Intermittent fasting can be a highly effective method for burning fat and losing weight. When it comes to women’s health, though, there are mixed messages out there about its safety and effectiveness. What’s the truth? Is intermittent fasting safe for women?
Studies done on intermittent fasting in women have shown some detrimental effects. These studies were done with a fairly extreme version of fasting, however. In this “alternating protocol”, women fasted for one entire day, then ate the next. Then they fasted for another day, and so on.
In other words, the women in these studies were fasting for 50 percent of their lives. If you were told to exercise for 50 percent of your life, or read books for 50 percent of your life, or even sleep for 50 percent of your life, this would seem extreme. And so it is. That is a lot of fasting. And under an extreme protocol like this, fasting can have a negative effect on thyroid function in women.
A Safer, Saner Method
This is why people in general (and women in particular) need to be smart about intermittent fasting. Going to extremes might feel virtuous or exciting at first, but damaging your body is not worth the risk. Moderation and common sense are key.
In order to get the maximum benefit from intermittent fasting, the fasting window should last 16-24 hours. The way that this fits best with most people’s schedules and lifestyles is to begin fasting in the evening after dinner. If you begin your fast at 8 pm, go to bed, continue your fast on waking, and then break your fast with a healthy lunch at noon, you will have fasted for 16 hours, despite only having really skipped one meal. If you want to continue until 8 pm for a 24 hour fast, that’s also a reasonable amount of time.
When this can become troublesome is when people try to follow this protocol too many days of the week, or even daily. Just one day a week of intermittent fasting is enough to provide a real benefit in losing weight, burning fat, and regulating hormones. And just as importantly, we have found zero negative health effects with weekly fasting, in either women or men.
Who Should Not Practice Intermittent Fasting
Even with a very reasonable protocol like a once-weekly, 16 hour fast, fasting isn’t safe for everyone. If you have hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s disease (a condition in which your own immune system attacks your thyroid gland), intermittent fasting is not recommended. Those with adrenal conditions should also avoid fasting. If you’re required to take medication with food at certain times, of course, it’s important to follow those instructions. And if you have a history of any kind of eating disorder (regardless of whether it involved restricting, purging, or binging) fasting is not recommended as it can lead to relapses and unhealthy eating habits.
Intermittent Fasting Can Be Great For Women’s Health
There are always fad diets that prey on women, promoting themselves as miracle weight loss cures. Fasting, on the other hand, has withstood the test of time, having been used to improve health for thousands of years. With modern medical research, we know more now about how fasting works in the body, stabilizing blood sugar for an extended period of time and allowing the body to use its own internal stores of fat as a healthy source of energy.
We also know more about the health and wellness needs that are specific to women—we’ve come a long way since all medical studies were done on males, with just an assumption that of course, female bodies would work the same way. Fasting can be done reasonably and safely by most people.
Are you looking for more information on intermittent fasting?
It can be hard to tell the truth from the hype at times. For more background on how women can safely integrate intermittent fasting into their lives, check out this Intermittent Fasting Cheat Sheet. With a healthy dose of common sense, intermittent fasting can be a fantastic part of a holistic lifestyle, and education is the first step.
Yuri Elkaim is one of the world’s most trusted health and fitness experts. A former pro soccer player turned NYT bestselling author of The All-Day Energy Diet and The All-Day Fat Burning Diet, his clear, science-backed advice has transformed the lives of more than 500,000 men and women and he’s on a mission to help 100 million people by 2040. Read his inspiring story, “From Soccer to Bed to No Hair on My Head” that started it all.