Intermittent fasting has become one of the biggest trends of the last few years. There are many substantiated claims that it helps us lose weight quickly
, boost growth hormone
, help our bodies to detox
on a cellular level, etc. These are fantastic claims, and ones that we support whole-heartedly, but there are some less popular disclaimers that aren’t being as openly discussed that directly pertain to women.
First and foremost, it should be noted — and heavily considered — that intermittent fasting has been studied and tested on individuals that are either male or post-menopausal women. We aren’t bashing these studies; they’re legit. We are just saying that intermittent fasting works really well for certain people, at specific times. It is not an easy, one-size fits all solution to combat weight gain and aging.
If you’re wondering what the big deal is, we’ll tell ya, honey. Non-post-menopausal women, aka menstruating women, have very different biology than men or post-menopausal women. Our monthly cycles are so much more than just centering around our periods. That’s because female bodies are biologically designed for reproduction. Long stretches of time without food signal to the body that it is not a reliable time to reproduce, and this has a chain reaction on the normal hormonal flow that is our monthly cycle, aka the four phases.
Just to overview, during post-menstruation (which is right after the first day of our period until the day we ovulate), we experience our follicular phase. In this phase, our estrogen rises and we prepare to release an egg. This is when the lining of the uterus builds back up, also known as the proliferative
Following the follicular phase is ovulation, where we release an egg and prepare for possible fertilization. Estrogen peaks just before this, and falls right when we ovulate.
Following ovulation, we become luteal. At this time, our bodies are preparing for pregnancy. We produce more progesterone, which peaks and then falls.
Finally, we reach either the menstrual phase, also known as another part of the secretory
phase. This is when our uterus either prepares for pregnancy, or prepares the lining to break down and shed if a pregnancy does not occur.
Now that we’ve caught all up, it’s important to understand why this plays a role in our plans to fast. Hormones control every single function of our bodies, and they are really busy doing different stuff during these four phases. Estrogen works closely with the thyroid, helping us with metabolism, weight loss, weight gain, mood, stress and anxiety, energy levels, cognitive function, and much more.
Because fasting affects the whole body, it definitely affects hormone production and secretion — which in turn has an effect on multiple organ functions. Alisa Vitti
, author of Woman Code
and In The Flo
, states that “a woman’s reproductive function is intricately connected to her metabolic function, and vice versa. So anytime a woman’s body gets a ‘starvation signal’ from her environment (like not eating for a stretch of time), it goes into preserve-and-protect mode, where it holds onto weight (to survive the famine), increases production of the hunger hormones ghrelin and leptin (so that you feel famished and rush to get food ASAP), and slows down non-essential functions like reproduction (so you can keep yourself alive and not waste energy on growing a baby).”