21 Jun Is Intermittent Fasting Safe For Women?
Since writing my book on fasting, I have had many females email me or DM me over in Instagram to ask is intermittent fasting safe for women, as they had heard some worrying information that had kept them away from trying it in the past. Many of the concerns that they were having were around hormones and how it may affect them and their bodies. This is a completely legitimate concern to have and you should never rush into any kind of lifestyle change or modification without doing your research. In this article, I hope to address many of those concerns, to allow you to tick it off your check list and get started on your Later Day Eating Life.
Firstly, if you don’t know what intermittent fasting is I would strongly urge you to go over to the previous article that I wrote (You can click HERE for easy access) and read a much more detailed post on what it is and if it is right for you. In short, intermittent fasting is the practice of going for long periods of time without food. There are multiple variations on how you can do it, but they all have the same premise and that is to have a period when you don’t eat and a period when you do eat. The benefits are vast, but all in all, fasting is beginning to become a mainstream idea as research and science begins to back up the claims that many of us who have been doing it for years have been saying from the beginning. With that all said, women vary greatly from men (no big shock there) and with a woman’s hormone profile being the major difference in how both men and women are made up, you will of course see vast differences in how our bodies react to a certain lifestyle.
Let’s not sugar coat it and get right to what some women have reported happening when they have tried intermittent fasting. Some women (not all) will report serious problems such as metabolic disruption, missed periods, early onset of menopause and binge eating. If you are female and reading all that, you would be excused for thinking that you should stay well away from Intermittent Fasting. One thing to note though is that there are a multitude of other reason that can also cause those things to happen, and so let’s not ride it off just yet. I am going to get a little sciency here and talk about hormones and why in females they can be affected more than in males.
Ewww Science…. BORING!
The truth is the scientific community doesn’t really know why female hormones are affected more, however they do have ideas. It turns out (but isn’t surprising) that the hormones that regulate things like ovulation can be incredibly sensitive to energy intake and regularity. The hypothalamus and pituitary glad are key hormone regulators in both the male and the female bodies. They work hand in hand, with the hypothalamus releasing certain neurohormones that in turn either stimulate or inhibit the secretion of pituitary hormones.
Still with me?
Last bit of boring science, I promise.
One such reaction occurs when the Hypothalamus releases a hormone called Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone (GnRH) which tells the pituitary glad to release Luteinizing Hormone (LH) and Follicular Stimulating Hormone (FSH). LH and FSH act on the ovaries (testes in men) and trigger the production of estrogen and progesterone which are needed to produce a mature egg and support a pregnancy. Due to the very precise and regular timing of this cycle in females, if it does not occur then everything can be put out of place. These pulses of GnRH can be sensitive to your surrounding environment and so fasting can throw this process off. If all of that went over your head, you are just like me then and need a more simplified explanation. Think of your body as an airport and the hypothalamus is the air traffic coordinator with his radar screen in front of him. If it looks like two planes are going to crash, a message is sent to each plane to tell them to change their path to avoid an accident. In the case of your body the air traffic controller is the hypothalamus telling the plane, which is the pituitary gland, to make an adjustment which will cause an outcome.
I hope that analogy makes more sense and allows you to understand the relationship that these glands have in your body.
Stress Can Come In Many Forms
Unfortunately, to date, there has been almost no research done on how fasting affects females, however from what scientists do know about males and females, is that a calorie deficit or negative energy balance may be to blame for this hormonal effect I have been talking about above. This can come about from having too little food, exercising too much, high levels of stress in your life, poor nutrition, not enough sleep as well as illness and infection. Any combination of these can cause the stop to ovulation and so you need to pay close attention to what is going on in your life and how your body is reacting. You know your body better than anyone else and so you need to listen to what it may be trying to tell you.
If you are in the middle of training for a marathon and get the flu and miss a period, maybe you should look to reducing your training for a week or two.
Maybe you have been working late every night for the past 3 months to get a presentation done for a big talk you have to give.
Maybe you just started intermittent fasting.
Whatever it is, pay close attention to what is going on in your life as any number of possibilities could arise and cause your body to shut down.
While our bodies are truly amazing, one thing they lack is the ability to distinguish the difference between an actual threat to our life or us just stressing about a presentation.
So, is Fasting For You?
There are some parts of the female population that I would say should never try fasting. If you are pregnant, are chronically stressed or have had issues with an eating disorder in the past I would strongly suggest you do not start a fasting program. If you are pregnant, have the baby first and with the last two I would deal with these issues first before starting a fasting program.
For all other female populations, fasting protocols varying greatly and some are much more extreme than others. Some will ask you to fast for days on end while others will have you skipping breakfast. Your age, nutritional status, levels of stress in your life, how much exercise you do and type of fast can all be relevant factors when looking to include Intermittent Fasting into your lifestyle. I always say with every female, and male for that matter, who come to me to enquire about my program that you should take a conservative approach in the beginning. My program will have all participants slowly push their first meal out longer and longer over the course of a few weeks to adjust to the change. In this time, I would make sure you are paying close attention to how your body is reacting and should you experience any change in your menstrual cycle, have problems with sleep, take longer to recover from exercise or anything else that seems out of place you should stop immediately and consult your doctor for further tests.
At the end of the day fasting can be an amazing tool to help you on your weight loss and health journey. I have seen countless woman come across my program who have had amazing success with fasting, all while reporting no issues with any of what I have listed above. We are all very different and in turn should all be treated individually when it comes to any kind of nutritional plan or lifestyle change. Just remember to take it slow as this journey should never be looked at as a sprint, it’s a marathon!
Eat plenty of nutritious fruits, vegetables and protein, exercise regularly and get plenty of rest and see if a fasting life is the missing link you have been looking for to help you on your journey.
I hope this article helped any questions you may have had. If you do have any questions or comments please leave them below as I would be more than happy to answer them for you.