Intermittent Fasting (IF) has entered the mainstream conversation in nutrition and wellness space, along with many differing opinions; as most things in wellness space. You've likely heard of IF, tried it, practice it routinely or simply want to learn more about it. Many health professionals promote IF for it's health benefits, including weight loss and longevity. Studies show IF's has positive effects on brain and heart health, improved physical performance, diabetes and obesity, particularly in women over 40, who are approaching menopause and struggle to lose weight.
However, the majority of IF clinical studies done to date, included men. Those IF studies that included women, limited inclusion to menopausal women and those with Type 2 diabetes or overweight. This begs the question, can IF be practiced safely and effectively by women over 40, and what are the health benefits?
I've personally been practicing IF successfully for years. I follow the 12-16hrs fast on most days, at times stretching a fast to 20hrs; and occasionally doing a 48hrs for health benefits. This means having breakfast at 8am and last meal by 4pm, then eating again the next day at 8am (that's a 16hrs fast). Or, what most women do and find easy to follow, without even realizing it, is to fast 12hrs, which means last meal at 8pm and fasting until breakfast the next morning 8am, (that's a 12hrs fast).
To learn about different types of IF methods see my blog Intermittent Fasting for Women.
This blog specifically addresses health benefits of intermittent fasting for women over 40.
The main health benefits of IF for women over 40 include: weight loss, aiding cellular repair, increasing mental health and clarity, and reducing insulin resistance.
Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting for Women over 40
Weight loss - while I don't practice IF for weight loss, it does work for weight loss because the eating window is reduced and that leaves women feeling fuller, while minimizing the urge for snacking, which is where the majority of calories can sneak into a diet. Some snacks contain more calories than a wholefoods meal, that could easily sabotage your weight loss progress. 12hr fasting window puts your body into a fasted state, allowing it to burn fat that's inaccessible otherwise when food is constantly circulating a digestive system. It's intuitive if you think about it, because we're not meant to be eating 24hrs a day.
One study compared intermittent vs continuous energy restriction (reduced calories for 2 days vs 7days/week) in overweight or obese premenopausal women over 6 months. They assessed weight, along with biomarkers for breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, dementia, insulin resistance, oxidative stress, along with other metabolic disease risk markers at 1, 3, and 6 months. Results showed that Intermittent Fasting was as effective as continuous calorie reduction for weight loss, insulin sensitivity and other health biomarkers in premenopausal women. If you prefer to reduce calories, that's fine, but you will likely gain the same health benefits if you practice IF even 2 days a week.
Autophagy (Cellular repair) - in 2016, the Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to a researcher Yoshinori Ohsumi, who was doing work on autophagy, which is our body's self-cleaning, recycling, upcycling system. Think of it this way, when you're asleep, you're not eating (obviously). A break from digestion kicks in autophagy (cellular repair) process. The clean up crew comes and repairs broken or damaged cells, and removes waste. This all happens while you're catching zzz's. In order for autophagy to kick in, digestion needs to turn off. And as we age, our bodies naturally do less of that cellular housekeeping. But fasting brings us back to the time where our bodies can do it more naturally because we're taking a break from eating. Just like we clean our house, we need to clean our bodies...intuitive - right? Autophagy is another health benefit of IF for women over 40, because it promotes healthy aging.
This study showed that in women, the loss of hormones with menopause presents a risk factor for developing Alzheimer's Disease. Although Alzheimer's disease markers can present before menopause, the difference between female and male in autophagy regulation contributes to the increased risk of AD and is greater in women. So another reason to practice IF which turns on cell repair that protects your beautiful brain, is another health benefit of IF.
Mental Focus and Cognitive Health - This is probably everyone's favorite, the mental clarity that comes as a result of IF, which gives you the ability to focus on tasks without brain fog. Typically, after breaking a fast and right after eating women report feeling more sluggish, making the rest of your day less productive. When I have important meetings or tasks to get done, I plan to fast on those days to optimize mental focus; it works!
Insulin Resistance - basically think of it as body's inability to break down sugar in your blood, therefore, it stores it as fat. If you have constant high levels of insulin, it's really difficult to enter fat burning. Eating all day, little tiny meals, and drinking keeps insulin going, going and going, so it never gets low enough to allow you to tap into your fat stores. And hyperinsulinemia, high levels of insulin, all the time, are very common these days; we have an epidemic of diabetes and obesity world-wide! According to World Health Organization, women have higher rates of obesity, while mean have higher rates of overweight. For women specifically, insulin dysregulation has been linked to PCOS, an endocrine disorder. Insulin is a fat storage hormone, which for women in their 40s is important to pay attention to.
You're starving, hangry, cranky, and you're not really losing that much fat, even though you know you're doing low-calorie diet without much success. If this sounds like you, IF may be a sustainable solution, because it's different. IF naturally lowers your insulin, making you more insulin sensitive. As you fast, your body is cleaning and lowering insulin naturally, allowing it to tap into the fat stores and fuel your body with steady and calm supply of energy, you're not hangry, starving or struggling and that's the biggest difference.
In summary, there are differing opinions about IF, just like most things in health and nutrition space, but most of us can agree that the body needs a break for constantly digesting food. And IF doesn't mean that you're starving yourself or being overly restrictive. Instead, most of my clients who practice IF, enjoy getting to know their body's intuitive hunger and satiety cues, they embrace the feeling of reconnecting with their own bodies, that empowered feeling allows them to trust themselves and translates into confidence that ripples into other parts of their lives.
If you want to dive deeper, I’ve created a Masterclass with everything you need to know about intermittent fasting as a woman over 40. For more information and to register visit: https://www.nourished-alive.com/masterclass