When you hear the word “fasting,” it’s easy to groan and think, “But I don’t want to be hungry!” It’s a completely natural thought. After all, fasting is often linked to some not-so-wonderful occasions, like 12-hour stints before blood tests, or the time you were so desperate to fit into that dress you barely ate for an entire week.
These days, you’re more likely to hear the term “intermittent fasting.” People are turning to intermittent fasting methods in hopes of improving their energy, increasing their motivation, and even boosting their brain power. And it’s particularly popular among women looking to shed some pounds.
But, how is intermittent fasting different from regular fasting? Is it even safe for women?
Research supports the idea that women are particularly sensitive to any kind of calorie restriction. For some women, major calorie restriction can lead to serious hormonal imbalances, or even fertility issues.1 It can even result in a condition known as hypothalamic amenorrhea, where a woman’s periods stop altogether.2
So, is intermittent fasting for women really such a good idea?
Let’s dive a little deeper:
How Does Intermittent Fasting Work?
Intermittent Fasting (IF) involves cycling between periods of eating and fasting. There are no restrictions on what foods you can and can’t eat. It all comes down to when you eat them.
Intermittent fasting schedules vary a great deal, but the most common ones lean towards these four approaches:
1. The 16/8 Method: You eat only within an 8-hour window each day, and then fast for 16 hours. So, perhaps you eat between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., and then you don’t eat again until 10 a.m. the next morning.
2. The Eat-Stop-Eat Method: You don’t eat for a full 24-hour period once or twice a week.
3. The 5/2 Method: You eat normally five days a week, and then restrict yourself to only 500-600 calories on the other two days.
4. The Crescendo Method: You fast for only a few days per week. This is an alternate-day fasting method, meaning you don’t eat for 12 to 16 hours a day every other day. The key is to not fast on consecutive days.3,4
Note: You should always drink plenty of water during these fasting periods. Many variants also allow you to drink black coffee or tea.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Why should you embrace intermittent fasting? Supporters say it’s beneficial because it’s a natural state for your body. Our ancestors once roamed the land hunting and gathering, seeking out their next meal – and many times, it didn’t come. It certainly didn’t come three times a day, with snacks in between.
So, the theory goes that your body is built to withstand periods without any calorie intake. And some would argue that it’s meant to operate this way – and by not fasting, you’re gaining more weight and contributing to the obesity epidemic.5
While research is ongoing, and these are just theories, it’s certainly food for thought.
So, what are some of the other possible benefits of intermittent fasting?
1. Weight Loss
When you fast, your body is forced to switch from running on glucose to another source, because you’ve cut out its regular supply. So, your body starts to convert body fat into fatty acids and then into “ketones” as a new source of energy. In multiple clinical trials, researchers concluded that intermittent fasting was effective in shedding excess pounds.6
2. Better Focus
Many people who follow an intermittent fasting schedule swear by the fact that it makes them feel clearer and more focused. And the “ketosis” caused by the body burning ketones has been linked to some key brain benefits.
Science supports this idea. One study found that intermittent fasting increased biological markers related to memory and learning. It also boosted performances on memory tests and encouraged the growth of new neurons. Research also suggests intermittent fasting may even play a role in easing mood disorders.7,8
Is It Safe For Women?
The potential benefits of intermittent fasting may sound exciting. But the bottom line is this: There’s just not enough research on humans to say for sure whether it has real health benefits for men or women.
Like all lifestyles, it’s important to determine what works for your own individual body. An obese woman is going to be facing a very different set of circumstances than a slender woman. And, if you’re in your fertility window, it’s certainly important that you’re educated about any potential side effects that could occur in some people.
The best thing you can do is to talk to a trusted health professional, like your doctor or OBGYN, about intermittent fasting for women. Follow their advice!
A Final Word on Intermittent Fasting For Women
No matter the buzz regarding intermittent fasting methods, the scientific literature out there is still light on real, hard evidence.
Always start with the most basic level of any healthy lifestyle: a clean diet free of processed foods and high on whole foods, especially leafy vegetables.
From there, talk to your doctor about your own personal circumstances and your reasons for wanting to undertake an intermittent fasting schedule.