Intermittent Fasting for PCOS
There are so many different diets out there that claim to help with weight loss and disease prevention: low-fat, low-carb, ketogenic, paleo, whole 30, vegetarian, vegan, DASH, Mediterranean, MIND, etc.
In fact, because of all this nutrition noise, I often get people reaching out asking me to define what is best for them! Rightfully so, it can be very important to discuss with a Registered Dietitian, what plan is best for your individual biology.
In this post, as I am writing (with my glasses, a cup of tea and comfy yoga gear..) I want to talk about one of the latest trends: intermittent fasting. Especially if you have PCOS.
How to Intermittent Fast
Most of the diets that help achieve weight loss and hormone regulation work by reducing the number of calories consumed. Intermittent fasting (IF) does the same thing, but in a different way.
This way of eating significantly limits calories (requiring fasting) for certain durations of time (intermittently), while allowing little or no restrictions the rest of the time. Focuses more on the WHEN and not the WHAT.
Intermittent fasting essentially means skipping meals on a regular basis, sometimes daily, weekly, or monthly. Here are a few different approaches.
Having all of your meals during an 8 to 12 hour window each day, drinking only water the rest of the day.
Alternate day fasting
Eating normally one day but only a minimal amount of calories the next; alternating between “feast” days and “fast” days.
5:2 eating pattern
Consuming meals regularly for five days per week, then restricting to no more than 600 calories per day for the other two. This happens by eating very little and drinking only water on those two fasting days.
Caloric intake is restricted for several consecutive days and unrestricted on all other days. For example, fasting for five straight days per month.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Studies show that intermittent fasting can achieve weight loss, insulin and glucose regulation in women with PCOS. The success is similar to other diet approaches. IF has many benefits beyond what has already been mentioned. This includes better health outcomes including triglycerides, total cholesterol, blood pressure and inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein.
When it comes to weight loss, intermittently fasting seems to work just as well—not better—than other diets. Researchers think that eating this way decreases appetite for some people by slowing down the body’s metabolism.
With a smaller appetite, you simply eat less and that is going to help you lose weight. Other people who intermittently fast struggle with and are much more uncomfortable during the fasting days, and sometimes the hunger gets so real that it is easy to overeat at the next meal time.
Benefits of Intermittent Fasting for PCOS
Naturally, our bodies have survival mechanisms allowing us to adjust to periods of fasting. This has been necessary, as throughout history, humans have endured many periods where food was scarce.
When we don’t take in sufficient calories, our metabolism shifts from a carbohydrate-burning state to a fat-burning state. Some of the fat is used directly as fuel, while some is metabolized into biochemicals called ketones.
This new fat-burning metabolic state is called ketosis. The state of ketosis brings on other changes throughout the body. It’s these changes that are thought to contribute to the health benefits for PCOS seen with IF.
We are seeing in the research that intermittent fasting creates change in Insulin Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1) and Insulin-like Growth Factor-Binding Protein 1 (IGFBP1). With reduction in these markers from IF, women with PCOS can see reduction in androgens, improved function of ovaries and a positive impact on fertility.
Before you start
As with all major dietary changes, be sure to discuss it with your healthcare professional [or book a complimentary consultation with me. book your call here.
Before considering intermittent fasting, know that there are certain conditions that can make it dangerous. For example, if you have diabetes you need to eat regularly to maintain your blood sugar levels, so fasting is not recommended.
Also, if you’re taking certain medications like diuretics for high blood pressure or heart disease, intermittent fasting increases your risk for electrolyte abnormalities.
Intermittent fasting is also not recommended for anyone who is under 18, has a history of eating disorders or anyone who may be pregnant or breastfeeding.
Of course whenever you change your diet you may experience side effects. Some side effects of people who restrict their calories or start IF include fatigue, weakness, headache, reductions in sexual interest, and a reduced ability to maintain body temperature in cold environments.
Nutrition tips for intermittent fasting with PCOS
Intermittent fasting can be hard and everyone is different. I hear from some clients that they love it! Others, get headaches and over eat at the next meal.
A few tips that tend to work well for most everyone is to give yourself 12 hours of NOT eating. So if you finish dinner at 7pm, try not to eat until 7am. Give yourself 3-4 hours of NOT eating in between meals. These smaller breaks are good for your metabolism and digestive system.
I also typically suggest no more than 16 hours without eating for women. So if you finish eating at 7pm, try to eat your first meal by 11am. 12-14 hours tend to be the sweet spot. As women, we are hormonally complex…longer fasts can be more stressful on our hormones as opposed to being beneficial.
The above tips speak more to time restricted feeding as opposed to the other styles of IF. This is what I have seen be most beneficial in my clinical practice with clients.
Although, the premise of intermittent fasting is to restrict when you eat, not what you eat, the quality of your food choices is still very important.
Regardless of your eating style and preferences, you still need all of your essential nutrients. Intermittent fasting is not a good reason to eat a lot of the high-calorie nutrient-poor foods we all sometimes crave.
Better managing PCOS for good with IF
And as a friendly reminder, the main reason for any dietary change is to have a sustainable and healthy lifestyle that helps you meet your health goals and better manage your PCOS.
Any diet or eating pattern that helps some people may not have the same effect on everyone. That’s why it’s important to not make any significant dietary changes without consulting your healthcare professional or Dietitian.
If you’re looking for an individualized approach using nutrition & lifestyle to better managing your PCOS, book a complimentary appointment with me to see if my services can help you!
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