What is Intermittent Fasting?
Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Is Intermittent Fasting Effective for Women?
Intermittent Fasting Results
Common Myths about Intermittent Fasting
Methods of Intermittent Fasting
How you Can Start Intermittent Fasting
What You Can Drink During Fasting
Intermittent Fasting Side Effects for Women
Intermittent Fasting (IF) is a pattern of eating where you cycle between distinctive periods of eating and fasting.
In Intermittent Fasting, you follow a specific meal timing schedule where you consume your daily food intake within a particular time window (feasting) and then avoid eating anything (fasting) through the rest of the day.
In other words..
The primary focus of IF is not to change what you eat, but WHEN you eat.
There are a variety of techniques developed for intermittent fasting based on the time gaps between feasting and fasting; but all of them have one goal - control your calorie intake as much as possible.
Some popular methods include:
- 12/12 Method
- The Intermittent Fasting 16/8 Method or the “Leangains method”
- Eat-Stop-Eat or the “24-Hour Protocol”
- Alternate Day Fasting
- The 5:2 Diet or “The Fast Diet”
- Crescendo Fasting
The above-mentioned methods have successfully managed to get great results in helping people lose weight while maintaining optimal hormone levels in addition to good blood sugar levels.
But how is Intermittent Fasting any different from the other fasting methods and Calorie Restriction diets? In the next chapter, you will learn about the benefits to Intermittent Fasting and how it can help you.
Today, there’s a lot of buzz on the Internet about Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss and rightly so. IF directs your body into a natural fat-burning routine that increases adrenaline levels and burns stored fat.
As your adrenaline levels rise, they boost your body’s metabolic processes.
A Rise in Energy Levels
While you’re eating periodically, your body gets the optimal number of calories. This saves it the work of storing the excess and that saved energy will be noticeable in your daily activities, provided you're taking care of maintaining your hormone levels.
Improves Heart Health
Intermittent fasting has been proven to maintain cholesterol levels at an optimal level.
According to the study:
“Intermittent fasting and low-calorie diet is associated with similar reductions in BMI and blood lipids in obese men and women. This diet also demonstrated an advantage in minimizing weight regain as well as enhancing arterial compliance as compared to a heart healthy diet after 1 year. ”
Another study that reviews Intermittent Fasting and Cardiovascular Disorders in much detail found that Intermittent Fasting inhibits the development of atherosclerotic plaque.
It also states:
“The IF diet limits many risk factors for the development of cardiovascular diseases and therefore the occurrence of these diseases.”
Helps in Diet Portioning
The basic idea of Intermittent Fasting is to organize the times you eat. But along with that comes a reduction of unnecessary eating.
If your fasting period falls around midnight, this will help you ward off those midnight cravings. With time and effort, those hunger pangs will slowly start to disappear.
This is why Intermittent Fasting has become so popular. It helps you create a healthy habit of eating at particular times of the day and avoid eating anything at any other point.
Which brings us to the next point..
Makes Tracking Calories Easy
Since you're not eating anything unnecessarily, you avoid losing count of the number of meals you had and what all you put in your body.
So, if you’re allowed to eat in a particular period of the day, it becomes easier to track what you ate in that time and then count the calories of each of the food items.
Let’s look at how impactful it can be for women in the next chapter.
Does it affect men and women differently?
“Though it’s still quite debatable, studies have shown that women have a greater difficulty while fasting than men. This is because of a protein called kisspeptin that is found more in women and causes a higher sensitivity to fasting. ”
It must be kept in mind that this study was conducted with rodents and needs human trials to fully confirm this.
Thus, for women, hunger pangs are slightly more difficult to endure.
Is Intermittent Fasting safe for Women?
There are a few differences in the way women’s bodies respond to fasting compared to men. Most notably, with regards to blood sugar levels and of course, menstrual cycles. We will be covering these in detail in Chapter 3.
And while overall, Intermittent Fasting is still safe and effective for women; there are certain modifications women should make to make it even safer for them.
Making Intermittent Fasting the Perfect Plan for You
Keeping both of the aforementioned factors in mind..
“Women are recommended to have lesser fasting periods (e.g. 14 hours instead of 16 hours) to handle both the higher sensitivity to fasting as well as reduce the risk of affecting their menstrual cycle.”
So, is Intermittent Fasting effective for Women? YES!
And what better way to show you than showcase some women who have made awesome transformations using IF.
“I really think it’s the fasting that benefits me the most and I love it. My body has adjusted to it and it works for me. I’m understanding my body so much more and I know what and when it needs to eat.” - @thefast800mum
“Intermittent fasting is my anti-ageing drug” - @fasting_forwellnessnaija
“In the end I decided to implement the 16/8 variant from there and still do it today. Through the fasting I feel full of energy, have more stamina and can sleep better. My skin has also improved a lot. In addition, I no longer have high blood pressure and am in harmony with myself.” - @lisas_abnehmtraum
“Accelerate your fat loss with intermittent fasting, keep your body guessing with carb cycling and of course specific macros to be able to eat the foods you love without getting fat” - @the.mom.diet
These women are only a few of many who have tried Intermittent Fasting and for whom it has worked wonders!
Now that you have seen visual proof of the method’s capability, let’s move on to the next chapter where we cover the common myths about Intermittent Fasting.
As we have mentioned time and time again the necessity of scientifically backed evidence for diet planning and Intermittent Fasting; we did our research to find out common myths about Intermittent Fasting and scientific evidence that debunk these myths.
So, if you’ve wondered about any of the following, you can find out the truth here.
Myth 1: Intermittent Fasting is meant to make you starve
Now it is easy to be confused with this one; starving is suffering or death caused by hunger. And that’s not what Intermittent Fasting is about!
“You don’t “starve” by skipping a meal or two. According to research, you have to fast for more than 60 hours before your metabolic rate drops.”
They also reference this one study where the metabolic rate increased from 3.6% to 10% after 36 to 48 hours of fasting.
In Intermittent Fasting, we focus on staying well under that period to focus on increasing our metabolic processes.
To learn more about Intermittent Fasting and Metabolism, check out our guide on Metabolism when Fasting which covers it in more detail.Moreover, IF focuses on breaking down fat and not muscle tissue, which brings us to our 2nd myth.
Myth 2: Fasting will cause Muscle Loss
This again comes from the idea of starvation. You starve when there is less fat left to burn in your body which leads to the deterioration of muscle mass.
“As long as you keep your fasts reasonable, don't drastically cut calories during the feeding phase and eat sufficient protein; you will not lose muscle mass on Intermittent Fasting.”
Myth 3: You can eat as much as you want on an off-day
This is obvious but even a single sighting of this statement may make people jump in glee. Sadly, no you cannot eat as much as you want on off-days (feasting days) as it simply brings down all your hard work back to zero.
Remember, you're doing this to maintain a healthy diet, eat only as much as is necessary and retain that amazing figure for as long as possible.
Myth 4: Intermittent Fasting doesn’t work as well for women as for men
Earlier in this guide, you learned about the difficulties that women suffer when it comes to Intermittent Fasting. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t as effective for women.
In fact, there are thousands of women who have transformed themselves and improved their health with Intermittent Fasting, some of which you have already seen above in the Intermittent Fasting Results chapter.
Some anecdotes even report women showing better results than men with IF. Possibly because they stick to it more compared to men. But that’s just that - anecdote.
Now, let’s have a look at the most popular types of Intermittent Fasting. The question to ask is - what’s the best intermittent fasting method for weight loss?
Here you can choose the one that fits your lifestyle because that is by far the most important factor to take into consideration.
You’ll find below, a brief description of the methods along with reasons why it may or may not be for you. This will give you a clear idea about which method is best for you and suits your lifestyle.
1. The 16/8 Method
When we talk about Intermittent Fasting, 16/8 is the first thing that comes to mind, based on its popularity and efficiency.
“In the 16/8 method, you have an 8-hour eating period that’s followed by a 16-hour fasting period. So have your eating period start at around noon that runs on till 8 pm. From 8 pm till 12 pm the next day will be your 16-hour fasting period.”
Why this works
It’s so popular because of its convenience. Your 16-hour fasting period will include your night sleep as well. Let’s say you sleep for an average of 7 hours. That brings your fasting period down to 9 hours.
Seems a whole lot easier now, doesn’t it?
Now, for those who are used to midnight cravings or small sleep periods, this will be a difficult method to get used to. But with the effectiveness of this method, it’s worth trying.
Keep in mind
A 16-hour fasting window is difficult to maintain. This method is not advisable for those who are just starting out with Intermittent Fasting or wish to have a smoother learning curve.
You can find more information about Intermittent Fasting 16/8 here.
2. The 12/12 Method
Now let’s say you cannot give up on those midnight snacks or cannot maintain a proper routine to go along with the long fasting time to make the 16/8 method work. This is where the 12/12 method steps in.
“In the 12/12 method, you have a 12-hour fasting period and a 12-hour eating period.
So, if you start eating at noon, you go on till midnight and then skip the morning breakfast.”
Why this works
This works for those wanting to start slow with Intermittent Fasting. It has a smooth learning curve and lets you build up endurance for a harder fasting routine.
Keep in mind
Since the fasting period is relatively smaller, the results will take more time to show.
From your last meal, your body takes around 8-10 hours to shift to the fasting state and thus you only remain in your fasting state for around 2-3 hours before you go back to your eating period.
3. Eat-stop-eat or the 24-hour method
Just as the name suggests, you have an eating period of 24 hours, followed by a fasting period of 24 hours.
It's important to remember that this method goes from meal to meal, e.g., from breakfast to breakfast and not day to day.
Why it works
Since you’re spending a substantial time fasting, the results are just as effective. This works for those who are usually busy throughout the day. So, stop worrying about what you’re going to eat. Rather focus on one particular mealtime and fast otherwise.
Keep in mind
This method must be restricted only to 1-2 days a week. However, you must also beware of the number of calories you consume in your non-fasting days. This is of paramount importance as you’re only fasting one day in the week and may hamper your progress by unmoderated calorie intake.
4. The 5:2 or Fast Diet
While the 5:2 diet is a popular form of intermittent fasting, the term “fasting” is slightly misleading here.
“Unlike a conventional fast, which involves eating nothing for a set amount of time, the goal of the 5:2 diet is to cut caloric intake on fasting days to 25 percent or just one-quarter of a person’s regular intake on the remaining days.”
For example, a person who regularly eats about 2,000 calories per day would eat 500 calories on fasting days.
“In 5:2 fasting, 5 days of the week are 'normal eating days' where you don’t have to restrict calories; while the other two days you restrict calories to a quarter of your daily needs (approx 500 cals for women 600 for men)”
You can choose whichever two days of the week you prefer, as long as there is at least one non-fasting day in between them. Fasting days are not consecutive because it is vital to give the body the calories and nutrients it needs to thrive.
For example, you could fast on Mondays and Thursdays, eating 25% of your caloric needs spread across one to three meals; and eat normally for the rest of the week.
It's important to emphasize that eating "normally" does not mean you can eat anything. If you binge on junk food, then you probably won't lose any weight, and you may even gain weight.
You should still aim to eat healthily and with portion control on non-fasting days.
Why this works
The Fast Diet is popular because of its flexibility. It gives you the advantage of getting a break from daily fasting, which is much needed for some people thereby allowing them to stay consistent with their fasting and not quit.
Instead of severely restricting the food you eat, the 5:2 method focuses on calorie restriction for just 2 days of the week. This helps people feel much more satisfied with their diet and wouldn’t feel like they are missing out all the time.
Keep in mind
This is not a plan meant to be broken in any way. It is easy to lose track of your calorie intake so you need to be extra careful on those 2 days.
5. Alternate Day Fasting
This method is a hybrid of other methods mentioned above. Here, you follow any of the above-mentioned methods on one day and have one gap day in between.
So, if you follow the 16/8 on Monday, you don’t fast on Tuesday and then you get back to fasting on Wednesday.
Why this works
For those who are struggling to make their daily fasting plans meet success, this plan acts as a stepping stone to help get there. As you’re fasting on alternate days, you slowly get a grasp of how fasting works. Moreover, this method is recommended to women as it helps ward off any chances of hormonal imbalances related to menstrual cycles and even help with the higher sensitivity to hunger pangs.
Keep in mind
Since you’re entering a fasting state every other day, the results will take time to show.
Moreover, this method must be taken as a short-term plan after which you shift to a more rigorous plan, should you want faster results.
Probably one of the best methods known for women to start Intermittent Fasting, the Crescendo method is a special method of fasting that takes into consideration the sensitivity of women to hunger pangs.
“In the Crescendo method, instead of 12-20 hours in a day, you fast for 12-16 hours in a day on alternate days in a week. So if you start your fasting period at 7 pm, you finish it at 9 am the next day and then do the same every other day.”
Why this works
This is a method well suited for women as the fasting periods are relatively shorter and thus reduce the chances of an imbalance in hormone levels and will guarantee the regularity of menstrual cycles.
Keep in mind
This method will take more time to make an effect as your fasting periods are shorter and you aren’t entering a fasting state every day.
You can find more information about this method here.
Pick the right Fasting Method for YOU
Pick a method from the Intermittent Fasting Methods chapter that fits your lifestyle the best, Picking the right type of fasting method will help you stick to the plan for a longer period.
Avoid overestimating your capacity to handle hunger pangs and going with a rigorous method right from the start. You may see quick results that way but it will affect your hormone balance and you might just quit because it’s too hard to sustain. On the other hand, do not make it too easy for yourself.
For example, you might want to start with something easy like the alternate-day fasting method. However, sticking to it for too long may not prove as beneficial to you. So, after a couple of weeks, shift to the 16/8 method or the 5:2 method. This will help you challenge yourself and achieve progressive results.
Maintain a calorie deficit
It’s easy to go crazy during your feasting periods. But remember the main purpose of Intermittent Fasting - burning fat. To do that, you must maintain a calorie deficit daily.
To explain more clearly, let’s assume you need 1800 calories in a day to maintain your current weight. So, to be in a calorie deficit, you must have a calorie intake of fewer than 1800 calories. Therefore, a daily intake of say 1600 calories puts you in a calorie deficit of 200 calories per day which, over time, will help to see good results.To measure your calorie intake limit to achieve a calorie deficit, click here to calculate your target daily calorie intake value.
Have enough Protein
During your feasting periods, make sure you're having a good amount of protein. As your body enters a state of autophagy, you need good protein intake to preserve healthy, lean tissue.
However, that doesn’t mean you ignore carbs or fat. Maintain a balanced diet.
It is vital to stay hydrated during your fasting period and even during your non-fasting periods. Having good water intake helps flush out toxins and that’s always good for your body. There are also a few other drink options beyond water that can help make things easier without breaking the fast. More on this in the next chapter.
Online Forums and Groups
Learn as much as you can about Intermittent Fasting for women and try to incorporate methods that others may have had success with, should there ever come a point where you find yourself to be stuck.
To get you started, we have included a list of forums that you can visit to learn more about Intermittent Fasting:
Track your mental health
Fasting must be an important part of your day but it still will just be a part of it. It must not affect your daily lifestyle in detrimental ways. It’s vital to monitor your mental health for any signs of anxiety or stress either directly or indirectly caused by fasting.
“Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day of fasting. Look at it, not as a short-term diet plan but more like a lifestyle for a healthier self. Take it at your own pace.”
It is extremely important to stay hydrated while fasting as it is vital to flush out the toxins. The main point to remember here is this – drink whatever that does not have sugar and/or has an insignificant amount of calories.
Here is a list of recommended fluids you can stick to during your fasting period
Water is the best option to go to. It is exactly what your body requires so target a minimum of 3 liters of water in a day to stay energized.
Coffee has always been a go-to option for most people wanting to lose fat. However, you cannot add milk to your coffee. That is another form of sugar you must avoid. Black coffee is the way to go.
It is completely fine to have other types of tea while fasting but green tea helps in boosting the process. Green tea acts as anti-toxin and improves probiotic balance.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple Cider Vinegar is recommended to anyone wanting to have a healthier body. It helps to keep your gut strong and helps to maintain blood sugar levels, enhancing the effect of your fasting period.
To know more details about what can you drink and can't drink while fasting and also for some healthy drink recommendation while feasting click here.
Effect of IF on Menstrual Cycles
The most important factor for women to keep in consideration in regards to Intermittent Fasting is its effect on menstrual cycles.
While short-term to moderate time-restricted feeding (around 12-14 hours per day or less) or even fasting up to 72 hours does not affect the menstrual cycle of normal cycling women; long-continued periods of fasting like in the case of Ramadan can result in abnormalities in menstrual cycles.
“Excessively long fasting periods for women result in their Gonadotropin levels starting to fall. This is what results in irregular menstrual cycles.”
Overall, most women who faced irregular menstrual cycles reported it in the early stages of fasting. So it depends on the individual and if you decide to give Intermittent Fasting a shot; keep tabs on your cycle and if you notice any abnormalities; you can choose to discontinue it.
Quite many women who have tried Intermittent Fasting reported irregular menstrual cycles that improved when they went back to their previous eating patterns.
In such situations, women should opt for a plan that is slower and allows their body to adjust accordingly.
“Intermittent Fasting is certainly a viable option for women but the fasting periods have to be smaller than those of men to avoid any form of imbalance in hormones.”
This might help in avoiding amenorrhea (absence of menstruation). But if it still occurs, you should stop immediately.
For those who already have issues with fertility, it is best to consult a physician who can guide you based on your body. It may neither be sensible to push for a rigorous routine nor is it sensible to step away from a successful method like Intermittent fasting due to fear.
If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, following Intermittent Fasting might be a bad idea and it's probably better to give it a pass.
Blood Sugar Levels of Women
Longer fasting periods may result in a drop in blood sugar levels. Though this is likely for both males and females, one study showed that while IF improved insulin sensitivity in men, it worsened blood sugar control in women. So, yet again, caution must be exercised and if you start feeling dizzy or lightheaded often then perhaps it's better to give this method a skip.
Some women report being irritable, grumpy or the proverbial "hangry" when on IF. For some women, any form of diet restrictions can result in affecting their relationship with food sometimes resulting in food obsessions or even orthorexia. It's important not to go too hard or too aggressive with any form of diet otherwise it could result in behaviors like binge-eating. Ultimately, with a sensible approach and with strong will power, all of these can easily be avoided.