Fasting—or engaging in extended periods where you don’t consume any food—can be a key part of jump-starting a new diet or detox plan and is even a component of religious practices for some.
Some nutritional plans may include limited versions of fasting, where the dieter may be allowed certain, specific foods.
Healthy fasting plans will still promote drinking plenty of water, and many allow black coffee and some other zero calorie drinks as well. Sometimes, a fast only requires someone to fast at certain times throughout the day or week. This is called intermittent fasting, and it is often employed by people of all ages for nutritional purposes.
Can Intermittent Fasting Help You?
As we age, our bodies’ nutritional needs change. Women over 40 can sometimes experience this significantly, not only due to the approach of menopause and its significant physiological changes, but also because of increasing risk for diseases like osteoporosis and certain cancers. While managing caloric intake is important for anyone’s health at any stage of life, women entering later adulthood may find that getting proper nutritional levels becomes far more important to their overall sense of wellness than a quick burst of weight loss offered by fad diet pills and associated diets.
However, fasting without proper planning and supervision can have serious consequences on your overall health that will go far beyond weight loss. Fasting for women over 40 can be especially complicated, as it combines an extreme form of dieting with a stage of life that can exert serious physical and chemical changes on a woman’s body. Older adult women considering a fasting-based nutrition plan will want to make sure they’re doing so safely. This is one of the reasons intermittent fasting—a controlled schedule of fasting and eating in alternating blocks of time—can be a good dietary tactic for adult women, as opposed to other types of fasting.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
Functionally, intermittent fasting is exactly what it sounds like: periods of fasting alternated with periods of eating. Depending on your specific diet, you might eat normally during your non-fasting periods, or you might stick to a diet regimen. The intermittency is key, as it allows your body to completely digest food and absorb its nutrients before it processes its next meal, then fully recover from the process.
More specifically, the body must recover via the cellular regeneration process by which the digestive tract repairs itself between uses. This is much like the process your muscles need to build and maintain mass. For this reason, you can look at periods of intermittent fasting as analogous to a bodybuilder resting their muscles on a set schedule and not working the same muscle groups day after day.
What Can Fasting Do For You?
What does fasting mean for your body? Several things:
- Lower insulin levels
- Stored glucose is converted to energy
- Burning of fat stores
Aside from healthy, natural weight loss, intermittent fasting also helps some people with other issues, such as:
- Insomnia and restlessness
- Inflammation and soreness
- Insulin resistance (the inability to absorb glucose from the blood, resulting in more calories stored as fat)
- Brain fog and other mental health issues
Intermittent Fasting Schedules
A pure intermittent fasting-based plan is not actually a diet at all in the traditional sense. Intermittent fasting alone doesn’t restrict what you eat, it only restricts when you get to do it. Often, however, an intermittent fasting schedule will get combined with a particular diet or nutrition plan for best results. This can come in the form of a specific diet telling you exactly what to eat on which days, or it may be as simple as a list of ingredients to avoid from a nutritionist. Still, the framework of intermittent fasting can be used by anyone, whether they’re looking to pair it with a diet plan or not.
There are several commonly used intermittent fasting formats, including:
Sixteen hours of fasting with 8 hours of consumption is a manageable but fairly aggressive intermittent fasting plan that consolidates all caloric intake into an 8-hour block. Then, you have the remainder of the day for rest and repair of your digestive system. If your 8-hour block for eating starts at 11:00 AM and ends at 7:00 PM, a 16/8 intermittent fast can fit into most socially active lifestyles.
For those who have never tried a fasting-based dietary plan before, a 12/12 plan can be an effective way to ease into the process of intermittent fasting. This format is also good for people unable to sustain a 16-hour period without eating. With 12/12 fasting, one half of the day is for fasting and sleeping, and you are free to eat for the other half.
With 5/2 intermittent fasting, the numbers refer to days in a week rather than hours in a day. This means that for 5 days of each week, you can eat normally. Most people in their 40s will want to look at the other two days as “restricted” days rather than by-the-book 24 hour fasting days. As a starting point, you can aim for around 1/3 to 1/2 of your usual caloric intake on your two restricted days. Just be sure to spread these days throughout the week, as planning them back-to-back will make your intermittent fast more dangerous and less effective.
Alternate Day Fasting
Alternate day fasting is extremely aggressive and likely not appropriate for many women entering their 40s. As with 5/2 fasting, alternate day fasting can be done on a reduced calorie basis or with true 24-hour fasts. However, instead of 2 days of fasting spread throughout the week, you’re fasting every other day.
Possible Side Effects of Intermittent Fasting for Women Over 40
Fasting can be a powerful weight loss and wellness tool, but it can also be dangerous. The body needs fuel and nutrition to perform daily activities, exercise, and other tasks.
When you cut off that supply, there can sometimes be unpleasant consequences, including:
- Physical weakness
- Hunger pangs
- Dizzy or lightheaded sensations
- Irritation and emotional distress
Many people who stick with their intermittent fasting regimen report that these side effects lessen or disappear once the intermittent fasting routine has been established and the cycle has been repeated a few times.
There are certain circumstances, however, where intermittent fasting may make someone feel worse over the long term, or even actively harm their health.
An intermittent fasting routine is unlikely to be a healthy choice for anyone experiencing:
- An autoimmune disorder
- Critically low body weight
- Low blood sugar/hypoglycemia/diabetes
- Vitamin or mineral deficiency
- History of struggling with eating disorders
Intermittent Fasting for Women Over 40: Final Thoughts
Listen to your body. A dietary plan designed to get you healthy shouldn’t leave you feeling sick or exhausted. It’s natural to feel hunger during the fasting portions of your diet and pairing it with a new exercise routine might leave you feeling a little worn out the first week or so. However, persistent feelings of lethargy, soreness, dizziness, or nausea can be signs that your body is not on board with your new diet.
Chief Operating Officer, The Compounding Pharmacy of America
Matthew Poteet, Pharm.D. graduated with Honors from Lee University with a Bachelors of Science in Biological Science. After his undergraduate training, he completed the Doctor of Pharmacy program at Mercer University Southern School of Pharmacy, graduating in 2004. Dr. Poteet has spent much of his pharmacy career on staff at two of the most prestigious academic teaching hospitals in the Southeast; Emory University in Atlanta and Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. At these institutions he received extensive experience and training in sterile products compounding.
He returned home to East Tennessee in 2010, where he has held the position of Pharmacy Director at two sterile products pharmacies in Knoxville. Matthew lives in Knoxville with his wife, Chris. Dr. Poteet is Tennessee’s first Board Certified Anti-Aging Pharmacist by the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine.