Intermittent fasting for women is a suuuuuper hot diet trend, and I totally bought into it.
I practiced fasting for months before I realized the dangers I was putting myself in… especially when it came to my already shaky relationship with dieting.
But since intermittent fasting (IF) is being promoted by all sorts of people… from celebrity trainers and biohackers to Instagram foodies, doctors, and nutrition experts… how do you know if it’s healthy for YOU? And most importantly, how do you know if intermittent fasting is NOT working for you? Especially if you’re already practicing it.
INTERMITTENT FASTING (IF) FOR WOMEN
The most dangerous part of intermittent fasting for women isn’t the fasting part… The riskiest part is the mental game that comes with food restriction, weight loss, and hyper-focusing on eating less food. Which is exactly why intermittent fasting for women can become a risky eating disorder.
Intermittent fasting can start off as something incredibly innocent, but easily take off into a full-blown emotional rollercoaster around dieting and your relationship with food. While intermittent fasting for women might not be an eating disorder on its own… if you’re not truly listening to your body, it can make it extremely likely that you could develop an eating disorder or other serious health consequences down the road.
The most important questions that everyone woman should ask while practicing intermittent fasting are:
- Are you noticing changes in your hormones and/or menstrual cycle?
- Is eating outside of your fasting window causing anxiety?
- Do you constantly ignore your hunger signals?
- Are you under-fueling your body with too little calories?
Before we get into all the risks of intermittent fasting for women, let’s go over the basics.
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WHAT IS INTERMITTENT FASTING?
Intermittent fasting is a predetermined period of time that a person purposely doesn’t eat food. There are many different kinds of fasting techniques, just like there are many kinds of diets. Perhaps the most sought-after fasting benefits are weight loss and easy weight management, but intermittent fasting can also be used to help people “lower inflammation, improve gut health, and reduce their risk for cancer and other diseases.”¹
Each IF technique can also have slight variations. One of the most widely practiced fasting techniques among women is the 8-hour window fast because it can be most easily implemented into a person’s regular eating habits. Let’s go over each one below…
THE 5 MAIN FASTING TYPES¹
1. The 12-hour fast
Fasting for 12 hours every day. Example: Fasting from 9 pm to 9 am.
This is usually done so that you are sleeping for almost the entire time, which makes it the easiest plan to follow. According to an MD’s article on Mind Body Green, “If you’re a newbie, this 12-hour fast plan is a great option to start with. When you don’t eat for 10 to 16 hours, your body reaches into its fat stores for energy—a desirable effect if your goal is losing weight.”¹
2. The 8-hour window
Eating within an 8-hour window. (Fasting for 16 hours a day.) Example: Fasting from 9 pm to 1 pm.
This can be done on an empty stomach – or you can try the ketogenic style of fasting by consuming a high-fat breakfast. Butter coffee anyone?? This is exactly what the Bulletproof style of intermittent fasting is built upon.²
3. Alternate day fasting
There are 2 ways to practice alternate day fasting: 24-hour fasts every other day, or fast days and feed days that come with specific rules.
“Alternate-day fasting (ADF) involves a “fast day,” when individuals consume 25 percent of their normal caloric intake, alternated with a “feed day,” when they eat whatever they want. On the 25 percent day, you eat strictly protein, vegetables, and some healthy fats—but no sugar or starches. “¹
4. The 5:2 plan
Limited calories 2 days a week with 5 normal days every week.
This plan is similar to alternate day fasting because it requires more planning. “The 5:2 plan allows you to eat normally five days every week while eating only 500 to 600 calories on the other two days.”¹
5. Erratic “anything goes” hunger-centered fasting
Eating when you’re hungry and not eating when you’re not hungry.
It sounds super simple, but it can be easily messed up if you’re not in tune with your body’s natural hunger signals. Just keep in mind, “This ‘anything goes’ IF perspective works best when a health care professional custom-designs a plan for you rather than you whimsically deciding when to eat or not.”¹
Who should NOT practice fasting?
- Women who are pregnant²
- People with a history of eating disorders (exactly what we’re talking about today!)
- Chronically stressed people or people suffering from anxiety³
- People with sleep issues, like insomnia³
- Newbies to diet and lifestyle changes²
Why shouldn’t these people practice fasting?
Well, like in the case of stress and anxiety, adding more stress by fasting can increase your negative emotional response… which can actually make things worse!³
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INTERMITTENT FASTING WORKED FOR ME… UNTIL IT DIDN’T
Being completely honest with you, I practiced intermittent fasting for months… and I really liked it! It did all of the things that I hoped it would. I lost fat, I had more energy, and I got rid of the “hangry” (so hungry you’re angry) feeling that kept happening when I was trying to lose weight. But then… I hit a wall.
I started experiencing the warnings signs that I should stop… but I kept pushing through.
- My sleep was crazy disrupted – I woke up in the middle of the night and had trouble staying asleep.
- I was getting hormonal acne – my skin broke out more than it ever did before.
- Fatigue set in way before bedtime – at times, I felt like I could barely walk through the mall without becoming exhausted.
- My IBS flared up – My guess? From what was a hyper-stressed digestive system.
- My cycle disappeared – It’s my thinking that amenorrhea from a combination of going off the birth control pill and drastically under-fueling my body told my hormones that it was not a good time to be fertile, so away my period went.
I completely ignored my body’s warning signs.
Even though I was clearly suffering from my intermittent fasting eating habits, I chose to continue practicing intermittent fasting. Why?
Because I still thought it was the “healthy” thing to do.
I thought fasting was part of optimal health. I didn’t think I could trust my body more than I could trust the “experts” who were talking about fasting.
Turns out I’m the expert on my own body… and you’re the expert on yours.
And that’s why there are 4 warning signs that intermittent fasting for women can be a risky eating disorder. Because outside of the physical symptoms of intermittent fasting, there are 4 clear ways to tell if IF is absolutely not right for YOU.
So if you’re concerned about your intermittent fasting habits, here are 4 powerful signs you need to double-check your habits.
4 SIGNS INTERMITTENT FASTING FOR WOMEN IS A RISKY EATING DISORDER
1. Thinking hunger is the enemy
Hunger isn’t the enemy. Feeling hungry is NECESSARY because it’s your body’s way of telling you to refuel.
If you’re constantly pushing yourself to practice fasting and you’re completely ignoring your body’s natural hunger signals when it wants to eat, that’s a really good sign that your relationship with intermittent fasting is NOT healthy.
After all, “Fasting for longer periods of time when your body isn’t prepared can yield serious consequences. If you feel lightheaded or weak, eat something. Fasting isn’t a magical “cure-all”; it’s simply another tool in your weight-loss and optimal-health arsenal.”¹
Clearly, intermittent fasting is a tool, NOT a solution to end all hunger, so don’t be mad at your body’s need to eat. Your body uses that food to support your health, give you energy, and keep you strong and happy.
If you’re struggling with accepting that you NEED to eat, it’s time to do a serious check in with your relationship with food.
2. Hyper-focusing on eating LESS food
There’s a limit where eating LESS food stops becoming helpful and starts becoming harmful.
Sure, intermittent fasting for women can be used as a weight loss tool and a fat burner… But when your body is physically starving for energy, you can’t keep eating less food.
It’s especially problematic when you’re under-fueling intense workouts, counting calories, and following strict diets.
3. Accepting hormonal dysfunction
Not getting your period, suffering from poor sleep, and feeling chronic fatigue are not normal symptoms of following intermittent fasting.
If your hormones are getting out of whack – you need to consult with a licensed health care practitioner who can get your levels back to where they need to be so that you can FEEL better.
4. Suffering from “food fear”
If you’re suffering from “food fear”, a physical reaction to breaking the rules of your current diet – then fasting has taken over your eating habits.
You shouldn’t be scared of what might happen if you break the intermittent fasting rules…
You should be able to do what is best for you at any moment!
TAKEAWAY: INTERMITTENT FASTING FOR WOMEN CAN BE AN EATING DISORDER
Here are the 4 signs intermittent fasting is turning into an eating disorder:
- It’s making hunger the enemy
- You’re hyper-focusing on eating LESS food
- You’re accepting hormonal dysfunction
- It’s promoting “food fear”
A simple solution to the IF dilemma is to NOT practice fasting at all…
Obviously, if fasting is triggering disordered eating habits or causing hormonal dysfunction, you should get help from a licensed healthcare professional and STOP fasting altogether.
OR practice the 12-hour fast and eat when you’re hungry.
But if you still want to try the benefits of fasting without the eating disorder triggers, the safest option is to fast for 12 hours to get the most benefits with the least risk. That’s because “when you don’t eat for 10 to 16 hours, your body reaches into its fat stores for energy”¹.
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