Diets can be confusing. There was the breakfast of 80s champions - a raw egg blended with orange juice. Then came the Atkins diet of the early 2000s, which encouraged extremely low carbohydrates. Enter keto, paleo, and South Beach, and it just leaves our heads spinning.
Intermittent fasting is a way of looking at food a bit differently and because it doesn’t require a specific meal plan, it isn’t classified as a diet. The thought process behind this eating schedule has staying power and health benefits, including weight loss, more energy, and increased athletic performance. However, there are some differences when it comes to fasting for women, specifically around aspects such as hormonal changes and even pregnancy. So let’s take a peek at what intermittent fasting for women looks like.
Getting Started with Intermittent Fasting for Women
An intermittent fasting schedule for women is just that - a schedule. It’s a simple eating pattern that tells you when to eat. Certain portions of time are open each day to eat what you want, although healthy choices are encouraged during that window. With traditional fasting, people go through several days of not eating, which is hard. When things are hard to maintain, that means breaking the rules, getting discouraged, and giving up altogether. The good news is with intermittent fasting, you are sacrificing food for a few hours a day, and the amount of time you go without food is up to you. Here are a few popular intermittent fasting schedules for women.
This is the most common type of fasting and divides the typical day into two segments—one 16-hour segment of fasting and an 8-hour window where food is consumed. The beauty of this is you can pick your schedule. If you need breakfast, you can wake up, eat, and then continue eating for the next 8 hours - not to be confused with continuously eating for the next 8 hours because that could defeat the purpose!
If you are a late-night snacker, then start eating around 1 p.m. so that you can have a snack around 9 p.m. to hold you over. Most people who practice intermittent fasting start eating around lunchtime to enjoy dinner as usual with their family or friends. Come up with a time frame that works for you. 10 a.m.- 6 p.m., 11 a.m. - 7 p.m., or 12 p.m. - 8 p.m. are all entirely feasible. The good thing is sleeping hours count, and it’s hard to eat while you’re getting your z’s.
Now - bear with us here - if you are incredibly durable and have a lot of willpower, there are subsets with more restrictive time frames, such as the 18/6 and 20/4 schedules. If you can ease yourself into one of those, then go for it! The point of taking a break from eating is to be more conscious about what you are eating in your open window and to give your body time to digest that food. Conversely, if you need to bump your time back a bit - say go with a 14/10 schedule at first - that is a great place to start until you can maintain a 16/8.
One last point of note is that beverages count. Soda isn’t food, but it does contain calories. Consuming zero calories is the goal during your fasting times. That means you need to take your coffee black, have your tea without sugar, and only consume calorie-free beverages during your fasting window.
Ok, before you get excited and wonder why we didn’t mention this one in the last section - hold your breath - the 5:2 schedule equals seven days, not hours. Although a five-hours-on-two-hours-off plan would be fantastic, it won’t get you the results you’re looking for, but a five-days-on-two-days-off schedule will. Things are looking up because it’s not consecutive days.
With a 5:2 schedule, you pick two days a week where you eat a reduced amount of calories. In this type of intermittent fasting for women, it is suggested that you eat as usual five days a week and consume only 500 calories on the other two days. The days you choose are up to you, so do what works best with your schedule.
Similar to the 5:2 schedule is eat-stop-eat, where you eat five days a week and stop eating for two days. If you aren’t ready for the eat-stop-eat intermittent schedule of fasting for women, you can start with the 5:2 and eventually work your way up.
Alternate Day Fasting Schedule
As the name implies, days alternate with this method. Eat one day, fast the next, and so on. When considering each of these models, eating daily within a specific range is probably the most manageable intermittent fasting schedule for women to maintain long term. An eating schedule is all well and good, but how is intermittent fasting different for women? Let’s find out.
How Intermittent Fasting for Women is Different Than for Men
First, let us preface this by saying that you need to consult a doctor before beginning intermittent fasting, especially if you have any questions. Even though we aren’t physicians, it’s safe to say that ladies are genetically different. There are a few things to consider - if you are entering into this style of eating with a man or your significant other as it wouldn’t be fair to compare results or eating habits.
Excuse us if you’re here, men, while we gals chat for a bit. When Aunt Flo arrives, ladies get cravings. We grab chocolate and just about anything with carbs and sugar. Females may also crave meat if they lack iron during menstruation.
If you’re practicing intermittent fasting for women, be gentle on yourself. When you’re feeling bad or need extra nutrition as a pick me up the first day of your period, it’s ok to give in and be forgiving of yourself. The same goes with hormonal changes as you age. In short, listen to what your body is telling you.
Intermittent Fasting and Pregnancy
If you’re pregnant or are nursing your new little one, your primary concern should be adding healthy foods into your diet. If you are nourishing another life, concentrate on the things you are putting into your body instead of when. Doctors recommend pausing your intermittent fasting schedule and regularly eating when you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
Stress Response Differences
Interestingly enough, besides the ebbs and flows of the reproductive system, one main difference of an intermittent fasting schedule for women is that females don’t deal with suppressing their hunger as well. It activates their “fight or flight” response. So, guys, if you’re still hanging around reading this, give your lady a bit of slack if she’s feeling “hangry” while practicing intermittent fasting.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting for Women
Considering that heart disease is one of the leading causes of death, keeping your heart healthy is a top priority. A lifestyle of fasting reduces blood pressure and also lowers LDL cholesterol, which can cause buildup in your arteries.
Intermittent fasting has been shown to reduce both insulin and blood sugar levels, both of which contribute to diabetes. Again, what you consume during your eating windows does matter, but with a healthy diet and fasting, you can help stave off diabetes.
Aids in Weight Loss
Take a peek at that first word directly above. Aids. Calories still count. Yes, you only consume caloric foods and beverages during one window of time. Nevertheless, if you were eating 2500 calories before intermittent fasting and then start consuming 3500 calories within the 8-hour window (doable with a few frothy coffee drinks), you are somewhat defeating the purpose. Just keep this in mind, a general practice of on/off eating can help you lose weight.
If your body isn’t working hard to consume, break down, and assimilate food, it has time to do other things. Extended periods of rest from calories allows the body to concentrate on other things - specifically healing. Other benefits include increased lifespan, inflammation reduction, and an overall boost in your psyche. We can all use a bit of a natural upper from time to time.
Practicing Intermittent Fasting for Women
Should you or shouldn’t you? Unless you have underlying health conditions, are sick, or have a baby on the way, it may be a way for you to lose weight and improve health. Again, consult a doctor, but by merely regulating when you eat - and what - you can be well on your way to becoming a healthier version of yourself.