What is Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting (IF) can be extremely beneficial for many people, but differences in our physiology can lead to different responses to the fasting state. Women tend to be more sensitive to hormonal fluctuations than men and are therefore more vulnerable to developing hormonal imbalances while fasting. However, most women can still enjoy the benefits of IF if they learn how to do so safely.
Since women’s bodies are more sensitive to hormones, they are more likely to be affected by the hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin as their levels increase during a fast. This can lead to overeating after the fast, and the cycle of undereating and then overeating can cause a hormonal imbalance.
On the other hand, eating too few calories can lead to an imbalance for women as well. Insufficient calories can negatively affect women’s reproductive hormones, disrupting the menstrual cycle, or even stopping ovulation.
A higher hormonal sensitivity may also negatively affect blood sugar levels. One study found that alternate-day fasting impaired women’s blood sugar levels but did not have this effect on men.
It may be difficult to tell if the sensation of hunger is within what’s considered normal and safe or excessive. Especially in the morning, when a surge in transient hunger is common. It is important to pay attention and understand your hunger threshold because ignoring it excessively can lead to overeating or not eating enough.
Of course this does not mean that women cannot or should not practice IF, but simply that they should do so more cautiously, being aware of hunger or any other symptoms that may arise.
Crescendo intermittent fasting
Crescendo fasting is a milder form of IF that can be practiced by women who are sensitive to fasting, or by anyone who is beginning a fasting practice. In this variation, the time-restricted 16/8 method is adjusted.
Instead of fasting every day, fasting days are limited to 2 or 3 days per week. These days should not be consecutive, with at least 1 non-fasting day after each fasting day. The fasting window can be shortened to 12-16 hours as well, depending on how you feel when you are fasting.
As you get used to fasting and feel good on this schedule, the fasting window can be gradually lengthened to the full 16 hours, as well as more fasting days added.
Tips for Successful Intermittent Fasting
Eat nutritious foods: It may be tempting to overeat or eat less nutritious foods after a fast, especially if you are feeling hungry or feel that you have cut back enough calories to indulge a little. However, it is important to remember that the goal of fasting is improving overall health. Eating healthy nutrient-dense foods will help you achieve your health goals faster and more effectively.
Drink extra water: Proper hydration is essential during fasting times as well. A portion of our daily water intake comes from fruits and vegetables, so when we restrict eating times, we may inadvertently restrict our water intake. More water is also flushed out during a fast, so it is extremely important to be aware of any dehydration signs, such as thirst, headaches, and dry mouth, and remember to drink extra water.
Adjust exercise: While exercise is beneficial, you may want to minimize the intensity of exercise during fasting times or days. Higher intensity exercise can be performed on non-fasting days.
Know your supplements: It is generally safe to take supplements while fasting, but you need to ensure that you are taking them at the right times to maximize their benefits. Some supplements need to be taken with food to be absorbed; taking them during the fasting window can make them less effective. Other supplements can raise your insulin levels (taking you out of a fasting state) or can lower your blood sugar. Make sure that you know what your supplements do and when to take them.
Working with a Health Coach: If you would like to try IF but are new to fasting or have had a difficult time fasting in the past you may consider working with a health coach. A health coach can explain the differences in the fasting methodologies and help you find the approach that works best for your lifestyle and physiological needs.
Fasting generally takes mental and emotional effort. It is not easy to change our routines – even if the changes may be worth it! Periodically checking in with a coach helps establish accountability and provide mental support while keeping you on track, until you have established IF as a long-term eating pattern and have enjoyed the benefits of this method.