Is Fasting Safe for Women?
Fasting is very popular in our culture for weight loss and it has been an honoured and respected form of cleansing for many cultures, religions and of course mind-body disciplines like yoga, for centuries. It is reputed to increase brain function, lift depression, increase metabolism and digestion and offer a life-changing experience for those following it with a spiritual practice. I have seen amazing results on myself and my clients. This blog will work through the pros and cons of fasting and outline a gently way forward.
Fasting is a century-old tradition practised by many cultures for both spiritual and physical cleansing purposes. In our modern society, one of the most commonplace uses of intermittent fasting is to lose weight and as the pressures of daily life increase, a quick solution is very appealing. Let’s outline a few advantages and ‘need to knows’ before you embark.
Is fasting safe?
My biggest fear with fasting is that I will get faint, light headed and talk rubbish whilst presenting online and offline in my daily Pilates practice. I exercise regularly and I want to perform and feel my best, losing my train of thought is something that makes me shudder with fear and is something that every perimenopausal lady has had experience with.
Fasting and energy pathways
Your body can use 2 ways of metabolising your food. You can burn fat as fuel or carbohydrates as fuel, these are two distinct and different metabolic pathways.
Your body gets used to using one or the other. If you habitually use carbs as fuel your body will defer to that metabolic pathway. Getting used to burning fat as fuel takes some readjustment, therefore it takes time.
Fat metabolism – burning fat as fuel
Fueling your body from fats is a longer process than burning glucose as fuel. The fat digestion pathway is very different from the carbohydrate pathway. Fat digestion is broken down slowly in the gut via a series of enzymes called lipases and take a while to make their way into the bloodstream as fatty acids. Once these fatty acids are in the bloodstream they can be used for energy in a process called ketogenesis. Burning fat is more complicated for your body and it will only do it when oxygen is readily available which is more likely to happen when you are resting.
Carbohydrate metabolism – burning glucose as fuel
Science knows that your brain and body likes to run on glucose, your body is excellent at preserving your fat (how kind) and keeps you burning glucose because it is readily available and easy for your body to utilise digest. In the video below I explain the carb burning habit similar to that of buying a takeaway, it is easy and a habit, no effort.
In the past, I felt very unsure about fasting and in particular the popular 5:2 diet. I love to exercise I love the clarity of my mind when I exercise. I don’t want to impede or feel faint when I present or not perform when I exercise.
Exercise-induced hypoglycaemia is a risk factor when fasting so look out for the symptoms. When I was on a high carb diet my blood sugar levels were very low and I would suffer from hypoglycemia. My body was burning carbs and therefore hypoglycemia was a concern.
Fasting and hypoglycemia
Hypoglycemia is defined as a state of depleted glucose in the blood, and since your brain runs on glucose you need to prevent a crash. Eat enough to provide the energy to supply your brain and nervous system with the nutrition they require, but this becomes more complicated by the toll that exercises can take on your body whilst fasting.
Look out for low blood sugar signs:
- A rapid heartbeat
- Feeling of anxiousness
- Continue to perspire even after exercise
- Become shaky
- Difficult to concentrate
It is important, therefore, to avoid over-exercising and fuel up before excessive exercise with complex carbohydrates that slowly convert into glucose. Physical effort, external cold, worry and strong emotions increase the rate with which the body’s reserves are utilized
Bearing that in mind, schedule your fasting around your exercise days.
Fasting and Cortisol
In addition, if you do have low blood sugar levels then fasting can elevate cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone that is supposed to raise your blood sugar if your sugar levels get too low. This is a normal function and cortisol is released in a ‘pulsatile fashion’. For example, your cortisol levels are much higher in the morning to get you up, out of bed and moving. However, chronically high levels of cortisol are a problem and can have a negative impact on your immune system.
Fasting and burning carbs as fuel is a difficult combination. It can lead to further increased cortisol and the risk of hypoglycemia. Taking the time to balance your macros (fats, proteins and carbs) and lean more towards the fat metabolic pathway takes time but with the help of a nutritionist like me you can make the change, then the advantages of intermittent fasting are numerous.
Advantages of Fasting
Diving into the science of fasting you learn very quickly the advantages when you go without food for a short time, your body diverts energy away from digesting food to cellular repair and the removal of waste material and toxins.
The recycling and regenerative process of autophagy is boosted by intermittent fasting. Autophagy reduces your body’s inflammation, enhance biological function and slows down the ageing process.
In addition, intermittent fasting also results in a process called apoptosis where your body rids itself of old, unhealthy cells, and replaces them with new ones.
Body fat reduction
Body fat reduction hormone produced in abundance while fasting is human growth hormone. (HGH) Human growth hormone increases as much as 5 times during intermittent fasting. The higher your levels of HGH the easier it is to burn fat and maintain lean muscle mass.
Intermittent fasting will result in a considerable effect on fat loss. Not only is this due to higher levels of human growth hormone, but also because of the decrease in insulin (insulin regulates your blood sugars) and the corresponding increase in norepinephrine – the main neurotransmitter produced by the sympathetic nervous system. This cocktail of hormones initiates the breakdown of stored body fat and uses it as an energy source.
This subsequently increases your metabolism which is the rate at which you burn calories.
Reduction in belly fat
Research indicates that a large percentage of the weight lost from intermittent fasting comes from stored belly fat.
Belly fat is visceral fat which is encased around your internal organs. It is the kind of fat that is associated with insulin resistance, diabetes and heart disease.
Improved brain function
Some studies demonstrate that intermittent fasting can increase the growth of new neurons and increase brain function – a phenomenon known as “neuroplasticity” and increase cognitive function increases levels of a brain hormone called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a deficiency which is associated with higher rates of depression, learning difficulties and memory loss.
Intermittent Fasting summary
- Improved digestion and metabolism
- Increase your body’s ability to detox
- Help your cells remove waste
- Increase energy
- Limit inflammation and oxidation in your body
- Prevent neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s
- The life-changing spiritual experience apparently Experiencing the higher chakras in meditative states is easy when your body is empty.
Types of fasting – which one suits you?
- 16/8 Intermittent Fasting – dieters don’t eat anything for 16 hours and then eat within an eight-hour eating window – sometimes referred to as 16/8 fasting. Most people eat their last meal of the day around 8pm and then fast through the night and morning until 1pm. For the maximum fat-burning benefit, some people choose to workout around 11am or noon.
- Eat Fast Eat cutting out a day of eating every once in a while, you will be restricting your overall calorie levels, even if your daily eating habits remain unchanged. High level of self-control is required and there is the real concern of becoming a ‘hangry monster’.
- Dry Fast – is a form of fasting that is done without food or water. A soft dry fast includes showering and brushing teeth while an absolute dry fast (or black fast) is done without contact with any water.
- Wet Fast –Drink water, but take no food.
- 5:2 diet: Michael Mosley diet allows you to eat normally for five days out of the week, and to eat only 500-600 calories on two non-consecutive days. There are no eating requirements
Is Intermittent Fasting safe for women?
Some evidence that IF is not as beneficial for women, it may worsen your control of blood sugar level.
Personally, I believe this may be down to your body type. If you are Ectomorph (think Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Moss, Cameron Diaz) who can tolerate a lot of carbs, in fact, need carbs and therefore glucose to feel energised you are going to struggle with an Intermittent Fasting schedule. Your body works better with carbs.
If like me you are more of a Mesomorph who has a symmetrical build, wide shoulders large musculatures like Halle Berry, Madonna and Jessica Alba.
Endomorph think Kim Kardashian, Beyonce and J-Lo who have a high fat to muscle creation with round body shape and hold fat on hips and things
These two types of body shape are more likely to favour an intermittent fasting routine.
How to get started
1. Try it out once a week or once a month
2. Monitor your evening meal and have breakfast at
3. Not all calories are equal, nutrition is so important.
4. My advice is don’t start this unless your diet has the right macros in it, to begin with.
5. If you are eating cereal, toast, sandwiches and evening meal pasta, you are on a high sugar diet and you will go into sugar withdrawal and hypoglycemia.
Get your nutrition right FIRST then play with the intuitive eating.
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