Intermittent fasting is all the rage these days and has been on everyone’s radar for years now.
But is it the silver bullet we think it is?
Men and women’s bodies are different. Vastly. As women, our bodies are on a 28 day cycle, rather than a 24hr cycle like men. Our hormones are far more intricate and in a more delicate balance than those in men. So while emerging research on intermittent fasting shows promising results for weight loss, blood sugar balance, and overall health — it’s important to point out these studies are done mainly on men. Not women.
The biggest difference here is that women’s bodies are built for fertility and reproduction and when we experience extended periods without food, the body shuts down the reproductive functioning.
Even if you’re not trying to conceive, not having a properly functioning reproductive system affects the entire body – not simply ovulation and fertilization.
The hormone estrogen specifically is key to hormonal and full-body health for women and when fasting, estrogen balance gets disrupted.
Estrogen and fasting
Estrogen helps regulate metabolism, weight management, mood, anxiety, stress, bone density, energy levels and brain function, to name a few. When fasting, estrogen levels are disrupted the risks are vast:
- low energy
- insulin resistance
- weight gain
- brain fog
- decreased bone density
- poor muscle tone
- sugar cravings
- irregular periods
- and more
Intermittent fasting can provide some health benefits, but it’s not without risks, especially for women.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
There aren’t any hard cut rules for fasting. The time tables vary greatly. Essentially, it’s going for a short amount of time without food. It can be as small as 12hrs overnight or 16, 20, even 24hrs without food. Different people approach it differently based on their lifestyle and goals.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
As mentioned above, there are documented benefits to fasting. Studies have shown that IF can help improve certain health conditions like:
- improved insulin sensitivity
- reduced body fat
- may help improve biomarkers for Type 2 Diabetes
- may improve cognitive function
- may lower stress hormones
- may help lower risk of chronic illness
- may facilitate weight loss
Rather than a 24hr fast or consecutive days of fasting, I recommend a 12hr fast overnight. Honestly, I wouldn’t even call this a fast. I’d just call this not eating while sleeping and when the sun is down.
This simply looks like stopping intakes of food at, for example, 8pm and eating again at 8am. It’s not drastic or unheard of, and luckily, the evidence to support IF is consistent with a 12hr overnight fast so you’ll likely get the benefits that intermittent fasting can provide without the adverse hormonal cascade.
Who should NOT fast?
You should not try intermittent fasting if:
- you have irregular periods or missing menses
- you have a history of eating disorders
- you’re pregnant, trying to conceive, or breastfeeding
- you have PCOS, endometriosis or fibroids
- you don’t have the foundation of a healthy, well-balanced diet
Before starting a fasting routine, consult your physician and talk with a qualified nutritionist to make sure your diet is well-balanced and sufficient.