Breakfast might be the most important meal of the day, but what if delaying it a little later allowed your body to activate ‘metabolic switching’ to promote weight loss, healthy aging, and optimal metabolism?
Intermittent fasting is an ancient and well-researched technique that’s highly customizable to your lifestyle, and boasts impressive benefits such as improved insulin sensitivity, reduced belly fat, and finally kicking sugar cravings.
Is the hype true? Research says it is. Read on to learn how to make intermittent fasting the easiest practice in your toolbox to get back on track.
How to Intermittent Fast
When you’re fasting, you eat within a shorter time frame than you normally do. For example, your routine may look like this:
- You wake in the morning, enjoy a cup of green tea or coffee, and drink water as needed.
- Around lunch, you eat your first meal.
- For dinner, you eat normally as well. You can also enjoy something sweet afterward.
- At 7-8 pm you stop eating for the day and repeat the process over again.
Sound simpler than you thought? We think so too. Intermittent fasting for women is easy to do, and you’ll learn how to use intermittent fasting to reduce belly fat, and increase fat burning and energy.
Types of Intermittent Fasting
16:8 – This type of fast has been shown to be the most effective for supporting cellular health (and may be the easiest for most beginners). During a 16:8, you’ll eat during a restricted 8-hour window–from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. or 12 p.m. to 8 p.m–whichever time frame work well for your schedule.
Outside of those 8 hours, you’re fasting, or not eating. This fasted time includes overnight as well, so for several of your fasting hours you’ll be asleep.
24 hour fast. This type of fast may work for some beginners, but is better utilized once you know how your body handles smaller restricted eating windows. A 24 hour fast is exactly what it sounds like–you go an entire 24 hour period without eating.
However, this doesn’t mean you’re not consuming ANYTHING. It’s important to stay hydrated during a 24 hour fast, and electrolytes like magnesium, sodium, chloride, and potassium and important to make sure your cells can remain healthy.
Bone broth is a popular addition to fasting as it’s a natural source of electrolytes, nourishing micronutrients–and it’s a soothing alternative to caffeine!
5:2. A 5:2 fast consists of five days of normal eating–a balanced 3 meals, plus desired snacks–followed by one to two days per week of 500-600 calorie intake.
OMAD. One meal a day is a type of intermittent fasting which restricts eating to just one meal per day. This eating style offers the same cellular and weight loss benefits as other types of fasting, but one major thing to keep in mind with OMAD is that your calories AND micronutrient intake occur only in that one meal, which can make it difficult to get the vitamins and minerals your body needs to function optimally.
OMAD may better serve you used intermittently as your lifestyle demands.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
The best thing about intermittent fasting is that it can be adapted to even the most hectic of schedules:
A busy working mom spending long days at the office who needs to have energy for her kids at night?
- Fasting can provide the mental clarity and steady energy mom needs to keep going.
Working the third shift with irregular mealtimes that leave you craving sugar?
- Intermittent fasting can mean you eat healthy meals when YOU want to, and kick nighttime sugar binges.
A travel schedule that leaves your energy depleted and less-than-ideal food choices in airports or travel centers?
- Adapting your metabolism to fast for 4, 8, or 12 hours can keep your energy stable until you reach your destination and can break your fast with a balanced meal.
Intermittent fasting for women triggers a biological adaptation to occasions of food scarcity called ‘metabolic switching’. This switch occurs when cells use up their readily available stores of glucose (sugar-based energy) and switch to the longer burning, but slower metabolic process of fat burning (1).
This metabolic switching also improves blood sugar regulation, insulin sensitivity, and our resistance to stress, according to many studies (2).
How Intermittent Fasting Can Help You Lose Weight
First, all types of intermittent fasting share one thing in common: they all reduce total caloric intake (even if by varying amounts).
Benefits of intermittent fasting are numerous, and fasting promotes a metabolic clean-up process called autophagy. Autophagy is a critical process for cellular rejuvenation and efficiency.
In a well-fed state, cells receive signals via insulin and other pathways to put autophagy on the back burner. If there are new calories coming down the pipeline every couple hours, cells have no reason to focus on efficiency and recycling components when they can choose instead to grow and divide.
Unfortunately, focusing more on growth instead of cleaning up damaged or misfolded proteins isn’t always great for our metabolism, and even has implications for some types of cancer (3).
Because most Americans partake in three meals plus snacks per day, we don’t experience autophagy often, but intermittent fasting is one way to boost the body’s natural metabolic recycling processes, metabolism, and fat loss.
Intermittent Fasting to Reduce Belly Fat
When you eat, your digestive system breaks down carbohydrates and protein that eventually pass into your blood stream as glucose (this is your blood sugar). Eating, and the subsequent rise in blood sugar trigger your pancreas to produce the hormone insulin. Insulin allows your cells to uptake glucose from the blood stream to be used as energy, and then your blood sugar returns back to a baseline again.
However, due to stress, high-sugar diets, and many other factors like systemic inflammation or hormone dysregulation, our cells can become resistant to the message that insulin sends.
This means insulin levels remain elevated for longer than normal as it’s crucial your body gets glucose into cells and out of the bloodstream.
When insulin is elevated, it triggers your body to store fat, as it’s working hard to try to priorititze using glucose for energy to get blood sugar back down. You can think of insulin as a fat storage hormone. What’s more, this type of fat tends to be visceral fat stored around the abdomen–or as we affectionately call it, “belly fat”.
Intermittent fasting has been shown to improve insulin resistance, promote better insulin sensitivity, and a greater reduction in belly fat specifically.
With a better insulin response, we can return to fat-burning mode quicker and more efficiently.
Should Women Intermittent Fast?
The answer: It depends.
You’re likely to find strong, polarizing opinions on both ends of the spectrum, but as with most health decisions, intermittent fasting for women can work wonderfully for some, but be not the best choice for others. If you have special metabolic conditions, hormone imbalance, or other concerns, it’s best to consult an integrative practitioner to determine how to safely fast.
Intermittent fasting for women and hormone balance are inextricably linked, and women have unique concerns to remember when planning to fast.
Calorie restriction has a significant impact on your thyroid. For example, fasting results in an increase in your inactive thyroid hormone (rT3), which then competes with active T3 to bind to receptors. However, studies also show that both levels return to pre-fast levels after breaking your fast with a balanced meal (4).
Restricting calories for prolonged periods of time can worsen PMS symptoms in some women, and can have an impact on reproductive hormones, estrogen and progesterone.
Negative impacts on hormone balance aren’t the case for all women, but it’s still important that you:
- Listen to your body
- Consult an integrative practitioner if you’re concerned
Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss: 6 Tips to Get Started
- Eat plenty of protein and healthy fats the night before you plan to fast. A high carbohydrate meal the night before will leave you hungrier upon waking in the morning, making it uncomfortable–and even not recommended–to fast.
- Don’t force a fast. You can gradually incorporate fasting for longer periods of time over the course of 7 to 10 days. Instead of deciding abruptly one night you’re going to fast the following day, begin by delaying breakfast by an hour one day, then two hours the next, etc., waiting until you are truly hungry to eat your first meal of the day.
- If you just can’t kick the hunger. Try adding a tablespoon of grass-fed ghee or coconut oil to your morning beverage of choice. This will avoid switching on digestion and spiking insulin levels, but will activate the receptors that control appetite and hunger.
- Go light on exercise. If and when your body becomes well-adapted to fasting, and using body fat for fuel, you may find you can return to your regular workouts and perform even better–even in a fasted state. But if you’re just beginning intermittent fasting, abstain from exercise until you know how you feel during a fast. A little patience will serve you well.
- Pay attention to your body. You may be thinking “of course I pay attention to what my body tells me!” but with intermittent fasting, it’s of utmost importance that you don’t ignore your body’s subtle cues. If you feel lightheaded, are hungry to the point of pain, or are getting headaches–it’s time to eat a balanced meal and talk to your integrative provider about your goals. He or she can help you navigate intermittent fasting if you have special metabolic concerns.
- Break your fast with a balanced meal. It can be tempting to gorge after a lengthy fast, however, a poorly balanced meal won’t serve you any better after a fast than it would had you not fasted at all. Aim for a well-rounded meal with quality protein, lightly-cooked veggies, and an easily digestible carbohydrate like a sweet potato or seasoned quinoa. This sets your body up for metabolic efficiency and success even after your fast and into the next day!