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Before listing intermittent fasting pros and cons for women, first ask what is your definition of Intermittent Fasting? Various (and confusing) versions of IF 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?
Confusing, right? Oh, and another option: coffee with butter and MCT oil as your breakfast.
Some people confuse IF with 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. Here’s my article on the secret reason why Keto has become so popular. I promise its not what you think!
First, some definitions…
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 fat metabolism and hunger
- Improves 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, 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 that’s 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 this carb addiction and burn fat.
Intermittent Fasting Pros and Cons #1
Con: You may need to be fat-adapted first
If you’re still eating cereal, juice, sandwiches and pizza and suddenly try to go without food, you’ll be miserable and so will those around you. Go Paleo first. Get off grains and sugars before you go further. (For help see my Diet For Human Beings DVD, disc or download).
Intermittent Fasting Pros and Cons For Women #2
Con: Men can fast better than women
In human history fit young males handle stressors better than anyone. Hunger, reduced sleep, physical hardship…. The majority of folks writing about success with Intermittent Fasting are males who exercise regularly.
There are few studies on fasting in women. Stephanie Ruper of Paleo For Women has a great article on the bias in studies towards males, and the lack of good reporting on female fasting. Studies show calorie restriction for women causes havoc with hormones and therefore fertility, libido, menstrual regularities, and acne. The thyroid and adrenals suffer with low calorie living.
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 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.
Intermittent Fasting Pros and Cons #3
Pro: You’ll lose weight
If you need to lose a lot of weight and improve triglycerides and glucose metabolism, intermittent fasting can be useful for a while. Reduce your starches, add the right fats and stick to a simple plan such as not eating after 7 PM and you’ll get results.
Observe if results are from calorie reduction or calorie redirection (less grains – more fat and veggies). Either way, studies show 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 barely eat enough now.
IF women 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: Tired adrenals
Adrenals regulate blood sugar. Asking a tired, unwell woman to go without food puts a huge burden on the adrenals to regulate blood sugar. One of the first things I tell 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 my favorite Passion Flower too. It calms your brain and body and helps reduce anxiety, pain 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.
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 on Paleo first, then consider skipping meals on occasion if you can handle it. I cannot and eat 4 regular meals a day.
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.
If you’re physically or mentally stressed, eat on time and eat right. Avoid fasting.
- Eat the correct amount of calories
- Don’t fast if you have chronic health problems
- Get on the Diet For Human Beings Paleo Diet before you try IF
- Don’t put your adrenals, thyroid or fertility at risk by under-eating
- Monitor trial and error successes of timing, frequency and amounts of food to fit your current goal