There are so many different diets out there that claim to help with weight loss and disease prevention: low-fat, low-carb, keto, paleo, vegan, Mediterranean, or a fasting diet. Today I want to talk about one of the current trends: intermittent fasting for weight loss.
You may usually eat three meals plus snacks daily. That’s pretty common. With intermittent fasting there are scheduled periods of time when you eat and others when you fast. Unlike most other diets, intermittent fasting tells you when to eat, not what to eat.
And, many people say that it can help lead you to better health and a longer life.
But depending on your age and hormonal fluctuations, is intermittent fasting weight loss the right option for you?
Let’s dive into changes during menopause and some of the pros and cons of intermittent fasting.
What changes happen before, during and after menopause?
Menopause and the years that lead up to it can feel frustrating for many women. You may feel like you don’t know what is going on with your body. You may be experiencing new symptoms, and weight that remained stable for years may be suddenly creeping up; or those pounds that used to come off easier now simply won’t budge.
Sudden hormonal shifts, fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone, may be a factor in changes to metabolism that may cause women to gain weight. In addition, sensitivity to insulin may decline which can create an increase in belly fat storage. Menopause can also create changes in mental health with increased anxiety, depression, or mood swings.
Weight gain during this time of life (or anytime, really) is not due to lack of willpower. The changes in hormones can make weight management significantly more difficult during the years of peri-menopause and menopause.
Schedule a call if you are struggling with your health during the years of peri-menopause and menopause.
How to intermittently fast
Most of the diets that help achieve weight loss work by reducing the number of calories consumed. Intermittent fasting does the same thing, but in a different way. This way of eating significantly limits calories (requiring fasting) for certain durations of time (intermittently). There are a variety of ways to approach intermittent fasting. The simplest approach I find is a 16:8 or similar fast. With this approach you pick an eating window that works for you. For example, you might eat from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. (8 hours). During that time you eat all your calories for the day. Outside of that window you only consume water or noncaloric drinks (without any artificial sweeteners). So each day you are fasting for 16 hours and eating during an 8 hour time period.
I like this method because it is flexible. Some people may start with a shorter fast of 14 hours of fasting with 10 hours of eating. With any eating plan you need to find what works well for you to reach your health and wellness goals.
Potential benefits of intermittent fasting
Studies show that intermittent fasting can achieve weight loss. The success is similar overall to other weight loss methods. [A reminder … there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to weight loss, this can be effective for some while other methods are effective for others.]
Overall, research on the effect of intermittent fasting on people’s health is still emerging as to whether it can prevent disease or slow down aging, in addition to weight loss for some people.
Most of the research on calorie restriction and intermittent fasting have been conducted in cells (e.g., yeasts), rodents, and even monkeys. Some, but not all of these studies show it may help to build exercise endurance, immune function, and live longer. It also seems to help resist some diseases like diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, and Alzheimer’s.
When it comes to clinical studies (those done in people) on intermittent fasting, most have been pretty short—a few months or less. But, what we know so far is that it may help with markers of inflammation (C-reactive protein), diabetes (blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity), and help to reduce high blood pressure and cholesterol.
When it comes to weight loss, intermittent fasting seems to work just as well—not better—than other diets. Researchers think that eating this way decreases appetite for some people by slowing down the body’s metabolism. With a smaller appetite, you simply eat less and that will help you lose weight.
Some people who intermittently fast struggle with going longer without eating, and some people find they overeat during the eating window which then may limit their success.
What about extending the lifespan of humans? Those studies haven’t been done yet, so we simply don’t know the effects of intermittent fasting on our lifespan.
How intermittent fasting affects health
Naturally, our bodies have survival mechanisms allowing us to adjust to periods of fasting. This has been necessary, as throughout history, humans have endured many periods where food was scarce.
What happens when we don’t take in sufficient calories is that our body starts using up stored carbohydrates called glycogen. The liver stores enough glycogen to last about 12 to 16 hours before it runs out of fuel. Beyond 16 hours, the body switches fuels and begins to use fat as an energy source.
At this time, our metabolism shifts from a carbohydrate-burning state to a fat-burning state. Some of the fat is used directly as fuel, while some is metabolized into biochemicals called ketones. This state of ketosis brings on other changes throughout the body. It’s these changes that are thought to underlie some of the health benefits seen with intermittent fasting.
Ketones are an efficient source of energy for our bodies and so they can help keep many of our cells working well even during periods of fasting. This is particularly true for brain cells and this may be part of the reason some animal studies show protection against age-related declines like Alzheimer’s.
Ketones may also help to ward off some cancers and inflammatory diseases like arthritis. They are also thought to reduce the amount of insulin in the blood which may help protect against type 2 diabetes.
On the other hand, too many ketones may be harmful, so more research is needed to better understand the links between fasting, ketones, and health.
On a molecular level, intermittent fasting may extend lifespan in animals because of its effect on the DNA in our genes. Over time as we age, the way our genes are switched on and off changes. It appears that, in animals, restricting calories may slow down these age-related changes and help them to live a bit longer.
More research is underway to better understand the effect of fasting on these biological processes.
Could intermittent fasting be helpful during menopause?
Intermittent fasting may be helpful with several of the challenges women experience throughout the years of menopause.
It may be a successful approach to weight loss and improve insulin resistance. With these changes you may also decrease your risk for heart disease or diabetes.
Some of my clients have also expressed an increase in self-confidence and reduction in stress around eating when practicing intermittent fasting for a short-period of time.
Before you start intermittent fasting
As with all major dietary changes, be sure to discuss it with your healthcare professional or book a consultation with me.
Before considering intermittent fasting, know that there are certain conditions that can make it dangerous. For example, if you have diabetes you need to eat regularly to maintain your blood sugar levels, so fasting is not recommended. Also, if you’re taking certain medications like diuretics for high blood pressure or heart disease, intermittent fasting increases your risk for electrolyte abnormalities.
Intermittent fasting is also not recommended for anyone who is under 18, has a history of eating disorders or anyone who may be pregnant or breastfeeding.
Of course, whenever you change your diet you may experience side effects. Some side effects of people who restrict their calories or start intermittently fasting include fatigue, weakness, headache, reductions in sexual interest, and a reduced ability to maintain body temperature in cold environments.
According to the National Institutes of Health, “More research will be needed to determine the long-term impact of the diet on human health and provide information on when and how such a diet might be applied.”
Nutrition tips for intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting can be hard and is certainly not appropriate for everyone. It is often not sustainable as a long-term eating plan. One thing that can help with making any dietary change is having a social support network.
Although the premise of intermittent fasting is to restrict when you eat, not what you eat, the quality of your food choices is still very important. Regardless of your eating style and preferences, you still need all of your essential nutrients. Intermittent fasting is not a good reason to eat a lot of high-calorie nutrient-poor foods. I recommend eating adequate amounts of lean proteins, healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Also, avoid too many sugars and refined grains.
There are some proponents of intermittent fasting, but the jury is still out on the effectiveness for large populations. More studies need to be conducted in humans to understand it better.
You may find intermittent fasting useful for you, but it won’t be for everyone. Of course, with all big changes to your diet, it is best to proceed with caution and talk with your health care team first.
The main reason for any dietary change is to have a sustainable and healthy lifestyle that helps you meet your health goals. Whether you’re looking to lose weight or prevent disease, intermittent fasting is one eating style that may work for you. The most important thing with any diet is to get all of your essential nutrients, appropriate amounts of food, and enjoy your lifestyle in the long run.
Any diet or eating pattern that helps some people may not have the same effect on everyone. That’s why it’s important to not make any significant dietary changes without consulting your healthcare professional or Registered Dietitian.
If you decide to try intermittent fasting, listen to your body and pay attention to how you feel. If you are feeling stressed, fatigued, ill, or compulsive, you may want to fast for a shorter time period or skip it entirely.
Menopause can be a challenging time, but with the right diet and lifestyle changes, you can stay fit, happy, and healthy, even as your hormones change.
If you’re looking for guidance for weight loss through the years of menopause, contact Lynda today.
Harvard Health Publishing. (2017, January). Any benefits to intermittent fasting diets?
Harvard Health Publishing (2018, June 29). Intermittent fasting: Surprising update.
Harvard Health Publishing. (2019, July 31). Not so fast: Pros and cons of the newest diet trend.
Mayo Clinic. (2019, January 9). Fasting diet: Can it improve my heart health?
Mayo Clinic. (2019, August 14). Mayo Clinic Minute: Intermittent fasting facts.
National Institutes of Health National Institute on Aging. (2018, August 14). Calorie Restriction and Fasting Diets: What Do We Know?
National Institutes of Health NIH Research Matters (2015, July 13). Health Effects of a Diet that Mimics Fasting.
National Institutes of Health NIH Research Matters. (2017, September 26). Calorie restriction slows age-related epigenetic changes.
National Institutes of Health NIH Research Matters (2018, March 6). Intermittent dietary restriction may boost physical endurance.
National Institutes of Health NIH Research Matters (2018, September 18). Fasting increases health and lifespan in male mice.
NIH Intramural research program. (2018, March 13). Intermittent Fasting Boosts Endurance in Mouse Marathoners.
NIH National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. (2018, August). NCATS-Supported Study Shows Eating Before 3 p.m. Can Improve Health.