If you’ve been around the health and fitness community for awhile, you’ve probably heard of intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is a new trend that proves to be wildly beneficial for weight loss, increasing energy, improving memory, and improving heart health(1). What is intermittent fasting? A fasting period of 12-16 hours where you don’t eat anything but water. You very well could be intermittent fasting already without even knowing it. If you stop eating around 7pm and break your fast between 7-11am, you’re intermittent fasting.
Upon learning about the potential health benefits, I jumped right on board, but failed miserably. I tried intermittent fasting for 6 months. I would have my last bite around 7pm and not eat again until 9:30am. I felt hungry all the time. I kept my rigorous workout routine but noticed I would feel light headed and dizzy if I worked out in the morning before breaking my fast. I spoke with a doctor, and she told me to keep going and my body will get used to it. Nothing improved. I started to feel fatigued and have very low energy throughout the day.
Then one month I noticed my cycle change. I was over a week late, so naturally I started freaking out. No signs of pregnancy and I even took a test – negative. The days went on and I started to reevaluate my health. That’s when I began doing my own research on intermittent fasting and what I found was very discouraging.
To put it simply, intermittent fasting can cause hormonal imbalance in women if it’s not done correctly(2). Women are extremely sensitive to signals of starvation, and if the body senses that it is being starved, it will ramp up production of the hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin. Unfortunately, when women ignore these extreme hunger signals, we tend to binge eat later then the starvation cycle starts again. It’s a vicious cycle and can throw your hormones out of whack and actually lead to a halt in ovulation altogether.
In animal studies, after two weeks of intermittent fasting, female rats stopped having menstrual cycles and their ovaries shrunk while experiencing more insomnia than their male counterparts – though the male rats did experience lower testosterone production(3). Unfortunately, there are very few human studies looking at the differences between intermittent fasting for men and women, but the animal studies confirm the suspicion: Intermittent fasting can sometimes throw off a woman’s hormonal balance, cause fertility problems and exacerbate eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder.
If you still want to reap the benefits of intermittent fasting, but are not looking to mess with your hormones, try crescendo fasting. Fast only 2-3 times per week on nonconsecutive days (ex. Tuesday, Tuesday, Saturday). On fasting days, do light cardio like a 30-45 minute walk, and on non-fasting days do more intense exercise like a BBG circuit or a HIIT routine.
The second I read these studies, I hopped back on the breakfast train (gladly) and started taking Standard Process’s Female Endocrine support supplements. Within a week, my cycle regulated. As always, listen to your body. I should have listened when I experienced massive fatigue and extreme hunger signs. Listening to what your body needs and acting on it is the greatest form of self love. Again, with everything, balance is key.