As a gut health coach who works almost exclusively with women, I didn’t think the question of fasting would become as popular as it has. Intermittent Fasting (I.F.) has taken the world (and diet industry) by storm. But as YOUR gut health coach – I’m here to give you both sides of the story. But first, let’s figure out what exactly I.F. is:
Intermittent fasting (IF), or Time Restricted eating (TRE), is restricting the time you eat and alternating it with times you don’t eat anything. Numbers like 16:8 are indications of the hours of fasting (16 hours) and the hours of eating (8 hours). The eating period is commonly known as your “eating window.” And “16:8” is one of the most common outlines to do this with.
There are also many different parameters that different schools of fasting adhere to. For example, some say you can only drink water, while others say coffee and tea are okay. Some websites promote that high fats (like MCT oil) do not break a fast. This is based on the idea that it’s only a certain amount of carbohydrates that can break it. For the purpose of clarity let’s say that fasting is consuming nothing with calories in it. Water, tea, and sneakily black coffee tend to fit the bill on most fasting websites as “safe.”
It’s not uncommon for women to be underrepresented in research studies. This has led to a lack of understanding of how certain interventions, like Intermittent Fasting, may impact women’s health specifically.
This is slowly changing, but it is still a problem. Some studies have found that intermittent fasting can affect women’s hormones differently than men’s. Thus, highlighting the need for more research focused on women. This doesn’t mean it is unsafe, but rather to listen to your body and, of course, your ‘gut’ when trying any new approach or lifestyle.
Even after reading this blog, it is always recommended that you make these changes with help from a professional. Or at minimum, consult one before making any lifestyle changes. I always reiterate to my team that “clear is kind.” I am hoping that after reading about the benefits and potential dangers of I.F., you might be able to decide for yourself.
Intermittent fasting can help women lose weight. This, like most weight loss approaches, is through calorie restriction. What is new is that these periods of fasting allow the body to “rest and digest.” Which has been suggested to promote fat loss and increase metabolic rate. Studies done on women have shown that intermittent fasting can be an effective way to lose weight and that many women may benefit from this approach. I want to highlight though, that many women benefit from many approaches and this isn’t a reason to commit to a lifestyle that doesn’t work for you. The most important part of any lifestyle shift is how it works for you AND that it is sustainable for your busy life. So please, keep that in mind if you’re considering trying this out.
Intermittent fasting has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, which can help regulate blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. This is exciting for women who, for various reasons, often need this little boost in insulin sensitivity.
Some research has shown that intermittent fasting may help reduce inflammation in the body, which can reduce the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer. This is another exciting possibility for most women, as inflammation is the most significant cause of most dis-ease within our bodies. The reality, however, is that when done in an already stressed state – is that IF might just add fire to the flame and, instead of easing inflammation, if done incorrectly, has the power to worsen it. The best way to make any lifestyle change is with assistance from a functional medicine doctor, a dietitian, or your health coach. Hence why we COMBINE coaching and clinical at the Gut Health Agency to include gut health coaches and a Registered Dietitian so that you have the best of all worlds when it comes to healing that lasts.
Intermittent fasting can cause hormonal imbalances in some women, especially those who are premenopausal or have a history of hormonal imbalances. This is due to estrogen. Fasting can cause a drop in estrogen levels. Estrogen is the female-dominated hormone that helps us have regular periods and reproduce. So it’s unsurprising that fasting can cause irregular periods or even amenorrhea (absence of periods) in some women, which can, as a result, affect your fertility.
Intermittent fasting means you have less time and thus fewer meals to get in your nutrients. This means you risk developing a host of nutritional deficiencies if your nutrition during your “eating window” is not well balanced. This, of course, is not as much of a concern when working with a professional. But due to the general lack of nutritional information taught in schools, universities, and even to doctors, it is an unsurprising and prevalent risk.
It is not recommended to fast at all if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. This is the most important time for your baby to get all the essential nutrients it needs to grow healthy and strong. The restriction should be replaced with a rainbow of wholesome foods at every meal.
Intermittent fasting can trigger disordered eating behaviors in some women, particularly those with a history of disordered eating. Fasting can cause feelings of deprivation and lead to binge eating during eating windows. I advise all of my clients with a history of eating disorders or who still experience some of those thoughts to take extreme caution or avoid fasting altogether.
It is tough to say because many symptoms have many causes. Still, things like dizziness, fatigue, and headaches have been linked to intermittent fasting in women in research explicitly done on women. Again, this is not all women, but it’s just a chance to be aware that if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it might be a good idea to skip fasting for a week and note the changes.
The overarching conclusion is that more research is needed to be sure. If you want to try intermittent fasting, I suggest doing it with a professional at hand. If you’d like my team to hold your hand, we’re excited to hold yours back. Please never undermine the power of paying attention to your own body. Now that you know some of the benefits and potential risks, I am going to trust that you’ll reach out if you need help and that you can make the best decision for yourself and your body on this next stage of your journey.
All my love
Chelsea interviews professionals to bring YOU today’s most updated knowledge on nutrition and wellness.