If you have been reading anything about health and wellness in the past year you probably know that intermittent fasting is an undisputed super-star. Medical studies have shown that intermittent fasting can increase longevity, reduce rates of cancer, improve the immune system, improve insulin resistance, increase weight loss, heal the microbiome and increase cognitive function. But the story for women is different than men, and intermittent fasting can often screw up both our health and our beauty. But first, what is intermittent fasting? Simply, it is abstaining from food for a period of time. It can be done in a variety of ways, but many people tend to fast for 16 hours and eat for 8 hours. This means they would stop eating at 7pm and not eat again until 11am. How does it work? When the digestive system is able to take a break from digesting and assimilating food it is able to perform other functions in the body. Cell and mitochondrial rejuvenation is at its heart, where old and damaged cells are destroyed, making room for new, energetic cells. This process, called autophagy, results in a stronger, more efficient body. What about women? Being the sensitive creatures that we are, intermittent fasting does not always work for us, especially if we tend to be on the leaner side. Our bodies are biologically programmed to reproduce, and everything that our body does is to ultimately prepare for and grow a baby. This means that women are especially sensitive to hunger signals, which results in an increased production of the hunger hormones leptin and grehlin. This can also result in dysregulated lutenizing and follicle-stimulating hormones, which can disrupt our cycle. AND – women with acne tend to have some degree of insulin dysregulation, which makes us even MORE sensitive to hunger signals. This can create a cascade of hormonal dysregulation. Recent animal studies have found that after two weeks of intermittent fasting females have lost their menstrual cycle, their ovaries have shrunk, their adrenal glands have increased in size and the incidence of insomnia has increased. Another human study concluded that intermittent fasting actually worsened glucose tolerance in women. So trying to intermittent fast like a man is not going to work for every woman. In fact, it can make your acne worse. So what should I do? The benefits of intermittent fasting cannot be denied. But the hormonal dysregulation that many women experience with intermittent fasting cannot be ignored either. Luckily there is a way that you can fast while keeping your hormones healthy. The most important thing to do is to listen to your body to find out what works best for you. When I first started my clear skin journey there was no way I could ever consider fasting. When I awoke I needed to eat within 30 minutes or I would get extremely hangry. If I missed a meal I would get dizzy, headachy and irritable. I needed to eat a snack before bed or I would wake up at 3a.m. because my cortisol levels were still not balanced enough to regulate my blood sugar. My adrenal glands needed a ton of healing. If this sounds anything like you, fasting may not be the right medicine for you at this time. As I began to feel better, I found that I could extend my periods of fasting slightly. A suggested schedule for introducing fasting into your lifestyle is as follows, once you feel as though you can tolerate it. The most important factor is to listen to how your body is feeling. One or two days per week, fast for 12 hours. This means that you stop eating at 7pm and start eating at 7am. If this feels good, you can gradually add 1 hour per day until you are fasting from 7pm – 11am 2 days per week. While fasting you can drink water, tea and coffee (no milk or sugar!) If at any point you feel intense hunger cravings, stop. You need to eat. I am now at a point in my journey where I can tolerate and benefit from some fasting. I usually finish my evening meal at 5:30pm (I have young kids) and I don’t eat again until 8:30am. I eat three solid meals each day. This schedule has evolved naturally as it tends to fit in the rhythm of my life.
My final thought on intermittent fastingDon’t stress about adding yet another thing into your routine. Listen to your body, and try not to eat after dinner. That’s basically it! I am so excited to help you on your clear skin journey!
Dr. Stacey Shillington ND