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Intermittent Fasting (IF) for Women

When you work with our ancestral health coaching programs, you’ll hear us talk about improving wellness in three areas: eating, sleeping and moving.

Let’s say you’ve cleaned up your diet, have heard about intermittent fasting (IF) and are ready to give it a shot. Our female clients often find more success with IF when fasting length and target macros are mapped to their monthly cycle.

You may have heard the buzz around Fast Like A Girl by Dr. Mindy Pelz. In 2022, she released her wildly successful book as “a woman’s guide to using the healing power of fasting to burn fat, boost energy, and balance hormones.” The protocols in Dr. Mindy’s book have inspired thousands of women to adjust what and when they eat with weekly changes in their hormonal cycle. 

There are dozens of inherently great things about fasting, including:

  • It’s free - and will likely save you money on food

  • It’s flexible - and can be easily adapted to your lifestyle

  • It’s time efficient - and you’ll get back the time you spend food prepping

  • It’s ancestral - and mimics the eating patterns of early humans

  • It’s a healing state for the body - and taps into our innate ability for self-repair

The connection between fasting and a woman’s hormonal cycle is rooted in how we can fuel the body so it can effectively produce estrogen and progesterone. By fasting (or feasting) according to hormonal patterns, women have the unique ability to harness their body’s natural fluctuations for optimal health.

The benefits of using fasting as a healing tool include everything from improved mitochondrial health and DNA repair to decreased glycogen stores and decreased insulin.

In 2019, an analysis on fasting was published in The New England Journal of Medicine, where the authors reviewed evidence for intermittent fasting triggering a metabolic switch from glucose-based to ketone-based energy, with increased stress resistance, increased longevity, and a decreased incidence of diseases, including cancer and obesity.

There are four parts to the menstrual cycle and each phase has different hormonal implications. These changes have a huge impact on a woman’s body, including: mood, mental clarity, hunger level, food cravings, physical strength, endurance and more. In its simplest form, hormonal phase differences include:

  • Day 1-10: 

    • Sex hormones are at their lowest level

    • Fasting length: 14-72 hours

    • Food as fuel: low net carbs, high protein, medium healthy fat

    • Enable the body to: make estrogen and lower insulin

  • Day 11-15:

    • Estrogen and testosterone peak

    • Fasting length: 12-15 hours

    • Food as fuel: high net carbs, medium protein, high healthy fat

    • Enable the body to: metabolize hormones into a usable form

  • Day 16-18:

    • Sex hormone levels begin to drop

    • Fasting length: 14-72 hours

    • Food as fuel: low net carbs, high protein, medium healthy fat

    • Enable the body to: induce cellular repair through autophagy

  • Day 19+:

    • Progesterone peaks, estrogen rises

    • Fasting length: no fasting, avoid excessive exercise 

    • Food as fuel: high net carbs, low protein, high healthy fat

    • Enable the body to: rest, recover and refuel to make progesterone

With anything new, it helps to have a plan in place to understand what’s next. Start by mapping the guidelines above to your monthly cycle - and if you’re not cycling, you can either pick any day to start a 30-day cycle, or set your “day 1” to the next new moon date. 

Additionally, here are a few easy ways to get started with IF:

  • Start slow. If your last meal ends at 8pm and you eat breakfast at 8am, you’re eating in a 12-hour window. Next week, push back the time you eat breakfast by one hour, so you’re eating in an 11-hour window (and fasting for 13 hours). Each week, either push back your breakfast time or dinner time by an hour, until you reach your target fasting length.

  • Be flexible. If you’re fasting for 16 hours and your last meal ends at 8pm, your first meal the following day should be at noon. If you happen to stop eating at 6pm, your next meal can start at 10am. IF is a really flexible tool that allows you to adjust day-to-day based on your schedule and lifestyle.

  • Stay hydrated. Drinking water (ideally with no-sugar electrolytes) is really important during fasting periods to stay hydrated, keep energy levels up and help manage hunger. You can also warm up with herbal tea, black coffee (no sugar or cream) or water with a splash of lemon

  • Stay busy. Keep yourself occupied during fasting periods to distract from hunger. Take a walk, do some stretching or get lost in a book.

Ready to take the next step? Our health coaches can help. Book a free consult to get started.

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