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Intermittent Fasting For Women: Does It Work

"Nora Minno is an award-winning New York-based registered dietitian, certified dietitian nutritionist, and certified personal trainer specializing in wellness communications and marketing. For over ten years, she has consulted for several national publications and CPG companies, offering the latest advice in nutrition and fitness, and appears regularly on the Emmy-nominated Daily Burn 365 as well as the DailyBurn HIIT app."

Intermittent fasting (IF) has become increasingly popular in recent years for both men and women. With what seems like an ever-growing list of benefits, it’s tempting to jump right into a fasting plan.

Before you begin, it’s important to understand that there may be certain precautions particularly when it comes to intermittent fasting for women.

What Is Intermittent Fasting?

IF refers to a dietary pattern that alternates between periods of eating and non-eating. These periods can occur on a daily or weekly basis, depending on the type of plan you choose. You may hear some of these patterns also referred to as time-restricted eating.

It might surprise you that it has been around for centuries and historically was practiced for many reasons like survival necessity, religious rituals, as well as health reasons. In recent years, intermittent fasting has become more widely studied and validated as an effective practice to achieve many health benefits including weight loss, blood sugar management, and heart health.

Unlike strict diets, this eating pattern does not dictate what to eat, rather, it provides a framework for when to eat. Therefore, whether you’re a meat-eater, carb lover, vegetarian, pescatarian, flexitarian, or anywhere in between – intermittent fasting can fit into your own personal dietary framework.

While intermittent fasting can work for any dietary pattern and has shown benefits for both men and women, there are some factors that women should consider before selecting an eating plan.

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting for Women

Whether you’re looking to lose weight, manage blood sugar, or reduce your risk for several chronic diseases, intermittent fasting has you covered.

Let’s take a look at some of the top benefits of the fasting diet for women:

Diabetes Management

Intermittent fasting may help reduce risk factors for diabetes[1]. Studies have shown that it can help lower insulin levels and improve insulin resistance[2]. While the long-term effect on blood sugar is still slightly unclear, particularly for women, many agree that the effect on insulin and improvements in insulin resistance would help reduce diabetes risk long-term.

Weight Loss

If you’re sick of counting calories for weight loss, I have good news for you! IF methods, such as alternate day fasting, have shown to be equally as effective for short-term weight loss as calorie restriction[3]. Studies have also shown that people who practice time-restricted feeding methods typically end up consuming fewer calories in their eating window than they would without a defined eating window.

Appetite Management

It seems counterintuitive that eating in a shorter window of time might actually make you less hungry, but IF methods like early time-restricted feeding (i.e. finishing your meals earlier in the day and fasting in the evening hours) can reduce appetite and feelings of hunger over time[4].

Body Composition

We know that intermittent fasting can help with weight loss. In other good news, it can also help improve overall body composition in two ways – by preserving muscle mass[5] and through fat oxidation[6].

Reduce Inflammation

Chronic inflammation can lead to a number of health ailments and can be a precursor to many diseases. Intermittent fasting may reduce the number of key markers for inflammation[7].

Side Effects Of Fasting Diet For Women

While there are many benefits associated with intermittent fasting for women, there are a few side effects that women should be aware of before beginning it.

The main side effect to be aware of for intermittent fasting for women is a disruption in menstrual cycles.

Menstrual cycles can be extremely sensitive to calorie restriction. Whether from frequent short-term fasts or longer-term fasts, when the body is not getting enough calories, hormones involved in the menstrual and reproductive cycles can be effected. If period cycles are affected for too long, other issues like fertility issues may persist.

For women selecting an intermittent fasting plan, it is important to choose one that ensures that you can get adequate calories on a daily basis and that the body is not without calories for too long.

Best Types of Intermittent Fasting for Women

Since we know there are side effects that persist when women have prolonged or frequent fasts, it’s important to choose a fasting diet for women that incorporates shorter “no-calories” periods and perhaps fewer fasting days.

Here are a few options for intermittent fasting schedule for women:

  • The 14:10 fasting (aka Easy Start +): This method has a “no-calories” window of 14 hours and an eating window of 10 hours. It can be accomplished simply by skipping the first meal of the day and consolidating the rest of your meals into a 10-hour window.
  • The 16:8 Method (aka Leangains): This method has a fasting window of 16 hours and an eating window of 8 hours.
  • The 5:2 Diet: This plan restricts calories to 25% of normal intake (about 500 calories) two days per week while, while the other five days, you eat normally.
  • The Crescendo Method: This method focuses on fasting 12-16 hours for two to three days a week. The fasting on this plan should be non-consecutive.

No matter what IF plan you choose, it’s important to ensure that you are eating a healthy, balanced diet during your eating windows. For example, focus on eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and things like whole grains or legumes. You’ll want to ensure that you’re eating lots of healthy foods so you get the calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients you need to support your energy needs and other important functions.

How to Get Started

Getting started might be easier than you think. In fact, you might already be practicing a form of intermittent fasting without even knowing it. Have you ever skipped breakfast and started eating at lunchtime? Well, that is a great way to get started with this eating pattern!

There’s no need to jump into a long fasting program right away. Instead, start with a shorter plan, for example, the 14:10 method, and slowly start to expand your fasts until you find the pattern that works for you.

Planning your non-eating windows in conjunction with your sleeping windows is also a great way to start. If you are practicing a 16:8 fast, and you sleep for 8 hours, all you have to do is stop eating 4 hours before you sleep and begin eating 4 hours after you wake and voila, your fast is over!

The great thing about IF is that you don’t always have to follow the same fasting pattern to reap the benefits. You can switch between plans as they work with your lifestyle and still achieve the benefits you’re seeking.

If you have any questions as to the safety of intermittent fasting for women or have other health conditions, you should speak to your doctor or a registered dietitian before beginning.

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