What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting (IF) is not a diet; it's an eating pattern. It involves cycling between periods of eating and fasting. This approach doesn't focus on what you eat, but rather when you eat.
These are the different Intermittent Fasting patterns:
16/8 Method: This involves fasting for 16 hours each day and limiting your eating to an 8-hour window.
5:2 Diet: You eat normally for five days and significantly reduce your calorie intake (about 500-600 calories) for the remaining two non-consecutive days.
Eat-Stop-Eat: This includes a full 24-hour fast once or twice a week.
Alternate-Day Fasting: You alternate between days of regular eating and fasting or consuming very few calories.
I recommend the first option and as women, we don’t even need to go 16 hours to get the benefits of fasting: 12 hours is enough! Isn’t that great that for once, we seem to have an advantage over men here?!
On the other hand, for women, intermittent fasting is not that straightforward and I don’t recommend it throughout your cycle.
Intermittent Fasting for Women
Understanding your menstrual cycle is crucial when considering intermittent fasting. During your follicular phase (starting with menstruation), is the best time to fast or to do intermittent fasting. You’d probably want to wait until you stopped bleeding. This is because your estrogen levels are higher during this phase of your cycle and they protect your blood sugar levels - make them more stable. You’ll also find that you are less hungry in this phase. Once you approach ovulation, you’ll find yourself getting more hungry and may find it harder to maintain your fast.
During the luteal phase (the second half of your cycle), is not the time to fast as your blood sugar is much more sensitive. Listen to your body and eat when you’re hungry. In your luteal phase you may need to eat more often than in the first half of your cycle when 3 meals should be fine without snacking.
What are the benefits?
Intermittent fasting has huge benefits.The main thing is that it will help reduce inflammation overall in your body. Specifically, it can help with:
Gastrointestinal issues – it gives your digestive system a break
It can be extremely helpful with glucose regulation issues or insulin resistance, although people who are taking medication for type 1 or type 2 diabetes should be cautious as going without food will naturally lower glucose levels so anyone taking glucose-lowering medication must monitor their blood sugar to make sure it doesn’t get too low.
It’s also proven to lower total cholesterol and triglycerides.
Fasting causes the body to burn stored fat for energy so it’s a great strategy for weight loss.
Boosts mental clarity and reduces the likelihood of developing neurological disorders, like Alzheimers, Parkinsons, etc
Improves sleep quality
Human Growth Hormone (HGH) increase: The levels of growth hormone increase as much as 5 times. This has benefits for fat loss and muscle gain, for instance, but also boosts longevity.
Cellular repair: When fasted, your cells initiate cellular repair processes. This includes autophagy, where cells digest and remove old and dysfunctional proteins that build up inside cells. You could understand this as the auto-repair mode of your body. So if you are fighting an illness, auto-immune disease or other inflammation, this is highly beneficial as your body will repair the damage once entered in autophagy.
Gene expression: There are changes in the function of genes related to longevity and protection against disease
Who shouldn’t practice intermittent fasting?
If you have a history of disordered eating or tendencies towards that, you should not try intermittent fasting as it could trigger those tendencies.
If you have hypoglycemia (low blood sugar episodes), or you are a diabetic, if you’re being treated for an acute illness, then it is probably not the right thing for you to try.
If you have an HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary axis) dysregulation, also known as “adrenal fatigue” or chronic fatigue, intermittent fasting can put an additional stress on your body and you’ll just feel worse.
Simply put, if you have more energy and are mentally clear while fasting then this is a great practice for you. If you feel shaky, nauseous, or have brain fog while fasting, then it’s not right for you and that is absolutely fine: always listen to your body!
Here are some tips to keep in mind if you give this a try:
Stay hydrated and make sure you get enough electrolytes
Make sure you eat enough protein (but also healthy fats and fiber) during your eating window
Don’t overeat when the fast is over. It is not an excuse to binge or eat unhealthy foods during non-fasting periods.
Move your body to keep your lymph flowing!
Sleep! If you don’t sleep enough or well, you’ll kill all the benefits of your fast: a lack of sleep impacts your blood sugar, creates cravings and inflames your brain
I think that intermittent fasting is an excellent strategy for many people. And for women it's even easier to do this as their liver storage is smaller than men's. This means that 12-13 hours of fasting can already be sufficient for women.
Especially as you navigate the journey of aging and approaching menopause, it can be really helpful in reducing inflammation and keeping your blood sugar stable.
Remember, every woman is different, and what works for one may not work for another. Listen to your body, honor its needs, and embrace this stage of life with grace.