6 Tips on Safe Intermittent Fasting for Women

Intermittent fasting is becoming a global health trend with more and more research coming out highlighting its many advantages. But IF is a bit different for women so I want to talk about some of my favourite tips on how to fast safely.

Like many females, I resent the idea that we are made to reproduce but unfortunately biology constantly reminds us of this fact. Our bodies are continually striving for a hospitable environment with warm fat insulation and the right level of hormones to produce a "little bundle of joy."  This means female bodies are extremely sensitive to starvation cues and when we refrain from eating for long periods of time our bodies are quick to release ghrelin...AKA that lovely hormone that makes you want to scarf down everything in sight. Since our bodies react this way, it is common for women to have an overwhelming desire to eat during a fast or to binge once the fast is over

When our body thinks it’s starving it leads to hyper alertness, better cognition, better memory, and energetic wakefulness. All these aspects are the body’s way of improving your ability to find food and in turn not starve. Our body also shuts down any unnecessary process including menstruation with the assumption that if you don’t have enough calories for yourself you would not be able to support a pregnancy. The shut down process happens through hormonal changes which is why many women experience spotting, extended or shortened periods, and mood swings.

What’s the big deal? A few months away from that dreaded time of the month might be a nice break, right? Well the problem is that these hormonal changes have many negative impacts on our body. Estrogen is an important hormone and would be disrupted with IF. Estrogen plays a role in cognition, digestion, mood, recovery, protein turnover, bone maintenance and bone formation so you can see how its imbalance could cause some problems. With an estrogen imbalance a younger woman may have the bone density of an 80 year old. This leaves us more susceptible to bone breaks, increased risk of osteoporosis,  and degeneration. Also, once hormone disruption occurs it can be difficult to get them back on track. This can leave many women facing difficulties getting pregnant.

So what can you do as a woman who is looking to lose fat, improve cognition, protect your brain, improve longevity but maybe one day have kids and not have crazy mood swings or the bone mineral density of your grandma?

First things first: Eat a nutritious diet, drink lots of water, and sleep. Although you have heard these tips time and time again they truly are the backbone to health. 

Next determine if IF is right for you: IF is not a good idea if you are trying to get pregnant or are pregnant or breastfeeding. If you have a history of disordered eating then IF may be triggering and not the best option for you either.  

Now if you've decided you you ARE ready to try IF, pay close attention to these 6 tips:

START SLOW- Ease your way into IF by trying a 14-16 hour fast every second or third day. Make sure to get your macros in during your eating window as well.

PAY ATTENTION- If you lose your period, have abnormal bleeding, notice skin/hair/nail changes, notice mood swings, losing your sex drive, or stress levels go up then you should stop fasting or modify your fasting.

TAKE IT EASY- On your fasting days don’t push yourself to your max especially in workouts. Use these days for yoga, foam rolling, or mobility workouts.

DRINK UP- Drink water, this can help trick your mind and make fasting a bit more bearable. Tea and coffee are great ways to get you through the fast as long as you avoid adding anything to them. Technically having anything that is not water is breaking the fast but for me I can get through a fast without my coffee!

THE STRUGGLE- If you are struggling to make it the 14-16 hour mark then there are a couple of different options. You could add MCT oil to your coffee but please understand MCT is high in calories and is breaking the fast.  MCT oil is an option with IF because it keeps you in a fat burning state.  Having some calories also reduces some of the stress on the body. Another option is BCAAs (Branch Chain Amino Acids) since they fuel muscles and may help with hunger and energy levels. You are still breaking the fast but there is a low amount of calories in BCAAs and wouldn’t have too much of an impact. The last option is to change your fasting down to 10-12 hours this causes less disruption to your hormones and seems to work better for women.

FREE FOR ALL- IF is not a free pass to eat whatever you want during your eating window. No matter what system you have in place of you over eat your calorie need you are not going to lose weight. IF is also not a free pass to eat junk, a nutritious diet is the true key to longevity and health.