So, what exactly is a relaxed approach to intermittent fasting? Again, since there’s little research done on intermittent fasting, we’re dealing with a bit of a gray area. The opinions also tend to vary depending on which site you visit, or which health expert you ask. From what we’ve found, the general guidelines to brief intermittent fasting for women are:
This is a new area, but the research that has come out since this article is also positive, and promising. One example: In this June 2018 study of 23 people with obesity, 12 weeks of 8-hour time-restricted feeding resulted a 2.6% decrease in body weight and a 7 point decrease in systolic blood pressure, which was significant when compared to controls: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29951594
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.
That’s what I suggest you do when you start fasting. It should happen naturally, and you shouldn’t have to force it. If you’re still a sugar burner instead of a fat burner, it’s going to be much harder…so if you’re serious about trying out this whole fasting thing, I suggest slowly transitioning to a high-fat low-carb diet. You can read about the benefits here.
Initial human studies that compared fasting every other day to eating less every day showed that both worked about equally for weight loss, though people struggled with the fasting days. So I had written off IF as no better or worse than simply eating less, only far more uncomfortable. My advice was to just stick with the sensible, plant-based, Mediterranean-style diet.
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Hunger suppression. A ketogenic diet suppresses hunger, too. On a keto diet, your liver turns fat into little bundles of energy called ketones, which it then sends through your bloodstream for your cells to use as fuel. Ketones suppress ghrelin, your body’s main hunger hormone. High ghrelin makes you hungry. On keto, your ghrelin stays low, even when you don’t have food in your system. In other words, you can go longer without eating and you won’t get hungry. Fasting becomes significantly easier on keto so you can fast for longer windows to reap all the benefits.
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.
There are many different variations of intermittent fasting as well. Dr. Dom D’Agostino, the well-known ketogenic diet researcher, suggests doing a longer intermittent fast for 3 days, 3 times a year. This means not eating for 3 days, and eating normally until the next fast. Daily intermittent fasts are recommended as well. He says that it is ideal to have one to two meals after fasting for most of the day to reap the benefits of intermittent fasting every day.
IF makes intuitive sense. The food we eat is broken down by enzymes in our gut and eventually ends up as molecules in our bloodstream. Carbohydrates, particularly sugars and refined grains (think white flours and rice), are quickly broken down into sugar, which our cells use for energy. If our cells don’t use it all, we store it in our fat cells as, well, fat. But sugar can only enter our cells with insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas. Insulin brings sugar into the fat cells and keeps it there.
Another program called the 5:2 Fast Diet involves eating 5 days a week and fasting for the other 2 days, when women can get no more than 500 calories and men no more than 600. That’s a quarter of the amount you likely eat on the days when you don’t fast. Whether you eat those calories in one sitting or spread them across micro-meals throughout the day is up to you.