If you peruse the web for ‘weight loss diets’, odds are you’ll stumble into intermittent fasting eventually. Intermittent fasting sounds great—eat normally most of the time, but eat practically nothing the rest of the time. Reap the rewards of improved glucose tolerance, clearer thinking, effective fat loss and perhaps even increased longevity. What’s the downside? Intermittent fasting is a healthy practice (as long as you do it properly and still get a balanced diet) but it is absolutely not for everyone.
You may have noticed that the fasting world is vastly dominated by men. Men rave about how well they do when they’re fasting. They gain muscle, lose fat, are more productive and confident. But there aren’t a whole lot of female voices out there on the issue, especially women with hormonal struggles. Does that make a difference? Absolutely.
Anatomically, men and women have vastly different needs, and what works well for one gender may not work out great for the other. So be very aware, women, especially those with hormonal imbalances, thyroid or adrenal dysfunction, or any other sort of imbalance, should be very cautious before embracing a fasting program.
Don’t get me wrong. The results are tempting. A few years ago, I was a huge proponent of fasting. And it is still a great option for most people, especially men. But as a woman with PCOS, intermittent fasting began to take its toll. Yes, I lost weight. Yes, I had clearer thinking during my fasts. But, the regular fasting program I had set myself on was slowly stressing my body. I was suddenly craving butter constantly, probably because my body was stressed and felt malnourished. My acne returned. I became a little depressed. But, when I started eating regular, square meals again, I felt the stress melt away, along with the acne, cravings and depression. My fasting was rattling my already rattled hormones. So I went back to regular eating, keeping a modest 12 hour window left between dinner and breakfast.
Women’s wellness expert Alissa Vitti has expressed that women, especially those with hormonal imbalances, should not be fasting. If your system is already out of whack, fasting is only going to increase the severity of that imbalance.
According to functional medicine specialist Amy Myers, MD, “Fasting can be great, but if you have thyroid, adrenal, autoimmune issues—sometimes not.” This is because, with this issues, the body is already struggling for nutrients and balance. Fasting can potentially just add extra stress on top of it all, which makes imbalances all the messier.
Still sold on giving intermittent fasting a try? For women, some experts recommend a technique known as “Crescendo Fasting”. This means fasting 2-3 times a week, on nonconsecutive days, for about 12-16 hours straight. This includes time spent sleeping! It is a much gentler approach to fasting the shouldn’t drastically destabilize hormones while encouraging positive side effects like weight loss, reduced inflammation and improved energy. Even Ayurvedic tradition recommends a 12 hour fast between dinner and breakfast, which is a safe digestive break that is gentle on the system.
Educate yourself thoroughly before beginning any sort of fasting program. Each of us is unique, and what works for a friend may not be the best thing for you. Listen to your body, and always consult a trusted specialist before starting any new dietary protocol.