Got an email from Viv the other day about Intermittent
Fasting working for women:
“I have a question about IF for women.
I have been fasting on and off ally life and I feel
great when I have less in my belly. I recently met
with a nutritionist and she said that IF doesn’t work
for women because of our hormones, etc.
So I was wondering if any of your female clients have
had success with IF.
I like the way IF makes me feel but I haven’t experienced
any weight loss with it. I suspect I need to control my
carb intake better.
Any info would be great.”
This is a great question.
I’m a big fan of IF – Intermittent Fasting – and have
been using it for years.
If you don’t know what IF is – it’s simply dividing
up your day into two periods – a period of not eating
and a period of eating. The period of not eating is
longer than the period of eating.
“But does it work for women?” is the key question here.
Depends on the woman and depends on her interpretation
At the heart of weight/fat loss is calorie control,
specifically a caloric deficit.
You need some form of caloric deficit if you want to
achieve fat loss.
At least that was the the predominant theory for who
knows how many years.
The theory I’ve subscribed to for most of my career is
that fat loss is more related to proper functioning of
your endocrine system – your hormones and getting them
Creating balance between your “fat-storing” and “fat-
The key to losing fat is making your “fat-burning”
And yes, this can actually be done in a hyper-caloric
state – meaning, you can actually eat more than you’re
used to and still lose fat.
It just depends on your activity level.
I bring that up for a very important reason pertaining
to women, which I’ll get back to in a moment.
First, one of the benefits of IF is that it’s been shown
to increase your body’s fat-burning enzymes and fat-burning
hormones, like growth hormone.
This means that by fasting, you will actually burn fat.
This is scientific fact.
And yes, I have female clients who have successfully
lost and continue to lose fat using IF.
However, there are several problems with women and
1. There’s anecdotal evidence that IF can screw up
a woman’s hormonal balance – the balance between
This can cause some serious problems.
I actually have seen this in one of my female clients,
but it was more than likely a result of what I mentioned
earlier – activity level – so let’s take a closer look at
2. Activity level.
I mentioned earlier that you can actually eat more
and lose fat, depending on your activity level.
This is called “g-flux” by nutritionist Dr John
For people who work out really hard, and really
frequently, more food is required.
Again, this is hormonal in nature.
And this is why, in my opinion, based on experience,
women fail with IF.
They increase their activity levels and drop their
This works great in the short term – the first week
Then weight loss stops.
And can even reverse – they can even gain weight –
which is sometimes fat, and sometimes just water,
and sometimes both.
This is because the hormone leptin, which signals
fat-burning, decreases by 50% over the course of
a week of decreased calories.
3. Obsessive Mindset/ Social Pressures
Let’s face it, women face tremendous societal
pressure to conform to fake standards.
Heck, there’s been a ton of negative publicity these
days about magazines photoshopping their models.
This unrealistic social pressure can cause certain
women to have an obsessive mindset about weight/fat
IF can compound those pressures.
Because of the whole “not eating to lose weight”
Back to that private client I mentioned at the start
of this email –
She lost a bunch of body fat doing one of my double
KB fat loss programs, and then stalled out, and
wanted to remedy the situation.
It turns out her calories dropped too low based on
her body’s caloric needs so not only did her weight
loss stall, but she actually GAINED fat.
Read that again –
She was working out more, eating less, and GAINING
That’s a perfect example of how fat loss is controlled
primarily by hormones.
So we actually pulled her off IF, put her on a frequent
feeding schedule, and bumped up her calories.
After a couple of weeks, her body started to normalize,
and she started to lose some body fat again.
4. The “Interpretation” of IF
All calories are not created equal.
And like Viv alluded to in her question, maybe one of
the reasons she’s not losing fat is that she is indeed
eating too many carbs.
I can’t say for sure.
Here’s one thing I do know:
Many people, use IF as justification for eating crap.
Yeah, I just wrote “crap.” (Twice.)
For example, I’ve had friends do this. They don’t eat
all day, then they eat burgers, fries, and beer for
dinner because they’re “starving” and haven’t eaten all
Besides the caloric [over-]consumption, different foods
create different hormonal responses in the body.
For example, you can under eat, and lose weight.
Some of that weight will, depending on what you eat or
don’t eat, be lean tissue – muscle.
So even on IF, calorie quality still has an impact.
This can also swing the other way:
Using IF to starve yourself.
This happens either intentionally or unknowingly.
And this is often, based on my experience, why IF is
said to mess up women’s hormones.
They drop their calories too low for too long and
their hormones crash.
The Bottom Line:
If you’re a woman who obsesses over food, then IF may
not be a good fit for you.
If you’re a woman who’s overweight, can control
your food cravings, eat relatively “sensibly,” and
wants a flexible eating program that will help you
stay social without feeling deprived, IF would be a
good choice for you.
At the end of the day, IF works for both men and women,
but the personality and emotional needs of each individual
needs to be considered, along with workout frequency
and intensity in order to be successful.
Speaking of, intermittent fasting is a centerpiece
strategy in my Kettlebell Secrets Holiday Survival
I’ll be pulling it off the market shortly – probably