Intermittent fasting (or IF, for short) is a technical term for eating all of your meals in a more concentrated period of time, so you fast for a longer duration from the evening to the morning. With this method, you’re not making up for the food missed during the fasting window, meaning you not only eat in a shorter window of time, you also reduce your macro/caloric intake.
Then there’s something called time-restricted eating (or TRE, for short). With this fasting method, you’re consuming the same amount of food you normally would in a 24-hour window, but just compressed to a shorter period of time.
Odds are you’ve heard about it — intermittent fasting has gotten a LOT of ~buzzy~ hype recently — but is there actual science behind it?
Benefits of intermittent fasting during perimenopause & menopause
For weight loss
If you’re feeling like the extra pounds are adding on for no reason (I haven’t changed my eating or exercise habits! What’s happening?!), know that you’re not alone. Weight gain around the midsection is one of the most common menopausal symptom complaints we hear from women. The reason why excess or redistributed body fat around the midsection is so prevalent during this time? Part-hormonal changes (with progesterone and estrogen levels), part-stress, and part-age (which slows our metabolism and causes us to lose muscle mass). In other words, the perfect storm.
However…and here’s the good news…it’s not out of our control. Studies have shown that intermittent fasting may help with weight management. And insulin levels may have something to do with that.
Let’s back up for a second to understand why.
As we age, and particularly during the time of perimenopause, many women are at increased risk for becoming insulin resistant. This means it’s harder for our body’s cells to take in glucose (aka blood sugar) from the breakdown of carbs and protein with the same or even higher levels of insulin, a process that results in extra belly fat storage. This also causes you to feel tired and hungry. It’s a cascade of physiological events that gets stuck in repeat, indirectly leading to…you guessed it…weight gain. Having a time-restricted eating window has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity, thus breaking the cycle. Newly-released research has supported these findings with data showing that a three-month intermittent calorie-restricted diet can even lead to remission for those with Type 2 Diabetes.
For sleep quality
While weight loss is one of the more well-researched side effects of intermittent fasting, its relationship to sleep quality has been considered as well — with conflicting results to show for it.
Certain studies indicate that fasting periods can promote higher quality sleep in as little as one week. That said, not all the research has yielded the same conclusions. In this review of human trials on adults who are overweight or obese, researchers found that the effects of intermittent fasting on sleep latency and sleep efficiency are mixed, with one study showing worsening of these parameters, and others showing no effect from baseline.
While the jury’s out on intermittent fasting and sleep, there’s a whole lot related to meal time that we CAN do to get more — and better quality — zzzs. On the top of the list? Avoiding meals too close to bedtime, which will otherwise engage the digestive system to work on processing the meal during a time when we should be winding down in preparation for sleep onset. Also, remember that large meals lead to an insulin spike that then drops (and wakes us up) about five hours later. No, thank you.
What we eat can also impact our chances of having night sweats, which can mess with sleep big time. Get the full run-down in our hot flash symptom guide.
For mental health
Early research into whether and how intermittent fasting helps mental health has shown that it may aid in alleviating symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.
But “early” is the key word here. While encouraging, the research is preliminary and there’s not (yet!) sufficient data to make definitive claims.
How intermittent fasting works
In order to see results, a 16:8 schedule is recommended, which means 16 hours of consecutive fasting during a 24-hour period. Fasting hours include sleeping hours, so many find this to be a doable schedule (for example, eat between the hours of 12:00PM – 8:00PM, and fast overnight until noon the next day). During the fast, you can have things that don’t raise insulin at all, like water, coffee, tea and fat (for example, coffee with butter).
It can help to start with a 12:12 schedule, when you fast for 12 hours, and work your way up to 16:8. There are other IF regimens as well, like alternate day fasting and a 5:2 fast, where you limit intake to 500 calories or fewer every other day, or two days of the week. Regimens that involve fasting for more than 1 day per week should be done under the supervision of a physician or registered dietitian.
The bottom line
Intermittent fasting can be incredibly effective for some, but it doesn’t work for everyone.
Elektra’s founding physician, Dr. Anna Barbieri, MD, likes intermittent fasting (IF) for its numerous benefits — namely sugar control and weight loss — however, some see more benefits from it than others (yet another reason why diet isn’t one-size-fits-all). Also, intermittent fasting is not recommended for those with a history of eating disorders, a history of infertility, or those who are losing weight fast.
Intermittent fasting is just one tool in your weight loss “box”
“To lose weight, we almost always need to change something about our food intake, whether it’s what we eat, how much we eat, when we eat, how we eat, or all of the above,” explains Dr. Barbieri. “Nutrition and weight loss science is biologically complex, and we do not know how to precisely choose which lever to pull when — it depends on genetics, age, hormones, sleep, etc. Intermittent fasting should be thought of as a wellness tool, not the singular solution.”
Think of intermittent fasting as less like a “diet” per se, and more like an eating pattern
…which, when done correctly can lead to numerous health benefits, including shedding weight, reducing inflammation, supporting heart and brain health, etc. For weight management, intermittent fasting is probably the easiest intervention and is even more powerful when combined with what we eat (plant-heavy, no added sugars) and how we eat (portion control).