Intermittent fasting is quickly becoming one of the most popular ways to lose weight and improve your health. It’s no wonder: fasting really works well and produces amazing results for a lot of people. The benefits go beyond weight loss, too: fasting can lower inflammation, slow down aging, and give you a stronger brain.
The other nice thing about intermittent fasting is that it’s wonderfully simple: in a nutshell, you just without food for 12-18 hours a day, and then eat all your meals in the remaining hours.
If you’ve been following health and nutrition for a while, though, you may have heard that fasting isn’t great for women. There is some truth there: while some women feel great when they fast, others run into trouble, particularly with their hormones.
The good news is that there are alternatives to traditional fasting! This article will cover the benefits of fasting and the standard approach to fasting, as well as a couple gentler options that you may prefer if you find you don’t do well with full-on daily fasts. Here’s everything you need to know about intermittent fasting for women.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is wonderfully simple: you don’t eat any calories for 12-18 hours a day (water, coffee, and tea are all fine), and you have a full day’s worth of food in the remaining time.
Here’s an example: let’s say you want to do a 16-hour fast. You could eat all your meals between noon and 8PM (an 8-hour eating window), and not eat anything outside that time (a 16-hour fasting window). In other words, you skip breakfast.
That’s really all there is to traditional intermittent fasting. You can try different fasting times to see what works best for you; the benefits start around a 12-hour fast, and most people don’t go higher than 18 hours.
You might get a little hangry for the first few days fasting, but a lot of people feel amazing after their bodies adjust to fasting. No wonder: fasting can bring you all kinds of benefits.
Intermittent fasting benefits
People have been fasting for thousands of years, and recent scientific research has shed light on what our ancestors seemed to intuitively understand. Fasting is amazing for your body and mind:
- Mental clarity. Fasting gets rid of brain fog by improving your ability to focus and improving your memory . It also increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that protects your brain from stress and slows down brain aging . Speaking of aging…
- Anti-aging. Fasting turns on autophagy, which is like spring cleaning for your cells. Autophagy is greek for “self-eating,” which is accurate: your system gets rid of old or damaged cells and replaces them with shiny new ones. Fasting causes, to quote one study, “profound autophagy” in your brain , as well as the rest of your body . Autophagy makes your cells younger and more capable, which slows down aging.
- Fat loss. Intermittent fasting makes your metabolism more efficient at burning body fat for energy. People who did intermittent fasting lost more fat than people who did a continuous low-calorie diet .
- Inflammation and immunity. People who did intermittent fasting for Ramadan had a significant decrease in inflammatory markers . Their immune function improved, too.
Basically, your body becomes more efficient and adaptable when you fast.
Should women do intermittent fasting?
Fasting is great if you tolerate it, but some people — especially women — have trouble with hormonal imbalance when they do daily intermittent fasting. Fasting every day causes some women to lose their periods  and may interfere with thyroid hormone production, which can be especially hard if you have autoimmune issues.
For those reasons, you may want to try a gentler version of intermittent fasting. Instead of a rigorous daily fast, choose two or three non consecutive days a week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, for example) and try a shorter fast on those days; between 12-14 hours is a good place to start. You’ll still get many of the benefits of fasting, but your hormones won’t take the shock that can come from daily fasting. And if you feel good doing shorter fasts a few times a week, you can always increase the length or add a couple more fasting days and see how you feel.
Fasting can be great for women, and you may find you thrive on it. You can always start slowly, with shorter and gentler fasts a couple times a week, and see how your body responds. You may discover that fasting doesn’t work for you at all, and that’s okay too! Find a rhythm that makes you feel good. That’s what’s most important.
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- Martin, B., Mattson, M. P., & Maudsley, S. (2006). Caloric restriction and intermittent fasting: two potential diets for successful brain aging. Ageing research reviews, 5(3), 332-353. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2622429/
- 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/pmc/articles/PMC3106288/
- Martinez-Lopez, N., Tarabra, E., Toledo, M., Garcia-Macia, M., Sahu, S., Coletto, L., … & Kersten, S. (2017). System-wide benefits of intermeal fasting by autophagy. Cell metabolism, 26(6), 856-871. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29107505
- Byrne, N. M., Sainsbury, A., King, N. A., Hills, A. P., & Wood, R. E. (2018). Intermittent energy restriction improves weight loss efficiency in obese men: the MATADOR study. International journal of obesity, 42(2), 129. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5803575/
- Kacimi, S., Ref’at, A., Fararjeh, M. A., Bustanji, Y. K., Mohammad, M. K., & Salem, M. L. (2012). Intermittent fasting during Ramadan attenuates proinflammatory cytokines and immune cells in healthy subjects. Nutrition research, 32(12), 947-955. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23244540/