Intermittent fasting has become quite the buzzword in the diet and nutrition world over the past few years. However, it’s still not quite mainstream. What is it and is for me? I mean, who in their right mind thinks it’s a good idea to practice starving themselves? Doesn’t this sound a little extreme? I was there with you, until recently.
In this post, we will explore some intermittent fasting benefits specifically for older women, shed some light on managing hormonal changes, delve into the potential health benefits, and provide practical tips to help you incorporate intermittent fasting into your lifestyle without creating more stress in your life.
Menopause brings new challenges
As I approached my perimenopausal years, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Let’s be honest, does anyone ever prepare you for ‘the next phase’ in our lives very well? All I knew to expect was hot flashes and irritability. Those are really the only symptoms that I recall seeing in other women ‘of a certain age’ in my own life. I also thought that most women ended up getting a hysterectomy and taking hormone replacement therapy drugs. Neither of those sounded appealing, so I have tried to avoid some of the things that seem to make menopause symptoms worse and feel like I’ve been able to keep many of them at bay. That is, until I was fully through menopause and the weight started to creep up and STAY up.
Of course, menopause was not the beginning of my weight struggles, but it has definitely made it more difficult. Over the years, I have had a growing interest in nutrition and fully believe Hippocrates’ instruction to “Let food by that medicine and medicine be thy food.” I trust that what we eat and how we eat it has more to do with our health than our genetics. This has led me to experiment with lots of different approaches to food and diets. I’ve tried veganism, keto, carnivore, paleo, Whole30 and more. I’ve seen some benefits on most of them but nothing has seemed to be the full package. So, I kept searching and researching. One particular way of eating has sprung up multiple times but just seemed to be so ‘out there’ for me. I am now beginning to see that not only does WHAT and HOW we eat affect our health, but also WHEN we eat impacts how our body uses that food.
What is Intermittent Fasting?
In recent years, intermittent fasting has gained quite the popularity as a powerful tool for improving health, managing weight, and promoting overall well-being. This eating pattern, which involves a routine of alternating fasting periods with eating windows, has shown promising results for adults of all ages, but especially for women in their 50’s.
Before diving into the benefits of intermittent fasting for post-menopausal women, let’s take a closer look at what intermittent fasting is and how it works. Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. It does not focus on eliminating specific food groups or calorie restriction. Instead we are focusing on when you eat. It is often used in conjunction with other eating styles (like the ketogenic diet or carnivore diet), but this is not necessary to see results. For the sake of simplicity, here were are only looking at intermittent fasting and not asking you to tackle changing your entire way of eating. For most of us, we will get the best results by making small changes that we can live with. You may choose to take additional changes later, but let’s stick to time right now.
During those periods that our bodies are in the fasting state, it shifts to burning our fat stores rather than the calories that we would have been consuming if we weren’t fasting. Fasting also keeps our insulin levels low which also promotes better weight loss. Additionally, giving our bodies a break from working on digesting food allows for our cells to focus on the healing they need for several hours of the day.
There are several intermittent fasting schedules to choose as a guide. You’ll hear people talk about being 16:8 or 18:6 or OMAD or…you get my drift? Here’s basically what that means: With intermittent fasting, we are choosing to fast or restrict our food intake for a set period of time. Usually that period includes the time that we are asleep. It makes it very easy to stay away from food when you are sleeping, so that part is a no brainer. If you are going to bed at 10:00 pm and waking at 7:00 am, you automatically have a nine hour window. Then, you can add hours on either end of that period. Let’s say you finish dinner at 6:00pm. You’ve added four hours to that nine hour window. Then if you wait until 10:00am to have breakfast, then you have another three hours added. You now have a 16 hour fasting window. That means that you have 8 hours in which to consume your meals. This is what is meant when someone says they do a 16:8 method. By the way, 16:8 is the most popular method of intermittent fasting chosen. It is easy and doesn’t require too many tweaks or changes. The 16/8 method involves fasting for 16 hours and restricting your eating window to 8 hours. Alternate-day fasting involves alternating between fasting days and non-fasting days, while the 5:2 method allows for normal eating for five days of the week and restricts calorie intake on two non-consecutive fasting days.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting for Women in Their 50s
Intermittent fasting can offer a range of benefits specifically tailored to women in their 50s. Let’s explore some of the key advantages:
Hormonal Balance and Managing Menopause
One of the significant challenges women face in their 50s is hormonal changes associated with menopause. Intermittent fasting may help manage symptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings, and weight gain by promoting hormonal balance. I have personally seen a huge drop in the occurrence and intensity of hot flashes.
Weight Management and Metabolic Health
Maintaining a healthy body weight becomes more challenging as we age. Intermittent fasting can aid weight management by reducing calorie intake naturally as the result of eating for a smaller number of hours, promoting fat loss, and preserving lean muscle mass. It also improves metabolic health by reducing insulin resistance, blood sugar control, and reducing the risk of metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes. This is another one of those medical conditions that I was unaware postmenopausal women needed to watch. I tell ya, women’s health can be complicated!
Heart Health and Lowering Risk Factors
Heart disease becomes a significant concern for women in their 50s. Intermittent fasting has shown potential benefits in improving heart health by reducing blood pressure, LDL cholesterol levels, and inflammatory markers. It may also help manage other risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease.
Cognitive Function and Brain Health
Intermittent fasting has demonstrated promising effects on cognitive function and brain health. It may enhance focus, mental clarity, and memory retention. Additionally, it shows potential in protecting against neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Within the first month of intermittent fasting, I had noticeable periods of time where I felt my brain was firing on all cylinders. A welcome relief from the brain fog so many of us complain about.
Bone Health and Aging Process
Maintaining strong and healthy bones is crucial for women in their 50s. Intermittent fasting, when combined with a nutrient-dense diet, may promote bone health and help reduce the risk of osteoporosis. It seems that a good intermittent fating program may do as much good as calcium supplements in keeping our bones strong.
Longevity and Aging Gracefully
Intermittent fasting has been linked to potential anti-aging effects, promoting cellular repair, and extending lifespan. By reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, it may slow down the aging process and contribute to overall longevity. Not only can reducing inflammation change our body composition, it may also help reduce facial wrinkles. Sign me UP! I will take a healthy diet and intermittent fasting program over botox injections any day.
Managing Hormonal Changes During Intermittent Fasting
As women age, they experience significant hormonal changes, particularly during menopause. Intermittent fasting can play a supportive role in managing these hormonal changes. Here are some tips to consider:
Listening to your body
Pay attention to your body’s signals and adjust your fasting schedule accordingly. Some women may find it beneficial to shorten their fasting window or opt for less restrictive fasting methods during certain phases of their menstrual cycle or when experiencing menopausal symptoms.
Focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods during your eating window to support hormonal balance. Include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats in your meals. Prioritize foods rich in phytoestrogens, such as flaxseeds, and legumes, which may help alleviate menopausal symptoms.
Stay well-hydrated during both fasting and eating periods. Drinking enough water can help alleviate symptoms like hot flashes and support overall health.
Consultation with Healthcare Provider
If you have any underlying health conditions or concerns, it’s crucial to consult with your healthcare provider before starting intermittent fasting. They can provide personalized advice and guidance based on your specific needs.
Incorporating Intermittent Fasting into Your Lifestyle
To successfully incorporate intermittent fasting into your lifestyle as a woman in her 50s, consider the following tips:
Begin with a shorter fasting period, such as 12-14 hours, and gradually increase the fasting window as your body adjusts. This approach allows for a smoother transition and reduces the likelihood of experiencing adverse effects.
Timing of Fasting Window
Experiment with different fasting windows to find what works best for your schedule and lifestyle. Some women may prefer an earlier eating window, while others may find it more convenient to extend their fasting period until later in the day.
Ensure you’re consuming a balanced and nutrient-rich diet during your eating window. Include a variety of whole foods, lean proteins, healthy fats, and fiber-rich carbohydrates to meet your nutritional needs.
Engage in regular physical activity to complement your intermittent fasting routine. Incorporate both cardiovascular exercise and strength training to support weight management, muscle maintenance, and overall fitness.
Listen to Your Body
Pay attention to your body’s signals and adjust your fasting schedule as needed. If you experience any adverse effects or feel unwell, consider modifying your fasting approach or seeking guidance from a healthcare professional.
The bottom line
Intermittent fasting holds tremendous potential for women in their 50s, offering a range of health benefits and helping manage hormonal changes associated with menopause. By adopting an intermittent fasting approach, you can support healthy weight management, enhance metabolic health, improve heart health, and promote overall well-being. However, it’s crucial to approach intermittent fasting with consideration for your unique needs and consult with a healthcare professional before making significant dietary changes. With proper planning, patience, and mindful eating, intermittent fasting can become a valuable tool in your journey towards optimal health and longevity.
Please note that while intermittent fasting can be beneficial for many women in their 50s, individual experiences may vary. It’s important to listen to your body, prioritize your overall well-being, and consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice based on your specific health condition and goals.
Disclaimer: I am not a healthcare professional and this article is should not be considered as medical advice. It is only the information that I have found helpful and in my own journey. Your experience and your needs may be different, so always consult your doctor before considering lifestyle changes that may interfere with other medical conditions you might be facing.