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The ultimate guide of intermittent fasting for women

In this article you will find everything you need to know about doing intermittent fasting as a woman.
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Summary
Written by
Dr. Sara Diana Garduno Diaz
PhD & Senior Nutrition Consultant

Intermittent fasting has been gaining increasing popularity over the last few years.

Different from the majority of diets which tell you what to eat, intermittent fasting places a strong focus on when to eat by setting forth periodic short-duration fasts into your daily schedule. 

Intermittent fasting refers to a pattern of consuming food that cycles between periods of regular eating and periods during which food and drink are not consumed. Some of the most popular forms of intermittent fasting for example are fasting on alternate days, daily 16-hour fasts or fasting for 24 hours, two days a week.

Following an intermittent fasting program can help a person consume fewer calories overall, thus losing weight and lowering the risk of diabetes and heart disease. However, not all intermittent fasting plans are designed with weight loss in mind. 

Some other health benefits of intermittent fasting include detoxification, regulation of blood sugar levels, controlled blood pressure, hormone regulation and reduced inflammation. 

Growing research has suggested that intermittent fasting can be even more beneficial for women when certain modifications are followed. For this reason, we have collected some tips for you to approach intermittent fasting in an even more successful way.

The effects of intermittent fasting on women 

The main difference for women around intermittent fasting when compared to men seems to be the impact of this type of eating routine on female hormones and their effect on everyday life. There have been numerous anecdotal reports of women who have experienced modifications to their menstrual cycles after starting intermittent fasting. Such changes can take place because female bodies are highly responsive to caloric restriction. 

We are going to talk about

1- The potential benefits of intermittent fasting

2- How to do intermittent fasting as a woman

3- Intermittent fasting tips

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Potential benefits of intermittent fasting for women


Weight loss

Intermittent fasting can be used as a simple and effective way for women to reduce weight when carried out properly, since regular short-term fasts may help consume less energy (calories).

An additional bonus for older women is that intermittent fasting also seems to be more effective at sparing muscle mass compared to on-going calorie restriction. This is particularly important after menopause as muscle is in decline and harder to maintain then, thus women need all the help they can get.

Diabetes

For both women and men, intermittent fasting may also aid in managing and reducing the risk of developing diabetes. This is achieved mostly by reducing insulin levels and lowering insulin resistance. 

Antiaging

Researchers have also suggested that intermittent fasting may lower key markers of inflammation. Inflammation is connected to many signs of aging, such as skin and metabolism modifications. Intermittent fasting might also reduce the speed at which DNA degrades, which is what happens when we age, and may also accelerate DNA repair, hence slowing down the aging process.

Intermittent fasting, pregnancy and breastfeeding

In general, fasting is not recommended for pregnant women. Even though it has been shown that intermittent fasting may benefit metabolism, lead to weight loss, and even potentially reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, it can also lower a pregnant woman’s blood sugar to levels lower than desired. Low blood sugar, when combined with the natural drop in blood pressure experienced by pregnant women, may lead to lightheadedness and fainting. 

We don't recommend fasting during pregnancy.

Specially towards the third trimester, and the later stages of the second trimester, intermittent fasting may not be suitable at all—many women will need an additional evening snack before bedtime, or need to eat soon upon waking.

While pregnant, a woman must ensure that she is consuming sufficient of the essential nutrients as well as total energy (many pregnant women are advised to add about 300 extra calories per day), especially if the pregnancy begins from a state of underweight or even at normal weight, hence restricting the time for eating may not be a suitable practice.

As for breastfeeding and fasting, it is best to avoid long-lasting fasting periods since the baby requires highly nutritious milk. Fasting may affect both production and quality of the mother’s milk. While there is not copious scientific information nor medical warnings not to, it is generally recommended to avoid fasting when breastfeeding.

Intermittent fasting and PCOS

The logical outcome to prevent PCOS, stop its development, and partly cure the disease is to lower insulin. We already know intermittent fasting is a pretty good way to reduce the secretion of insulin.


Let's get into the details:


A relatively frequent condition affecting the normal function of the ovaries is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS causes not only enlarged ovaries and irregular periods but can also produce excessive amounts of the ‘male’ hormone androgen. For women experiencing PCOS, energy balance is a more important factor for successful ovulation.


Additionally, PCOS causes insulin resistance, meaning that the body overproduces insulin which in turn leads to many of the common PCOS symptoms. This cycle of increased insulin resistance and its symptoms can be made worse by carbohydrates, which cause a spike in insulin levels, hence these should be avoided where possible. For this reason, intermittent fasting has become an ever more popular method for managing PCOS symptoms.

Although research is ongoing, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that intermittent fasting can be helpful for women with PCOS. 

As mentioned above, intermittent fasting can help manage PCOS symptoms because eating stimulates insulin production. When women fast they are also helping their body regulate their insulin levels.

Lowering the amount of insulin stimulation by fasting leads the body from storage mode into a fat-burning state where it uses up sugar and energy already stored. Additionally, if insulin levels are reduced, the body can better manage androgen production since insulin has an effect on other hormones in the body. 

While some women have had success in managing PCOS symptoms by fasting intermittently, the decision to try it without advice from a healthcare professional is not advised. A medical professional should look specifically at each woman’s symptoms and personal experience of PCOS to determine whether IF is the right method to follow.

Before talking about fasting, and hypothyroidism, I'd like to mention that Intermittent fasting isn't easy,
 but when you're with the right people, 
it becomes more enjoyable ❤️

You can Join our community for women only by clicking here.

Intermittent fasting and hypothyroidism 

Fasting impacts the thyroid directly due to its effects on hormone production. Some studies have shown that fasting reduces the production of T3 hormones. Since intermittent fasting changes the way your body uses up energy, you may experience improved metabolic activity if you are a person with hypothyroidism. In addition, some women have also experienced improvement in the functioning of their medication for hypothyroidism as well as lowered rates of inflammation. 

Intermittent fasting and menopause

Menopause is the natural reduction in sex hormones that takes place as women reach their 40s and 50s. Around this time, the ovaries stop producing estrogen and progesterone, which in turn stops menstruation. A woman has officially reached menopause when she has not had her period for 12 months. Nevertheless, amenorrhea (the loss of the period) is not the only symptom of menopause.

Menopause comes with a collection of symptoms, including hot flashes, vaginal dryness, decreased libido, anxiety, depression, increased heart disease risk, chills, night sweats and mood changes. And, for many the most noticeable, menopause also causes changes to the metabolism. Usually, the metabolism slows down during menopause due to estrogen and progesterone levels falling out of balance. The sudden hormonal modification causes many women to gain weight. 

Intermittent fasting may help with various symptoms of menopause. Intermittent fasting is a great tool for managing weight gain, insulin resistance, and other common symptoms of menopause. 

Fasting and hormones

When less food is eaten — for example from fasting for too long or too often — a small section of the brain (the hypothalamus) is affected. This can alter the production of certain hormones (such as GnRH, LH and FSH). When these hormones are unable to communicate with the ovaries, a woman runs the risk of irregular periods, infertility, poor bone health and other health effects.

Similarly to the way fasting has varying effects from one person to another, intermittent fasting can also cause diverse responses between women and men. Among these are included: 

  • Women might experience more difficulty with suppressing their hunger when compared to men.
  • The nervous system of men experiences less changes, and hence less stress than that experienced by women.
  • The reproductive system of women is likely to be more affected than that of men (for example, menstruation cycles may become modified).
  • The gonadotropin-releasing hormone in women can be affected in a way that causes more discomfort than in men feel when fasting.


How to do intermittent fasting as a woman?


It is perfectly safe for women to practice intermittent fasting, this can be done even more successfully with a few simple upgrades. Generally speaking, women should take a slightly more relaxed approach to fasting than men. This may include modifications such as shorter fasting periods, fewer fasting days and/or consuming a small number of calories on fasting days.

The best form of intermittent fasting is one that fits with each woman’s lifestyle. To find a perfect plan for you it is important to experiment with duration and frequency combinations. The most popular forms of intermittent fasting include:

Disclaimer about the long fast methods (eating low calories for 24 hours + periods), please consult a doctor before you decide to follow them.

The 24 hour method

Starting from 14 hours and working up to a full day of fasting, once or twice per week. 

Alternate day fasting

Limiting food to 500 calories per day, every other day. 

5:2 fasting

Consuming only 500 calories during two non-consecutive days, eating normally the rest of the week. 

16:8 method

Fasting for 16 hours and eating only for 8 hours. 

The schedule you choose to follow will depend on your daily activities and your experience with fasting. For example, if you feel that no food at all will not be possible for you, opt for a method that allows up to 500 calories. If you will be traveling for a while but have some days at home maybe the 24 hour method can adapt to your schedule. You can also try a combination of methods to find your perfect fit.

Whichever form is selected, it is still important to eat well during the non-fasting periods. If a woman is eating a large amount of unhealthy, calorie-dense foods during the non-fasting periods, she may not experience the same weight loss and health benefits as when opting for nutrient-dense food options. At the end of the day, the best approach is one that can be tolerated and sustained in the long-term, and which does not result in any negative health consequences.

Tips to do intermittent fasting as a woman


To begin with, when fasting, staying hydrated is key to avoid headaches and feeling hungry as one becomes used to going lengthy times without food. If experiencing hunger pains, adding 1-2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar to some drinking water might help. This can help curb hunger and is also known to help with weight loss. 

Next, women should remember to keep it simple and steady. Starting off by going a couple of hours in between meals to see how the body adapts. Skipping a meal can be the next step, and eventually building up to skipping two. As always, it is important to prioritize clean wholesome foods when the fasting periods are over. 


You can also join our community for women only, to get all the support you need to get in better shape with intermittent fasting.


Side effects of intermittent fasting for women


A number of studies have reported some side effects including hunger, mood swings, lack of concentration, reduced energy, headaches and bad breath on fasting days. Some women have also reported that their menstrual cycle stopped while following an intermittent fasting diet.

So give it a try

While intermittent fasting has been shown to be beneficial for heart health, diabetes and weight loss, it is important to find the best combination of fasting and eating times to support reproductive health and maintain blood sugar levels in women. That being said, modified versions of intermittent fasting appear safe for most women and may be a more suitable option than longer or stricter fasts. 

If you are a woman looking to lose weight or improve your health, intermittent fasting is definitely something to consider.

It is important to remember that there are specific points women must keep in mind when considering a fasting lifestyle. Consulting a healthcare professional before starting a fasting program is especially  important for women who:


  • Have experienced or are experiencing an eating disorder.
  • Have diabetes or tend to experience low blood sugar levels!
  • Are underweight, malnourished or have nutritional deficiencies. 
  • Are pregnant, breastfeeding or trying to get pregnant.
  • Have fertility difficulties or a history of missed periods. 

Overall, intermittent fasting can have a good safety profile if planned according to each individual and their needs. However,  if you experience any irregularities — such as loss of your menstrual cycle — consult your healthcare professional right away. 

References:

Klempel, Monica C., et al. "Intermittent fasting combined with calorie restriction is effective for weight loss and cardio-protection in obese women." Nutrition journal 11.1 (2012): 1-9.

Domaszewski, Przemysław, et al. "Effect of a Six-Week Intermittent Fasting Intervention Program on the Composition of the Human Body in Women over 60 Years of Age." International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 17.11 (2020): 4138.

Nair, Pradeep MK, and Pranav G. Khawale. "Role of therapeutic fasting in women’s health: An overview." Journal of mid-life health 7.2 (2016): 61.

Hutchison, Amy T., et al. "Effects of intermittent versus continuous energy intakes on insulin sensitivity and metabolic risk in women with overweight." Obesity 27.1 (2019): 50-58.

Arbour, Megan W., et al. "Clinical Implications for Women of a Low-Carbohydrate or Ketogenic Diet With Intermittent Fasting." Nursing for Women's Health 25.2 (2021): 139-151.

Harvie, Michelle N., et al. "The effects of intermittent or continuous energy restriction on weight loss and metabolic disease risk markers: a randomized trial in young overweight women." International journal of obesity 35.5 (2011): 714-727.

López-Bueno, Marta, et al. "Influence of age and religious fasting on the body composition of Muslim women living in a westernized context." Nutricion hospitalaria 31.3 (2015): 1067-1073.

Horne, Benjamin D., Joseph B. Muhlestein, and Jeffrey L. Anderson. "Health effects of intermittent fasting: hormesis or harm? A systematic review." The American journal of clinical nutrition 102.2 (2015): 464-470.

Berga, Sarah L., Tammy L. Loucks, and Judy L. Cameron. "Endocrine and chronobiological effects of fasting in women." Fertility and sterility 75.5 (2001): 926-932.

Liu, Bo, et al. "Markers of adipose tissue inflammation are transiently elevated during intermittent fasting in women who are overweight or obese." Obesity research & clinical practice13.4 (2019): 408-415.



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