Weight Loss Myths and Scams

Weight Loss Myths and Scams

*Rant warning*

I feel like I’ve been bombarded lately with questions about fad diets.  They’ve always been around, but they just don’t seem to go away.

It just seems shiny and new to try a “new” diet instead of sticking to the fundamental principles of a healthy one.

I’ve been noticing this more and more, with the incredible popularity of “keto” which is pretty much paleo circa 2012, and with new books sent to me for my feedback like The Sirtfood Diet (Find it here).  

I was able to read and review The Sirtfood Diet, a plan that claims to help you lose 7 pounds in 7 days, all with the power of what they call “Sirtfoods” which are essentially antioxidants, polyphenols, and other health supportive compounds.

What are the kinds of foods the Sirtfood diet wants you to eat?  Things like buckwheat, soy, strawberries, turmeric, red onions, kale, dates, garlic, and olive oil, among others.  Besides buckwheat (for some) and soy, I had a hard time figuring out how these foods were so lacking in typical healthy diets like the authors claim.

Most people who promote a paleo diet include ample amounts of these, and sometimes the dark chocolate and red wine pictured on the cover, as well-rounded parts of the diet.

Reservetrol, a healthful component the diet authors claim is often missing is available in fabulous multi-vitamin supplements like this one and in many foods like blueberries and cranberries, besides red wine.  

Polyphenols are also common across the range of plant based foods and are even available as powders to mix with smoothies (like this one). Most paleo authors value and promote the inclusion of lots of plant based foods in the diet.

Here’s the truth as I see it.  The reason you might lose 7 pounds in 7 days is because the first three days consist of 1000 calories of mostly green juice.  This is a common trend among fad diet plans- starve you during the first week while you’re motivated (while also telling you that you aren’t starving but are instead “detoxing” which is why you feel like you’re starving) and then working calories up to more maintainable levels so you continue to lose weight but think you are eating much more.  

You’re losing water that first week.  A little fat is lost too, but its almost scientifically impossible to lose 7 pounds of pure body fat in one week for the average person.  It requires a caloric deficit that not even 1000 calories a day can meet.

I have no issues with a diet that supports the inclusion of healthy ancient foods.  My mind has changed over the years with regard to gluten-free grains and other dietary components, so long as they are healthy FOR YOU.  

The key to lifelong weight loss is learning how to heed your internal cues.  Learning your body, understanding its needs, and feeding it nutrient dense food.  There doesn’t need to be a special superfood protocol.  There just needs to be balance.  

I’m never going to say its ok to eat mostly bacon and butter.  They’re nice as inclusions, but they don’t have the nutrient density that vegetables do.

I’m never going to be cool with women fasting.  Thankfully the Sirtfood diet and I agree on that one (though I still think 1000 calories a day for a woman is pushing it, even for 3 days).  If the choice is between you eating or not eating, I’m always going to say, eat.

But eat what makes your body feel good.  I know what that looks like for most people- vegetables, fruit, meat, fat.  Eat those things, in balance with the other things. with a focus on quality.  That’s all you really need.  And that’s what Weight Loss Unlocked is all about.  

If weight loss has become a struggle following that paradigm, then you should look into seeing a professional.  A good functional nutritionist in your area can help you get to the bottom of what is going on and provide a structured plan that will help you reach your goals, along with the accountability and monitoring to help you truly maintain that weight loss.

Please, oh please, don’t just go looking for another crash diet.  In the end, you’ll lose much more than some money and a few pounds.  

One Genious Way to Eat More Vegetables

One Genious Way to Eat More Vegetables

Vegetables are, quite literally, life.

Without enough of the vital nutrients and vitamins in these incredibly important plants, survival for humans in the modern world is very hard.  Thriving is even harder.

Yet the vast majority of the those in the developed world, and especially the United States, continue to eat less than the recommended daily amount. 

Not only that, but over the centuries, the varieties of fruits and vegetables we eat in the United States have become sanitized, reduced, and sometimes genetically modified.  

We grow far fewer varieties of vegetables and fruits than ever before in our history, and the fruits and veggies we have access to are often limited compared to other countries.

Additionally, the vegetables and fruits we eat are limited by our taste buds.

Americans tend to have a set variety of vegetables they like to eat and many don’t like or know how to try new things. But this limits us so much!

Smoothies are great and juicing has its benefits.  But what if there was a way to get highly concentrated vegetables in everything you eat- from salads to smoothies to baked goods?

What if we could eat our recommended 5 servings of veggies and fruit a day AND add additional veggies without having to actually force another whole vegetable down our throats?

And what if we could supplement our diets to have an incredible variety not possible in typical American diets, even healthy ones?

Enter Dr. Cowan’s Vegetable Powders.

These isn’t your typical green powder supplement.

Dr. Cowan carefully formulates several distinct, organic powders to help provide those concerned with eating a healthy diet highly nutritious, interesting, and delicious flavors.  

The powders are formulated not just for maximum nutrients but for taste and can be added to cooked foods and baked goods as well.  

I had the chance this week to sample several of the powders.  I was lucky enough to sample the Leek, winter vegetable, Burdock roots, and savory threefold blend.

In addition to having AMAZING flavor leeks are a rich source of many of the B vitamins, have more polyphenols (chemicals that are thought to prevent human disease) than most other commonly eaten garden vegetables, and are loaded with vitamin K.

Burdock root has many health properties like prevention of acne, reduction of allergies, and can even help with eczema!   The savory threefold blend was really cool!  Most people use only the roots of a certain vegetable or only the leaves.  

The threefold powder uses the whole plant because its recognized that the different parts of the plant have different health properties, and this way we get them all!  

All of the powders were delicious and unique and actually added flavor to my food.

I added them to my breakfast smoothies and even once put them in some gluten free brownies.  Whaaaat.

Dr. Cowan was so nice to share with me, I’m excited that we’re able to share these with you too!

Just use this link and place an order and receive 20% off your first purchase with the code PALEOFORWOMEN.  

20% is a HUGE discount off these organic, nutritional powerhouses.

So if you want to get more nutrition in a smaller package, check out everything they’ve got to offer and don’t forget to use your code ‘PALEOFORWOMEN’ for 20% off.

Find Dr. Cowan’s vegetable powders here!

How to Save Big on Paleo Food

How to Save Big on Paleo Food

It’s been a while since Thrive Market started and they’re still going strong.

In fact, the last couple years has been a time of awesome growth in the world of health foods and they now offer so much more than they could at first!

With paleo becoming more and more popular, tons of great, healthy and fantastic easy-to-eat food items have popped up on the scene. And I’ve always found Thrive to be the best place to buy them!

You see,Thrive is a membership based site, so they function like a warehouse store where you pay a yearly fee and you are able to benefit from the great prices all year round. Shipping is also very inexpensive.

What I love most about Thrive are the prices.  Buying this stuff in person or even Amazon (as much as I love it!) will cost you an arm and a leg sometimes.  

But with Thrive, that membership fee and gives you access to incredible deals on everything from protein powder to mayonnaise.

If you consume a fair amount of paleo products on a yearly basis, the membership will more than pay for itself and you will end up saving in the end.

I discovered Thrive while searching for a way to get some of the snacks and foods I live off of like Primal Mayo, Tanka Bars, and wild honey. Thrive has all of these products and many, many more for prices lower than you’ll ever seen them.

It’s seriously an AWESOME place to shop because they carry all the non-perishables you could possibly want- from oils and condiments, to snacks and bars and the prices are AMAZING.

If you haven’t tried some of these easy paleo foods and products, you are missing out!  They have made my life so much more convenient and helped me to be able to do more of the things I love, which have nothing to do with eating!

Thrive is currently offering a free trial period on their membership, so if you sign up now, you can buy lots of yummy things and try it out to see how it works for you before paying a membership price!

Check it out here!

Have you tried Thrive?  What did you think?  What are your favorite snacks to buy?

3 Reasons to Try Apple Cider Vinegar

3 Reasons to Try Apple Cider Vinegar

If you’ve been around the health world for any length of time, you’ve probably heard about apple cider vinegar.

Once the darling of the pop-science community everywhere, it still has a strong and valuable allure for those following whole foods, paleo diets.

Apple cider vinegar may seem like a fad.  But hey, there’s a reason it’s so popular!

While it is certainly no cure-all and shouldn’t be used as, say, a spot remover on teeth (hello, enamel!), apple cider vinegar does contain important properties that can play a role in detoxification, weight loss, insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, and more!

Read on to find a few of my favorite reasons to drink it, how I like to drink it, and the best kind to get the most benefits.  

#1 ACV may improve insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance

Several small studies have tried the use of Apple Cider Vinegar for those with insulin-based conditions like type II diabetes and those who suffer from insulin resistance and pre-diabetes.

What they found is that vinegar (any kind, including apple cider vinegar) added to a starchy meal reduced the load of the starch on the bloodstream, preventing drastic insulin spikes often seen after this kind of meal.  

The ACV did not improve insulin response to protein or fat based meals, but instead was seen to be most effective in meals containing starch.

So if pre-diabetes is an issue for you, it might be worthwhile to try to incorporate some vinegars with starchy meals.  While it doesn’t have to be apple cider vinegar, the health properties of this vinegar compared to others make it a better choice. 

#2 Apple Cider Vinegar May Boost Weight Loss

Weight loss is not the main goal of most of my readers.  We are all about that body positivity and HEALTH, not someone else’s idea of what is attractive.

BUT, many of the women I work with are attempting to lose weight for health reasons and apple cider vinegar is a great way to add a small boost. Plus, ACV may help maintain healthy cholesterol levels.

The process of weight loss can be so frustrating, so anything that can boost results is awesome.  If you’re on that journey now, you might want to take a look at my delightfully helpful Weight Loss Unlocked program (find it here) along with the apple cider vinegar.  

#3 Beautiful Skin and Hair

Apple Cider Vinegar is a great blemish treatment and helps dry out excess acne.  Cut it with water first, and don’t use it raw or you could burn your skin.

I also like to use apple cider vinegar as a rinse on my hair.  It’s great for dandruff, helps slough off old skin, and has anti-fungal properties that make it great for places like the scalp that can develop issues quickly from scratching.

Many people find this an important part of a no-poo routine.  Vinegar won’t remove natural oils from the scalp (oil and vinegar don’t mix) but it will help keep the scalp clean and clear of debris and dead skin which can sometimes build up without clarifying shampoos.  

The Way to Drink It

ACV can be used in so many ways.  It makes a great dressing for salads along with olive oil, is a nice tangy way to brine meats and other dishes, and makes a tasty drink.

I like to pour a tablespoon of ACV into sparkling mineral water and add a squeeze of lemon.  For me it’s like a no-sugar lemonade! It’s got a strong vinegar taste, so cut down to a tsp. if its too much for you at first! 

Other women I know like to add a few drops of essential oils (like these), usually orange oil in a glass with apple cider vinegar and water and even salt the rim so it feels like a cocktail! 

Bragg, which sells the brand of apple cider vinegar I prefer, also has a recipe for a great ACV drink.  They take 8 oz. of water, add 1 to 2 tsps. of ACV and 1 to 2 tsps. of honey, maple syrup, or liquid stevia (find it here).  Sounds pretty good!

Bragg’s apple cider vinegar is one of the highest quality out there.  It’s raw, unfiltered, and unpasteurized, made from organic apples.  I highly recommend it.  Find Bragg’s apple cider vinegar here!

How do you like to use apple cider vinegar?  I’d love to hear your stories and recipes below!

Paleo Indian Spicy Grilled Fish

Paleo Indian Spicy Grilled Fish

I’m a huge fan of Indian food.  I love the spice and bold flavors, and so much of authentic Indian food is paleo friendly making it easy to fit into my weekly routine.

We’ve already shared this post for Chicken Tikka here

And check out our other recipe for Beef Buffad here. 

You guys REALLY LOVED the recipe for Raan as well (find it here).

This week we bring you another traditional favorite: Spicy Grilled Fish.  

It’s creamy, spicy, and totally fantastic.  

There’s something so wonderful about a delicious fish taking center stage on your table.

Side note: when cooking any of these recipes, you’ll need lots of spices.

That’s what Indian food is all about, right??

So you might want to invest in a nice spice rack, like this one, if you don’t have one already. 

For now, enjoy this yummy Chicken Tandoori recipe and look forward to more awesome recipes coming soon!

Paleo Indian Spicy Grilled Fish

Ingredients

  • 2 large plaice (or other whole fish)
  • 150 g coconut yoghurt (or greek yogurt if not dairy-free)
  • 2 cloves garlic (crushed)
  • 2 x 3 finger pinches coriander (find it here)
  • 3 finger pinch chili powder (find it here)
  • 2 x 3 finger pinches garam masala (find it here)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil (I like this one)
  • Salt (this is my fav)
  • Small sprinkle of freshly chopped parsley (garnish)
  • 1 lemon (quartered, garnish)

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Slash fish on both sides and place in separate baking trays.
  2. Mix all the remaining ingredients together and divide them into two equal portions. One for each fish.
  3. Spoon mixture all over fish and leave for an hour. After the hour, turn fish over and spoon the juice that has made its way to the bottom of the tray over the fish and leave for another hour.
  4. Cook on a pre-heated grill for 4 minutes. Turn and cook on other side for another 4 minutes.
  5. Garnish, serve and enjoy!

Alfie from www.paleodiet4beginners.com has been helping readers lose weight without

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What’s your favorite Indian dish?  What kinds of recipes would you like to see on Paleo for Women?

Shattering the Myth of Fasting for Women: A Review of Female-Specific Responses to Fasting in the Literature

Shattering the Myth of Fasting for Women: A Review of Female-Specific Responses to Fasting in the Literature

 

One of the more esoteric but much beloved tools in the paleo dieter’s tool-kit is intermittent fasting.

What is intermittent fasting? I.F. is the practice of maintaining overall caloric intake while consuming those calories in fewer meals or in reduced time windows throughout the day. The goal is to create conditions of fasting in the body, but not for extreme lengths of time.

Some examples of intermittent fast strategies include 10, 8, or 5 hour eating windows throughout the day, or perhaps eating just two meals each day: one in the morning, and one at night. The evolutionary premise — the argument that proponents of intermittent fasting make — is that humans evolved to optimize their health under less-than-optimal conditions. Intermittent fasting, they say, is a natural and perhaps even necessary part of being human. 

The modern-day scientific correlate appears promising, too:

Most people are nowadays aware that a calorie-restricted diet has the ability not just to decrease body weight but also to lengthen a human life.  Emerging research is beginning to show, however, that intermittent fasting is just as effective as calorie restriction in ensuring these health benefits! Amazingly enough, this happens without any of the psychological crippling side effects of cravings and food obsession that practictioners of calorie-restriction often experience.

Intermittent fasting, proponents say, also may benefit the fight against cancer, diabetes, and autoimmunity. Here is an excellent, up-to-date review of the “benefits” of fasting. It is wholly understandable that fasting is all the rage these days.

Sort of.

Intermittent fasting women is a specific interest of mine because of what I have witnessed both in myself and in working with literally thousands of women in the PfW community.

Many women report to me (read more about that in this awesome book) that intermittent fasting causes sleeplessness, anxiety, and irregular periods, among many other symptoms hormone imbalance, such as cystic acne.

Intermittent fasting women

I have also personally experienced metabolic distress as a result of fasting, which is evidenced by my interest in hypocretin neurons. Hypocretin neurons have the ability to incite energetic wakefulness, and to prevent a person from falling asleep, in reaction to the body detecting a “starved” state. Hypocretin neurons are one way in which intermittent fasting may dysregulate a woman’s normal hormonal function.

After my own bad experience with IF, I decided to investigate intermittent fasting. I looked into both a) the fasting literature that paleo fasting advocates refer to, and b) the literature that exists out in the metabolic and reproductive research archives.

Intermittent Fasting Women: Problems in the Paleosphere

What I found is that the research articles cited by Mark’s Daily Apple (and others),  focus on health benefits such as cancer-fighting properties, insulin sensitivity, and immune function.

However. I was struck by what seemed like an egregious sex-based oversight in that MDA post I linked to above.  MDA cites this article as a “great overview” of the health benefits of intermittent fasting. This startled me because the article MDA cited was for me one of the strongest proponents of sex-specific differences in response to fasting.

Sex differences were relevant in two striking areas:

1) women in studies covered by the review did not experience increased insulin sensitivity with IF regimes and

2) intermittent fasting women actually experienced a decrease in glucose tolerance. 

These two phenomena mean that women’s metabolisms suffered from IF. The men’s metabolisms on the other hand improved with IF across the board.  Recall that the review was reported by MDA as “a great overview of benefits [of IF].”

Secondly, in another fasting post at MDA, of which there are many, the health benefits of fasting are listed and reviewed, but the sex-specific aspects of the hormonal response go unmentioned, and reproduction/fertility/menstrual health isn’t mentioned at all.

This is not to say that Mark is not attentive to who should and who should not be fasting.  He knows very well and cautions people against the dangers of fasting while stressed. Still, the mere fact of being more sensitive to fasting simply by being a woman is, I would assert, pretty important for a woman who is contemplating or already practicing IF.

This goes nearly unmentioned in the blogosphere.

Intermittent Fasting Women: Problems in the Literature

Beyond reporting biases in the blogosphere, there remains an even greater problem of a significant testing bias in the fasting literature. Searching “men” + “intermittent fasting” in a Harvard article database yields 71 peer-reviewed articles. Searching “intermittent fasting women” yields 13, none of which are a) solely about women b) controlled studies or c) about more than body weight or cardiovascular benefits.

The animal studies are more equitable, but also a bit less applicable to human studies.

 It is well-known in both the research and the nutritional communities that caloric restriction is horrible for female reproductive health. This is not news. There is an infertility condition – called hypothalamic amenorrhea – that millions of women suffer from due to being overly restrictive. But what of fasting?

Intermittent Fasting Women: Should we Fast?

The few studies that exist point towards no.

It is not definitive, since the literature is so sparse, and it necessarily differs for women who are overweight versus normal weight (and who have different genetic makeups), but when it comes to hormones, women of reproductive age may do well to err on the side of caution with fasting.

What follows first is a brief review of what can be gleaned in sex-specific responses to fasting in animal studies. Afterwards I talk about what has been concluded by the few relevant human studies.

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Mice & Rats

First up is a study that demonstrates the hippocampal  changes of calorie restriction and intermittent fasting for both male and female rats.  In this study, they do alternate day fasting, which entails free eating on one day and a fast day on the next.

The study found that brain states while fasting were different for male and female rats.  For male rats the change in hippocampus size, hippocampal gene expression, and ambulatory behavior was the same no matter what kind of restricted diet they were on – but for female rats, the degree of change in brain chemistry and in behavior was directly proportional to degree of calorie intake, demonstrating the unique sensitivity of female rats to the starvation response.

” The organization of the females’ response to the energy restricted diets is suggestive of some underlying mechanism that may allow for an organized, pre-programmed, response to enhance survival in times of food scarcity. Comparatively, the males’ genetic response was less specific, suggesting that the males respond to a general stressor but they seem to lack the ability to discriminate between a high energy and low energy stressor.”

Moreover, “IF down-regulated many gene pathways in males including those involved in protein degradation and apoptosis, but up-regulated many gene pathways in females including those involved in cellular energy metabolism (glycolysis, gluconeogenesis, pentose phosphate pathway, electron transport and PGC1-α), cell cycle regulation and protein deacetylation.”  In this study, both male and female rats gained small amounts of weight on IF diets.

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For female rats, even in the most innocuous form of restriction–intermittent fasting–significant physiological changes take place.  Male rats do not experience as dramatic hippocampal and general brain chemistry change as female rats do, and their behaviors, specifically their cognition and their dirunal and nocturnal activity, do not change.  

Female rats, on the other hand, “masculinize.”  They stop ovulating and menstruating.  They become hyper-alert, have better memories, and are more energetic during the periods in which they are supposed to be sleep.  Theoretically, according to these researchers, this is an adaptive response to starvation.  The more the female rats need calories– or at least the more their bodies detect a “starvation” state– the more they develop traits that will help them find food.  They get smart, they get energetic, they get active, and they stop sleeping.

In a follow-up study conducted by the same researchers who explored the masculinzation of female rats, the researchers analyzed the gonadal transcription of male and female rats subjected to IF regimes.

This study found that male reproductivity up-regulates in response to metabolic stress. Female reproductivity down-regulates.  

Completely opposite to the female rats becoming infertile while fasting, male rats become more fertile. In the researchers’ own words: “our data show that at the level of gonadal gene responses, the male rats on the IF regime adapt to their environment in a manner that is expected to increase the probability of eventual fertilization of females that the males predict are likely to be sub-fertile due to their perception of a food deficient environment.”

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In the final relevant IF rat study I could find, researchers subjected rats to the same diets– to 20 and 40 percent Calorie-Restricted (CR) diets, as well as to alternate-day fasting diets, and monitored them over the long term for hormonal responses.  The results were striking.  Below is the abstract in full because it’s so powerful:

Females and males typically play different roles in survival of the species and would be expected to respond differently to food scarcity or excess. To elucidate the physiological basis of sex differences in responses to energy intake, we maintained groups of male and female rats for 6 months on diets with usual, reduced [20% and 40% caloric restriction (CR), and intermittent fasting (IF)], or elevated (high-fat/high-glucose) energy levels and measured multiple physiological variables related to reproduction, energy metabolism, and behavior.

In response to 40% CR, females became emaciated, ceased cycling, underwent endocrine masculinization, exhibited a heightened stress response, increased their spontaneous activity, improved their learning and memory, and maintained elevated levels of circulating brain-derived neurotrophic factor. In contrast, males on 40% CR maintained a higher body weight than the 40% CR females and did not change their activity levels as significantly as the 40% CR females. Additionally, there was no significant change in the cognitive ability of the males on the 40% CR diet.

Males and females exhibited similar responses of circulating lipids (cholesterols/triglycerides) and energy-regulating hormones (insulin, leptin, adiponectin, ghrelin) to energy restriction, with the changes being quantitatively greater in males. The high-fat/high-glucose diet had no significant effects on most variables measured but adversely affected the reproductive cycle in females. Heightened cognition and motor activity, combined with reproductive shutdown, in females may maximize the probability of their survival during periods of energy scarcity and may be an evolutionary basis for the vulnerability of women to anorexia nervosa.

They also found this:

The weight of the adrenal gland was similar in rats on all diets; however, when normalized to body weight CR and IF diets caused a relative increase in adrenal size, the magnitude of which was greater in females, compared with males. 

And this:

The testicular weight was unaffected by any of the diets. In contrast, both CR diets and the IF diet caused a decrease in the size of the ovaries.

And this, bearing in mind that “daytime” for nocturnal rats is “nighttime” for humans:

The daytime activity of females was doubled in response to IF, whereas the IF diet did not affect the activity level of males. Nighttime activity levels of males and females were unaffected by dietary energy restriction.

And this:

 Uterine activity was monitored daily with vaginal smear tests; cyclicity was scored as regular, irregular, or absent. The mild energy-restriction diets (20% CR and IF) significantly increased the proportion of animals displaying irregular cycling patterns, whereas the 40% CR animals displayed an almost complete loss of estrous cyclicity.

And this:

 In males, corticosterone levels were elevated only in response to the 40% CR diet, whereas in females corticosterone levels were significantly elevated in response to all three energy-restriction diets, suggesting a relative hyperactivation in females of the adrenal stress response to reduced energy availability.

For lipids, all the rats did well: “Collectively, these data suggest that atherogenic profiles of both males and females are improved by dietary energy restriction.”  Interestingly, too, as they pointed out in the abstract, human females also perform cognitively much “better” (memory and alertness) on CR and IF diets than on normal feeding schedules.

There are of course some caveats to this study: A) They are rats.  B) They are somewhat “metabolically morbid” rats, which may make them more susceptible to disease.  C) The rats were allowed to eat ad libitum on the IF days, but they simply did not meet their caloric requirements this way.  So while it is a somewhat natural form of IF, it is still calorically reduced, such that that must be taken into account when gasping in horror at the hormonal responses of IF-ing female rats.

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The Few Human Studies

I mentioned above that through the same review that MDA used as a “great overview” of IF benefits for all sexes, I found harmful metabolic effects for women subjected to alternate-day fasting regimes.

This is the study:

Heilbronn et al found that with IF, insulin sensitivity improved in men (21 participants) but not in women (20 participants): after three weeks of alternate day fasting, insulin response to a test meal was reduced in men. Women experienced no significant change. “It is interesting that this effect on insulin sensitivity occurred only in male subjects,” they report.

With respect to other health markers female health actually declined, specifically with respect to glucose tolerance:

“Another diabetes risk factor that has shown a sex-specific effect is glucose tolerance. After 3 weeks of ADF, women but not men had an increase in the area under the glucose curve. This unfavorable effect on glucose tolerance in women, accompanied by an apparent lack of an effect on insulin sensitivity, suggests that short-term ADF may be more beneficial in men than in women in reducing type 2 diabetes risk. ”  The opening line of their discussion reads: “Alternate day fasting may adversely affect glucose tolerance in nonobese women but not in nonobese men.”

In a follow up study,  Heibron et. al studied the effects of alternate-day fasting on cardiovascular risk.  When human subjects fasted on alternate days for another three week period, circulating concentrations of HDL cholesterol increased, whereas triacylglycerol concentrations decreased.  This is a good thing.  However, the shifts in lipid concentrations were shown to be sex specific: ie, only the women had an increase in HDL-cholesterol concentrations, and only the men had a decrease in triacylglycerol concentrations.

The most recent review of IF agrees with my conclusion: sex-specific differences in metabolism exist and need to be studied further.

This study of alternate day fasting included 12 women and 4 men.   In eight weeks, body weight decreased by about 10 pounds, and body fat percentage decreased from 45 to 42.  Blood pressure decreased, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and traicylglycerol decreased.  These people were significantly obese, which limits the results of this study to an obese population.  However, “perimenopausal women were excluded from the study, and postmenopausal women (absence of menses for >2 y) were required to maintain their current hormone replacement therapy regimen for the duration of the study.”  (Their words, my emphasis)

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The one, big study of intermittent fasting conducted on men and women looked at differences between isocaloric feeding schedules: 3 meals/day feeding versus 1 meal/day.

The study focused on body weight composition, blood pressure, and body temperature in subjects.  Subjects were fed isocalorically either one meal each day or three meals each day.  All subjects were between 40 and 50 years old (excluding women of reproductive age), and between BMIs of 18 and 25.  They ate, so far as I can tell, a healthy diet with 35 percent fat, PUFA < MUFA < SFA.   Only 15 of the original 69 completed the study (which goes to show just how fun everyone thought fasting was).  As for the results,

“Systolic and diastolic blood pressures were significantly lowered by ≈6% during the period when subjects were consuming 3 meals/d than when they were consuming 1 meal/d.  No significant differences in heart rate and body temperature were observed between the 2 diet regimens.    Hunger was enormously larger in the one meal/day than in the three meals/day group.  “The 1 meal/d diet was significantly higher for hunger (P = 0.003), desire to eat (P = 0.004), and prospective consumption (P = 0.006) than was the 3 meals/d diet. Feelings of fullness were significantly (P = 0.001) lower in the 1 meal/d than in the 3 meals/diet.”   Body weight dropped only four pounds after several months.  Cortisol dropped, but  Total, LDL, and HDL cholesterol were 11.7%, 16.8%, and 8.4% higher, respectively, in subjects consuming 1 meal/d than in those consuming 3 meals/d.

In sum: patients on the one meal/day regiment were unhappy, hungry, lost a little bit of weight, increased cholesterol.  This was a small sample, included somewhat menopausal women, and all people of normal body weight.

Intermittent Fasting Women: In Conclusion

All that being said, that’s it. That’s all that exists! Women don’t have much to go on.

There are a few rodent studies. They found that when alternate-day fasting,female rats and found significant negative hormonal changes occurring in the females.

There are even fewer human studies. Human studies on alternate day fasting have not been conducted on women of reproductive age at all, nor have any studies analyzed reproductive responses to fasting.  

Moreover, the few studies that have been conducted on non-obese women have demonstrated that their metabolic responses are not nearly as robust as those of men, and may in fact be antagonistic to their health.

This post has focused on sex-specific responses to fasting, specifically intermittent fasting women. Another important distinction to make is between different body weights. Overweight and obese patients appear to experience significant improvements with IF regimes, but normal weight patients do not show the same across-the-board benefits. For women this may be a particularly sensitive issue. Overweight women may experience metabolic benefits, whereas normal weight women do not. I suspect that that may roughly be the case, but who knows. Honestly, no one at this point.

The practical solution, then, I believe, is to look at options, to be honest about priorities, and to listen to one’s body with awareness and love.

Is fasting worth trying if a woman is overweight and trying to improve her metabolic markers, and so far hasn’t had much success?  Perhaps.  Should it be undertaken if a woman is of normal weight?   What if she is a light sleeper?  What if her periods begin to dysregulate?  Or stop?  What if she starts getting acne, getting a stronger appetite, or losing her appetite altogether?  These things happen, and I see them in women who fast and contact me time and time again.

We women (people!) should be honest with ourselves about our priorities, and act constantly with our mental and physical health foremost in our minds.  All women are different. But the literature is so sparse in this area that we cannot make any real statements or predictions about the effects of fasting, other than that we just don’t know, and that we should continue to emphasize the centrality of awareness, caution, and loving nourishment in moving forward.

intermittent fasting women

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IF is one realm in which the female body has unique characteristics and needs that demand attention. There are boatloads of others. If you’re interested in reading about the collective set of them and learning how to optimize female skin, weight loss, and hormone balance, for a few examples, you could do worse than my best-selling book, Sexy by Nature, here.

 

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And that’s a wrap! What do you think?