By now, you may have heard of some of the incredible benefits of intermittent fasting. Things like a higher metabolism, weight loss, and increased energy, among many other benefits, can all be experienced, and I’ll explore them further below. As soon as I heard about this amazing practice, I thought it would be something that I could simply incorporate into my lifestyle to aid my health and I began doing it right away. It wasn’t long after that I found some information explaining how women must be careful with this practice because it can actually cause hormonal imbalance and even lead to fertility issues. So if you are a woman and intermittent fasting interests you, here’s what you need to know.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
First off, you may have no idea what intermittent fasting even is, so let me explain. The process of intermittent fasting involves restricting the eating period to an 8-10 hour window, so that you are going between 12 and 16 hours or more with absolutely no food in your system. Water, herbal tea, and black coffee are fine, however.
While this may sound really difficult to achieve, especially if you are someone who likes to eat at night, consider this: If you normally have dinner at 7pm and don’t eat anything until 10am the next day, you are already doing it, because you are going 15 hours without food. Basically cutting out that late night snack might be all you need to make intermittent fasting a part of your routine.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Medical studies have shown that intermittent fasting can:
- Increase energy
- Improve cognitive function, memory, and focus
- Make us less insulin resistant
- Increases the immune system, improves heart health, lowers diabetes risk
- Increases the production of brain neurotropic growth factor, a protein that promotes neuron growth, helping to make us more resistant to neurological stress and thus making us less susceptible to neurodegenerative diseases.
So, as you can see, this simple daily practice can absolutely be a great addition to your lifestyle.
Women and Intermittent Fasting
As mentioned above, intermittent fasting can have adverse effects on women and their hormones if not done correctly. Intermittent fasting is relatively new to the mainstream medical system and unfortunately, to date there haven’t been any conclusive studies conducted on the effects of intermittent fasting on women specifically. There have been several animal studies, however, and research has shown that after two weeks of intermittent fasting, female rats stopped having menstrual cycles and their ovaries shrunk. They also experienced more insomnia than the males who were also part of the study.
Women are much more sensitive to starvation signals than men, and if the body senses it is being starved, it will ramp up the production of the hunger hormones, leptin and ghrelin. When women experience that feeling of insatiable hunger after not eating enough, what they are actually feeling are these hormones. This is how a woman’s body protects the potential fetus, even if a woman is not pregnant. Sometimes, we ignore these signals, but this can cause us to binge eat later, and the process of starving and then bingeing is in itself a vicious cycle that can throw your hormones out of balance and thus halt the ovulation process.
A safe solution for women who want the benefits of intermittent fasting without the potential risks is to start off with something called Crescendo fasting.
Check out the infographic below from Dr. Josh Axe for a brief overview of what this entails.
The basic rules of crescendo fasting are as follows:
- Fast on 2-3 nonconsecutive days per week (e.g. Monday, Wednesday and Saturday).
- On the days of your fast, choose yoga, stretching, or light cardio for exercise.
- Eat normally on days you are practicing strength training or high intensity interval workout days.
- Fast for 12-16 hours on your fasting days
- Stay hydrated.
- After two weeks, add on another day of fasting if you wish.
- You may want to consider taking 5-8 grams of branched chain amino acid supplements (BCAAs), which have few calories but provide fuel to the muscles. and can help take the edge off any hunger and fatigue you may experience.
If you have tried and failed at intermittent fasting before, maybe the crescendo fasting style is better for you! Every body is different and has different needs, so experiment to discover what works best for you.
For more CE articles on fasting, you can click here.