Over the years, we’ve suffered many a fad diet – from weight-loss pills to that cayenne pepper cleanse. But, lately it’s all about fasting! Many may think that not eating for hours on end is bizarre or simply a young man’s game, but there are plenty of men and women over 50 (including Jennifer Aniston and Halle Barry) who point to fasting in helping them lose weight and look younger as they get older. So, here’s the question: Is fasting just another fad or is this a long-term lifestyle change that women in their midlife can benefit from?  

How does Intermittent Fasting work?

How much, when and what to eat has been under debate for decades. But the stand out advice that most people follow is to work around three meals a day – breakfast lunch and dinner. This sentiment seems to have changed. Now, some nutritionists would argue that you can (and should) skip a meal (or two). This is called intermittent fasting (IF) – eating during certain windows of time and fasting for periods of anything from 12 to 48 hours. Research into fasting is still ongoing, but the biggest claim is that it improves weight loss and metabolic health.

To understand how fasting works, we need to look at how our bodies burn energy. When we eat, our bodies produce two types of fuel – glucose and fat. Glucose, which is stored in your liver as glycogen, is readily available to you, so your body burns it first.  Fat is more difficult to access. Only once you use up your glycogen levels, can you burn those fat deposits, but because you replenish those levels every time you eat, it’s difficult to do. However, when you fast, you can burn through your glycogen and finally break down fat for energy.

There are different styles of IF:

Daily fasts

Daily fasts extend the period between dinner and breakfast. This more closely fits into our cycadean rhythm and can be anything between a 12-hour to 16-hour fast. Let’s say you eat dinner at 7pm, you’d aim to eat your first meal at 11am even 12pm.

Alternative day fasts

During a 5:2 schedule, you eat normal, healthy meals for five days a week, and then limit yourself to 500-600 calories during two days of the week. With an every-other-day fast, you eat normally one day and the next limit yourself to 25% of your daily calorie needs.

24-hour method

This involves fasting for a full 24 hours before breaking your fast and this is usually done once or twice a week. If you’re considering fasting but you’re accustomed to three meals a day, it’s highly recommended that you don’t start with this kind of fast.

Why could intermittent fasting work for women over 50?

As we age, not only is it more difficult to lose weight due to lower metabolism, achy joints, reduced-muscle mass, and even sleep issues, but we’re also more susceptible to developing diseases. But, fasting could be a relative fountain of youth. Along with weight loss and losing inflammatory belly fat – that pesky midlife middle – experts link fasting in the prevention of certain age-related illnesses as well as warding off various muscle, nerve, and joint disorders which can affect women over 50. Here’s why fasting could be ideal for women over 50 looking to improve their general health or combat some of the less-favourable aspects of getting older.

  • Bone health

Fasting has been linked to the parathyroid hormone secretion associated with bone health which could reduce conditions like osteoporosis, arthritis, and lower back pain.

  • Metabolic health

The changes in your body caused by menopause can trigger an increase in belly fat, as well as the insulin, and the glucose produced, which both affect how we burn fat. But, when you fast, your insulin levels drop, boosting your fat burning ability. And, as your insulin levels drop, your HGH (human growth hormone) rises which further increases fat burning and improves muscle growth.

  • Mental health

Some researchers have found a connection between the reduction of anxiety and depression – which are common for many women during menopause – through the hormone changes associated with fasting.

  • Autophagy

Fasting set’s autophagy in motion. This is the process in which the old, sick or dead cells are cleaned out, while making space for the creation of new, healthy cells. This process has been linked to lowering the risk of diseases such as cancer and Parkinson’s.

Fasting has also been linked to:

  • Improved memory
  • Better physical performance
  • Tissue health
  • Heart health

Risks/ side-effects of fasting

For some, there are some unpleasant side effects that require a little bit of discipline and patience. You may be familiar with the term ‘hangry’ which is when you are so hungry that you are angry – unfortunately this may be happen until your body gets used to it. People have also reportedly struggled with headaches and fatigue. Fasting also sets off the hormone cortisol, which brings about food cravings and can result in over-eating or binge-eating. Additionally, several studies have shown that men may benefit from fasting more than women, so results or outcomes in women may not be as rewarding.

When not to fast

Intermittent fasting doesn’t work for everyone and, with any change in diet, it is important to consult your doctor first. Please avoid fasting if you 

  • Suffer from diabetes or other blood sugar problems
  • Are under the age of 18
  • Have a history of eating disorders
  • Are pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • Are underweight