Almost everyone I meet asks me about intermittent fasting. Is it recommended? Is it beneficial? How should I do it? And what impact should I expect? So, here is the lowdown on intermittent fasting with specific tips for women.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting is all the rage these days. But what exactly is it? Let’s start with what it is not. Although it has only recently started gaining popularity, the concept of fasting is certainly not new. In fact, fasting has been used for centuries and plays a central role in many major religions.
While intermittent fasting restricts eating to a specific window of time, it is not a form of crash restrictive dieting for quick weight loss. There are several forms of intermittent fasting, and no one way works for everyone, so choose the method that feels natural for you. Most importantly, intermittent fasting should make you feel good, so if your fasting strategy makes you feel weak, you need to re-evaluate it.
Is Intermittent Fasting Evidenced-Based?
Gaining popularity of this eating pattern in recent years definitely stems from the constantly emerging new research about the benefits of fasting. Research catches up on centuries-old practices and brings us back to ancient wisdom. Here are some of the researched benefits:
1. Weight Management
For most people, weight loss is the main motivation to try intermittent fasting. And indeed, this method of eating can positively impact your weight, especially when you complement it with balanced, nutritious meals. Intermittent fasting naturally restricts your overall calorie intake by limiting your eating window.
But it also boosts your fat-burning because you do not receive a constant sugar dose. When this happens, the body shifts to burning fat for longer-lasting energy. As a result, you may find that you lose weight more easily – and steadily – when you practise intermittent fasting.
2. Vitality Through Hormesis
Fasting is a type of stress that can have a hormetic effect on our bodies, promoting vitality and improved mitochondrial function. Hormesis refers to the health-enhancing stress you need in your life. Basically, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.
When we fast, we are causing minor stress to our systems, forcing our bodies to adapt to survive. This adaptation includes increased production of energy by our mitochondria. In other words, fasting helps us create more energy, leading to improved vitality.
3. Insulin Sensitivity
When you fast, your body is forced to rely on stored glucose for energy, which helps to improve your insulin sensitivity and prevent spikes in blood sugar. But take note that if you are diabetic, then keep in mind that proper medication adjustment and self-monitoring of blood glucose levels would be required to get into intermittent fasting safely. Take baby steps into implementation and always consult with your doctor first.
4. Immune Regulation
Fasting has been shown to have several benefits for health, including boosting the function of neutrophils. Incidentally, a neutrophil is a type of white blood cell that is more able to counteract pathogens when fasting, as they are not dealing with excess sugar particles. In addition, the balance of the microbiome shifts during fasting, favouring the growth of beneficial microbes over harmful ones such as salmonella.
Fasting also supports a healthy response to inflammation and has been shown to promote brain and heart health, so if you’re looking for a way to improve your overall health, intermittent fasting may be a good option. As you can see, with all the benefits, it is evident that adopting some form of intermittent fasting would have a significant impact on your wellness. The caveat, of course, is to figure out which form best suits your body.
5 Ways to Do Intermittent Fasting
There are many forms and variations of fasting, and here are the most popular ones. Keep in mind that fasting refers to abstaining from solid foods. You can still have water and zero-calorie beverages such as herbal teas.
Circadian Fasting (12/12)
Circadian fasting is a practice that aligns with the body’s natural rhythm by refraining from eating at night and sleeping. For example, one might fast from 6pm to 6am. This allows the body to focus on cell repair and regeneration during sleep, when it does not have to deal with digesting late-night meals. As a result, circadian fasting can help to reduce inflammation, improve energy levels, and protect against age-related damage.
Time-Restricted Fasting (16/8 or 14/10)
Time-restricted fasting is a type of intermittent fasting that involves limiting your food intake to a particular window of time each day. For example, you might eat all your meals between 8am and 4pm, or fast for 16 hours each day and eat only during an eight-hour window (16/8). Or you might eat all your meals between 8am and 6pm, or fast for 14 hours each day and eat only during an 10-hour window (14/10). You can choose the hours that fit your lifestyle and daily schedule.
The 5:2 method is another way to do intermittent fasting. The premise is simple: eat a regular, balanced diet for five days each week, and then restrict your calorie intake to 500-600 calories on two non-consecutive days. For example, choose Monday and Friday as the restricted days and eat normally on the other days.
Those two days are considered a “fasting mimicking” diet (500-800 Kcal/day, low-carb, low-protein) and have a similar or even extended effects to fasting. It may also be safer to begin with, if you are planning to follow the 5th type of fasting.
Alternate Day Fasting
As the name suggests, this diet involves alternating between days of eating normally and days of fasting. On fasting days, you restrict your calorie intake, consuming only enough to maintain your basic body functions.
The 24HR Fasting (Or Eat: Stop: Eat Method)
The 24HR fasting method is simple. The basic premise is to fast for 24 hours, starting from the day’s first meal till the next day’s first meal. You can drink water, tea, and coffee during the fast, but you should avoid any calorie-containing beverages. After the fast is over, you can return to your normal eating pattern. Some people choose to do this once or twice a week
Tips for Success
If you’re looking to start intermittent fasting, you should keep a few things in mind. First, experiments have shown that women respond better to circadian or time-restricted fasting rather than extended or whole-day fasting. Our bodies and hormones dictate our needs, and they’re simply different from those of men.
Next, think about your lifestyle. If you normally exercise before heading to work, it does not make sense to starve yourself until 12pm! Eat when your body needs it; this is not about feeling starved or pushing your body to work hard on an empty tank. Additionally, if you are completely new to fasting, I suggest starting with circadian and slowly building up to the method you like to follow.
Furthermore, give yourself three to four days to adjust and assess if this works for you. Fasting should make you feel great, so if you feel weak, you must re-evaluate your strategy. Next, drink more herbal teas or cucumber-infused water for the initial day or two to help get your body used to the rhythm. Second, if your goal is weight loss, you need to pay attention to what you’re eating.
Weight Loss with Intermittent Fasting
If your goal is weight loss with intermittent fasting, you’ll want to focus on eating balanced meals that consist of quality protein, healthy fat, and fibrous vegetables. This will help to keep cravings at bay. You’ll also want to choose nutrition-dense foods versus nutritionally poor, calorie-dense foods. Your body reacts differently to a bowl of steamed vegetables with grilled chicken than pizza!
Additionally, drink enough water to help flush out toxins that may get mobilised out of your fat tissues shrinking. Toxins are stored in fat tissues, so following a gentle approach to weight loss makes it easier for your body to handle the influx of circulating toxins. You can also hydrate your body with herbal teas, bone broth, and low-sugar veggie juice. Lastly, eat the appropriate amount for a meal – do not overeat or undereat. Listen to your body’s cues and trust the process!
Who Should Not Do It?
Becoming a bit more informed about intermittent fasting before diving in headfirst is always a good idea, especially if you have diabetes. Easing into the intermittent fasting plan under your doctor’s supervision will help ensure that your medication stays where it needs to be, blood sugar-wise. Additionally, it’s essential to remember that not everyone can (or should) fast – pregnant or breastfeeding women, for example, should avoid fasting until their blood sugar is better regulated.
And if you’re vegan, you might also want to think twice about fasting. This is because animal proteins (especially red meat) contain carnitine, which is needed to utilise fatty acids for energy production in the mitochondria. So if you feel low on energy or experience hypoglycemia between meals, this could be why. Moreover, some people have a genetic disposition and experience issues metabolising fats to produce energy, leading to the same symptoms as the above point.
You should always listen to your body, ease yourself into any changes, allow your body to find its balance, and choose a different strategy to achieve your goals if what you’re trying is not working for your body. Finally, if you have any underlying health conditions or are taking medications, it is essential to talk to your doctor before making any changes to your diet or routine.
People often mistake intermittent fasting for some kind of crash diet. However, it is so much more than that. Intermittent fasting is a way of life that comes with a multitude of health benefits. It is flexible, easily adaptable, and does not require you to give up any foods you love. Plus, it can be part of your lifestyle instead of some temporary weight-loss programme.
Most importantly, intermittent fasting stresses the concept of bio-individuality; what works for one person may not work for another. So, if you feel intermittent fasting is not right for you, don’t force it. However, if you decide to try it, then be sure to listen to your body and choose a plan that feels good for you. Lastly, if you need help getting started, reach out to a certified health coach who can help you implement the best strategy for your unique needs.