What is Intermittent Fasting and Does it Really Work?

Most women, when asked if they are concerned about improving their health, would say yes.  If improving your health is something that you regularly think about then I’m sure you’re familiar with at least a handful of different diets and exercise programs.  You may have heard or read about Intermittent Fasting (IF), a method that has been making headlines in magazines and blogs lately. It is well known that many religions have implemented fasting as a method to help with spiritual focus and discipline.    Aside from spiritual benefits, is there really any physical or cognitive benefit to intermittent fasting?

The Benefits

First of all, what is intermittent fasting?  “IF” is a term that refers to alternating periods of fasting with periods of eating.  Most fasting protocols call for periods of fasting that last anywhere from 12-48 consecutive hours.  The rules of fasting are not hard and fast, but rather subjective. A number of studies suggest that IF may help

  • with weight loss
  • increase energy levels
  • decrease inflammation
  • improve insulin sensitivity in overweight women and women with diabetes
  • improve the body’s response to stress
  • increase the production of neurotrophic growth factor, which can help relieve depression,
  • improve cognitive function, and protect against the development of Alzheimer’s and other
  • neurodegenerative diseases

Those are some pretty impressive potential benefits!  One of the reasons scientists think that fasting can be beneficial is because of the stress factor.  Now I know most people have a negative view of stress, but some forms of stress are beneficial to the body and mind.  Take exercise, for example. Exercise puts a stress on your muscles, bones, and cardiovascular system. This stress, combined with periods of rest, allows your cells to repair and become stronger.  Your cells adapt to the stress, causing your body to potentially become more resistant to oxidative stress and maybe even disease. Although more research is needed to prove absolutely the benefits of IF, the current research is promising.

The Risks

Let’s say you’ve decided to try intermittent fasting, but it’s not going well.  You’ve tried to fast for 18 hours or more, and now you’re starving, cranky, and your brain is in a fog.  Perhaps you’ve tried to do too much too fast. Or you’re so hungry at the end of the fast that you overeat.  It’s important to keep in mind that when your body perceives that you are starving, it will ramp up the production of leptin and ghrelin, two hormones that are responsible for controlling your hunger and satiety cues.  In addition, women need to be careful when implementing intermittent fasting as our bodies are more sensitive to starvation. If you are not careful IF may cause

  • reproductive issues such as infertility
  • early menopause
  • worsening of other health conditions
  • increased cortisol levels

Be advised that Intermittent Fasting is never recommended for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, suffer from chronic stress, currently have or have struggled with an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia, or who have a sleep disorder.

Crescendo Fasting

While there are a variety of different fasting methods, Crescendo Fasting is a method that is safer for women and is much less likely to cause hormonal imbalances.  Crescendo Fasting allows you to ease into it, fasting for only 12-16 hours at a time at a frequency of 2-3 non-consecutive days per week. This could mean that you don’t eat anything from 7pm-7am, three times a week.  That’s an easy place to start, especially if you sleep for at least 8 hours a night. If you want to increase your time and skip breakfast, go for it! That age-old recommendation that breakfast is the most important meal of the day isn’t true for everyone, however, some women will notice that their brain doesn’t function as well if they don’t have something in their stomach.  Each person is different, and your fasting experience should be tailored to meet the demands of your lifestyle.

A Few Tips

  • Ideally, you should begin with 12-16 hours, and no more than 24 hours.
  • Do not fast on consecutive days.  Eat normally at least one day between fasting days.
  • Make sure you stay hydrated during your fasting hours.  Drinking water, unsweetened tea, or broth to stay hydrated without adding calories.
  • Exercise lightly on your fasting days and save your harder workouts for the days when you are eating normally.  Light exercises include walking, gentle yoga, and stretching. Exercising intensely while you are fasting may decrease your energy level and leave you feeling tired and depleted and may cause you to burn more muscle protein instead of tapping into your fat reserves.
  • Make sure that when your fasting period ends that you don’t overeat to compensate for the hours that you fasted.  Try to eat normally during your eating period, and make sure that you’re eating nutritious, minimally-processed foods.  Going on a junk-food binge after every fast will defeat the purpose of fasting in the first place.

If you’re looking for a new way to help boost your physical and mental health, intermittent fasting may be worth a try.  Fasting, when done carefully, may offer you some great benefits and help you change up your health routines a bit. As always, if you have any pre-existing health conditions or hormonal imbalances, I recommend speaking with your health care practitioner first.  

Filling your body with the right fuels has an incredible impact on your energy. Learn some of my other techniques for boosting your energy naturally with my “Top 10 Energy-Boosting Remedies” Guide. You can download it here free:

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