gradient plan makes it popular among both intermittent fasting beginners and women.
Starting with this plan will help your body ease into a new habit without shocking it, and it can potentially help reduce the risk of increasing cortisol levels. Wait a few weeks, then decide if increasing your fasting days and times feels right for you.
As you should with any new diet change, it is always best to talk to your doctor if you have questions or concerns. A diet full of nutrient-dense, whole foods is always a great place to start.
How Do I Know If Intermittent Fasting Is Right for Me?
Everyone’s body is different. Understanding the pros and cons of intermittent fasting is vital before you jump into this new eating pattern.
- No calorie restrictions
- Easy-to-follow plans
- Improves metabolism
- Helps improve mental health
- Can interfere with daily plans and socialization
- Slow adjustment periods
- High drop-out rate
Intermittent fasting can be a great addition to an already healthy lifestyle. By reducing or eliminating your caloric intake over a specific amount of time in a day or week, you can reap many health benefits for your heart, metabolism, and mental health.
Intermittent fasting is also a great way to lose weight and maintain muscle mass. There are many different patterns you can try, some more rigorous than others. As women, our bodies don’t handle famine the same as men. Make sure you speak to your doctor if you have any questions, are pregnant, or are trying to become pregnant. A fasting period of 7 PM to 7 AM can provide many benefits, and it is usually a safe option for most women.
At Kroma Wellness, our goal is to simplify delicious and functional superfood nutrition in your everyday life. Our 5-Day Lifestyle Reset Program is perfect for eating periods during an intermittent fasting plan.