Intermittent fasting and women… Is it safe for us to practice it?
There are many articles and posts that attempt to answer the question. The reason is that there are two major opposing views on this subject.
Is Intermittent Fasting Safe for Women?
Dr. Jason Fung, the author of The Obesity Code, is one of those who believes that women can benefit from the same type of IF protocol than men.
His book is the one that inspired me to start following implementing IF and helped me lose 23 lbs (you can read about it here). The reason I was sold on IF with the book was the extensive research provided to explain why it’s so effective and how it works.
But, the opposing view of Intermittent Fasting and Women is that it affects women’s hormonal balance. If true, this can affect fertility and cause many other detrimental effects on a woman’s body. Having struggled with fertility issues, I do not take this lightly.
It’s important to point out that, even some who believe that IF can cause hormonal imbalance, recognize that there are benefits. As a solution, they recommend that women fast for shorter periods.
I’m going to share with you the two opposing views in more detail and let you decide. I will also throw in my two cents for good measure, keeping in mind that it’s my opinion and I’m not a medical professional.
RELATED POST: How Intermittent Fasting Helped Me Lose 23 lbs
INTERMITTENT FASTING AND WOMEN: HORMONES
I know I’m going out of order, but I’m going to start with the view that hormones are affected when intermittent fasting and women come together.
There are many women who report that they felt completely out of whack after trying IF. Issues like binge eating, a halt in their menstrual cycle, and early onset of menopause are included in the list of reported symptoms.
Hormonal imbalance should put us on high alert because it can have very severe effects on our bodies beyond the symptoms mentioned above.
As women, our bodies were created to have children. This makes us hypersensitive to hormonal changes, which can be affected by environmental factors.
In addition, the belief about intermittent fasting and women is that the hormones that regulate our hunger cues increase after fasting. That sensitivity to hormonal changes we have as women affects the production of ghrelin and leptin, which increase our hunger cues.
In one animal study, they found that a two-week fast negatively affected female rats by reducing their menstrual cycle and shrinking their ovaries.
These findings are pretty huge and may have implications for nutritional infertility. But here’s the deal, there aren’t enough studies yet on women to conclusively prove this theory.
THE VIEW THAT FASTING IS SAFE AND AFFECTS WOMEN AND MEN EQUALLY
While he is not the only one who believes that IF affects women and men equally, I’m going to focus on Dr. Jason Fung’s view on this topic because his information is the one I’m most familiar with.
Dr. Jason Fung is a Canadian kidney specialist who uses fasting in his practice as a therapeutic method for weight loss and treatment of Type 2 Diabetes.
Based on clinical research and the results of his own patients around the world, he believes that intermittent fasting and women work well together. In this point of view IF has the same benefits for men and women. He also believes that IF is not for everybody, and both men and women can experience negative effects from IF when not properly followed, or when they meet certain conditions. I’ll go into more detail on those in a moment.
Here are some of his arguments to support his belief that IF affects women and men equally:
- Women and men in his practice don’t show a difference in benefits or effectiveness of following an IF regimen.
- He points to the fact that fasting has been practiced for more than 2000 years by men and women, based on religious beliefs. The only difference between adult men and women in these religions is that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are exempt from fasting.
- A study on the effects of short-term fasting on the reproductive hormones and menstrual cycle showed normal hormonal levels and menstrual cycle. This study defined short-term fasting as 72 hours. Not so short in my opinion, but shorter than the animal study and studied on female humans.
WHO SHOULD NOT PRACTICE INTERMITTENT FASTING?
Regardless of your school of thought on Intermittent Fasting and Women, there are some situations in which IF is a no-go. Here are a few examples:
- Pregnant women or women who are breastfeeding should not follow an IF protocol. Restricting nutrients at a time when they are crucial to a developing fetus or child is not a good thing.
- Persons who have suffered from eating disorders may trigger unhealthy eating patterns and behaviors, so it’s not recommended.
- Women who are malnourished or have excessively low body fat could make the situation worse and lead to severe hormonal imbalance, lack of ovulation, and amenorrhea (missed periods).
- People taking medications, or with medical conditions that could be adversely affected by extended periods of food restriction.
- Folks who are highly stressed and not sleeping well can experience a heightened level of emotional and physical stress when starting IF. Starting when your cortisol levels are very high can have a negative effect by exacerbating those problems.
MY OPINION IS THAT YOU NEED TO LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
Listen to your body. This is one of the most important things you can do for your health.
If you identify with any of the bullets above or your doctor is concerned about your health, please don’t try IF.
If you’re good to go and want to try it, pay attention to how your body reacts. If you need to stop, please stop. It’s not a failure on your behalf, it’s an attempt. Perhaps if you try again the next time, you’ll be ready.
Or, perhaps IF is not for you, and that’s okay too.
I think we get too caught up in what’s popular and what everybody else is doing. Sometimes we forget what is best for us.
WE ARE BEAUTIFULLY UNIQUE HUMAN BEINGS
We are each unique, inside and out. What works for me may not work for you, and what works for you may not work for the next person. It’s OK.
If you are overall healthy and decide to start an IF regimen, there are several things you can do to ease your way into it. Most importantly, once you make any dietary change, pay attention to how your body reacts.
If you feel weak, like you’re ready to pass out, or just very wrong in some way, stop.
I reacted well and jumped into a 16:8 IF protocol with no effort because I’d already been eating whole, unprocessed, nutritious foods for several weeks when I started. So for me, in the world of intermittent fasting and women, I’ve been one to benefit from it with weight loss without experiencing negative effects.
After drastically cutting down on processed foods and refined sugars, I started IF without even realizing it. I just wasn’t hungry all the time anymore, so some mornings I would forget to eat.
When my sister tried it, she couldn’t go more than 12 hours without feeling weak and shaky. At the time, her body was a little out of whack. She was very stressed and had been getting light-headed for no apparent reason.
After scheduling a doctor’s appointment she decided that was not the right time for her. She may try it again in the future when she’s feeling less stressed and healthier.
TAKE CARE: MIND, BODY, AND SPIRIT
Another thing to keep in mind is that it’s important to take care of yourself, mind, body and spirit. Sometimes the issue with intermittent fasting and women goes beyond the protocol.
Feeling something is off with your body? Go to the doctor, please. Same thing before trying a major dietary change. Make sure your body can handle it.
The same goes for your mind and spirit. They need nurturing and care. Meditation, therapy, intentional activities to help you relax and enjoy life make a huge difference in your body.
Which one do you take care of first? Ideally, try all. But if you need to take it a step at a time, try the one that is easiest to accomplish first. That’ll make it easier to take care of the others when you’re ready.
Intermittent Fasting or any other major life change will be more beneficial the healthier you are.
EASING YOUR WAY INTO INTERMITTENT FASTING
Do you want to try IF but are concerned about how it may or may not affect your hormones? Here are some things you can do to ease your way into it:
- Eliminate (or drastically reduce) processed foods and sugar two or three weeks before you start IF. This will signal to your body that you’re moving in a healthier direction, it’ll reduce cravings, and prep you for IF.
- Start small at a 12 hour fast and increase the fasting periods as you feel ready.
- Only fast (12-16 hours) for two or three days per week, eating nutritious foods in between fasts and on no-fast days. Read this post for tips on what to eat.
- Get regular check-ups to monitor how your body is handling it.
- Listen to your body! Stop if it isn’t working for you.
INTERMITTENT FASTING AND WOMEN: IS IT SAFE? IS IT FOR YOU?
The answer to Intermittent Fasting and Women. While some believe it affects women’s hormonal balance, others believe that it affects us just as it affects men. One commonality between the two theories is that IF is not for everybody.
So, regardless of theory, safety precautions with this or any other dietary change should be taken. IF may be ideal for some and not for others. You shouldn’t try it if you meet any of the exclusions mentioned in this post. You should also clear it with your doctor before you begin this or any other dietary change.
If you decide to try IF, always listen to your body. It’s crucial to your health with this or any other protocol. The great thing is that you can ease into it. This allows your body to adjust and giving you the opportunity to assess how you feel.
I hope this information helps you decide if Intermittent Fasting is right for you. If it is and you’re ready to get started, this post will provide you with the necessary information and tool to come up with your Intermittent Fasting schedule. If it’s not, it’s okay, there are other effective ways to reach your weight loss goals and make you look and feel your best.
More information on Intermittent Fasting:
- How Intermittent Fasting Helped Me Lose 23 Lbs
- How to Determine Your Best Intermittent Fasting Schedule
- What to Eat During Intermittent Fasting to Lose Weight
- How Intermittent Fasting Reduces Sugar Cravings for Me
Comment below to let me know your opinion on this subject. Is IF for you, or not?