Intermittent fasting involves going for a portion of the day without food, then eating all your meals in a shortened window. It can be a great way to lose weight, slow down aging, increase your mental clarity, and generally feel like a healthier, happier version of yourself.
But while intermittent fasting is great for a lot of men, it can be a little bit trickier for us women. We have to think about menstruation and fluctuating hormones throughout the month — two things that men don’t have to deal with. Fasting can also stress our thyroid glands more.
Even so, many women find they feel great with intermittent fasting. It can be an amazing way to improve your health — but as a woman, you may want to start it with a little extra care.
As an integrative physician, I’ve worked with thousands of women over the past decade. Here are my top tips for how to start intermittent fasting.
Plan intermittent fasting around your cycle
Your metabolism changes a lot throughout the month. There are times when you’ll probably feel great fasting and times when fasting will be very difficult to keep up.
Fortunately, there’s no rule saying you have to fast all the time. I recommend that you skip fasting during ovulation and pre-menstruation — basically, the second half of your cycle.
During the second half of your cycle, your metabolic rate increases, so you’re burning more calories throughout the day. Many women also get intense food cravings during ovulation and pre-menstruation. Not a great time to try to fast.
I suggest trying fasting during the first half of your cycle, then switching to a normal diet and enjoying yourself during the second half of your cycle. It’ll put less stress on you, both physically and psychologically.
Start gently and work your way up
It can be tempting to jump right into a longer fast, but you may want to start slowly at first and see how you feel.
Doing a few shorter fasts throughout the week gives you a sense of how fasting affects you, and also gives your body a chance to adjust to your new eating schedule. Pay attention to how you feel — your hunger levels, energy levels, mental clarity, and so on.
A good, gentle place to start is a 16-hour fast with an 8-hour eating window — for example, eating all your meals between noon and 8 PM, and fasting for the rest of the day. Basically, you skip breakfast. If that feels good, you can work your way up to an 18-hour or even 20-hour fast (or you can stick to 16 hours).
Also, keep in mind that you don’t have to fast every day. You can do a couple fasts a week and add more of them if you like how you feel.
Start gently and see how your body responds to intermittent fasting. You’ll know pretty quickly whether or not intermittent fasting works for you.
Eat lots of protein during fasting days
A lot of the women I work with don’t get enough protein, even when they aren’t fasting. Protein is essential for balanced health — it helps you build lean body mass and is highly thermogenic, meaning your body burns extra calories digesting protein. Not surprisingly, protein is great for fat loss.
When you try intermittent fasting, make protein a priority. I see far too many women who don’t get enough of it with their normal diets, much less with a shortened eating window. Make sure you eat lots of chicken, fish, grass-fed beef, Greek yogurt (if you tolerate dairy), and other complete protein sources.
As an added bonus, protein will also make it easier for you to stick to your fast. It’s the most filling macronutrient — it suppresses your appetite more than fat and carbs do.
Should you try intermittent fasting?
If intermittent fasting sounds good to you, it’s definitely worth a try. You may find you feel amazing on it, and if you don’t, you can always go back to eating normally. If you want to learn about intermittent fasting, check out this article on the benefits of fasting.
And for more health and lifestyle advice, why not take my Power Type Quiz? It’ll give you personalized recommendations to become a better version of yourself, based on the answers you give.