It’s hard not to have heard of intermittent fasting as of late. While the concept of fasting has been around for centuries, intermittent fasting for weight loss is everywhere and doesn’t seem to be losing any traction. Society is always on the hunt for how to lose weight and the easier, the better. But is intermittent fasting for women the same as it is for men?
Intermittent fasting (IF) boasts a wide array of health benefits from weight loss to energy spikes to increased mental clarity. The concept mainly being, fasting periods rev up your body’s metabolism; and yet at the same time, it’s pretty unrevolutionary in that you consume fewer calories and so you lose weight. It sounds simple at first but when you dive into hormonal regulation, blood sugar regulation, and women’s evolutionary physiology, it can be more complicated. Like any diet, it can work great for some while others not so much.
First Off, What Exactly Is Intermittent Fasting?
In the simplest of terms, it’s specified windows of fasting and eating, fasting always lasting longer than eating. Whether you’re practicing intermittent fasting or not, we all experience fasting windows primarily between dinner and breakfast, when we’re sleeping. Without much thought, a lot of people fast twelve hours per day. When you go beyond that is when many see results. There are several ways to do so.
Types of Intermittent Fasting
- 16:8 method- This is the most popular kind of intermittent fasting. The 16:8 refers to the fasting hours versus the eating hours ratio. 16 hours of fasting followed by eight hours of eating. Typical eating windows are from 11:00 AM to 7:00 PM or from 12:00 PM to 8:00 PM. Your eating window boils down to when you finish eating dinner. It is suggested to work your way up to this method of intermittent fasting. Start with a 12 hour fast followed by 12 hours of eating to begin and then inch up to 16:8.
- 5:2 method- Whereas 16:8 refers to hours; 5:2 refers to days, specifically five non-fasting days and two fasting days per week. This concept also differs in that ‘fasting’ refers to an extreme calorie deficit rather than strictly not eating. Two days per week, and never consecutively, women consume less than 500 calories per day and men consume less than 600 calories per day.
- Eat Stop Eat method– This is the most extreme of intermittent fasting methods. It requires a 24 hour fast once or twice per week. In this method, the fast does indeed mean no food at all. A popular window is from dinner one day to dinner the following day.
What Can I Eat During Eating Windows?
Most people are drawn to intermittent fasting due to its freedom during the eating period. What you do eat during your eating window is relatively unspecified, within reason. Of course, if you eat McDonald’s twice a day you will see no health benefits; however, keeping your diet relatively clean and allowing for some occasional indulgences is okay. Still obviously, the healthier you eat the more effective it will be for weight loss. For those who prefer to be unbothered by a demanding calorie counting diet, intermittent fasting is an equally successful option.
In a 2017 twelve month weight loss study of obese men and women, those who followed a traditional calorie reduction diet and those who followed intermittent fasting had similar weight loss outcomes. However, it should be noted, the rate of dropouts among participants was much higher for intermittent fasting than among those simply restricting calories. Even more so, intermittent fasting participants followed the study’s guidelines less stringent than participants following a traditional restrictive calorie diet.
The Good, The Bad, The Hungry
Some benefits of intermittent fasting are impressive. The most obvious being weight loss. Combined with a quality diet, intermittent fasting is proven very effective in weight loss. Other benefits include:
- Increased metabolism,
- Decreased belly fat,
- Maintained lean mass,
- Decreased risk of diabetes,
- Decreased inflammation,
- Decreased risk of heart disease,
- Cancer prevention,
- Improved brain health,
- Decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease,
- Slowed aging and,
- Increased longevity.
Others have reported less brain fog, higher energy levels, and better quality of sleep. That being said, all of the above-mentioned benefits are almost identical to benefits from weight loss by any means.
If it seems too good to be true, it may be too good to be true. Like anything, intermittent fasting does not work for everyone. Women pregnant or breastfeeding or anyone with increased caloric needs should not try intermittent fasting. More so, those with a history of eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, and certainly binge eating) are not advised to attempt intermittent fasting. Diabetics are also urged to use caution with intermittent fasting. Other negative effects of intermittent fasting include:
- Extreme bouts of hunger
- Dizziness and lightheadedness
- Fainting spells
Intermittent Fasting For Women, Not The Same As For Men
Due to women’s unique hormones, complications from intermittent fasting are far more common in women than in men. Intermittent fasting is still a relatively new and unresearched means of weight loss. Unfortunately, even brief periods of intermittent fasting have caused missed periods, reduced fertility, early-onset menopause, and permanent metabolic damage to women.
Keto and Intermittent Fasting
Keto and intermittent fasting seem to go hand in hand. If you’ve heard of intermittent fasting, you more than likely have also heard of the keto diet. The keto diet is all about ketosis, putting your body into fat-burning mode.
When combined with intermittent fasting, many people experience the benefits of ketosis much quicker than with keto alone. On their own, intermittent fasting and keto are both typically successful in weight loss; however, when combined, weight loss results are even more dramatic.
Proceed With Caution!
Despite its extreme popularity, little scientific research remains available for intermittent fasting. Please use the most extreme caution and always consult with a physician or registered dietitian when trying any new diet or restricting food intake.
What works for someone, may not work for you. Irreversible damage to your metabolism and hormones is not to be taken lightly and surely not worth temporarily dropping a few pounds.