Should You Intermittent Fast During Menopause? A Hormone Expert Explains
Intermittent fasting has become one of the most popular eating practices and is associated with a variety of potential health benefits from improved gut health to longevity.
It involves skipping food for the majority of the day and eating all your meals in a shortened time frame.
Intermittent fasting is great for a lot of people—but what if you're menopausal or perimenopausal? Will fasting still work for you? Is it even safe during this time?
As an integrative physician, I've spent the last decade working with thousands of patients, many of whom were women going through menopause.
Here's a brief look at how menopause changes your body and how intermittent fasting might help with many of the common symptoms.
Why you gain weight during menopause
Menopause is the natural decline in sex hormones that happens as women reach their 40s and 50s.
During this time, the ovaries stop producing estrogen and progesterone, which, in turn, stops menstruation.
You've officially reached menopause when you haven't had your period for 12 months. However, amenorrhea, the loss of the period, is not the only symptom of menopause.
- Hot flashes
- Vaginal dryness
- Decreased libido
- Increased heart disease risk
- Night sweats
- Mood changes
And, most notable for many, menopause also causes changes to the metabolism2. Typically, the metabolism slows down during menopause because estrogen and progesterone levels fall out of balance. The sudden hormonal shift causes many women to gain weight.
You may also become less sensitive to insulin3 during menopause, meaning you have trouble processing sugar and refined carbohydrates—a metabolic change called insulin resistance. Although further research is needed, insulin resistance may be associated with fatigue and trouble sleeping4.
You may feel like you don't understand your body as well as you used to during menopause, and symptoms, like sudden weight gain, can cause you to feel anxious and depressed.
The good news is that intermittent fasting is an ideal tool to help you through menopause. If you’re struggling with weight gain, fatigue, and/or insulin resistance during menopause, you may want to consider giving it a try.
Will intermittent fasting help with menopause symptoms?
In short: yes. Intermittent fasting can help with several symptoms of menopause, including:
Mental health changes: Menopause has been shown to cause anxiety, depression, fatigue, brain fog, mood swings, and psychological stress. Studies have found that fasting has a positive influence on an individual's self-esteem, may help with depression and stress levels8, and may encourage overall positive psychological shifts9.
How to intermittent fast during menopause
Intermittent fasting is quite simple to do. You pick an eating window that works for you—say, from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.—and you eat all your calories in that time frame.
Outside of your eating window, you fast—just water and noncaloric drinks like coffee or tea. In other words, you're fasting for 16 hours every day, and eating for eight hours every day. That's called a 16:8 fast, and it is one of the most basic intermittent fasting structures.
The nice thing about intermittent fasting is that it's flexible. Many people start with shorter fasts (14:10 fasts are popular, 14 hours fasting, 10 eating) and gradually increase their fast length.
Some people go all the way to eating only one meal a day. You can play with different fasting schedules and see what feels best for you.
Intermittent fasting is a great tool for managing weight, insulin resistance, and other common symptoms of menopause.
That said, there are some people who may not want to try intermittent fasting.
Intermittent fasting puts mild stress on your body, so if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or have a history of an eating disorder, you'll want to avoid incorporating intermittent fasting into your daily routine.
If you decide to give intermittent fasting a try, pay attention to how you feel. If fasting makes you feel too stressed, or if you feel weak or ill during fasting, you may want to either shorten your fast or skip intermittent fasting entirely.
Keep in mind that you don't have to fast every day, either. You can always fast every other day or even just a couple of times a week.
Menopause can be a challenging time, but with the right diet and lifestyle changes, you can stay fit, happy, and healthy, even as your hormones change.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on November 15, 2019. A previous version of this article indicated that fasting can decrease your risk for certain metabolic diseases. We have since clarified that statement to show that fasting can help regulate the way your body processes sugar, which may reduce the risk of certain diseases.
Dr. Taz Bhatia is a board-certified physician, specializing in integrative and emergency medicine, pediatrics and prevention, with expertise in women’s health, weight-loss, hormone balance and nutrition. She attended Emory University, the University of Georgia and the Medical College of Georgia, and was a recipient of the Emily Gardner Award for Best Pediatric Resident in 2000. She is the author of the Superwoman RX and The 21-Day Belly Fix. Personal health challenges in her twenties combined with a broken health care system motivated Bhatia to pursue an alternative definition of health and healthy living. As a young resident, she was sick and without answers, and began searching for help to heal her health issues. Studying various systems of medicine including Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture and Ayurveda, she found a wealth of information not yet taught in conventional medical schools. It led her to opening her now nationally-recognized practice, CentreSpring MD (formerly Atlanta Center for Holistic and Integrative Medicine). Today, Bhatia and her team work relentlessly to find a patient’s core health problems, their centre, in order to spring them forth in health, pulling from multiple systems of medicine, including integrative, functional, Chinese and holistic medicine.