Intermittent fasting for women
Are the benefits and risks of intermittent fasting different for women than they are for men? Experts discuss how fasting affects women.
Fasting for women vs. men
From weight loss to longevity, intermittent fasting comes with a long list of potential benefits. Now, a small but growing body of evidence suggests that these fasts may offer a different set of advantages and drawbacks for women than men.
Intermittent fasting is a blanket term for several different eating plans that alternate between periods of eating and fasting. These diets focus more on when you eat and less on what you eat.
Time-restricted feeding, for example, limits eating to a certain window of time each day. The popular 16:8 method lets you eat for eight hours and then fast for 16. You might, for example, eat only between 7am and 3pm or between 11:30am and 7:30pm. In contrast, alternate day fasting is a pattern of feasting one day and fasting the next.
The benefits of intermittent fasting vary based on the type of fast, its duration, and maybe even your gender.
“We don’t know a lot about how the experience with intermittent varies by men versus women yet,” says Courtney M. Peterson, PhD, associate professor in the department of nutrition sciences at the University of Alabama, in Birmingham. Researchers are working on unravelling some of these differences and have made some key inroads, she says.
Women may react faster
Specifically, women may feel the effects of fasting sooner than men. A metabolic switch is flipped on during fasting. When this happens, you start to burn fat instead of glucose (or blood sugar) for energy. This accounts for some of the benefits associated with some fasting methods.
Women may hit the switch sooner than men when following an intermittent fasting regimen, according to Peterson. “We see more fat in their bloodstream compared with men who fasted for similar amounts of time,” she says.
This suggests that women could see results with shorter fasting windows. Women may have success following a 16:8 plan versus an 18:6 plan, which requires fasting for 18 hours and eating during a six-hour window. “Studies in animals are being done to see if females might benefit from slightly shorter fasting durations than males,” Peterson says.