The benefits of intermittent fasting for women has made it an increasingly popular tool for weight loss, energy, mental clarity, and more.
The idea behind intermittent fasting is simple: you eat all your calories within a specific window — for example, between 12-6 PM — and you fast outside of that time. Switching between fasting and feasting can turn on your brain and improve cellular function across your body. A lot of people find it’s useful for losing weight, too.
But intermittent fasting may not be for everyone. Women, in particular, can struggle with intermittent fasting, especially when we’re in certain parts of our cycles. While intermittent fasting is amazing for some women, for others it can interfere with hormones and energy levels.
As an integrative physician, I’ve worked with thousands of women who want to improve their diet and lifestyle for better health. Some of my patients have had great success with intermittent fasting, while others have not. Here are my thoughts on the benefits of intermittent fasting for women, and whether or not you should give intermittent fasting a try.
What is Intermittent Fasting for Women?
Intermittent fasting is easy to do. You set a window of time each day — from noon to 8 PM, for example. During that window, you eat all your food for the day. Outside that window, you fast, meaning only non-caloric beverages like water, coffee, and tea.
There’s no set eating window for intermittent fasting. You can move it around to suit your needs. If you love breakfast, for example, you can eat between 8 AM and 2 PM, and fast the rest of the time.
You can also change the length of your eating window. Popular options include 16:8 fasting (i.e. 16 hours without food and an 8-hour eating window), 18:6 fasting, 20:4 fasting, and one-meal-a-day (OMAD) fasting.
Longer fasts are more difficult and can be more stressful on your body, but some people thrive on 20:4 or OMAD fasts. However, you may want to do 16-hour or even 14-hour fasts, especially if you’re trying to reap the benefits of intermittent fasting for women for the first time.
But why fast at all? Let’s take a look at the benefits (and potential downsides) to intermittent fasting.
The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting for Women
There are several benefits of intermittent fasting for women:
- Weight loss. A lot of people find that it’s psychologically easier to be hungry for a portion of the day, then eat all their food in a shortened window and go to bed fully satiated.
- Lower inflammation. Fasting turns on autophagy, a process that’s like spring cleaning for your cells . During autophagy, your cells sort through all their parts and either replace anything that’s old or damaged. You end up with stronger, younger cells that work the way they should. Autophagy also decreases inflammation .
- Mental clarity. Fasting triggers profound brain autophagy  and also decreases brain inflammation , which could explain why so many people report a boost in mental clarity and focus when they fast.
The Cons of Intermittent Fasting for Women
That said, while there are many benefits of intermittent fasting for women, fasting has a few potential downsides as well.
- Hunger and cravings. As women, our hormones play a huge role in our wellness, and how we feel fluctuates throughout the month. In certain parts of your cycle, you may be hungrier than usual and have especially strong food cravings. Fasting may not be your best option during those times.
- Period issues. Some women who fast every day may lose their periods or have other cycle disruptions .
- Thyroid stress. Fasting can cause changes in your thyroid hormone production . The shifts are small enough that it shouldn’t be an issue if your thyroid is healthy — but if you have an autoimmune condition like Hashimoto’s or any other thyroid imbalance, you may want to skip intermittent fasting.
Should you Try Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting works very well for some women and not so well for others. It’s up to you whether or not you add it to your routine.
If you decide to give it a try and see how you feel, keep in mind that you don’t have to fast every day. For a gentler approach to achieve the benefits of intermittent fasting for women, try doing a couple shorter fasts per week. And keep in mind that you can change your fasting schedule to align with your cycle, skipping days when fasting doesn’t feel good to you.
Alternatively, you can pass on fasting altogether. Health is personal; experiment and see what feels right for your body.
And speaking of health being personal, why not take my Power Type Quiz? It’s a free quiz that gives you health and lifestyle tools tailored to your unique biology, to help you become your best self. Give it a try!
- Bagherniya, M., Butler, A. E., Barreto, G. E., & Sahebkar, A. (2018). The effect of fasting or calorie restriction on autophagy induction: A review of the literature. Ageing research reviews, 47, 183-197. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30172870
- Netea-Maier, R. T., Plantinga, T. S., van de Veerdonk, F. L., Smit, J. W., & Netea, M. G. (2016). Modulation of inflammation by autophagy: consequences for human disease. Autophagy, 12(2), 245-260. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4836004/
- Alirezaei, M., Kemball, C. C., Flynn, C. T., Wood, M. R., Whitton, J. L., & Kiosses, W. B. (2010). Short-term fasting induces profound neuronal autophagy. Autophagy, 6(6), 702-710. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20534972
- Lavin, D. N., Joesting, J. J., Chiu, G. S., Moon, M. L., Meng, J., Dilger, R. N., & Freund, G. G. (2011). Fasting Induces an Anti‐Inflammatory Effect on the Neuroimmune System Which a High‐Fat Diet Prevents. Obesity, 19(8), 1586-1594. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3695639/
- Martin, B., Pearson, M., Kebejian, L., Golden, E., Keselman, A., Bender, M., … & Becker, K. G. (2007). Sex-dependent metabolic, neuroendocrine, and cognitive responses to dietary energy restriction and excess. Endocrinology, 148(9), 4318-4333. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17569758
- Azizi, F. (2015). Islamic fasting and thyroid hormones. International journal of endocrinology and metabolism, 13(2). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4450165/