Women and Fasting
It’s no surprise how passionate I am when it comes to the subjects of prolonged fasting, intermittent fasting, and ketosis… but something that has been coming up a lot lately is the topic of women and fasting, particularly that it is not healthy for women. Now there are not a lot of studies out there diving deep into this subject, but I can tell you from my clinical experience working with thousands of people, and training physicians, that women can absolutely incorporate fasting and ketosis into their lives successfully. I am here today to explore this subject of women and fasting, and explain how women (yes, even with thyroid and adrenal issues!) can reap the incredible benefits of fasting.
Women and Fasting: What is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting (IF) is eating in a restricted time window within the 24 hours of a day. Whether it be 8, 6, 4 hours, or even a single meal for the day- IF is the act of consciously eating within that limited time window. This extended time without food supports the body in becoming “fat adapted,” whereby it uses fat (ketones) for fuel, instead of the conventional sugar (glucose) provided when we’re eating around the clock.
Women and Fasting: What is Ketosis?
Ketosis is a metabolic process that happens when you consume a very low amount of carbohydrates per day, forcing the body to use fat for fuel. It goes very well with an IF lifestyle, because the body’s blood sugar levels become very stable, and the body gets really good at burning fat.
Ketones levels are measured very simply using a small finger-pricking device called Keto-Mojo and nutritional ketosis is getting a reading of over 0.5mM.
Women and Fasting: Why Not?
The chatter suggesting fasting is bad for women revolves around a few key points, predominantly that women’s bodies (particularly hormones) are not made for fasting in general, and also that women’s modern-day hormonal problems (like adrenal depletion and thyroid issues) are exacerbated by the stress of fasting.
When we look back at our ancestor’s patterns, it is pretty obvious that feast-famine cycles did not only apply to men; all people naturally partook in the cyclical nature of eating a lot and then going extended periods of times without food.
In terms of modern-day hormonal problems, this subject is very real; women’s hormonal systems are under a lot of pressure, and I see so many women with thyroid (especially hypothyroid) and adrenal issues, and they do generally have a harder time becoming fat adapted. In fact, my wife Merily was one of those people: it took her three months on a ketogenic diet to start generating those 0.5mM level of ketones. Although there is an adaptation period for all people, it regularly only takes a couple of weeks.
Despite the struggle to get there, simply avoiding the world of ketosis and fasting all together because of preexisting adrenal and hormone issues is truly not the answer. There are ways to tailor these mechanisms (for both men, and women) to cater to the individual needs of the person, which will not only be a gentler process on the body but will also maximize results in the long run. This tailoring for women and fasting is what I call diet variation, or “feast/ famine” cycles.
Women and Fasting: Diet Variation
What is diet variation?
Diet variation is, varying the diet using a low carb (ketogenic) diet, and incorporating at least one feast day, and at least one famine day, per week. A feast day can be an increase of carbs, or of protein, or even just a general increase in calories. A famine day is one meal or a day of total fasting. There are different versions of diet variation, which you can tailor to your individual needs and also change over time as your body adapts and gets more metabolically flexible.
Why Diet Variation Works
Using diet variation forces the body to adapt and ultimately optimize in ways that simply do not happen with a single, prolonged (keto or otherwise) diet alone. When we vary our diet, the hormonal shifts for adaptation re-establish and trigger the body’s ability to burn fat for energy (which means a fat loss), but also prevents us from burning out. This burnout is particularly prevalent with those suffering from underlying hormonal and adrenal issues, which most of the time are women. Incorporating feast days reminds the body that it is not starving so that it can tap into those fat stores without fearing that the famine cycle is going to continue on indefinitely.
Each time my clients move in and out of ketosis, the easier it becomes. The body adapts very quickly and becomes more and more metabolically flexible. After going back and forth between ketogenic and non-ketogenic states, it now takes Merily a matter of days (not months) to enter ketosis. That is metabolic flexibility.
By forcing an adaptation, we’re getting a hormone optimization.
Women and Fasting: Types of Diet Variation
Typical diet variations are the 5-1-1: five ketogenic days, one famine day (either a single meal or total fasting), and one feast day; and the 4-2-1: four ketogenic days, two famine days, and one feast day. For someone working with adrenal or thyroid issues, two to three feast days per week is usually a good place to start, including one famine day, and the rest ketogenic days.
Women and Fasting: Listen to Your Body
Women are by nature, incredibly cyclical beings. Following your menstrual cycle alone is a great way to use diet variation to support the needs of your body as it transitions through the month. In my experience, it’s generally the week leading up to menstruation that the body craves more carbohydrates: so listen! The body actually requires more insulin to make hormone conversions, so this is the right time to provide your body with higher carbohydrate foods. Incorporate these re-feeds at a time when your body is intuitively calling for it.
Women and Fasting: Eat Real Food
It’s important to note that when I speak of re-feeds, feasting, or carbohydrates- this does not mean junk food. Rotating between a ketogenic diet and more of my standard Cellular Healing Diet are always rooted in real, whole, nutritious foods. These higher carb days are feeding your mitochondria and boosting stem cell production among other things, and the importance of always feeding your body with real nourishment cannot be understated.
Diet Variation is for Everyone!
This diet variation is not only for women, in fact, but it also helps all people get better results! Not only are people losing more fat, getting more energy, clearer minds, and healthier bodies…but they are finding diet variation more conducive to leading a happy and balanced life.
Learn More About Women and Fasting:
Listen to my Health Hunters Radio Episode for more information on Women and Fasting Here: Health Hunters Radio Episode 43
This is hugely helpful information! Thank you for clarifying the confusion that has been making the rounds.
I am exploring the ketosis diet. I am finding out that drinking collagen tea 3 times per day helps me to not feel hungry. I am also drinking 2 to 3 quarts of water per day. I had to take a food allergy test and found out that I have an allergy to all milks. I have taken all dairy out of my diet and I can breath better and I feel better too. Thank you for this information.
Hi! I was just wondering whether diet variation (eg 5-1-1) can be followed when breast feeding? Also, have been wanting to do your TCD program but have been preganant or breastfeeding for the last 18 months so I haven’t.. is it actually safe to do TCD while breastfeeding?
Thanks so much
No, definitely not recommended to do 5-1-1 OR the TCD while breastfeeding.
For those of us that do not want to do a keto diet, but are interested in IF and suffer from adrenal and thryoid issues (hypo in my cas). What would you recommend?
Just focus on eating a diet high in fats, vegetables, and healthy proteins and try for no longer than 12-16 hours IF in the beginning. With your adrenals in the shape they’re in, it’s best to not fast longer than that. And please don’t do it everyday. Try for 1-2x a week until your adrenals are healed.
Ashley, in the above article Dr. Pompa seems to encourage one 24 hour fast a week even for women with thyroid/adrenal problems (along with 2-3 feasting days) but you just said that those with adrenal problems shouldn’t fast more than 16 hours until the adrenals are healed. Could you clarify? I’m a little confused. Thank you!
Yes, no longer than 16 hours on your intermittent fasting, keto days… but 1 24 hour fast per week is fine, as long as you have 2-3 feasting/ higher carb days!! I hope this helps.
When I try to fast I feel very weak and I shake so much that I couldn’t hold a pen. Is that normal for begginers in IF? I have hypothyroidism.
It can be a normal symptom, but without knowing your health history I can’t say what’s causing that for sure.
Be sure to use 2 teaspoons of high quality sea salt per day, in your water, to ensure a proper electrolyte balance. I also recommend taking BIND or the FASTING TRIO to help you during your fast. These are the only supplements Dr. Pompa recommends for fasting.
My concern is that I have a small frame body and really do not need or want to lose any weight.
Please advise. Thank you
Be sure to eat plenty of calories in the form of fat before and after your fast. Any weight you lose will come right back as long as you’re eating enough.
Very informative and interesting. Do you have a book with diet variations we could follow? My husband and I travel very frequently and live in different countries during the year. What I find in one country, I do not at the other, so it will be very helpful to find different diets.
I will say we do not eat food other than occasionally , and I prepare all what we eat at home.
Do you have the Cellular Healing Diet book? Highly recommend it! Go to Dr. Pompa’s home page to download.
Have you heard of hormonal issues preventing someone from losing weight while doing IF? Adrenal and thyroid issues run in my family, but my levels test “normal” by conventional standards. I’ve done 16-hour IF and low carb for 2 years (I have the ketomojo, have tested from time to time, and usually would be at .7 before my first meal of the day) and haven’t lost any weight. My husband and I are trying to get pregnant, so I’ve stopped fasting for so long. I try to maintain a 12 hour window from my last meal to breakfast, now, but no more.
It’s possible your hormones are in a state where you need to address your imbalances before focusing on weight. The conventional testing may not be finding the answers you need. I recommend working with a functional doctor, naturopath, or chiropractor who will run the proper labs and give you a better assessment of your hormones.
Can I still work out on fasting days? If so, what kind of workouts should I be doing. I normally do strength training most days and HIIT about once per week.
Yes, but we don’t recommend strenuous workouts until day 4. Until then we recommend lots of rest, walking, maybe light yoga, stretching, etc.
Ashley, day 4 of what? The diet variation? Meaning day 4 of ketosis, before the feast and famine days? Thanks
4 days of intermitent Fasting/ keto + 1 24-hr fast + 1 feast day.
What does your above example look like: 4 days of IF, 24 hr fast + 1 feast day? Does this fit that—
Sunday -IF keto (eat from 2-7)
Thur- don’t eat until 7pm- just one meal
Fri-eat any time all day(feast)
Please advise because I want to do it the right way! I’ve done IF for a long time (on and off) and just finished a 5 day water fast. Thanks!
Saturday can be another 24 hour fast if you like!