With all of these drawbacks, you may be wondering: could you (and would you still want to) practice intermittent fasting as a female? If you take a more relaxed approach, the answer is yes. When done within a briefer timeframe, intermittent fasting may still help you reach your weight loss goals and provide the other benefits previously mentioned, without messing up your hormones.
How It Works: Warriors-in-training can expect to fast for about 20 hours every day and eat one large meal every night. What you eat and when you eat it within that large meal is also key to this method. The philosophy here is based on feeding the body the nutrients it needs in sync with circadian rhythms and that our species are “nocturnal eaters, inherently programmed for night eating.”
In animal studies, after two weeks of intermittent fasting, female rats stopped having menstrual cycles and their ovaries shrunk while experiencing more insomnia than their male counterparts (though the male rats did experience lower testosterone production). (6) Unfortunately, there are very few human studies looking at the differences between intermittent fasting for men and women, but the animal studies confirm our suspicion: Intermittent fasting for long periods of time can sometimes throw off a woman’s hormonal balance, cause fertility problems and exacerbate eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder.
IF as a weight loss approach has been around in various forms for ages, but was highly popularized in 2012 by BBC broadcast journalist Dr. Michael Mosley’s TV documentary Eat Fast, Live Longer and book The Fast Diet, followed by journalist Kate Harrison’s book The 5:2 Diet based on her own experience, and subsequently by Dr. Jason Fung’s 2016 bestseller The Obesity Code. IF generated a steady positive buzz as anecdotes of its effectiveness proliferated.
According to a study published in Translational Research in 2014, intermittent fasting can reduce your weight by 3 to 8 percent over three to 24 weeks. A systematic review published in Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology in 2015 confirmed these results by reporting that, on average, participants following a fasting diet lost between 7 and 11 pounds in 10 weeks.
Third, you've probably already fasted many times, even though you don't know it. Have you ever slept in late on the weekends and then had a late brunch? Some people do this every weekend. In situations like these, we often eat dinner the night before and then don't eat until 11am or noon or even later. There's your 16–hour fast and you didn't even think about it.
Does adding cream to your coffee make you hungrier throughout the rest of your fast? If yes, then you know you have spiked an insulin response and cream is a no-go for you! Hunger and cravings initially are common, but after a few days of routine fasting, if these symptoms continue, it is an indication that something is triggering an insulin response in you, causing these cravings. Is it something you’re adding to your coffee?
In addition, the refined sugar found in most beverages digests quickly, spiking both your blood sugar and your insulin levels. It's also highly addictive. Your body doesn't just want more, it needs more. In fact, according to a review published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care in 2013, sugar and sweetened beverages and foods induce reward and craving responses in the brain that are comparable to the responses triggered by addictive drugs, which continue the cycle.
If you're worried you’ll be starving while fasting, you’ll be pleasantly surprised! Intermittent fasting decreases your hunger hormone ghrelin, which in turn can increase dopamine levels in the brain. (Just another example of the gut-brain axis at work.) Fasting can also help free people from emotional eating and kill cravings by transitioning your metabolism from unstable sugar-burning to steady fat-burning.
Reheating coffee breaks down the components, resulting in a bitter taste. With no cream or sugar to balance the flavoring, black coffee will more immediately taste bitter when reheated. If you find you must reheat your black coffee, absolutely do not use the microwave. Reheating coffee this way will break down the aromas and cause your coffee to taste stale instantly.
This is excellent, thank you! One thing I would love to see added to this research is the keto effect of just water over those 120 minutes, and THEN the keto effect of adding a tad bit of protein, such as collagen powder (I use the green tub great lakes powder; it dissolves great in coffee). I feel like that might put your test even more into an annals of science, and for us folks who don’t have the finger prick blood testers, it would be fun to know. Also, sugar free sweeteners like splenda (!!) or stevia–do they have any effect? Anyway–great read, exactly what I was looking for when I googled my question.
Of course, fasting — regardless of the method — isn’t for everyone. If you have any medical conditions or special dietary requirements, it’s smart to consult a doctor before giving intermittent fasting a shot. Anyone who tries it should also plan to be highly self-aware while fasting. If it’s not agreeing with you, or if you need to eat a little something to hold you over, that’s just fine. It takes our bodies time to adjust, and some require more than others. Keep in mind that hormones can make it harder for women to follow a fasting plan than for men. “Be cautious at first, and start slowly [with a shorter fast],” Shanks recommends. If it doesn’t make you feel better, try something different, or accept the fact that maybe fasting isn’t for you.
Before the Nobel Prize was awarded to Yoshinori Ohsumi, other researchers were making groundbreaking discoveries about autophagy. In 2009, an article was published in Cell Metabolism entitled Autophagy Is Required to Maintain Muscle Mass. In this article, researchers described how deactivating an important autophagy gene resulted in a profound loss in muscle mass and strength.
After that timespan, your body goes into what is known as the post–absorptive state, which is just a fancy way of saying that your body isn’t processing a meal. The post–absorptive state lasts until 8 to 12 hours after your last meal, which is when you enter the fasted state. It is much easier for you body to burn fat in the fasted state because your insulin levels are low.
So very interesting, I was captivated reading your results—thank you! I would also love to see added to this research the keto effect of just water over those 120 minutes, and then the keto effect of adding collagen powder to your coffee. So appreciative of all that wincing-sticking-your-fingers that you both endured to help give us clarity in what goes on with our ketones and glucose when drinking our coffees with different add-ins. Great read!
Cons: Even though there is flexibility in when you eat, Leangains has pretty specific guidelines for what to eat, especially in relation to when you’re working out. The strict nutrition plan and scheduling meals perfectly around workouts can make the program a bit tougher to adhere to. (You can learn more about the specifics — as well as when to time these meals — directly from Leangains here and here.)
Jerimiah, the linked study in the article (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1550413118302535) specifically studied “eTRF”(Early Time-Restricted Feeding) from 8am – 2pm, and implies that eating earlier is better than later. I haven’t read the study (it’s behind a damn Elsevier pay-wall), so I don’t know how strongly they feel about early vs late, though. For me, personally, 12-8 is doable, and skipping dinner (given the existence of a family and the desire to have dinner with said family) isn’t doable, so I’m pleased to hear from you and April above that it’s working. Just starting!
As a lifestyle-leaning research doctor, I needed to understand the science. The Obesity Code seemed the most evidence-based summary resource, and I loved it. Fung successfully combines plenty of research, his clinical experience, and sensible nutrition advice, and also addresses the socioeconomic forces conspiring to make us fat. He is very clear that we should eat more fruits and veggies, fiber, healthy protein, and fats, and avoid sugar, refined grains, processed foods, and for God’s sake, stop snacking. Check, check, check, I agree. The only part that was still questionable in my mind was the intermittent fasting part.
Crescendo fasting only requires you to fast a few days a week instead of every day. My experience is that women get a lot more benefit from doing it this way without accidentally throwing their hormones into frenzy. This is a more gentle approach that helps the body more easily adapt to fasting. And if women do it right, it can be an amazing way to shave off body fat, improve inflammatory markers and gain energy. (7)
Cons: Even though it’s nice to eat a few snacks rather than go without any food for 20-plus hours, the guidelines for what you need to eat (and when) can be hard to follow long-term. The strict schedule and meal plan may also interfere with social gatherings. Additionally, eating one main meal at night — while following strict guidelines of what to eat, and in what order — can be tough. It’s especially hard for those who prefer not to eat large meals late in the day.
No cravings. Fat doesn’t spike your blood sugar levels. In fact, a keto diet is so effective at stabilizing blood sugar that it got type II diabetics off their medication entirely, according to a recent study. If you pair a keto diet with fasting, your blood sugar will stay stable and low (but not too low) all day. Say goodbye to the cravings, fatigue, and mood swings that make high-carb fasting so difficult.
I’ll share some of my experiences, now doing heavy strength training for 3 years in a fasted state: For my first “fasted” workout or two after starting an IF protocol, it was very weird to not eat before training. However, after a few sessions, I learned that my body could certainly function (and even thrive) during my training sessions despite not eating a pre-workout meal.