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December 20, 2021 4 min read

By Emily Hirsch, MS, RD

If you’ve grown tired of restrictive diets, being told what to eat and counting every calorie, intermittent fasting may be for you.

Rather than telling you what to eat, intermittent fasting tells you when to eat by including regular, short-term fasts into your daily routine. This type of flexible eating pattern has attracted many people and is now taking the diet world by storm. However, the one-size approach may not fit all when it comes to dieting. A handful of studies have shown that intermittent fasting affects women differently than men. While much of the research is promising, there are some key points women should know before embarking on their intermittent fasting journey.

What Is Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent fasting, commonly known as IF, is the practice of going without eating for a period of time. There are no rules about what foods to eat or to avoid, and this eating pattern does not require any food tracking. This popular diet trend simply includes regular, short-term fasts as a means to lose weight and promote health.

Best Types of Intermittent Fasting For Women

There are various intermittent fasting patterns to choose from. However, some research has shown that IF may have some unintended consequences for women compared with men.

Women’s bodies appear to be more sensitive to calorie-restrictive diets, which can affect hormone production. As a result, intermittent fasting can increase the risk of irregular periods, infertilit, and poor bone health among women. For these reasons it is important for women to include shorter fasting periods and fewer fasting days.

Following are some of the best types of intermittent fasting for women:

Modified Alternate-Day Fasting

This approach to intermittent fasting involves fasting every other day, but eating normally on non-fasting days. This plan allows you to eat roughly 500 calories on your fasting days.

5:2 Fasting

With this type of intermittent fasting, you eat approximately 500 calories two days during the week, and then eat normally the other 5 days. You’ll want to allow for one day between your fasting days.

14:10 Fasting

The 14:10 method of fasting involves fasting for 14 hours, and then eating all your calories within a 10-hour window. For example, this may mean that you stop eating around 8 pm and start again at 10 am the following day. This is a very popular approach to intermittent fasting as you’re asleep for the majority of your fast, which can increase your ability to sustain the fast for longer periods.

Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting may help you lose weight, but may also have other far-reaching health benefits, including the following:

Support Healthy Blood Sugar Levels Intermittent fasting appears to improve insulin sensitivity, which can help support healthy blood sugar levels. A 2016 review found that after 12 weeks of intermittent fasting, participants with prediabetes were able to reduce their blood sugar levels and insulin levels.

Help Reduce Inflammation Chronic inflammation has been linked to many health conditions. A 2018 review found that intermittent fasting may help decrease the level of inflammatory cytokines within the body. These are small compounds that can cause inflammation and pain.

Weight Loss Intermittent fasting may help promote and sustain weight loss. In one 2017 review, researchers found that of the 16 clinical trials included in the study, 11 reported statistically significant weight loss. Researchers suggested that intermittent fasting regimens may be a promising non-pharmacological approach to weight loss and may help reduce the risk of chronic diseases.

Drawbacks of Intermittent Fasting For Women

While the research on intermittent fasting is promising for weight loss and other health benefits, there may be potential drawbacks to this eating pattern for women.

One 2018 study analyzed e11 overweight women undergoing a two-day fast. Compared with eating a regular diet, the women who fasted experienced an increase in stress response — yet, this increase hasn’t been found in men under the same conditions. 

Over time, the stress response can take a toll on your physical and psychological health. As mentioned previously, this eating pattern can alter women’s hormones, which  may lead to disruptions in menstruation and can even increase your risk of infertility.

Additionally, for women with a history of yo-yo dieting and bingeing, intermittent fasting can lead to overeating and an increase in binge-eating behaviors.

Intermittent Fasting For Women Over 50

Older women may face an uphill climb when trying to lose weight. Oftentimes a slowed metabolism is to blame. Also, women over 50 may begin to lose lean muscle mass, which further reduces metabolism efficiency.

Many women, particularly women over 50, are turning to intermittent fasting as a non-restrictive way to lose weight.

One 2016 review analyzed the results of fasting on older women’s health. In the study, researchers found that fasting can help older women lose belly fat. An increase in belly fat has been linked to various health conditions, including diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Moreover, researchers found that fasting improved muscle and joint health, which reduced discomfort caused by lower back pain and arthritis.

The Bottom Line

As the latest diet craze, intermittent fasting may be a great fit for some individuals. The eating pattern has a variety of health benefits including weight loss, a decrease in inflammation and improved blood sugar control. However, this type of eating pattern appears to elicit a higher stress response in women, can interfere with the menstrual cycle and promote binge-eating behaviors.

A modified approach to intermittent fasting may help women reap the health benefits of this diet without some of the potential negative side effects. As such, it’s best to speak with a trusted healthcare professional about which type of eating plan may be best to meet your individual needs.

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