What Women Should Know About Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting has many benefits, but for women it may be more harmful than beneficial. We discuss the benefits and drawbacks of intermittent fasting for women, as well as how to initiate the practice.

Intermittent fasting is one of the most fashionable diets currently available. Fans claim that it can aid in weight loss, fat burning, diabetes risk reduction, and blood pressure reduction. People, and especially women, may wonder if they should give intermittent fasting a try in light of these purported advantages. Historically, people have predominantly fasted for religious reasons, but in recent years, many have jumped on the intermittent fasting bandwagon due to its purported health benefits. There is some scientific support for these claims, but intermittent fasting can be detrimental to women due to the effect of caloric restriction on female hormones, fertility, and bone health (learn more about intermittent fasting and weight loss). The restrictive nature of the diet can also lead to eating disorders. Here, we examine the science behind intermittent fasting, including its definition, benefits, potential health risks, and how to begin.

what is the definition of intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting (IF) is an alternating pattern of fasting and eating. There are three main types of fasting: time-restricted, modified, and alternate-day. Time-restricted IF includes eating only during a specific time window, such as the 16:8 where you eat during an 8-hour window (usually 12-8 pm) and then fast for the remaining 16 hours. Some individuals may be able to adapt and fast for 12 hours, followed by a 12-hour eating window. The 5:2 diet, also known as modified fasting, involves restricting calories to 20-25% of energy needs on two nonconsecutive days per week (this could be as low as 500 calories per day), with no restrictions on calories or timing on the remaining five days. Complete alternate day fasting consists of alternating fasting days (during which no food is consumed) with non-fasting days (eating anything you want).

positive aspects of women's intermittent fasting

According to Prevention Pantry Nutrition's Jillian Greaves, M.P.H., R.D., L.N., an integrative functional dietitian, "substantial research supports the therapeutic benefits of fasting."Improved cellular health, enhanced metabolic markers, and weight loss are potential health benefits. According to studies, intermittent fasting results in weight loss in women, but not more weight loss than an overall calorie deficit. However, the structure of intermittent fasting makes it easier for certain individuals to reduce caloric intake.

Intermittent fasting can also promote fat loss. When we consume food, our blood sugar (glucose) rises and insulin is secreted to transport glucose to our cells for energy. Extra glucose is stored just as quickly. If you do not eat for 10 to 16 hours, your body will begin to rely on its fat reserves for energy.

In a fasted state, cellular repair occurs, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. This is associated with increased longevity, decreased cancer risk, reduced inflammation, and enhanced metabolism. Nevertheless, the majority of studies have been conducted on animals, and more research on women is required.

There is also emerging evidence that eating in sync with the circadian rhythm protects against chronic diseases. In other words, eating during a 6-to-10-hour window during the day, when it is light outside, and decreasing nighttime eating.

cons for women of intermittent fasting

"Despite the benefits found in research, it is essential to consider the context and keep in mind that it is not appropriate for all individuals at all times," says Greaves. As their bodies are more sensitive to stressors such as prolonged fasting and caloric restriction, women of childbearing age must be especially cautious with intermittent fasting.

Greaves explains, "Intermittent fasting is a stressor on the body, and in the context of modern life, which is already filled with chronic emotional, physiological, and environmental stressors, IF may be detrimental rather than beneficial. Over time, fasting can cause blood sugar dysregulation, elevated insulin resistance, lean muscle loss, fatigue, and disruptions in thyroid function. Short-term fasting may decrease thyroid stimulating hormone, but chronically elevated cortisol can reduce the conversion of thyroid hormone." (Here are six foods to avoid if you're looking to reduce your stress level, along with alternatives.)

"Fasting can also result in undereating, which we know has a variety of negative effects on female hormones," says Greaves. Intermittent fasting may result in menstrual cycle disruption and impair fertility (learn more about how what we eat impacts our hormones).

Fasting can increase hunger and food obsession, resulting in overeating or a cycle of restriction and bingeing. This is especially harmful for women with eating disorders or women with a history of food restriction or disordered eating who are chronic dieters. When the body is deprived of food for extended periods, hunger hormones are released, which stimulate appetite. "I frequently observe women applying intermittent fasting incorrectly by skipping breakfast and eating late at night, which we know can disrupt circadian rhythms and contribute to hormone imbalance," says Greaves. "I also observe women practicing IF while completely ignoring their body's biological hunger cues, which is neither physically nor mentally health-promoting."