Planning on starting a family can be one of the happiest times in a couple’s life. From conception to pregnancy, the process that both the mother and father undergo can be a challenging, happy and joyful – and a life changing journey to say the least. However if you experience complications, health issues, or difficulty conceiving, this natural process can become one of the most stressful, worrisome and exhausting times a couple may go through together.
For conception to occur the female must be producing viable eggs during her monthly cycle and the male’s sperm must be strong and healthy in order to fertilize the egg during intercourse. Infertility, which is quite simply the inability to conceive, is becoming more common and this “natural and simple” journey can be a difficult challenge given all the contributing factors to fertility. Factors such as diet, exercise, weight, health conditions, stress levels, emotional and mental states, genetics and a high toxic load in the blood stream all play a major part in determining ones ability to conceive.
There are many ways to treat infertility, however some treatments can be extremely off putting, stressful and expensive. One of the quickest and most effective ways at getting both the male and female ready for conception is by doing a fasting detox.
By undergoing a thorough cleanse, the body has time to heal and regenerate itself on a cellular level. Fasting allows for all the toxins to be removed from the cells, hormones to be rebalanced, the liver to metabolize any excess hormones floating around the body such as xenoestrogens (found in chemicals, plastics and pesticides which create an imbalance in natural estrogen levels) and cortisol (stress hormone which can lead to inflammation, exhaustion, poor cellular function) which may be leading to infertility. Inflammation is decreased, all organs regenerated, blood sugars rebalanced, immune system boosted, nervous system rested and reproductive system balanced – amongst many other positive side effects – getting your body cleansed, detoxed, healthy and ready for conception.
Fasting is also fantastic for couples that have undergone IVF without success or women who have been on various forms of synthetic contraception because it will “pull out” any excess or synthetic hormones, cleanse the liver, alkalize the blood stream and re-boot the natural hormonal process of the body.
What is Fasting?
An intermittent fast is a brief fast where, for 12–16 hours or more, you don’t eat anything except water (a few exceptions apply). And while that may sound incredibly difficult to achieve, you might already be fasting without knowing it if you eat dinner at, say, 7 p.m. and break your fast in the morning between 7 - 10 a.m. - and if you only have water and black coffee or tea between.
For others of us who have been trained to eat six times a day to “keep our metabolism up,” it can be an arduous and seemingly contradictory feat to go 12-plus hours on water alone. But science actually backs up this ancient practice.
Medical studies have shown that intermittent fasting:
- Increases energy
- Improves cognition, memory and clear-thinking
- Makes us less insulin resistant, staving off fat and insulin related disease by reducing levels of circulating IGF-1 and increasing insulin sensitivity without lowering the resting metabolic rate
- May improve immunity, lower diabetes risk, and improve heart health
- Increases production of brain neurotropic growth factor - a protein that promotes neuron growth and protection - making us more resilient to neurological stress and thus staving off neurodegenerative diseases
The Female Fasting Experience
All of this is amazing, right? However, there is a caveat for some women.
Most women have no issues with intermittent fasting and receive all of the amazing anti-inflammatory, regenerative health benefits of it and do great with it, resolving issues such as Endometriosis, PCOS, Fibroids, blocked Fallopian tubes, etc. But some women have complained about intermittent fasting and its effect on their hormones. They may have noticed that their period became a bit irregular while fasting.
The Fasting and Hormone Connection
To put it simply, intermittent fasting can cause hormonal imbalance in some women, if it’s not done correctly. Women are extremely sensitive to signals of starvation, and if the body senses that it is being starved, it will ramp up production of the hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin.
So when women experience insatiable hunger after under-eating, they are actually experiencing the increased production of these hormones. It’s the female body’s way of protecting a potential fetus - even when a woman is not pregnant.
Of course, though, many women ignore these hunger cues causing the signals to get even louder. Or, worse, we try to ignore them, then fail and binge later, then follow that up with under-eating and starvation again. And guess what? That vicious cycle can throw your hormones out of whack and even halt ovulation.
Intermittent fasting for long periods of time can sometimes throw off a woman’s hormonal balance, cause fertility problems and exacerbate eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder.
But there is a solution for these women who experience this. And they can still experience all of the astounding benefits of fasting…
Crescendo Fasting for Women
Intermittent fasting for women can be hard on your body if you are new to it or if you jump in too quickly. So if you are a woman or trying fasting for the first time, you might benefit from modified - or crescendo - intermittent fasting.
Crescendo fasting only requires you to fast a few days a week instead of every day. My experience is that women get a lot more benefit from doing it this way without accidentally throwing their hormones into a frenzy. This is a more gentle approach that helps the body more easily adapt to fasting. And if women do it right, it can be an amazing way to shave off body fat, improve inflammatory markers and gain energy.
Not all women need crescendo fasting, but it will ensure success in most.
Rules of Crescendo Fasting:
- Fast on 2–3 nonconsecutive days per week (e.g. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday)
- On fasting days, do yoga or light cardio.
- Ideally, fast for 12–16 hours.
- Eat normally on your strength training/HIIT workouts intense exercise days.
- Drink plenty of water. (Tea and coffee are okay, too, as long as there is no added milk or sweetener)
- After two weeks, feel free to add one more day of fasting.
- Optional: Consider taking 5–8 grams of BCAAs during your fast. A branched chain amino acid supplement has few calories but provides fuel to muscles. This can take the edge off hunger and fatigue.
There are different intermittent fasting methods discussed online. Here are a few of the them.
The Crescendo Method is one of the best ways to ease into intermittent fasting without shocking your body or aggravating your hormones. It doesn’t require you to fast every day, only a few days per week, spaced throughout the week. For example, Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
- Fasting Window: 12-16 hours
- Eating Window: 8-12 hours
- Safe for Women: Yes
- 16/8 Method
- The 16/8 method, sometimes called the “leangains method” is another brief intermittent fasting routine that’s used specifically to target body fat and improve lean muscle mass (a.k.a. your gains!).
- Fasting Window: 16 hours
- Eating Window: 8 hours
- Safe for Women: Yes
24 Hour Protocol (a.k.a. “Eat-Stop-Eat”)
The 24 hour protocol, also known as “eat-stop-eat” requires you to do a 24-hour fast, once or twice a week. You can choose the time you start fasting. Some people prefer to fast from 8pm to 8pm the following day, or begin their fast after breakfast.
- Fasting Window: 24 hours
- Eating Window: 0
- Safe for Women: Yes, when done a maximum of 2 times per week.
The 5:2 Diet
The 5:2 diet, also known as the “Fast Diet,” involves restricting calories two days a week to 500 calories per day (with two 250 calorie meals), while eating normally for the other five days. For example, you might eat all of your regular meals Saturday through Wednesday, and eat 500 calories per day on Thursdays and Fridays.There isn’t a ton of research to back up this diet, although it was publicized by Michael Mosley, a British journalist and doctor. Since it doesn’t completely restrict food on the fasting days, it may also be an effective way to ease into fasting without shocking your system. The Fast Diet is considered safe for men and women.
- Fasting Window: No fasting window, just calorie restriction to 500 calories per day for 2 fasting days per week
- Eating Window: Assume regular caloric intake 5 days per week
- Safe for Women: Generally considered safe for women, but studies are lacking on this diet
|Method||Eating Window||Fasting Window||Safe for Women?|
|Crescendo Fasting||8-12 hours||12-16 hours||Yes|
|The 5:2 Diet||Regular meals 5 days per week||500 calories per day for 2 days per week||Generally yes|
Intermittent fasting may work amazingly well for some people, and not so well for others. Most importantly, if you do decide to give intermittent fasting a try, be sure to listen to your body’s feedback. Easing into intermittent fasting by starting with shorter fasting windows can help with initial symptoms of hunger and discomfort. But if it becomes too uncomfortable, be honest with yourself, accept it, and move on.
At the end of the day, nothing can have a greater impact on your health than a diet rich in real, whole foods, and a lifestyle that prioritizes your physical, mental, and emotional well-being.