Is intermittent fasting the key to menopause weight loss
Intermittent fasting is certainly a hot topic. It's emerged as a promising approach to weight loss for men and women, with many vouching for its benefits and others against it. Still, can it be an effective tool for menopausal weight gain and the inevitable midriff muffin top we're all too familiar with? There is some contention about whether intermittent fasting can benefit menopause, so I thought I'd cover the topic, sharing my results as I've dipped in and out of intermittent fasting since first trying it out in my thirties.
Intermittent fasting involves alternating cycles of fasting and eating within specific time periods. However, unlike traditional diets that restrict certain food groups or reduce overall calorie intake, intermittent fasting primarily focuses on when to eat rather than what to eat—and no, that's not code for an eating fest! The fasting periods can vary in duration, ranging from a few hours to a full day or more, with the window for eating typically limited to a shorter period within the day. The most common fasting methods practised include:
The 16/8 method - fasting for 16 hours and eating within an 8-hour window
The 5:2 method - eating normally for five days and severely restricting calorie intake for two non-consecutive days (usually something ridiculous like 500 calories)
There are several other fasting methods, including periods of 12/12 (fasting for 12 hours, eating for 12 hours), 15/9 (fasting for 15 hours and eating for 9 hours) and so on. Of course, fasting for less time may not necessarily be as beneficial as the standard 16/8 or longer fasting periods, but I believe you can fast for any period you want to, although anything under 11 hours will probably not benefit you too much, as my understanding is that you begin to burn fat after the initial 11 hours of fasting. Bear in mind that intermittent fasting isn't really considered a diet plan but rather an eating pattern or lifestyle that can be flexible and adaptable to individual preferences. Certainly, I don't let it control me, meaning I can fast for 16 hours some days; other fasts have been as low as 11 hours, and occasionally I've not really fasted at all.
There are many potential benefits cited as being associated with intermittent fasting, including:
Weight loss and metabolism: Intermittent fasting can help promote weight loss by reducing overall calorie intake by limiting the eating window and by burning through the calories consumed during your last meal, after which your body begins to burn fat until your fasting period is over. Fasting also promotes metabolic and hormonal balance, which are both prominently haywire during menopause.
Improved insulin sensitivity: Intermittent fasting has been shown to enhance insulin sensitivity, which is the body's ability to regulate blood sugar levels efficiently.
Cellular repair: During fasting, the body undergoes cellular repair processes and activates autophagy, which is the body's way of clearing out damaged cells and cellular waste.
Potential cardiovascular benefits: Some studies suggest that intermittent fasting may help reduce blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and markers of inflammation.
Brain health and cognitive function: Intermittent fasting has shown promising effects on brain health and cognitive function. Apparently, it may increase the production of what is known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that promotes the growth and protection of brain cells. In addition, some studies also suggest that intermittent fasting may enhance focus, memory, and overall brain function.
A few good books explain intermittent fasting, the different ways to fast, why fasting is good for health, and who can benefit from fasting and those who won't.
The Complete Guide to Fasting by Dr Jason Fung and Jimmy Moore. Jimmy Moore lost a substantial 180lbs enabling him to come off prescription drugs for high cholesterol, blood pressure, and respiratory problems
Eat Stop Eat by Brad Pilon, who holds a graduate degree in Human Biology and Nutritional Sciences
The Laid Back Guide to Intermittent Fasting by Kayla Cox, who lost 80lbs and kept it off
Getting to grips with intermittent fasting certainly has the potential for menopausal weight management, as I believe it has worked for me. Quite possibly, it may also have helped alleviate my menopausal symptoms and provided hormonal balance too. However, I'm less able to categorically confirm these, as I also take supplements, regularly exercise, and try to limit sugary foods, which I believe also helps. I will therefore focus on the effects of intermittent fasting for weight management.
As with most menopausal women, as the oestrogen starts to decline in our early forties, our metabolic rate also starts dropping and eating what we like when we like generally goes out the window. Menopause certainly appears to be the perfect recipe for weight gain, and it's as though if we such as look at a cream doughnut, a few pounds are instantly added around our bellies! Indeed, despite watching what I ate, I still found the midriff expanding without reason, with wobbly parts appearing, stubbornly staying put. Of course, it didn't help that I worked from home, so I didn't even have the walk to work and back! I enthusiastically invested in a Fitbit to ensure I was being active, intending to hit at least 5000 steps a day, which is actually harder than you think. I consciously tried to stay active, incorporating a couple of weekly resistance training sessions and walking everywhere instead of driving. Despite this, it always seemed I was on the verge of piling on the pounds, and certainly, the wobbly bits and midriff visceral belly fat didn't seem to go anywhere.
I have dabbled with intermittent fasting in the past, so it became apparent that if I didn't want to turn those few extra pounds into kilos, I needed to try incorporating this eating method again. So, around seven or eight years ago, I decided to start intermittent fasting again, incorporating it as much as possible. I would stop eating by 8 pm in the evening and avoid eating anything until 1 pm the next day, but during weekdays only---I felt like I needed the weekend off when I was likely to fail anyway! I still watched how much I ate and what I ate during the eating period, conscious that I didn't want to eat more calories than I was burning. However, I did eat what I wanted. If I ate lots of bread at lunchtime, I would try limiting starchy carbs in my evening meal. Depending on how I felt, I'd have a smaller portion of pasta or rice or none at all. If I had a chocolate bar, I'd try not to eat another one or anything sugary in that eating period (I fail at that one more often than not!) The important thing was that I didn't allow it to control me, so I didn't beat myself up about it if I didn't quite manage the full hours of fasting or if I ate too much chocolate during the eating period.
Of course, I've relaxed a little more over the years, and my strategies have changed as to when I stop eating in the evening. Sometimes, it's 7 pm, and on occasions, it's been as late as 10.30 pm, but I then try to go as long as possible the next morning without eating, so now I'm fasting between 11 and 16 hours. I don't hold myself to a strict regime, as I know I'll stop doing it if it starts to control my life, and if I don't make 11 hours, then so be it. The good thing is that it definitely helps keep any weight gain at bay. I don't profess to have lost significant amounts and was never too heavy when I started, so this has been more of a weight management success for me, so I firmly believe intermittent fasting has been one of the keys to maintaining menopause weight and metabolism. Aligned with resistance training and plenty of ab exercises, I can keep those wobbly parts at a minimum.
Of course, I'd love to have washboard abs like Davina McCall, but I'm guessing she probably follows a very strict diet alongside her exercise routine to achieve those enviable results which I'm not up for. Personally, I have no compunction about eating bland food, especially wholewheat bread or brown rice, or the same things day in and day out to achieve the perfect body. I love my lasagne and roast dinners, so if I can maintain my weight and size, doing what I'm doing, I'm happy about that! However, high-five to everyone out there that can follow a strict no sugar, wholegrain diet!
When practised correctly, fasting intermittently is safe for most individuals. However, it may not be suitable for everyone, so it's essential to consider your circumstances and consult with your GP or healthcare professional before starting this style of fasting regimen, especially if you have an existing health condition or an eating disorder.
Personally, I feel that undertaking intermittent fasting on the 16/8 regime or 5:2 cycle shouldn't really disrupt your body too significantly compared to fasting in excess of this, especially on a daily basis. Of course, drinking plenty of water or herbal teas throughout, including the fasting period, is essential to stay hydrated. It's also crucial to try eating healthily during the eating period and not use it as a reason for consuming unhealthy food. That's not to say you can't have that chocolate bar or cream cake; just don't treat the eating period as an excuse to fill up on pies, pastries and fast food!