Intermittent fasting has proven to be a path to sustainable weight loss for some. However, there are some important things that women should consider before jumping head first into the IF style of eating.
What are the benefits?
The benefits attributed to intermittent fasting (IF) are numerous and significant. Intermittent fasting advocates claim that IF can help reduce blood pressure, LDL levels, risk for cancer, and internal inflammation. Some of the other proposed benefits are an increase in fat burning, HGH levels, cellular repair and regeneration, and an increase in metabolic rate. Finally, other claims are improved appetite control and insulin sensitivity. Reading the claims would make you wonder how anyone who wants to look better and enjoy greater health isn’t doing IF. However, the claims don’t provide a full picture of what you can expect from IF.
Is there research to back these claims?
As is often the case in the world of fitness and wellness, research often lags behind practical application. While many have practiced various forms of intermittent fasting for quite some time, there is limited research on humans. There are research studies that corroborate the claims of IF advocates. However, most of that research was conducted on rats. Also, current research is showing that some of the proposed benefits are only realized with longer fasts over 20 hours. Most popular IF protocols don’t call for fasts of that length. Finally, many studies compare the results of IF to regular eating. A standard North American diet is usually high calorie, high fat, high sugar, and highly processed. It’s hard to tell if the benefits of IF are caused by fasting or calorie reduction.
What women should pay attention to if they experiment with IF…
Women’s bodies are more reactive to significant changes in intake than men’s bodies. Even shorter term intake changes can disrupt female reproductive hormones. This disruption can lead to amenorrhea as well as fertility issues. If you choose to experiment with IF, there are a few signs that will let you know that IF may not be a good match for you even if you are losing weight easily. Watch for any of the following: monthly cycle becomes irregular or stops, problems with thermoregulation (always feeling cold), hair loss, problems falling asleep or staying asleep, slower recovery from workouts, mood swings, or a decrease in libido. If you experience any of these symptoms, it is time to give IF a break.
What are some other practical considerations?
- IF isn’t a silver bullet solution. Like any eating style, success with this method relies heavily on an individual’s ability to stick to the protocol. If rigid feeding times create stress and food obsession, the protocol can be more harmful than helpful.
- Rigidly restricting eating times as required by some of the popular IF protocols could create lifestyle challenges for women with full, dynamic schedules. IF can be especially challenging for women whose schedules vary wildly from day to day, who travel to different time zones often, or who have irregular bedtimes as a result of caring for an infant. For those women, it can be stressful to always be on the hunt for a fasting window that doesn’t conflict with personal and professional obligations.
- Rigidly restricting eating times could impose on family and professional life. For example, a working mom who has client lunches and values eating breakfast and dinner with her family would have a hard time finding a span of time large enough for the recommended fasting time in many programs.
- IF could lead to poor workout performance and dizziness for women who train at later times in their fasting window. For example, a morning exerciser who fasts until 11am or noon to allow for family dinner may not feel well during her typical 5am workout.
- Intermittent fasting doesn’t work if your intake during your feeding window still leads to a caloric surplus. Some women find it hard, physically and psychologically, to eat at a caloric deficit when they are keenly aware of an approaching time when they can no longer eat.
- IF is not a substitution for eating balanced meals. In order for it to work, you must be willing and able to fast then eat balanced meals that result in a caloric deficit during your feeding window. So, some knowledge and experience with balanced eating prior to experimentation with intermittent fasting is beneficial.
- IF may be really helpful for women who find that more frequent eating makes it harder to maintain a caloric deficit. For example, some women who have tried eating small meals every 2-3 hours, are relieved to have to spend less energy and time thinking about and preparing food.
- IF may be helpful for women who often go longer periods without food due to schedule, eat smaller meals when they eat, and then struggle with excessive nighttime eating. For those women, embracing intentional fasting times and allowing themselves larger meals during their feeding window could eliminate the excessive nighttime eating and associated caloric surplus.
- IF is a convenient and sustainable way to create a caloric deficit for people who traditionally don’t enjoy smaller meals.
- Fasting too often, for too long, along with excessive cardio, or in the absence of weight training to support muscle maintenance can have negative effects on the metabolism.
- Most importantly, women have gotten similar results with intermittent fasting, the frequent feeding model, and a more traditional three meals a day approach. If losing weight for good is the goal, it is important to pick an approach that you can follow with reasonably low amounts of effort for the long term.
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