Are you a frustrated female who has tried everything to lose weight but can’t seem to get the scale to budge? If so, you’re not alone. And if there’s a man in your life who seems to drop pounds with ease, it can be quite disheartening.
There are some differences in how men and women gain and lose weight. In general, women often have a slower metabolism than men due to less lean muscle mass and higher body fat percentage.
If you’re female, you have a unique hormonal profile, so the effects of intermittent fasting will be different for you than for men. Most research and literature on intermittent fasting uses male by default, but some results will be relevant to you. So, let’s explore your individual metabolism and how intermittent fasting can help you maintain a healthy weight or lose weight and keep it off.
Weight Gain and Your Metabolism
Men and women’s metabolism is influenced by stress, lack of sleep, and calorie-restrictive diets. But evidence shows if you’re female, you’ll gain more weight than males do in these scenarios. According to the American Psychological Association, men and women report roughly the same stress levels. But, women are more likely to say they eat in response to the stress (31% vs. 21%), and are less likely to exercise (24% vs. 35%). Cleveland Clinic supports the APA’s findings and agrees that women are more likely to gain weight as a response to stress.
Research also shows that sleep loss affects women more than men. A 2008 study from Duke University found women who don’t get enough sleep tend to be more overweight and have an increased risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Thanks to societal pressure, women are more likely to try a calorie-restrictive diet to lose weight, leading to more weight gain. If you’re female, you’re more sensitive to calorie restriction, which is why caloric restriction has negative hormonal consequences that affect your period and fertility.
Stress and lack of sleep aside, your body goes through regular hormonal changes throughout your life, which plays a role in your metabolism changes. Your hormonal profiles are different during menstruation, pregnancy, pre-menopause, menopause, and post-menopause.
Intermittent Fasting, Weight Loss, and Fertility
If you’re still menstruating, you need a certain percentage of body fat to maintain normal menses and fertility. When you restrict calories, your body may respond by holding onto the fat you want to lose, which negates any eating plan’s positive outcome. And if you lose too much fat, you can become infertile or develop amenorrhea.
Amenorrhea is a potentially serious condition in which a woman of childbearing age fails to menstruate. Not only does failure to menstruate make you infertile, but amenorrhea can cause a hormonal imbalance and lead to weight gain, excessive weight loss, thyroid malfunction, and osteoporosis.
If you’re concerned with fertility, intermittent fasting could potentially increase irregularities in your reproductive cycles and cause your ovaries to shrink. This has been proven the case in animal studies, but we still need more comparable human studies.
You must consume sufficient calories for healthy, regular menstruation if you choose to participate in intermittent fasting. To keep fasting from affecting your period, try a lighter fasting protocol, like a shorter fast, or fewer fasting days.
Losing Weight While Pregnant
If you’re pregnant and at a healthy weight, you need to increase your daily calories by 300-500 during your second and third trimesters. A weight gain of 10-40 pounds is healthy, depending upon your starting weight and body fat percentage. If you haven’t done intermittent fasting before, pregnancy is not the best time to experiment. There hasn’t been enough research done on pregnant women, so researchers don’t know if it’s healthy. The best way to manage your pregnancy weight is to eat healthily and exercise.
Menopause and Your Metabolism
Peri-menopause Typically begins around 40, your metabolism will start to slow down, and your body fat will shift towards your abdomen. Belly fat is notoriously difficult to lose and is also closely correlated with type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol levels, and high blood pressure.
While women are not as prone to heart disease as men, heart attacks in women are more often fatal.
Menopause typically begins at age 51. If you’re over 50, these hormonal changes can lower your metabolism, make sleep challenging, and cause pain in your joints, and all those lead to weight gain.
Intermittent fasting is safe for you if you’re not trying to get pregnant, and it can help combat many of the hormonal changes that can cause you to gain weight as you age.
The most common benefits of intermittent fasting for women are:
- Weight loss: Intermittent fasting is effective for weight loss in both men and women.
- Decrease abdominal fat: Intermittent fasting reduces body and effectively reduces abdominal fat that many women find increases with age.
- Preserve muscle mass: Intermittent fasting can help preserve muscle mass that most women lose with age, something that traditional caloric restriction does not do. Fasting can help preserve your muscle because it stimulates human growth hormone. However, studies about muscle mass preservation and stimulation of HGH have only used male participants so far. Hopefully, there will soon be more research on female participants.
The Best Beginning Intermittent Fasting Schedule for Women
The best intermittent fasting schedule for you depends on your age and your body condition. If you’re underweight or have struggled with disordered eating in the past, fasting may not be for you.
Modified Fasting Schedules to Maintain Your Fertility
The 16:8 is a popular intermittent fasting protocol that entails a 16-hour fasting window, followed by an 8-hour eating window. Typically, you’ll fast overnight. To modify this fast, begin with 12:12. Stick with the 12:12 protocol, or move to a 14:10 fast if you feel comfortable.
A 5:2 fast is a week-long protocol where you eat as you typically would for five days then fast for two days. You’ll spread the two fasting days out through the week.
To begin with, a modified version, try a 6:1 fast. On your once-weekly fasting day, limit your caloric intake to 25%, or roughly 500 calories, instead of completely abstaining from food.
Start slowly, listen to your body, and pay attention to how you feel, especially if you’re new to intermittent fasting.
It’s okay if you don’t feel fantastic during your fasts, in the beginning, be patient with yourself and willing to make changes. It’s essential not to be so strict with your eating plan that you ignore your intuition.
Who Should Avoid IF
If you’re concerned with fertility or are pregnant, it’s best not to begin an intermittent fasting regimen. Also, IF may not be appropriate for you if you have:
- Low blood sugar. If you experience persistent nausea, headaches, or dizziness while fasting, you may be at risk of becoming hypoglycemic, a dangerous condition. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes and are taking blood sugar lowering medication, please consult with a physician if considering IF.
- Low blood pressure. If you naturally have lower blood pressure, fasting could further reduce this and cause dizziness, fainting, and risk injuries from falls.
- A history of disordered eating.
- If you’re underweight. There’s a link between fasting and weight loss, so you may unintentionally lose more weight, decrease immune function, and increase your risk for deficiencies and osteoporosis.
Adolescents and Children
There are no long-term studies of fasting in adolescents and children. Since this is a period of rapid development and growth, teens and children shouldn’t fast.
IF Can Improve Your Health
Intermittent fasting has many benefits and is unique since it’s about caloric restriction. During your eating window, eat enough calories for optimal health. When done correctly, intermittent fasting will help you shed stubborn pounds and increase your sense of health and well-being, and improve your body image.