Intermittent fasting may sound a bit technical, but you’ve probably done it before without even realizing it. Did you wake up late on a Saturday morning, and have a coffee without eating anything until lunch? Then, you’ve fasted (as long as there was not milk, cream or sugar in your coffee).
How Intermittent Fasting Works
Intermittent fasting simply means you go a period of time without eating, usually between 12 to 48 hours. During your fasting window, you only consume liquids, such as water, herbal tea, black coffee, or black tea.
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. 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. I personally like using the 16 hour fasting protocol where i stop eating by 7pm and begin eating the next day at 11am.
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. I always suggest that if you’ve never fasted before, to begin with 12 hours, then move to 14, then 16 etc…
Pros and Cons of Intermittent Fasting for Women (And Why it Can Be Tricky)
Some of the benefits of intermittent fasting ( Link to study – Intermittent fasting: the science of going without) may include:
- Sustainable weight loss
- An increase in lean muscle mass
- More energy
- An increase in cell stress response (which could increase resistance against some diseases)
- A reduction in oxidative stress and inflammation
- Improvement around insulin sensitivity in overweight women
- Increased production of neurotrophic growth factor (which could relieve depression, boost cognitive function, and protect against neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s)
Now, here’s the tricky part. Although intermittent fasting may have its benefits, women are naturally sensitive to signs of starvation, so intermittent fasting for women has to be done differently then for men!
When the female body senses 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. AND, if there’s not enough food , your body is going to shutdown the system that would allow you to have babies… which is why it defaults to this protective mechanism.
So, we must look at some of the cons due to hormonal imbalances brought on by intermittent fasting:
- Irregular periods and amenorrhea (complete loss of period)
- Metabolic stress
- Shrinking of the ovaries
- Anxiety and depression
- Fertility issues
- Difficulty sleeping
Since all of your hormones are so deeply interconnected, when one hormone is thrown off balance, the rest are also negatively impacted. It’s like a domino effect. As the “messengers” that regulate nearly every function in your body — from energy production, to digestion, metabolism, and blood pressure — you don’t want to disrupt their natural rhythm.
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 time frame, intermittent fasting can still help you reach your weight loss goals and provide the other health benefits previously mentioned, without messing up your hormones!
Men can practice intermittent fasting daily – women – NO. Only 1 to 3 times per week would you practice this eating style and on the other days – eat normally, regularly at least 3 meals per day.
Here are some general guidelines – intermittent fasting for women:
✅ Do not fast for longer than 24 hours at a time…. (Unless supervised by a trained practitioner) Some people will do 3 and 7 day fasts for specific reasons and health
✅ Ideally fast for 12 to 16 hours. You can start out with 12 and 14 hours and work your way up
✅ 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) Perhaps Monday, Wednesday, Friday?
✅ Drink plenty of fluids (black coffee or tea, herbal tea, lots of water) during your fast
✅ You may still exercise on fasting days, do what feels good for you – such as yoga, walking, jogging, some resistance training and stretching
Options for Intermittent Fasting
There are several different intermittent fasting methods discussed online. Here are a few of the most popular ones.
- Crescendo Method
The Crescendo Method is one of the best ways to ease into intermittent fasting without shocking your body or aggravating your hormones. Fasting only a few days per week, spaced throughout the week. For example, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Fasting Window: 12-16 hours
Eating Window: 8-12 hours
Safe for Women: Yes
- 16/8 Method
The 16/8 method, sometimes called the “lean gains method,” is another brief intermittent fasting routine that’s used specifically to target body fat and improve lean muscle mass (a.k.a. your gains!).Fasting Window: 16 hours
Eating Window: 8 hours
Safe for Women: Yes
- 24 Hour Protocol (a.k.a. “Eat-Stop-Eat”)
The 24 hour protocol, also known as “eat-stop-eat” requires you to do a 24-hour fast, once or twice a week. You can choose the time you start fasting. Some people prefer to fast from 8pm to 8pm the following day, or begin their fast after breakfast.Fasting Window: 24 hours
Eating Window: 0
Safe for Women: Yes, when done a maximum of 2 times per week.
- The 5:2 Diet
The 5:2 diet, also known as the “Fast Diet,” involves restricting calories two days a week to 500 calories per day (with two 250 calorie meals), while eating normally for the other five days. For example, you might eat all of your regular meals Saturday through Wednesday, and eat 500 calories per day on Thursdays and Fridays.There isn’t a ton of research to back up this diet, although it was publicized by Michael Mosley, a British journalist and doctor. The Fast Diet is considered safe for men and women.Fasting Window: No fasting window, just calorie restriction to 500 calories per day for 2 fasting days per week
Eating Window: Assume regular caloric intake 5 days per week
Safe for Women: Generally considered safe for women, but studies are lacking on this diet – I myself wouldn’t do this one.
When Should You Avoid Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting isn’t a good fit for everyone. You shouldn’t consider intermittent fasting if you are:
- Under chronic stress
- Have a previous history of disordered eating, such as bulimia or anorexia
- Struggle with sleep disorders, or have difficulty sleeping
And, keep in mind, intermittent fasting is meant to complement a healthy diet and lifestyle — not act as a way to remedy five days of eating shit crap for food! It’s not considered a diet, no restrictions and i always ask my clients to be mindful of what they are eating… asking a few simple questions along the way such as – will this food bring me towards or away from my goal of __________.
Join me for our first 30 day Intermittent Fasting Challenge beginning June 1st! Join our FB group HERE!
Another great article on IF can be found here!
To your Health, Results and Success!
Lynn Thier – Your Mental Fitness Trainer & Fat Loss Expert!
About: Lynn Thier will get you there ~ with practical cutting edge methods for making positive shifts & change happen. Owner of Peak Performance Academy, Lynn teaches and consults on how to get mentally fit in sport, business and life. Lynn offers seminars, training’s and programs as well as Board Certifications in NLP Coaching, NLP Techniques, Hypnosis & Time Line Therapy(R).