Is fasting different for women than it is for men? Yes!
Why you might ask? Well because of one special factor: we are not men. We go trough monthly cycles where our hormones go up and down in different stages of our cycle. In this post I will explain the basics of our menstrual cycle and how you can fast accordingly. Yes, we get our periods, but this gives us a lot of data that we can use to our advantage.
Female bodies are amazing. Did you know we actually grow a new (temporary) organ every month?
Having a healthy regular period, that is ‘enjoyable’ is a sign of good health. When our hormones are balanced out, and our body is in balance, we are healthy and we can get to a healthy sustainable weight with a lot more ease.
When there’s imbalance and our hormones are trough the roof, we experience discomfort such as moodiness, heavy bleeding, heavy menstrual cramps, dark spotting, not having a period at all, migraines and so on.
Fasting according to your menstrual cycle can help you go trough fasts more easily and help you balance out those hormones I will explain later in this post.
The benefits of intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting holds many benefits. Such as:
- Cellular repair
- Reducing inflammation
- Increased energy
- Increased fat burning
- Weight loss
- Hormone balance
- Lower insulin levels
- Better regulation in blood sugar
- Better cognitive function
- Increase in growth hormone
Intermittent fasting is not the same as calorie restriction. You still eat a decent amount of calories to not starve yourself. During the times of eating you will need to eat a full healthy meal to nourish your body with sufficient nutrients and calories.
Depending on how long you’re fasting, different processes happen in your body during the times you are not eating. Here’s a little breakdown of what happens per every few hours:
– The food you have eaten from your last meal is now digested.
– Your body is now in a fasted state and at the edge of burning fat.
– Human Growth hormone (HGH) increases.
– Glucagon is released by the liver to stabilise blood sugar levels.
– Your body is now using stored fat for energy.
– Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is increasing even more.
– Autophagy (= the recycling of old proteins and cells in your body) begins.
– Autophagy increases even more.
– Inflammation in the body begins to decrease
The menstrual cycle and hormones
Every month our amazing female body goes trough a cycle of 25-31 days where hormones are secreted to manage different processes in our amazing productive organ. In this cycle there is the menstruation (menses, period, being on the red flag, the red badge of courage or whatever you name it), the follicular phase, ovulation and the luteal phase. In this monthly cycle we go from releasing an egg to preparing the uterus to make a nice cozy home in case that egg get fertilised, to cleaning out the home, when there is no one who wants to rent it out for 9 months. (as in not having an egg that got fertilised by sperm, and the uterine wall starts to shed. Just to be clear.)
There are 4 main female sex hormones at play in this monthly process:
1. Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH)
2. Luteinizing hormone (LH)
3. Estrogen/ estrodiol (E2)
4. Progesterone (PG)
The incredible monthly process our female body goes trough
Every cycle starts with your menstruation that is usually between 3-7 days. During this time, all hormone levels are kind of at a low. During this time the uterine wall is shedding, because the egg released during ovulation was not fertilised and so the house needs to be cleaned to make room for a new possible renter.
Right after your period, around day 5-7, when the house is clean, the ovaries start to prepare a follicle to release an egg, because of follicle stimulating hormone, produced by the brain.
One follicle starts to produce estrogen the larger is grows. When estrogen rises, it signals the brain to increase luteinizing hormone. This causes the egg from the follicle to be released (this is called ovulation). The follicle then turns into a corpus luteum (this is the new organ I was talking about earlier) and begins to produce progesterone and estrogen.
When the released egg is fertilised by sperm, the corpus luteum then supports early pregnancy. When there is no fertilisation, around day 21, the corpus luteum starts to break down, and prepares to make its exit trough menstruation. Which brings us back to the beginning of the cycle.
Why fast around your menstrual cycle?
Ever noticed that when you want to fast right before your period you get these craving and it’s harder to stick to fasting? That’s actually your body telling you that’s it’s not the time to fast. Because right before your period the hormone progesterone rises.
Progesterone helps prepare the uterus for the implantation of a fertilised egg.
Progesterone also helps with good sleep, helps balance out estrogen, aids in mood, normalizes blood clotting, supports thyroid function, regulates blood sugar and protects us from endometrial cancer and breast cancer.
Fasting puts a stress on our body, and doing prolonged fasts right before your menstruation may decrease the production of progesterone.
Low progesterone can result in:
- Headaches or migraines
- Mood changes
- Irregularity in menstrual cycle
- Abnormal uterine bleeding
- Irregular or absent period
When progesterone is low, estrogen becomes more dominant. Which is called ‘estrogen dominance’.
Estrogen dominance also comes with its set of complications such as:
- PMS (Post Menstrual Symptoms)
- Weight gain
- Abnormal menstruation
- Reduced sexdrive
- Breast tenderness
- Mood swings
So knowing this we can arrange our fasting times around our menstrual cycle to get the best benefits.
How to fast around your cycle
The first thing you’ll need to do to start fasting around your cycle, is knowing where you are in your cycle. The easiest way to keep track is by using an app that helps you keep track. Many apps also come with extra information you can add on how you feel, if you are spotting, how you sleep, when you have sex and what contraceptives you use. But a basic free app that tracks your cycle and lets you know where you are in your cycle will do fine too. I personally like Clue.
On day 1-7 (during menstruation)
When you have your menstruation you are free to do any type of fasting you like such as prolonged fasts of 24-48 hours or 18 hour fasts and 16 hour fasts. Your fasting will not have a negative effect on your hormones. Depending on how you feel on your menstrual cycle you can do these fasts. If you are heavily bleeding and are already feeling miserable, please don’t suffer more by adding in a fast. Listen to your body. Having heavy hard periods might be a sign that there is already an imbalance in your hormones and that needs to be addressed first.
On day 7 – 21 (or right after menstruation until 5 days prior to your menstruation)
On these days, regular fasts like an 18 hour, 16 hour or 12 hour fast are perfect at this time. Not doing any prolonged fasts at this time will not put your body under stress and help balance out your hormones.
On day 21 -28 (or 5 days prior to your menstruation)
It’s time for progesterone to rise, and to take it slow. On these days you can have your breakfast, lunch and dinner, or even enjoy and extra carb (from whole foods of course and no grains). This is a time for you to relax, reflect and be kind to yourself.
Knowing where you are in your cycle and adjusting your fasts to your body will greatly benefit you, and I hope this post gave you some clarity on how to do so.