Intermittent fasting, also known as IF, has become a popular method for getting lean and losing weight. It’s also said to boost energy levels, increase motivation and stamina, and improve cognitive function. It may even protect against cancer (1).
Those benefits don’t sound too shabby, do they?
While intermittent fasting does seem to offer some promising health benefits, it may not be for everyone — especially depending on whether you’re male or female. And as it stands now, there’s more research being done on intermittent fasting for rats than for humans.
It seems that whether or not intermittent fasting will work for you comes down to human biology. While shorter periods of fasting are generally considered safe for most people, some of the extended fasting times associated with intermittent fasting can be disastrous for a woman’s hormones — causing things such as reproductive issues and early menopause — and may worsen other pre-existing health conditions.
Before we get into the details, let’s look closer at what intermittent fasting is, how it works, and the pros and cons of this eating trend for women.
What is Intermittent Fasting and How Does it Work?Intermittent fasting may sound a bit technical, but you’ve probably done it before without even realizing it. First, it helps to know the difference between the fasted state and fed state.
The Fasted State vs. Fed StateWhen you eat every few hours, you’re in a “fed” state, which is when your body is busy digesting, absorbing, and assimilating the nutrients from your meals. Accelerated fat burning isn’t the #1 priority here. Most of us remain in the fed state during the day, aside from when we’re sleeping.
The reason why intermittent fasting can provide certain benefits for weight loss is because it allows your body to enter the fasted state, which is when your body’s fat burning can really accelerate.
How Intermittent Fasting Works
Intermittent fasting simply means you go a period of time without eating, usually between 12 to 48 hours. This length of time is known as your fasting window, during which time you only consume liquids, such as water, herbal tea, or broth.
Some experts recommend drinking low-calorie green vegetable juices and taking supplements while fasting to help keep vitamin and mineral intake consistent, while others believe only water should be consumed. Like many topics in the health realm, the rules around intermittent fasting are subjective, depending on who you ask.
If you fast for less than 24 hours, you’ll also have an eating window. This is the time allotted for meals before you begin your fast. For most people practicing intermittent fasting, their eating window is between six to 12 hours. The most common fasting times are 12,14,16, and 18 hours.
For example, if you were to do a 12-hour fast, your eating window would be 12 hours. You could start your eating window at 7am and end at 7pm. You would break the fast the next day at 7am.
Although some of the intermittent fasting methods online seem more intense than others (some can last upwards of 48 hours), the beauty of intermittent fasting is that you get to choose and experiment with how long you fast. This not only allows you to determine how intermittent fasting can fit in within your lifestyle, but to discover the fasting sweet spot that helps you feel best physically.
Pros and Cons of Intermittent Fasting for Women (And Why it Can Be Tricky)Some of the benefits of intermittent fasting may include:
When the female body senses it’s headed towards famine, it will increase the production of the hunger hormones, ghrelin and leptin, which signal to the body that you’re hungry and need to eat (2). Additionally, if there’s not enough food for you to survive, your body is going to shutdown the system that would allow you to create another human. This is the body’s natural way of protecting a potential pregnancy, even if you’re not actually pregnant or trying to conceive.
It’s not that you’re intentionally imposing a famine upon yourself — but your body doesn’t know that. It doesn’t know the difference between true starvation and intermittent fasting, which is why it defaults to this protective mechanism.
Therefore, some of the cons due to hormonal imbalances brought on by intermittent fasting may also lead to:
With all of these drawbacks, you may be wondering: could you (and would you still want to) practice intermittent fasting as a female? If you take a more relaxed approach, the answer is yes. When done within a briefer timeframe, intermittent fasting can still help you reach your weight loss goals and provide the other health benefits previously mentioned, without messing up your hormones.
The Best Intermittent Fasting Methods for Women
So, what exactly is a relaxed approach to intermittent fasting? Again, since there’s little research done on intermittent fasting, we’re dealing with a bit of a gray area. The opinions also tend to vary depending on which site you visit, or which health expert you ask. From what we’ve found, the general guidelines to brief intermittent fasting for women are:
Do not fast for longer than 24 hours at a time
Ideally fast for 12 to 16 hours
Do not fast on consecutive days during your first two to three weeks of fasting (for instance, if you do a 16-hour fast, do it three days a week instead of seven)
Drink plenty of fluids (bone broth, herbal tea, water) during your fast
Only do light exercise on fasting days, such as yoga, walking, jogging, and gentle stretching
Options for Intermittent FastingThere are several different intermittent fasting methods discussed online. Here are a few of the most popular ones.
When Should You Avoid Intermittent Fasting?Intermittent fasting isn’t a good fit for everyone. You shouldn’t consider intermittent fasting if you are:
Final Thoughts on Intermittent Fasting for WomenIntermittent fasting may work amazingly well for some people, and terribly for others. Most importantly, if you do decide to give intermittent fasting a try, be sure to listen to your body’s feedback. Easing into intermittent fasting by starting with shorter fasting windows can help with initial symptoms of hunger and discomfort. But if it becomes too uncomfortable, be honest with yourself, accept it, and move on.
At the end of the day, nothing can have a greater impact on your health than a diet rich in real, whole foods, and a lifestyle that prioritizes your physical, mental, and emotional well-being.