Intermittent fasting (IF) is an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. It doesn’t specify which foods you should eat but rather when you should eat them. Common intermittent fasting methods involve daily 16-hour fasts or fasting for 24 hours, twice per week.
IF is gaining more attention every year with many people seeing results after a month of adopting this lifestyle. It’s a great way to eat without having to track daily calories and fits easily into our busy schedules. However, recent studies suggest that intermittent fasting, although a great method to adopt, is not meant for everyone and is certainly not meant to be done every single day.
Both men and women respond differently to IF. Men can handle the demands of fasting and ‘starving’ the body more than women and this comes down to different hormones. Women are more sensitive to the reactions of ‘starving the body’ depending on where they are in their monthly cycle.
Women tend to be more sensitive a week before (Luteal Phase) their cycle starts and should avoid fasting and need to feed their bodies with nutrient-dense foods prior to the start of the cycle. The Luteal phase starts after ovulation and ends with the first day of your period. It is a key part of the menstrual cycle as it’s the time when the egg is released and is either used (pregnancy) or discarded (period).
The body needs the energy and the nutrition to facilitate this process and if it lacks the proper nutrients, amenorrhea can happen (absence of a period).
If you find yourself wanting to adopt this lifestyle in a sustainable way, then be mindful of the following:
1. Avoid extreme fasting whether it’s daily or for a prolonged period. Instead, pick 3-4 days a week and stick to those days.
2. Try to stick to the same ‘eating – fasting’ window on fasting days.
3. Long periods of fasting can lower your blood sugar levels and leave you feeling lightheaded, dizzy, with headaches, and/or nausea. Take note of these symptoms if they become unbearable, break your fast immediately.
4. Our body works around daytime eating and nighttime sleep (i.e circadian rhythm). Its important to keep your feeding windows earlier on in the day rather than at night. This dramatically improves digestion and improves insulin sensitivity levels and gives your enough time to digest before your go to sleep.
5. Eating nutrient-dense foods during your feeding window is key to speeding up fast loss and cutting any sugar cravings. Eating mindlessly can cause weight gain in some situations. So be careful what you eat during your feeding time.
For the ladies, be mindful of your period days and where you are in your cycle. It’s extremely important to listen to your body. Women tend to be more sensitive to stress, environmental changes, weather, and other factors that can easily affect mood and hormones.
Be extra mindful 14 days prior to your next period, it’s highly advisable to avoid fasting during that time and opt to fast during your period and/or the following 7-10 days right after. Unlike men, women have a short window to fast without causing hormonal damage. A 12-14hour fast is ideal for women as it doesn’t cause too much stress on the body.
As for men, to make this lifestyle easy to follow, it’s best to use the above list as a rough guideline without IF causing too much disruption to your life. Having a schedule of your fasting days can help you plan out your week and still be able to enjoy life.
A 16 hour fast is ideal for men as it’s the most common and gives you just enough time to fast and feed without extending the hours too long.
Ultimately, listen to your body and find a happy balance between fasting and non-fasting days. Always choose to feed yourself with nutrient-dense foods and avoid fasting when you feel it’s not right.