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Women are wildly mysterious creatures. Their bodies are completely different from men and sometimes this doesn’t matter, but with intermittent fasting, these differences are important.
Many of the studies done on intermittent fasting haven’t taken into consideration the extreme physiological differences between the two sexes. There are many counts of women not having the same positive results as men when practicing IF. Moodiness, hormone problems, adrenal fatigue and infertility are just some of the symptoms that women have reported. Yet there are still women out there who swear by intermittent fasting as a way to maintain higher productivity levels, increase energy, lose weight and improve insulin sensitivity.
Men and women may be different, but just how different are they? Certainly it can’t be true that IF is only useful for men, and not every study touting the benefits of fasting uses only males in their experiments. But it’s not like there’s an abundance of research on IF let alone research specifically isolating women.
I’ve gotten a lot of questions about exactly how women should get started with intermittent fasting. And what exactly makes women’s reactions so different from men’s. If you’ve got questions about IF that extend beyond the topic of how it works for the ladies then go check out the FAQ article here, it’s brimming with info.
How Fasting Affects Women Differently than Men
The main differences are brought to light because of our very different reproductive systems. The hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis controls the functioning of those three important endocrine glands. In women, the waterfall of specific hormonal reactions stimulates the production of estrogen and testosterone needed to release a mature egg. In men, it triggers sperm and testosterone production.
For women, the cycle is highly specific and if not timed precisely, can cause problems. With men, the timing isn’t nearly as precise. Men don’t have cycles, lucky bastards. When a woman’s body feels like it’s being starved, her cycle can easily get thrown off. So while a guy can fast for 3 days and more than likely not have any issues, a woman has to be more careful.
The stark effect on the endocrine systems of both genders has been demonstrated in animal studies. One study showed that no matter the degree of nutritional stress female rats showed a drop in ovary size, infertility, stressed adrenal glands and irregular menstrual cycles. The male rats in this experiment were far more capable of dealing with the stress of fasting. This study was done over a 12-year period, which in human years would be about 10 years. So don’t worry if you want to try IF for a month, your ovaries aren’t going to shrink.
When a woman gets hungry, feeding her is probably a smart thing to do. Women are far more sensitive to signals of starvation than men and it’s for this reason that IF isn’t always a pleasurable or sustainable experience for many ladies.
Evolution takes care to add these extra protective measures to the ones that grow the babies. In simpler terms, nature is rooting for women to survive and bear offspring.
A woman in perimenopause or post menopause are going to have a completely different experience from women in their childbearing years.
Do Female Entrepreneurs Gain the Same Benefits as the Dudes?
One of the huge benefits that intermittent fasting offers is enhanced focus and productivity. For an entrepreneur, male or female, this is a huge boon that goes beyond just being able to drop a few pounds. Women should have access to this enhanced state just as much as men, but is that how it works?
The answer depends on how many stressors a woman already has in her life. Because intermittent fasting is a stressor and if you pile it on top of deadlines to meet, too much exercise, poor food choices, psychological fears etc. you might not get the results you’re after.
Exploring how intermittent fasting affects your unique chemistry is the only way to really find out if it works for you or not. You might find you’re more productive when you have a bowl of nuts to munch on throughout the morning and a veggie omelette before the day’s work starts. In the end it all comes down to trial and error.
The Solutions to Women’s Fasting Woes
Be gentle with yourself, you can certainly try intermittent fasting but go slow. Don’t think that because your man can easily fast for 24 hours without adverse side effects that you can too.
Many women have success with a 14/10 fasting schedule. Your feeding window would be from 9AM to 7PM and you still get the benefits that fasting offers for those 14 hours.
Another method popular with women is crescendo fasting. This is where you practice intermittent fasting 2-3 times a week instead of every day. You get the full benefits for those few days without the fear of compounding negative results. Using this technique, women can still adopt the common 16/8 schedule and get the benefits of IF for those 16 hours.
Don’t feel bad if fasting doesn’t work well for you. What’s most important is to just eat real food. Follow the principles outlined in this previous article all about how the foods you choose can dramatically change the results you get
Signs for Women to Stop IF
- Your period becomes irregular
- You become extremely lethargic
- You notice acne or other skin problems
- Your sleep patterns become irregular
- You’re trying to get pregnant or breastfeeding
- Mood swings
- Decreased sex drive
- Poor digestion
- Poor circulation and cold extremities
- Slow muscle recovery
- Immune system becomes sluggish
- You have a history of eating disorders
You can download the list by clicking here
Are you a woman? Have you tried intermittent fasting? We’d love to hear about your experience.
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This article is part of a monthly series all about hacking your diet.
If you like this post check out How the Establishment Destroyed Your Health and How You Can Get it Back and How to Optimize The Time You Spend Buying and Preparing Meals.
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