Intermittent fasting, a method of eating that alternates between periods of fasting and eating, is gaining popularity as a tool for health management. Yet, it impacts both sexes differently, improving metabolic health in men but often disrupting metabolic and hormonal responses in women. Other dietary approaches can also negatively impact women, including those focused on restricting calories, animal or plant-based sources, entire food groups, or specific foods. These diets have been linked to adverse effects on reproductive health, muscle mass, and bone density. In contrast, balanced eating plans that promote a diverse intake from all food groups tend to support better health outcomes for women. Macronutrient counting, in particular, is especially beneficial as it includes all food groups and can be tailored to specific health goals, which makes it a well-rounded approach to nutrition.

 

What Is Intermittent Fasting?

 

Intermittent fasting involves cycling between periods of eating and fasting following a pattern or schedule. The idea is to consume your meals within a specific window of time, which extends the duration your body remains without digesting food.

 

Historical Origins of Intermittent Fasting

 

The practice of fasting finds its roots in the ancient rhythms of life, shaped by the cycles of feast and famine. Our ancestors, driven by necessity to hunt and gather, indulged in feasts when hunting yields proved abundant. During periods when food was scarce, they endured involuntary fasts, their bodies adapting to times of scarcity. This natural ebb and flow of eating and fasting, born of survival needs, fostered physiological resilience and adaptability among humans.

 

As civilization advanced, the practice of fasting transcended mere survival and became a deliberate act woven into the cultural and spiritual life of societies. Mesopotamians viewed it as an act of devotion to the gods while Babylonians and Egyptians practiced fasting to atone for sins and pacify divine displeasure.

 

This spiritual significance of fasting continued to evolve into the Middle Ages. The emergence of ascetic movements, influenced by Greek dualism, transformed fasting into a crucial practice. It served as a way to detach the body from worldly joys and belongings and liberate people to pursue the ultimate virtue, love for Christ.

 

These adaptations in fasting over time reflect humanity’s evolving needs and beliefs. Its enduring presence across cultures highlights its role as a facet of human adaptation and tradition, not necessarily a universal ideal.

 

Ways to Do Intermittent Fasting

 

Today, intermittent fasting provides various options, all centered around setting regular periods for eating and fasting. With the 16/8 method, you fast for 16 hours each day, which limits your eating window to 8 hours. During this time, you might skip breakfast and have your first meal around noon and your last meal before 8 pm.

 

Another popular approach is the 5:2 diet, where for five days of the week you eat normally, and for the other two days, you reduce your calorie intake, usually to about 500-600 calories per day. These two low-calorie days should not be back-to-back but rather spread out across the week to avoid consecutive days of calorie reduction.

 

The Eat-Stop-Eat method is more restrictive as it involves a full 24-hour fast once or twice a week. On fasting days, no food is consumed from dinner one day until dinner the next day. This method is one of the more straightforward options as it sets a clear and uncomplicated fasting pattern.

 

Similar to the Eat-Stop-Eat method, Alternate Day Fasting simplifies the fasting process but through a different rhythm: eating normally one day and then fasting or significantly reducing calorie intake the next. During fasting days, you can consume calorie-free beverages to stay hydrated. This includes drinking tea, unsweetened coffee, and water. For those adopting a modified version of Alternative Day Fasting, there is the option to consume roughly 500 calories, which should amount to about 20-25% of your daily energy needs.

 

Lastly, the Warrior Diet offers a unique fasting schedule where daytime eating is minimal, typically limited to small portions of raw fruits and vegetables, followed by a single, large meal in the evening. This diet is inspired by the eating patterns of ancient warriors, believed to have feasted at night after a day of fasting. The eating window is typically limited to a 4-hour period in the evening, which makes it a more extreme form of the daily fasting methods.

 

How Intermittent Fasting Affects Women and Men

 

Regardless of the type of fasting, the effects are not uniform, often benefiting men metabolically while potentially decreasing metabolic efficiency in women. Additionally, fasting can induce hormonal changes in women that may affect fertility.

 

The relationship between metabolism and intermittent fasting in men and women has been the focus of various studies. One study, for example, investigated the metabolic changes in lean persons during a short-term fasting period. It found that in men, resting energy expenditure – the rate at which the body burns calories at rest – increased significantly during the fasting period. Specifically, energy expenditure rose by approximately 14% from the first day to the third day of fasting. This rise is associated with higher levels of norepinephrine, a hormone that boosts metabolism and fat breakdown.

 

Another study explored the impact of Alternate Day Fasting on how the body processes blood sugar. In this research, scientists tested how the body responded to a standard meal in terms of blood sugar among a group of non-obese men and women. The study showed that men’s blood sugar levels remained stable while their insulin response significantly decreased, both signs of improved metabolic health. In contrast, women showed a slight impairment in glucose processing, with no change in insulin response, which suggests a potential adverse effect on their metabolic health.

 

Additionally, intermittent fasting has been shown to affect some sex hormones in women. One study, for instance, looked at how time-restricted eating impacts hormone levels in women who are either premenopausal or postmenopausal. Over 8 weeks, participants limited their eating to a 4- to 6-hour window each day. The study found no changes in their testosterone or estrogen levels but noted a decrease in DHEA. This reduction in DHEA could potentially impact fertility and other aspects of reproductive health such as hormone balance and menstrual regularity.

 

Lastly, intermittent fasting has been associated with eating disorders, particularly among women. One recent study investigated this connection among Canadian adolescents and young adults. It found that intermittent fasting, both over the past year and within the last 30 days, was linked to signs of eating disorder psychopathology across all groups: women, men, and transgender/gender non-conforming individuals. Notably, this connection was most pronounced in women, more so than the two other groups of participants. The results suggest that this dietary practice may increase the risk of eating disorders among women, and despite its popularity, it has potential mental health implications that need careful consideration.

 

Alternative to Intermittent Fasting

 

Given that intermittent fasting may not be the best dietary choice for women, exploring alternative approaches is worth considering. Broadly, these alternatives fall into four categories that impose varying levels of food restrictions.

 

In the first category, you find diets like the 1,200-calorie and 1,500-calorie plans which prioritize calorie restriction. Under the second category fall diets such as the Carnivore which impose limitations on consuming animal or plant sources. The third category comprises diets like the Keto and Atkins which restrict entire food groups. Meanwhile, the fourth category includes more liberal diets like the Paleo and Flexitarian which target specific foods for restriction.

 

Diets Restricting Calories

 

The 1,200-calorie and 1,500-calorie diets are eating plans designed to promote weight loss through calorie management and portion control. The 1,200-calorie diet is more restrictive as it sets a daily limit of 1,200 calories, mainly sourced from nutrient-dense foods that offer more satiety and nutritional value. No foods are off-limits except for high-calorie, low-nutrient foods such as sweets, processed snacks, and sugary beverages that only provide empty calories. Portion control is key on this diet, with meals typically being small and frequent to help curb hunger and maintain consistent energy levels.

 

The 1,500-calorie diet operates similarly to the 1,200-calorie diet, with an emphasis on nutrient-dense foods, discouragement of high-calorie foods, and focus on portion control. However, it provides a slightly higher calorie limit, which makes it more suitable for those who find the lower calorie cap too restrictive.

 

Both the 1,200 and 1,500-calorie diets aim to create a caloric deficit to achieve weight loss.

 

Single-Source Diets

 

Diets that exclusively focus on animal or plant-based sources are based on the belief that this exclusion can lead to health benefits, including better digestion, improved metabolic function, and increased weight loss.

 

The Carnivore Diet exemplifies this extreme form of dietary restriction. It centers around animal products such as meat, fish, eggs, and limited dairy products like cheese and butter. Dieters are encouraged to consume these foods in their most natural forms, preferably unprocessed.

 

Excluded from the diet are all fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, legumes, and any products made from plants, including oils and seasonings derived from plant sources. Beverages are also restricted to water and bone broth, with all other drinks, being off-limits.

 

According to proponents, removing these foods from the diet helps eliminate plant-based irritants like lectins, phytates, and oxalates, which can negatively impact health. These substances may disrupt mineral absorption and lead to digestive discomfort, and their exclusion is believed to enhance digestive health and nutrient uptake.

 

Diets with Food Group Restrictions

 

Some diets focus on drastically limiting the consumption of specific food groups while promoting increased intake of other groups of macronutrients.

 

The Keto Diet is such a restrictive approach which limits carbohydrate-rich foods like bread, pasta, rice, and sugary snacks. Additionally, it restricts the intake of fruits and vegetables with a high carb content, including bananas, grapes, potatoes, and peas. Instead, the diet encourages the consumption of high-fat foods such as fatty cuts of meat, butter, heavy cream, oils, full-fat cheeses, nuts, and avocados.

 

By significantly reducing carbohydrate intake and increasing fat intake, the Keto Diet prompts a major shift in how the body sources its energy. Since carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of quick energy, reducing them compels it to seek an alternative energy source – fats. As the body begins to use fat for energy, this metabolic shift can result in reduced body fat and decreased mass. Proponents of the Keto Diet also cite health benefits such as improved mental clarity and increased energy levels, further advocating for its efficacy beyond just weight loss.

 

The Atkins Diet, much like the Keto Diet, focuses on reducing carbohydrate intake. However, unlike the Keto Diet which maintains a consistent low-carb, high-fat regimen, this plan progresses through four structured phases, from drastic carb restriction to incorporating a wide range of foods.  During the initial Induction Phase, carb intake is capped at 20-25 grams per day, mainly from low-carb vegetables. The Balancing Phase then permits a gradual reintroduction of nutrient-rich foods like nuts, small portions of fruits, and additional low-carb vegetables. In the third phase, Pre-Maintenance carb intake becomes more liberal so that dieters can explore their personal tolerance to carbs. The final phase, Maintenance encourages dieters to adhere to their individual carbohydrate balance.

 

This phased approach supports weight loss by starting with significant carbohydrate restriction. The goal is to shift the body’s metabolism from relying on glucose to using fat as its primary energy source. As dieters reintroduce carbohydrates in controlled amounts during the later phases, the body adapts to using both fats and carbohydrates efficiently. Additionally, it is claimed that this approach benefits health conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

 

Diets Limiting Specific Foods

 

Unlike more restrictive diets like the Keto and Atkins, more liberal plans do not restrict entire food groups, yet, they impose strict guidelines on acceptable foods. The Paleo Diet, for example, emphasizes the consumption of foods like lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. These foods are believed to have been staples during the Paleolithic era, dating from about 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago. During this period, people primarily relied on hunting and gathering these natural food sources.

 

Excluded from the diet are foods such as grains, legumes, and dairies which emerged with the onset of agriculture around 10,000 years ago. The rationale behind this restriction is that humans have eaten in the Paleo style for over two million years. The inclusion of agricultural produce is a relatively recent development, and our genetic makeup has not fully adapted to these agriculturally based foods. By excluding these newer foods, we align more closely with our genetic predispositions, which leads to improved digestive health, reduces inflammation, and increases overall energy.

 

The Flexitarian Diet is even more liberal than the Paleo. While primarily plant-based, this plan allows for the moderate inclusion of fish, meat, eggs, and dairy products. The goal is to limit consumption, yet it provides flexibility without stringent rules on frequency of intake.

 

In addition to flexibility, people choose this diet for purported benefits such as improved heart health from less saturated fat and better digestion from the diverse fibers and probiotics in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

 

All of these diets offer a structured approach to eating; some primarily aim at weight loss, others target both weight control and additional health benefits, while still others prioritize health exclusively. At the same time, calorie-restrictive diets drastically reduce calorie intake, which can lead to reproductive problems in women. Highly restrictive diets eliminate plant or animal-based sources or drastically limit entire food groups, which can lead to macronutrient deficiencies.  And even more liberal diets impose restrictions on certain foods, which can result in deficiencies in essential micronutrients.

 

Calorie Restriction and Reproductive Health

 

Severe calorie restriction, such as adhering to a 1,200- or 1,500-calorie diet, can disrupt a woman’s menstrual cycle and affect reproductive health. Research supports this relationship between restrictive dieting and hormonal imbalances, which can lead to issues with menstrual cycles. One study, for example, focused on healthy, normal-weight women aged 19 to 30 who followed a 1000-calorie high-carbohydrate vegetarian diet. It monitored specific reproductive hormones: progesterone, estradiol, follicle-stimulating hormone, and luteinizing hormone. During the diet, the researchers observed that these hormone levels fluctuated abnormally during the luteal phase – a critical period for maintaining a potential pregnancy. This abnormal fluctuation was particularly notable in younger women and those who lost more weight. This suggests that severe calorie restrictions might lead to disruptions in the hormone levels necessary for a normal menstrual cycle.

Restrictive Diets and Macronutrients

 

Highly restrictive diets like the Carnivore, Keto, and Atkins either exclude animal or plant-based sources or drastically limit entire food groups. Such significant restrictions can lead to macronutrient deficiencies and negative effects on the body, particularly for women.

 

In women, a reduction in carbohydrates can affect reproductive health. In particular, low-carb intake can decrease the production of leptin, a hormone that regulates reproductive function. When carbohydrates are restricted and the body begins using fat as an energy source, body fat decreases, which in turn diminishes leptin production. This occurs because leptin is secreted by the fat cells, and fewer or smaller fat cells result in lower levels of leptin being produced. Then low leptin levels signal to the hypothalamus that fat stores are reduced and energy may be insufficient. In response, the hypothalamus may reduce or halt the release of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) to conserve energy for other vital functions, deeming reproduction a lower priority. GnRH regulates the secretion of reproductive hormones such as follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), and reduction in GnRH can lead to lower levels of these hormones. This, in turn, can disrupt the menstrual cycle and ovulation, making conception difficult or impossible.

 

Research also supports the fact that low-carb diets can lead to reproductive issues. For instance, one study examining adolescents on a ketogenic diet found significant side effects concerning menstrual function. The study followed 45 young participants aged 12 to 19 who were on a low-carb diet to manage epilepsy. While effective in reducing seizures, the diet also had notable side effects. Specifically, 45% of the female subjects reported menstrual dysfunction after beginning the diet, aligning with theoretical concerns about how low-carb diets can disrupt hormonal balance.

 

Restricting protein intake also has negative effects on women’s health, particularly concerning muscle maintenance, hormone balance, and overall physiological functions.

 

First, inadequate protein can lead to a loss of muscle mass and strength. This is particularly concerning as women naturally have lower muscle mass compared to men. Second, proteins are key components of many hormones, including those involved in the menstrual cycle. Hormones such as FSH and LH are composed of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Third, inadequate protein intake can adversely impact bone health, as supported by research. Proteins aid in the uptake of calcium, essential for bone density, and low protein intake can impair calcium absorption, resulting in increased risk of fractures. Therefore, ensuring adequate protein is important for women who are more susceptible to osteoporosis and fractures.

 

Lastly, adequate fat intake is essential for women’s health, particularly for reproductive function, and research supports this association. One relevant study involving 324 healthy postmenopausal women examined how dietary fat influenced reproductive hormones. The research evaluated the impact of fat intake on serum levels of hormones such as DHEAS, testosterone, estradiol, and estrone. It found that a 5% increase in total fat intake resulted in higher levels of estrone, important for estrogen regulation, and DHEAS, essential for the production of androgens and estrogens. This increase in fat intake was associated with an 11.8% rise in estrone and a 9.3% increase in DHEAS.

 

Another study explored the impact of total and specific fats on hormone levels and the risk of sporadic anovulation in 259 women with regular menstrual cycles. The researchers found that a specific variation of omega-3, known as docosapentaenoic acid, was associated with higher progesterone levels and a reduced risk of anovulation. This suggests that consuming foods rich in this omega-3 variant, including grass-fed beef and oily fish, can help maintain regular ovulatory cycles and enhance reproductive health.

 

Liberal Diets and Micronutrients

 

Even the most liberal diets such as the Paleo and Flexitarian limit certain foods, which can result in deficiencies in essential micronutrients. Eliminating dairy, for instance, can significantly reduce the intake of calcium and vitamin D, which are important for bone health. This can increase the risk of osteoporosis over time, especially in menopausal women whose bone density naturally declines with age.

 

Avoiding red meat, another common dietary exclusion, can lead to insufficient iron intake. This micronutrient is important for hemoglobin production, and its deficiency can cause anemia, particularly in younger women who lose iron during menstruation. This can result in fatigue and weakened immunity.

 

Excluding whole grains can also lead to deficits, particularly in B vitamins such as folate. Folate is especially important for women planning to become pregnant, as it is vital for fetal development and preventing birth defects.

 

Furthermore, avoiding legumes can lead to deficiencies in nutrients such as fiber, magnesium, and zinc, which are crucial for various aspects of women’s health. Lack of fiber, for example, can lead to constipation, which can be more prevalent in women due to hormonal fluctuations. During the menstrual cycle, fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone can influence intestinal motility, which can result in changes in stool consistency and frequency.

 

Insufficient magnesium also impacts women but differently. Since this nutrient is important for muscle function and relaxation, deficiency can cause muscle cramps and spasms, which may intensify menstrual cramps and increase discomfort during menstruation. Lastly, inadequate zinc levels can adversely affect women, especially during pregnancy. Zinc deficiency increases the risk of adverse outcomes such as impaired placental function, compromised neural development, stunted fetal growth, and miscarriage.

 

Balanced Eating Plans

 

Balanced eating plans like Whole Foods, 80/20, and macro counting incorporate all food groups and provide a nutritional variety that more restrictive diets lack. These methods emphasize consuming a diverse range of foods in their most natural state and provide a sustainable approach to nutrition.

 

Whole Foods Method

 

The Whole Foods Method is a balanced approach to eating that encourages you to enjoy a variety of foods. It allows for a wide selection of protein sources like eggs, seafood, and poultry; grains such as quinoa, brown rice, and whole grains; dairy options like natural cheeses, cottage cheese, and plain yogurt; diverse fruit and vegetables, along with legumes, seeds, and nuts.

 

This method prioritizes balance without overly focusing on any single food group. It also advocates for consuming foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. While it acknowledges that most foods undergo some degree of processing, the goal isn’t to eliminate all processed foods but to reduce the intake of heavily processed items. These often contain high levels of unhealthy fats, salts, and added sugars, common in foods such as microwave meals, commercially produced baked goods, frozen pizzas, and excessively sweetened candies and chocolates.

 

Instead of these heavily processed options, this method promotes using fresh ingredients to prepare home-cooked meals. For instance, rather than relying on store-bought tomato sauce loaded with additives, try making a simple, fresh tomato puree yourself. Similarly, rather than buying pre-made salad dressings, you can whip up a healthier homemade vinaigrette with olive oil, vinegar, and your choice of herbs.

 

Additionally, when cooking, use techniques that enhance flavor and preserve nutrients, including steaming, baking, grilling, and stir-frying. You can also incorporate methods like poaching or slow cooking, which gently cook the food to preserve moisture and nutrient content without requiring much fat.

80/20 Method

 

Another effective approach that promotes a balanced diet while allowing enjoyment of all food groups is the 80/20 method. With this strategy, 80% of your diet consists of high-quality, nutrient-dense foods and the remaining is reserved for indulgencies that may not typically be labeled as healthy.  80% of the time you eat wholegrains such as quinoa, whole bread, and brown rice; lean protein like legumes, fish, and lean meat; healthy fats like avocado and olive oil; and fruit and vegetables. For the remaining 20%, you have the freedom to enjoy your favorite treats like a slice of dessert or your favorite fast food.

 

By offering such flexibility, this method makes your eating habits less restrictive and more sustainable over the long term. It also accommodates social occasions and special events which allows you to enjoy life without compromising your overall dietary goals.

 

Additionally, constantly resisting your favorite foods can be a taxing endeavor. For instance, if you have a particular fondness for potato chips, each occurrence of spotting them on a menu, in a commercial, or as you browse through social media demands significant mental effort to deliberately steer clear of them. Over time, this cognitive exertion proves too demanding to sustain and could lead you to cave in and indulge in those tempting chips.

 

Macro Counting

 

Macro counting is a third method that tailors nutritional balance and encourages you to eat a diet rich in all the essential food groups. With this method, you can have a variety of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, including whole grains like quinoa and brown rice, lean proteins such as grilled chicken or tofu, and healthy fats from sources like avocados and nuts.

 

In addition to including all food groups, macro counting focuses on managing carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to meet individual health goals such as weight loss, muscle building, or enhanced wellness.

 

For example, if you aim to build muscle, you might increase your protein intake for muscle growth and repair while also consuming sufficient carbohydrates for energy and fats for vital functions. A typical muscle-building meal might feature a larger portion of high-protein foods such as grilled chicken breast or salmon. This can be complemented by a moderate serving of complex carbs like quinoa or sweet potatoes and a side of mixed vegetables drizzled with olive oil.

 

Conversely, if your focus is on improving endurance, you might adjust your macro ratios to emphasize a higher intake of carbs, which are the primary fuel for extended physical activities. This increased carb intake should be balanced with moderate protein sources and minimal fats. For example, a meal designed for endurance might feature a large serving of pasta topped with a light tomato and basil sauce. It also includes a moderate portion of grilled chicken for protein and a salad sprinkled with a handful of walnuts for healthy fats.

 

Lastly, if you aim to lose weight, consider moderately reducing fats and carbs to lower calorie intake and increase protein to maintain muscle mass. For example, a weight loss-focused meal could consist of a generous portion of leafy greens and vegetables, grilled fish or a lean cut of meat for protein, and a small serving of whole grains like brown rice or quinoa.

 

Based on your specific goal, you will distribute macros in different ratios. For example, if your goal is building muscle, you might allocate 30-35% of your total calories to proteins, 40-45% to carbohydrates, and 25-30% to fats.

 

For enhancing endurance, you might increase your carb intake significantly, with 50-60% of your calories from carbs, 20-25% from proteins, and 20-25% from fats.

 

And if your objective is weight loss, a common distribution could be 40% of your calories from proteins, 30% from carbohydrates, and 30% from fats.

 

Benefits of Macro Counting

 

Given that macro counting encompasses all food groups and is tailored to meet specific objectives, this method offers a more comprehensive approach to nutrition than other dietary strategies.

 

In addition to being inclusive and goal-oriented, macro counting elevates awareness of your food choices. By tracking your intake, you gain insight into the balance and composition of your meals. For example, you might notice that your typical breakfast is predominantly carbohydrates, perhaps from cereals or bread. This could lead you to incorporate more protein-rich options like eggs or Greek yogurt to create a more nutritionally rounded morning meal.

 

As you become adept at monitoring your macros, you will also enhance your ability to read nutrition labels and understand the composition of different foods. This skill can lead you to make healthier choices such as choosing brown rice over white rice for its higher fiber content or selecting almond butter instead of peanut butter to cut down on sugar.

 

Furthermore, understanding your macro requirements enables you to plan and prepare your meals ahead of time. This foresight helps deter spontaneous eating decisions that might not align with your nutritional goals. This is particularly valuable during busy times when you might otherwise opt for quick, less healthy food options.

 

In addition to promoting healthier food choices, macro counting offers multiple health benefits, including stable blood sugar levels, better digestion, and enhanced weight management.

 

Stable blood sugar levels result from a balanced intake of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. When consumed alone, carbohydrates are rapidly broken down into glucose, which enters the bloodstream and causes spikes in blood sugar levels. However, when carbohydrates are eaten alongside proteins and fats, which digest more slowly, this moderates the breakdown of carbohydrates. As a result, glucose is released into the bloodstream more gradually, which prevents rapid spikes and subsequent crashes.

 

Enhanced digestion is another benefit of macro counting, thanks to a variety of fiber sources from all food groups, both soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber, found in foods like beans, nuts, and fruits, absorbs water and forms a gel-like substance which is thicker and more resistant to flow. As a result, digestion slows down which allows for a more thorough mixing of food with digestive enzymes and absorption of nutrients in the small intestine.

 

Insoluble fiber, present in whole grains and vegetables, facilitates regular bowel movements which prevents constipation. This type of fiber does not dissolve in water but can absorb and retain it. As it moves through the intestines, insoluble fiber attracts water and swells, causing the intestines to expand. This expansion activates receptors in the intestinal walls that detect stretching and expanding. These receptors then signal the enteric nervous system to initiate contractions which propel the intestinal contents forward. Consequently, stool moves more efficiently through the digestive tract which promotes regularity.

 

Improved weight management is a third advantage of macro counting. By adjusting the ratios to increase proteins and decrease fats and carbohydrates, you can reduce overall calorie intake. Proteins digest more slowly than carbohydrates or fats because they spend more time in your stomach and small intestine, which slows down stomach emptying. This delay in gastric emptying signals to your brain that you are full, which reduces the urge to eat more.

 

Additionally, tracking your intake makes it easier to stay on track with your weight loss goals. By visually confirming that you are meeting your targets for protein, fats, and carbs, you can quickly adjust them if you deviate from your plan.

 

Research also supports the effectiveness of this strategy. For example, a year-long study on diabetes prevention and management required participants to track what they ate. The results revealed that participants who consistently logged their meals – more than two-thirds of the days – were the only group to experience significant weight loss of about 10 pounds over the year. In contrast, those who did not track their meals regularly encountered less predictable weight loss patterns.

 

Lastly, not only does macro counting offer a wealth of health benefits but it can be practiced in diverse settings. At home, the controlled environment allows for precise weighing and measuring of ingredients which aids in accurate macro tracking. Attending a yoga retreat also presents a unique opportunity to practice macro nutrition. Retreats often offer meals planned with balanced macros to support the physical and spiritual aspects of yoga practices. Additionally, wellness centers and health-focused cafes that cater to fitness enthusiasts can provide macro-balanced meal options. This makes it easier to adhere to nutritional guidelines even when you’re away from home.

Wrapping Up

 

While diverse dietary approaches are available, their effects on women’s health can vary significantly. Intermittent fasting, though increasingly popular, may adversely affect women’s metabolic and reproductive health. Similarly, restrictive diets that cut calories, focus on plant or animal-based sources, or restrict entire food groups or specific foods can pose risks to women’s reproductive and overall health. Alternatively, diets that include a wide range of foods from all groups tend to produce better health results. Macro counting stands out as one such approach that prioritizes nutritional balance while offering flexibility and customization. This approach also promotes a healthier relationship with food by emphasizing nutrient quality, raising dietary awareness, and guiding well-informed nutritional choices.

 

FAQ

 

What is the difference between intermittent fasting and fasting?

Fasting typically refers to abstaining from all or some types of food and drink for extended periods, which can range from 24 hours to several weeks. It is practiced in various cultures for religious reasons, where people abstain from eating and sometimes drinking from dawn to sunset or longer. Examples include Ramadan for Muslims, Yom Kippur for Jews, and Lent for Christians, where fasting serves as a form of spiritual cleansing, self-discipline, and expression of faith. In the medical world, fasting is often required before surgeries or tests to clear the digestive tract. This reduces risks like aspiration during procedures and ensures accurate test results.

 

In contrast, intermittent fasting is a more structured approach that integrates regular fasts into daily life. Unlike traditional fasting which spans longer periods, it is usually done within a shorter timeframe such as 24 hours or less. This allows people to cycle between periods of eating and fasting. Furthermore, this approach is commonly employed for health benefits such as boosting metabolism, managing weight, and improving overall health, yet research on these outcomes yields mixed results.

 

What is the difference between intermittent fasting and dieting?

Intermittent fasting focuses primarily on when you eat and adjusts the timing of meals rather than dictating specific dietary changes. Diets, in contrast, restrict calorie intake or alter the content of meals. They may either limit certain foods in more flexible diets or eliminate sources entirely or restrict entire food groups in more restrictive diets.

 

Who should abstain from intermittent fasting?

Pregnant and breastfeeding women require consistent nutritional intake to support fetal and infant development and should not follow fasting protocols. Children and teenagers, who are still growing and developing, need regular nutrient intake and should avoid restrictive dietary practices. Those who have diabetes, thyroid disorders, and adrenal insufficiency need to manage their blood glucose levels carefully, and fasting can complicate this management. Additionally, people with a history of eating disorders may find that fasting triggers or exacerbates their condition.

 

What are some side effects to watch for?

Intermittent fasting can have several side effects, particularly when you first begin the regimen. Common initial reactions can include fatigue, headaches, irritability, and hunger pangs. Some people might also experience dizziness or a drop in energy levels, which can affect daily activities, especially those demanding high concentration and physical effort.

 

Additionally, digestive discomfort such as bloating, nausea, diarrhea, and indigestion can arise from reducing food intake. Some people may also experience bad breath due to an increase in acetone levels in breath and reduced saliva production. Moreover, intermittent fasting can contribute to dehydration, which in turn may cause dry mouth and exacerbate issues with bad breath.

 

What is the maximum duration for intermittent fasting?

While shorter-duration fasts tend to be more common, some people prefer to fast for longer periods ranging from 24 to 72 hours. Those who are physically more prepared for such extended fasts include people with experience with shorter fasts who have gradually increased their fasting duration. This group may also consist of people who are in good health overall, have a stable metabolic rate, maintain a balanced diet, and have possibly consulted with healthcare professionals about their fasting plans.

 

Despite being fit and experienced, even these people can find extended fasting periods challenging. The human body can react unpredictably when deprived of food for more than a day, and symptoms of strain may emerge. These symptoms, such as severe fatigue, dizziness, and persistent headaches, could indicate electrolyte imbalances or hypoglycemia.

 

What should I eat after completing a long fast of 24 to 72 hours?

After completing a long fast, you need to reintroduce food gently to avoid overwhelming the digestive system. Start with easily digestible foods such as light broth or soup which are soothing for the stomach. After a couple of hours, you can introduce soft-cooked vegetables which are rich in nutrients and fiber but still gentle enough. Then you can incorporate lean proteins like chicken or fish which will help rebuild muscle without causing digestive distress.

 

What foods to eat when intermittent fasting?

While intermittent fasting primarily concerns meal timing, what you eat during your feeding windows is important for sustaining energy levels and minimizing side effects.

 

Proteins are satiating and help you feel fuller longer, which stabilizes energy levels throughout the day. Adequate protein intake is also essential for muscle growth and helps counteract the potential side effect of muscle loss associated with fasting. To ensure you get these benefits, choose lean sources such as chicken, turkey, and fish, and plant-based options like beans and lentils.

 

Healthy fats provide a dense source of energy and extend satiety which is beneficial during fasting periods. Opt for foods high in healthy fats such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil.

 

Complex carbohydrates, which take longer to break down and release glucose, help maintain stable blood sugar levels and prevent energy dips. Good sources of complex carbohydrates include whole grains, legumes, and fruits and vegetables.

 

What foods to avoid when intermittent fasting?

Certain types of foods should be avoided during your eating windows, including processed, sugary, and salty foods. Primarily, foods that are highly processed or high in added sugars should be limited. This is because they are quickly broken down into glucose and can cause spikes and drops in blood sugar. This pattern can increase hunger and cravings when you resume fasting.

 

Additionally, excessively salty foods can lead to dehydration and strain kidney function, which are concerns when managing hydration is crucial.

 

Alcohol not only causes dehydration but triggers fluctuations in blood sugar, with temporary increases followed by rapid decreases. These fluctuations can lead to feelings of fatigue, weakness, and cravings for unhealthy foods, which can disrupt the fasting process.

 

Can intermittent fasting and working out be combined?

Yes, you can combine intermittent fasting with working out, provided that you stay in the safe zone. One way to do this is by scheduling your workouts during your eating windows, especially if you engage in high-intensity or long-duration exercises. This strategy allows you to fuel your body before workouts to maintain energy levels and replenish it afterward to support recovery.

 

If you prefer exercising while fasting, you might find lighter activities such as walking or gentle yoga more suitable. These types of exercises don’t typically require as much energy which makes them easier to handle on an empty stomach.

 

Additionally, you need to stay hydrated, especially when fasting and exercising. You should drink plenty of water and electrolyte-enhanced beverages to keep your body well-hydrated during both fasting and physical activities.

 

Can intermittent fasting and travel be combined?

Combining intermittent fasting with traveling can be challenging, especially when crossing time zones. The body’s internal clock, which regulates hunger, can become disrupted and cause you to feel hungry at unexpected times or not hungry during your usual meal periods. Moreover, travel often involves irregular schedules, limited food choices, and a potential increase in stress, all of which can complicate adherence. Limited food choices, in particular, can lead to either breaking the fast with less nutritious options or extending the fasting period unintentionally.

 

Is intermittent fasting safe for young people?

Intermittent fasting tends to be safer for younger than older adults. However, there are some potential health risks for young women such as metabolic and reproductive imbalances which are not commonly observed in men.

 

Additionally, most of the research has been carried out on animal subjects, with limited human studies. This gap in research means the long-term effects of intermittent fasting on young people are not well understood.

 

Is intermittent fasting safe for older people?

As people age, they experience a natural decline in muscle mass and strength due to factors like decreased physical activity and hormonal changes. Older people tend to be less physically active which leads to a reduction in the mechanical stimulus necessary for maintaining muscle. Moreover, hormones like testosterone, growth hormone, and insulin-like growth factor 1, which regulate muscle mass, decline with age, which leads to decreased protein synthesis. When older persons engage in fasting, especially more extreme forms like alternate-day fasting, these age-related factors can be intensified. This is because fasting deprives the body of protein, which is important for muscle maintenance and repair. Furthermore, since muscles provide structural support for the bones, additional muscle loss due to fasting can further weaken bones which are already fragile in older adults.


DISCLAIMER: Always consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new routines, programs, or nutrition plans to ensure you receive the best medical advice and strategy for your specific individual needs.


 

For expecting moms with uncomplicated pregnancies, exercise is not only safe, healthy, and feasible but it’s highly encouraged. Participating in some form of pregnancy exercise decreases the risk of low birth weight, premature delivery, or miscarriage. On the contrary, physical inactivity while expecting puts you at risk of complications such as gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, and being overweight. Lack of physical activity also creates a risk for emergency C-sections, preterm delivery, and longer labor. 

 

While exercising during pregnancy doesn’t mean signing up for that marathon or going all sporty, spending nine months on the sofa isn’t good for your health and your baby either. The key here is moderation and not being carried away by extremes. Regular light exercise is best as it builds strength, improves breathing control, prepares the body for labor, and speeds up postpartum recovery. True, there will be days when doing the dishes or taking the dog for a walk feels like a major accomplishment. 

 

So, listen to your body and be receptive to what it needs. Exercise whenever you can, at your own pace, and choose an exercise that resonates with you. Activities such as yoga, aqua aerobics, Pilates, and breathing exercises are all excellent ways to ensure you’re fit and strong for labor and beyond. 

 

Is It Possible to Combine Pregnancy and Exercise?

Pregnancy and exercise are fully compatible unless your doctor advises you not to. Avoid exercise if you have persistent bleeding, cervical insufficiency, low-lying placenta after 26 weeks, preeclampsia, ruptured membranes, anemia, or chronic heart or lung disease.

 

If all is going well and you don’t have any health issues that need to be addressed, exercise is not only safe but offers a myriad of benefits, including:

 

– Improved sleep

– Stress relief

– Weight control

– Improved blood circulation

– Reduced pelvic and lower back pain

– Increased energy

– Lower risk of injury

– Improved fitness, muscle tone, endurance, and stamina

– Enhanced immunity

– Fewer pregnancy complications

– Easier labor and delivery

 

What Workout Is Safe for Pregnant Women?

Some types of exercise are safe while pregnant, including Pilates, yoga, jogging, aqua aerobics, stationary cycling, and brisk walking. During the first trimester, it is generally safe to engage in more vigorous activities like moderate weightlifting, running, and squats. Exercises that are safe during the second trimester include slow jogging, brisk walking, aqua aerobics, and swimming. Low-impact exercises are best during the third trimester, including relaxation and breath exercises, yoga, Pilates, and aqua aerobics.

 

All activities and exercises with an increased risk of injury and trauma should be avoided during pregnancy. Examples include heavy lifting, basketball, soccer, hockey, gymnastics, skating, horse riding, and high-altitude training. 

 

Pilates

As Pilates carries minimal risk, it is considered safe during pregnancy, with multiple benefits for expectant mothers. Pregnancy workouts focus on strengthening and stretching the pelvic floor muscles to prepare you for labor and postpartum recovery. 

 

Indeed, Pilates has been shown to lower the incidence of birth interventions, including analgesia and episiotomy, and the number of obstructed labor and Cesarean deliveries.

 

The coordination of movement with breath in Pilates and the involved full, deep breathing is also beneficial in many ways. Deep breathing increases oxygen to your brain and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, thus producing a relaxing effect. 

 

Aqua Aerobics

Water walking and pool aerobics are good choices if you are a less confident swimmer, offering several health benefits. According to a pilot study, women participating in aqua aerobics report a more positive body image, improved mobility, and less physical discomfort. 

 

Water exercise also improves blood circulation, strengthens the heart, and prevents varicose veins. By improving circulation, exercise in water helps reduce swelling and relieves the feeling of heavy legs.

 

Additional benefits to working out in water include improved balance, flexibility, and core strength, stronger abs, reduced lower back pain, better night’s sleep, and stress relief. 

 

Relaxation and Breathing Exercises

During pregnancy, relaxation can help reduce stress and anxiety and has a positive effect on both the woman’s emotional state and the fetus. Studies show that relaxation is associated with fewer pregnancy and postpartum complications, hospital admissions, Cesarean births, and longer gestation. 

 

In addition, relaxation is associated with higher birth weight and reduced motor activity and heart rate, which are indicators of fetal well-being.

 

Relaxation can take many forms such as resting, listening to music, watching TV, and taking a bath. Or it can be in the form of relaxation exercises and techniques like mindfulness, breathing meditation, and rhythmic movement. Breathing exercises, in particular, help reduce your heart rate and blood pressure, helping you to relax and relieve stress. 

 

When you take deep breaths, the level of oxygen in your blood increases. The more oxygen you breathe in and supply to your body, the less anxious, short of breath, and tense you will feel. 

 

Yoga 

Yoga is not only safe during pregnancy but offers multiple health benefits. An approach focused on breathing, mindfulness, and stretching, prenatal yoga increases endurance, flexibility, and strength and helps relieve stress and anxiety. 

 

Yoga postures help strengthen the abdominal core, hip, and floor muscles, thus preparing the body for labor and delivery. Maintaining muscle strength also helps you to carry the extra weight and get back in shape after giving birth.

 

Deep yogic breathing also helps the body relax, loosen, and give birth with no or minimal pain medication. When you are afraid, stressed, or anxious, your muscles tighten and become tense which can make the contractions more painful. There are different ways to ease your fear of childbirth, like choosing a birth environment and caregiver you know but you can also try yoga and breathing techniques that can help you remain calm and present in labor.

 

If you have little experience with yoga and are looking for ways to strengthen your body and stretch your muscles, you can join a prenatal yoga class to learn the basics. You may want to observe a class first to ensure the environment, instructor’s style and the postures and activities involved feel right. And if you need some quality relaxation and me-time before your bundle of joy arrives, a yoga retreat might be just what you need. 

 

Welcoming expectant moms at any stage in their pregnancy, yoga retreats offer a plethora of activities to relax, recharge, and prepare for birth. From yoga sessions and wellness and prenatal consultations to aromatherapy and spa pampering sessions, joining a yoga retreat is a wonderful way to indulge in some self-care, leaving you feeling ready for the next big chapter of life.

Yoga Retreats for Expecting Mothers

For an overseas babymoon, Malaysia, Australia, and Bali are all good destinations to get your relaxation fix. If you feel like staying close to home, you will still find plenty of yoga retreats where you can relax and recharge before your newest addition arrives. 

 

For a truly idyllic retreat in tranquil greenery, for example, Thor is where zen-seeking women escape to relax, bring mind and body into harmony, and prepare for their next big chapter. 

 

In addition to guided meditation and yoga practice, the programs include educational workshops, herbal medicine consultations, 1:1 strength training, forest bathing, reiki, and spa treatments. 

 

Benefits of Yoga for Pregnant Women

 

Here are a few of the physical and mental benefits yoga offers pregnant women

 

Correct Breathing

Because of the position of the fetus and the size of the womb, the lungs don’t have enough space to expand, causing shortness of breath. Breathing deeply and slowly enables the lungs to work more efficiently, helping you to ease breathlessness during pregnancy. Deep breathing also brings more oxygen to the baby and helps you relax during labor and better cope with contractions and pain. 

 

Strong Muscles

Moving your body into different postures and stretching keeps your pelvic floor muscles in good condition. Regular practice helps increase endurance, strength, and flexibility, facilitating a smooth birth.

 

Research also shows that practicing yoga during pregnancy shortens delivery, eases labor pain, and reduces the rate of Cesarean births. Increasing the flexibility and strength of the perineal and vaginal muscles facilitates natural delivery and reduces the risk of premature labor. 

 

Pain Reduction

Yoga for pregnant women has been shown to improve tolerance for pain during labor, thus increasing maternal comfort. In addition to labor-related pain, yoga helps reduce pelvic and lower back pain during the third trimester. 

 

A recent study confirms that women practicing yoga experience lower levels of pelvic pain, suggesting a combination of prenatal yoga and regular exercise for pain relief. 

 

Reduced Anxiety and Better Sleep

Practicing deep breathing and yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system, improving sleep quality and calming the mind. Women attending prenatal yoga classes have been found to sleep longer at night, and their α-amylase levels decreased, suggesting reduced stress. 

 

As well as relieving stress, studies show that yoga for pregnant women significantly decreases anxiety and depression and can be used as an effective and safe treatment for women with symptoms of depression. 

Self-knowledge

Yoga helps improve self-awareness by encouraging practitioners to stay present and focus on their sensations and feelings. Mindful meditation creates a space for your feelings and thoughts to rise, be felt and experienced, and let them go.  

 

By encouraging you to look within, fully experience your emotions, and become comfortable with them, yoga helps you to understand yourself better without self-criticism or judgment. 

 

Strengthening the Bond with Your Baby

Yoga allows you to slow down and relax and tune out distractions and into your body and mind. Practicing the sequence of postures, breathing, and meditation allows you to focus on how your body changes and what is happening to your baby.  As meditation and mindfulness calm and clear the mind, they create a mental space to bond with your baby on a deeper level. 

 

Resources to Help You with Your Pregnancy Workout

Here is the list of the best pregnancy apps for your comfort. And in this YouTube channel you will find help with navigating yoga poses for pregnant women:

 

Wrapping Up

Exercising during pregnancy can benefit your health in several ways, including physically, mentally, and emotionally. Regular pregnancy exercise improves your flexibility and strength, promotes a healthy weight, improves your energy and mood, and reduces the risk of gestational diabetes, preterm delivery, and Cesarean birth. 

 

Exercising during pregnancy is not only beneficial but safe unless there are health-related reasons to refrain and as long as you avoid sports that carry a risk of falling and injury. Aqua aerobics, Pilates, breathing exercises, and yoga are generally safe and good for you and your baby. 

 

Prenatal yoga, in particular, is safe for mothers-to-be and supports a healthy and strong pregnancy. With benefits like improved stamina and flexibility, pain relief, and reduced anxiety and depression, yoga helps pregnant women embrace their bodies and stay positive, calm, strong, and healthy. 


DISCLAIMER: Always consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new routines, programs, or nutrition plans to ensure you receive the best medical advice and strategy for your specific individual needs.