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Intermittent fasting for women

A beginner's guide

Intermittent fasting has several impressive benefits, but women may need to follow a modified approach. This is a beginner's guide to intermittent fasting for women.

This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts, and fact-checked by experts.
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Intermittent fasting for women: A beginner's guide
Last updated on June 18, 2023, and last reviewed by an expert on June 29, 2022.

Intermittent fasting has become increasingly popular in recent years.

Intermittent fasting for women: A beginner's guide

Unlike most diets that tell you what to eat, intermittent fasting focuses on when to eat by incorporating regular short-term fasts into your routine.

This way of eating may help you consume fewer calories, lose weight and lower your risk of diabetes and heart disease.

However, several studies have suggested that intermittent fasting may not be as beneficial for women as it is for men. For this reason, women may need to follow a modified approach.

Here is a detailed beginner’s guide to intermittent fasting for women.

In this article

What is intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting describes a pattern of eating that cycles between periods of fasting and normal eating.

The most common methods include fasting on alternate days, daily 16-hour fasts, or fasting for 24 hours, two days a week. For this article, the term intermittent fasting will be used to describe all regimens.

Unlike most diets, intermittent fasting does not involve tracking calories or macronutrients. There are no requirements about what foods to eat or avoid, making it more of a lifestyle than a diet.

Many people use intermittent fasting to lose weight as it is a simple, convenient, and effective way to eat less and reduce body fat.

It may also help reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes, preserve muscle mass and improve psychological well-being.

What’s more, this dietary pattern can help save time in the kitchen as you have fewer meals to plan, prepare and cook.

Summary: Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that includes regular, short-term fasts. It is a popular lifestyle choice that has potential benefits for weight loss, body composition, disease prevention, and well-being.

Intermittent fasting may affect men and women differently

There is some evidence that intermittent fasting may not be as beneficial for some women as it is for men.

One study showed that blood sugar control worsened in women after three weeks of intermittent fasting, which was not the case in men.

There are also many anecdotal stories of women who have experienced changes to their menstrual cycles after starting intermittent fasting.

Intermittent fasting: The ultimate beginner’s guide
Suggested read: Intermittent fasting: The ultimate beginner’s guide

Such shifts occur because female bodies are extremely sensitive to calorie restriction.

When calorie intake is low — such as from fasting for too long or too frequently — a small part of the brain called the hypothalamus is affected.

This can disrupt the secretion of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), a hormone that helps release two reproductive hormones: luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH).

When these hormones cannot communicate with the ovaries, you run the risk of irregular periods, infertility, poor bone health, and other health effects.

Although there are no comparable human studies, tests in rats have shown that 3–6 months of alternate-day fasting caused a reduction in ovary size and irregular reproductive cycles in female rats.

For these reasons, women should consider a modified approach to intermittent fasting, such as shorter fasting periods and fewer fasting days.

Summary: Intermittent fasting may not be as beneficial for women as it is for men. To reduce any adverse effects, women should take a mild approach to fasting: shorter fasts and fewer fasting days.

Health benefits of intermittent fasting for women

Intermittent fasting not only benefits your waistline but may also lower your risk of developing several chronic diseases.

Heart health

Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide.

High blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and high triglyceride concentrations are some of the leading risk factors for the development of heart disease.

Suggested read: The beginner's guide to the 5:2 diet

One study in 16 obese men and women showed intermittent fasting lowered blood pressure by 6% in just eight weeks.

The same study also found that intermittent fasting lowered LDL cholesterol by 25% and triglycerides by 32%.

However, the evidence for the link between intermittent fasting and improved LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels is not consistent.

A study of 40 normal-weight people found that four weeks of intermittent fasting during the Islamic holiday of Ramadan did not result in a reduction in LDL cholesterol or triglycerides.

Higher-quality studies with more robust methods are needed before researchers can fully understand the effects of intermittent fasting on heart health.


Intermittent fasting may also effectively help manage and reduce your risk of developing diabetes.

Similar to continuous calorie restriction, intermittent fasting appears to reduce some of the risk factors for diabetes.

It does so mainly by lowering insulin levels and reducing insulin resistance.

In a randomized controlled study of more than 100 overweight or obese women, six months of intermittent fasting reduced insulin levels by 29% and insulin resistance by 19%. Blood sugar levels remained the same.

What’s more, 8–12 weeks of intermittent fasting has been shown to lower insulin levels by 20–31% and blood sugar levels by 3–6% in individuals with pre-diabetes, a condition in which blood sugar levels are elevated but not high enough to diagnose diabetes.

However, intermittent fasting may not be as beneficial for women as it is for men in terms of blood sugar.

A small study found that blood sugar control worsened for women after 22 days of alternate-day fasting, while there was no adverse effect on blood sugar for men.

Despite this side effect, the reduction in insulin and insulin resistance would still likely reduce the risk of diabetes, particularly for individuals with pre-diabetes.

Suggested read: 8 science-backed health benefits of fasting

Weight loss

Intermittent fasting can be a simple and effective way to lose weight when done properly, as regular short-term fasts can help you consume fewer calories and shed pounds.

Several studies suggest that intermittent fasting is as effective as traditional calorie-restricted diets for short-term weight loss.

A 2018 review of studies in overweight adults found intermittent fasting led to an average weight loss of 15 lbs (6.8 kg) over 3–12 months.

Another review showed intermittent fasting reduced body weight by 3–8% in overweight or obese adults over 3–24 weeks. The review also found that participants reduced their waist circumference by 3–7% over the same period.

It should be noted that the long-term effects of intermittent fasting on weight loss for women remain to be seen.

In the short term, intermittent fasting seems to aid in weight loss. However, the amount you lose will likely depend on the number of calories you consume during non-fasting periods and how long you adhere to the lifestyle.

It may help you eat less

Switching to intermittent fasting may naturally help you eat less.

One study found that young men ate 650 fewer calories per day when their food intake was restricted to a four-hour window.

Another study on 24 healthy men and women looked at the effects of a long, 36-hour fast on eating habits. Despite consuming extra calories on the post-fast day, participants dropped their total calorie balance by 1,900 calories, a significant reduction.

Other health benefits

Several human and animal studies suggest that intermittent fasting may also yield other health benefits.

Specifically, the health benefits of intermittent fasting for women need to be studied more extensively in well-designed human studies before any conclusions can be drawn.

Suggested read: Does intermittent fasting boost your metabolism?

Summary: Intermittent fasting may help women lose weight and reduce their risk of heart disease and diabetes. However, further human studies are needed to confirm these findings.

Best types of intermittent fasting for women

When it comes to dieting, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. This also applies to intermittent fasting.

Generally speaking, women should take a more relaxed approach to fasting than men.

This may include shorter fasting periods, fewer fasting days, and/or consuming a small number of calories on the fasting days.

Here are some of the best types of intermittent fasting for women:

Whichever you choose, it is still important to eat well during the non-fasting periods. If you eat a large amount of unhealthy, calorie-dense foods during the non-fasting periods, you may not experience the same weight loss and health benefits.

At the end of the day, the best approach is one that you can tolerate and sustain in the long-term, and which does not result in any negative health consequences.

Summary: There are many ways for women to do intermittent fasting. Some of the best methods include the 5:2 diet, modified alternate-day fasting, and the crescendo method.

How to get started with intermittent fasting

Getting started is simple.

6 popular ways to do intermittent fasting
Suggested read: 6 popular ways to do intermittent fasting

Chances are you’ve already done many intermittent fasts before. Many people instinctively eat this way, skipping morning or evening meals.

The easiest way to get started is to choose one of the intermittent fasting methods above and give it a go.

However, you don’t need to necessarily follow a structured plan.

An alternative is to fast whenever it suits you. Skipping meals from time to time when you don’t feel hungry or don’t have time to cook can work for some people.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter which type of fast you choose. The most important thing is to find a method that works best for you and your lifestyle.

Summary: The easy way to get started is to choose one of the methods above and give it a go. Stop immediately if you experience any adverse effects.

Safety and side effects of intermittent fasting

Modified versions of intermittent fasting appear to be safe for most women.

That being said, several studies have reported some side effects including hunger, mood swings, lack of concentration, reduced energy, headaches, and bad breath on fasting days.

There are also some stories online of women who report that their menstrual cycle stopped while following an intermittent fasting diet.

If you have a medical condition, you should consult with your doctor before trying intermittent fasting.

Medical consultation is particularly important for women who:

At the end of the day, intermittent fasting appears to have a good safety profile. Yet, if you experience any problems — such as loss of your menstrual cycle — stop immediately.

Summary: Intermittent fasting may cause hunger, low energy levels, headaches, and bad breath. Women who are pregnant, trying to conceive, or who have a history of eating disorders should seek medical advice before starting an intermittent fasting regimen.


Intermittent fasting is a dietary pattern that involves regular, short-term fasts.

Suggested read: 10 intermittent fasting benefits: Weight loss, cell repair & more

The best types for women include daily 14–16 hour fasts, the 5:2 diet, or modified alternate-day fasting.

While intermittent fasting is beneficial for heart health, diabetes, and weight loss, some evidence indicates it may have negative effects on reproduction and blood sugar levels in some women.

That being said, modified versions of intermittent fasting appear safe for most women and may be a more suitable option than longer or stricter fasts.

If you are a woman looking to lose weight or improve your health, intermittent fasting is something to consider.

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