Before listing intermittent fasting pros and cons for women, first realize there is no single definition of Intermittent Fasting. Various (and confusing) versions of IF might include:
- Don’t eat between 7 PM and 7 AM
- Only eat during a 6 or 8 hour window, such as 12 PM to 7 PM
- Just skip breakfast
- Reduce calories by only eating twice daily (calorie restriction)
- Eat all you want in the hours allotted (no calorie restriction)
- Fast anytime you want. Once weekly. Three times weekly. Off and on for several months?
See what I mean? Oh, and there’s a 7th option: drink coffee with butter and MCT oil as breakfast, but no other breakfast. This is called Bulletproof Intermittent Fasting.
Another version of all this gets into Ketogenic Diets, where fat is a major source of calories, and proteins and carbs are reduced. Many people assume IF and Keto go together, but they are different diets with different goals, and yes some people do them together.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
- Eating nutrient-dense foods without starches and sugars…
- With a sustainable amount of calories…
- Consuming those calories in a smaller window of time…
- Thereby creating periods of fasting
Reported Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
- Weight loss, improved Insulin Resistance and reduced risk of Diabetes
- Lower glucose and triglycerides
- Recreates our natural state of feasting some days and fasting on others
- Normalizes leptin and ghrelin which govern fat metabolism and hunger
- Raising HGH (human growth hormone) important for anti-aging, health and fat-burning
- Improved longevity and gene regulation
Ancestral humans did not have a steady supply of food. We were “fat adapted” instead of “sugar burners” as we mostly are now. Burning fat for fuel is efficient. It keeps us lean but strong and able to withstand periods of poor hunting.
Modern humans have become dependent on quick starchy foods (grains and sugars). These carbs make us store fat but this type of fat is not easy to metabolize. We can’t burn it so we keep reaching for more carbohydrates to get through the day. We get hungry and tired and perpetuate the sugar cycle.
Intermittent Fasting aims to retrain the body to break the carb addiction and burn fat (some of which we manufacture in the body to be burned as fuel).
Intermittent Fasting Pros and Cons #1
Con: You may already need to be fat-adapted first
If you’re still eating cereal, juice, sandwiches and pizza and suddenly attempt to go without food, you’ll likely be miserable and so will the people who live and work with you. Work on going Paleo and getting balanced before you dive in. (See my Diet For Human Beings DVD, disc or download).
Intermittent Fasting Pros and Cons For Women #2
Con: Men are more able to fast than women
In my experience, and in human history, fit young males can handle stressors better than anyone. Hunger, reduced sleep, physical hardship, and more…. The majority of folks writing about success with Intermittent Fasting are males who exercise regularly.
There are few studies on fasting in men vs. women. Stephanie Ruper of Paleo For Women wrote a great article on the bias in studies towards males, and the lack of good reporting on female fasting. What she did find tells us that caloric restriction for women causes havoc with hormones, and therefore fertility, libido, menstrual regularities, and acne. The thyroid and adrenals also suffer with low calorie living.
It seems to me that males, lacking monthly cycles, are more hormonally consistent. Higher testosterone and muscle mass make them better fat burners than women. Women are sensitive to hormonal swings and are more affected by stress, needing to keep children and family safe. Women will stop ovulating or having cycles altogether if under-fed or overly stressed.
It’s too easy for a woman to be thrown off balance with IF. Perhaps muscular women or those with higher testosterone have an easier time?? We need more studies on this!
Intermittent Fasting Pros and Cons #3
Pro: You’ll lose weight and lean up
If you need to lose weight and improve triglycerides and glucose metabolism, intermittent fasting can be useful. Reduce your starches, add the right fats and stick to a simple plan such as not eating after 7PM and you’ll get results.
Observe if your results are from calorie reduction, calorie redirection (less grains – more fat and veggies) or from training the body to be independent of a steady supply of carbs. Either way, studies for weight loss, body composition and blood work improvements are numerous.
Intermittent Fasting Pros and Cons For Women #4
Con: Using a new diet tool as an excuse to keep starving yourself
Put a fancy name on it and suddenly it’s OK to skip meals? Most women in my clinic declare they “must” lose weight…. maybe it’s 5 pounds. Maybe it’s 50 pounds. But most of them barely eat enough now.
Intermittent Fasting women do report anxiety and insomnia. These and other neurological states are starvation responses. Hyper-vigilance is nature’s way of making us better hunters when we’re starving.
Do you really need another excuse to avoid cooking and eating properly?
Intermittent Fasting Pros and Cons #5
CON: Your adrenals may get exhausted
Since humans have devolved from our natural hunter gatherer state, our genes have become dysregulated. We get sick and mentally overwhelmed more easily. We are dealing with modern stressors never faced before.
In the face of many generations of nutrient deficiency, our bodies can’t just throw a switch and become Super-Hero’s overnight. Lifestyle changes need time to make repairs.
What about the adrenals?
One of the main jobs of the adrenals is regulating blood sugar. Asking an already tired, unwell woman to go without food puts another huge burden on the adrenals to regulate keep blood sugar. One of the first things I tell tired and unwell clients is to eat regularly. Give the adrenals less work to do while we repair them. These two products in my online store can really make a difference in adrenal health and managing stress. And try my favorite Passion Flower too. It really calms your brain down and helps reduce anxiety and insomnia.
Intermittent Fasting Pros and Cons #6
PRO: Less focus on food
If you’ve been told to eat 5 times a day or follow a strict eating schedule (no fruit after noon; no protein after 5, etc.), you’ll have more freedom to just eat when you’re hungry. As long as you’re not restricting calories you’ll also spend less time buying and preparing food.
Additionally, if you’ve got a strong food addiction and are willing to break it, this may work for you.
CON: More focus on food
If you’re not already fat-adapted (obese, not exercising, eating too much starch and sugar), you could hate this more than anything! Get healthy and fitter first, then consider skipping meals on occasion if you can handle it.
Summary: Intermittent Fasting Pros and Cons for Women
I suggest women avoid IF unless they are young, fit, healthy, getting enough sleep and living happily. Avoid if you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or may wish to become pregnant soon.
In short, if you’re physically or mentally stressed, eat on time and eat right.
Males who are fit and not chronically unwell may find IF beneficial.
- Eat the correct amount of calories
- Don’t fast if you have chronic health problems
- Get on the Diet For Human Beings before you try IF
- Don’t put your adrenals, thyroid or fertility at risk by under-eating
- Monitor trial and error of timing, frequency and amounts of food to fit your current goal