According to the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, over half of the female population in the United States is trying to lose weight. That is a lot of women looking for the next dieting trend. It is no wonder the weight loss market is extremely lucrative and a new promising diet seems to emerge every day.
But one weight-loss approach currently buzzing in the wellness world has actually been around for ages. Intermittent Fasting, or IF, has quickly become one of the most popular dieting options, and it doesn’t cost a dime. It is well-known for providing significant health benefits that go beyond reducing body fat, preserving muscle mass, and improving heart health.
It isn’t shocking that IF was the top trending diet on Google in 2019. However, while IF can be a great option for men, it may not be the best diet choice for women.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
The idea of IF is simple. It involves a pattern of alternating between periods of eating and fasting. Unlike traditional diets that focus on what to eat, IF focuses on when to eat. Dr. Chris Seltzer explains the logic behind IF by emphasizing that “since you need to have a calorie deficit to lose weight, eating within a window makes it easier to eat less and hit your designated calories”.
The 6 Different Variations of Intermittent Fasting
The 16/8 method requires 16 hours of fasting and restricts daily food intake to 8 hours. This is one of the most popular variations since it can be as simple as skipping breakfast and avoiding any foods after dinner.
There are different methods to the alternate-day fasting, but mainly it involves alternating between eating regularly and fasting every other day.
5:2 Intermittent Fasting Method
The 5:2 diet involves eating regularly for 5 out of the 7 days of the week. On the other 2 days, caloric intake is restricted to about 500 calories.
Eat Stop Eat Fasting
This fasting variation requires a 24-hour fast, once or twice per week.
The Warrior Diet
One of the oldest variations of IF is the Warrior Diet. Essentially, it is fasting all day, and then eating within a 4-hour window in the evening. You eat small amounts of healthy raw fruits and vegetables throughout the day and then indulge in a large meal at night.
Another IF method that many of us do without even meaning to is meal-skipping. It involves skipping a meal from time to time when you’re not feeling hungry or are simply too busy to cook and eat.
Intermittent Fasting Can Destroy Hormone Balance in Women
Intermittent fasting is an effective weight-loss tool that works well for many people. However, some experts argue that it can cause serious hormonal disruptions. According to Dr. Helen Kollias, advisor and coauthor for Precision Nutrition, female “hormones are incredibly sensitive to energy intake… and environmental factors”, and women need to be particularly cautious when severely restricting caloric intake with IF.
Lower Estrogen and Progesterone Production
Two of the most important hormones in the female body are estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen is a hormone that promotes a healthy metabolism; stabilizes mood, anxiety, and stress; improves bone density; helps increase energy; tones muscles; and even fosters cognitive function. Similarly, a progesterone deficiency can lead to lower energy levels, water retention, sleeping problems, irritability, and anxiety. But these hormones are even more important to reproductive health and menstrual cycles.
Estrogen and progesterone are only released through a series of bodily functions. The female body makes a protein called kisspeptin which activates the gonadotropin-releasing hormone, or GnRH. In turn, the GnRH stimulates the release of follicle-stimulating hormone (or FSH) and luteinizing hormone (or LH) from the pituitary gland. The LH cues the ovaries to release an egg during the ovulation stage of your menstrual cycle and the FSH promotes the growth of follicles in the ovaries, playing an important role in estrogen and progesterone production.
However, getting enough of these critical hormones for a normal ovulatory and menses cycle requires precise stimulatory signals from the hypothalamus, the part of the brain in charge of releasing hormones from the pituitary gland and stabilizing the body. Unfortunately, the hypothalamus is very responsive to a variety of factors from the internal and external environment.
Therefore, fasting for long periods of time can completely disturb the release of key hormones that regulate vital bodily functions by misleading the hypothalamus. As an effect, the production of kisspeptin decreases and completely disrupts the release of estrogen and progesterone. This can not only cause irregular menses but also potentially lead to infertility.
Increased Cortisol Levels
Cortisol is another hormone that can be critically affected by IF. Also known as the “stress hormone”, cortisol is a steroid hormone that regulates bodily processes while helping the body respond to stress. Since IF involves restricting yourself from food intake for periods of time, the hypothalamus considers the fasting stress on the body. Consequently, the hypothalamus increases the release of cortisol. Over time, high cortisol levels have been associated with anxiety and depression, inhibiting sex drive, and causing irregular periods. They can even potentially make your period stop altogether.
The bottom line is that women are different from men. While IF may be the perfect weight-loss approach for men, women are much more sensitive to hormonal imbalances. Altering your diet to accommodate timed restricted food intake can cause some pretty serious changes to hormone releases that regulate important female bodily functions like ovulation and menstruation.