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Intermittent fasting for women: a basic guide

The potential benefits of this diet go beyond weight loss
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Fasting is becoming increasingly popular as several studies indicate that it can potentially have benefits for the body. Due to the strain that is imposed over the body, there are several versions of fasting depending on its frequency and length. Out of these, the benefits of intermittent fasting for women prove this as one of the most balanced methods.

What is intermittent fasting for women? Is it healthy?

Intermittent fasting implies alternating between periods of eating food and fasting. It also has subcategories depending on the length of each period.

The most common varieties of intermittent fasting for women are:

24-hour protocol: fasting for 24h straight, once or twice a week in non-consecutive days.

Crescendo method: follows the Ramadan example. You should fast for 12h to 16h straight, 2 to 3 days a week in non-consecutive days.

Despite the ongoing argument about the possible benefits of skipping some meals, several studies indicate that structured fasting could potentially support a better health, although it’s not recommended for everyone.

Is it different for men and women?

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There is a reason why intermittent fasting for women receives such attention and that’s because other types can be harmful to the female body.

Unlike men, the woman’s body is very sensitive to any changes to the regular calorie intake. Due to this, fasting for larger periods than those previously indicated can result in side-effects severe enough outweigh the benefits of this practice.

According to a 2005 study, alternate day fasting for 3 consecutive weeks affected negatively the glucose tolerance in women but not in men. However, the researchers also concluded that both genders benefited from improved stress resistance with this type of fasting.

The most worrisome side-effect for women, though, is the impact it can have on their reproductive organs. In a study performed on female rats in 2007, the combination of caloric restriction and intermittent fasting resulted in weight loss, the intermission of their menstruation and more sensitive to stress. The researchers even speculated that these results may help to explain why women are more vulnerable to anorexia nervosa.

There are no large-scale studies to date analyzing the side-effects of fasting in female human subjects, but many women report changes to their periods when doing long periods of fasting.

Benefits for women

You may wonder why is intermittent fasting for women so popular when this gender faces the most risks.

The key is moderation. If you follow a structured method, the benefits you can collect can overweigh the risks.

Weight loss

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Studies evaluating the effects of intermittent fasting for weight loss are few and small. Nevertheless, a 2018 review compiled the results of the more important researches performed to date and concluded that this method can be an effective strategy to overcome obesity.

Most researchers speculate that this effect can stem from the reduced intake of calories, which in turn compels the body into using fat as its primary source of energy, burning it in the process.

May prevent diabetes

According to a 2017 pilot study, intermittent fasting can potentially be a good strategy to prevent diabetes. In only two weeks, the subjects improved significantly their diabetic glucose control, although their values returned to their normal once fasting was eliminated from their lifestyle.

A review of the literature regarding this effect had already presented similar results in 2014 too.

Nevertheless, you should take this prevention effect with a pinch of salt, as a 2018 study performed in rats concluded that intermittent fasting can also increase insulin resistance, thus aggravating the risk of diabetes.

May improve heart health

The evidence that performing intermittent fasting can improve heart health is not consistent. In a 2009 small study, the individuals saw their blood pressure reduced in just 8 weeks, as well as their levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.

More recently, on 2017 literature review, the researchers admitted that this type of diet shows – even if inconsistently –  great potential to “improve ischemic cardiac injury, age-related cardiac hypertrophy, doxorubicin-induced cardiotoxicity and risk factors for coronary heart disease”.

Nevertheless, they also alert for the fact that there are some indications that intermittent fasting can bring about risks too. The aforementioned benefits were only achieved in preclinical studies and not with humans, which raises questions about their validity. Furthermore, other studies reviewed also reported negative effects such as “reduced diastolic compliance and diminished systolic reserve”.

Other possible effects

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Some preclinical studies have hinted at other possible benefits of intermittent fasting for women. However, these were small in scope and might not translate to humans.

Increased longevity: in a 2009 study, intermittent fasting effectively extended the lifespan of roundworms.

Preserved muscle mass: fasting for short periods of time preserves muscle mass in mice better than a continuous calorie-restricted diet, according to a 2016 study.

Decreased inflammation: a 2013 study performed in mice reported a reduction in the body’s inflammation markets while trying to assess the effects of fasting.

How to do it

Fasting is much simpler than dieting. All you need to do is cease the intake of food for a certain period of time.

If you want to give it a try, first choose a variety. You can start slowly at first, do fewer hours of fasting and progressively increase the time until you reach the period indicated.

Food is not permitted, but you can and should drink water while fasting. If going without food proves too difficult, you can also use a modified version of these fasting methods and drink smoothies made with fruits and veggies to keep a constant but low-calorie supply of nutrients to your body.

What to eat

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You don’t need to change your current diet or restrict any foods when doing intermittent fasting. Nothing needs to change in your diet, only fasting is introduced.

Other than that, you should still drink plenty of water and, if starving proves too hard, you can prepare smoothies with fruits and veggies to help soothe the cravings. Make sure to blend them well to reduce any strain put on the digestive system.

Side-effects and risks

These softest versions of the intermittent fasting diet present fewer risks to women. Nevertheless, you might experience common side-effects such as headaches, fatigue, mood swings and, obviously, hunger.

Due to the uncertainty of the effects of fasting when it comes to diabetes, people with this disease should abstain from trying it out. Likewise, women with fertility problems, pregnant or breastfeeding should not do it without first consulting with a doctor.

Underweight individuals or with a history of eating disorders should try intermittent fasting for women or any other variety of this diet.

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