intermittent fasting for menopause

Intermittent Fasting for Menopause: What You Need to Know to Before You Start

Dr. Jolene BrightenPublished: Last Reviewed: Perimenopause/ Menopause Leave a Comment

Navigating through menopause can be filled with new challenges and changes, particularly when managing your weight and energy. Intermittent fasting for menopause is one approach that's gaining popularity for aiding in weight loss, mental performance, and overall health.

If you're not familiar with intermittent fasting (IF), it's a pattern of eating that cycles between periods of fasting and periods of eating (ideally healthy!) foods within a certain “eating window.” How does intermittent fasting benefit women specifically and fit into the menopausal phase of life?

Possible Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting for Women Over 50 Includes:

  • Assisting in weight control and body fat loss
  • Balancing hormones by improving insulin levels, which supports better blood sugar control
  • May help reduce menopausal symptoms, like hot flashes, which also affect pre-menopausal women in the phase known as perimenopause
  • May help reduce food cravings
  • Promoting longevity factors and improving quality of life
  • Reduction in inflammation
  • Improved mental clarity and less brain fog

Menopause is a transition that brings about significant hormonal changes, particularly a decrease in estrogen, which can lead to various symptoms like hot flashes, mood swings, and weight gain.

The latter— unwanted weight gain, often around the midsection, or even obesity — often becomes a major concern during menopause, as metabolic rates slow down and fat distribution shifts, making weight management more challenging. However, fasting has been shown to help, including by lowering caloric intake and supporting hormonal balance.

Let's dive into the world of intermittent fasting for menopause, exploring its benefits, considerations, and tips to help you get started.

How to Begin Intermittent Fasting

How to Practice Intermittent Fasting During Menopause

To start practicing intermittent fasting, begin by choosing a manageable fasting method that fits your lifestyle, then gradually integrate it into your daily routine while paying close attention to your body's response.

Follow these steps to get started:

  1. Choose your preferred eating window
  2. Focus on nutrient-dense foods
  3. Stay hydrated
  4. Avoid liquid calories
  5. Eat mindfully during your eating window
  6. Go easy on exercise

Let's explore these in more detail.

Choose Your Preferred Method and “Eating Window”

There are several ways to practice intermittent fasting, depending on your schedule and preferences.

Popular methods include the “16/8 method” (fasting for a 16-hour window and eating only during an 8-hour eating window) or the “5:2 method” (eating normally for five days and reducing calorie intake for two non-consecutive days, usually between 500 to 1000 calories/day).

Other options include alternate-day fasting (following a fasting protocol like 16:8 or 14:12, but only every other day), eating only one meal per day (which I don't recommend for most people), or fasting for 24 hours once or twice per week.

Common Fasting Methods:

  • 16:8 – Fast for 16, eat during eight-hour window
  • 5:2 – Regular meals for 5 days, caloric restriction for 2
  • 14:12 – Fast 14 hours, eat during twelve-hour window
  • Fasting for 24 hours one to two times per week
  • Alternate day fasting using 16:8 or 14:12

You want to be successful with fasting, meaning you're able to maintain this pattern beyond several weeks. In that case, it's essential to choose a method that aligns with your lifestyle and is sustainable in the long term. Consider the time you typically eat and decide which eating window would work best without disrupting your life too much.

What’s the best intermittent fasting for women over 50?

There is no one right way to do intermittent fasting for women over 50. The most beneficial and easiest method tends to be the 16/8 method. But what is most important is to find the method you can be successful with and works for your body. 

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting for Women Based on Time

TimePotential Benefit
4-6 hoursBlood sugar levels decrease
10-12 hoursBegin using glycogen from the liver
12-14 hoursKetones begin to rise
16-18 hoursFat burning begins
24+ hoursHuman growth hormone increases
26-48 hoursAutophagy increases significantly
50+ hoursInsulin sensitivity increases
72 hoursAutophagy peaks

Fasting beyond 3 days is used in some protocols under physician supervision. When exceeding 5 days of fasting, muscle loss begins and metabolic acidosis will begin. That is to say, the peak benefits are lost and fasting becomes detrimental to your health when done for prolonged periods of time.

Focus on Nutrient-Dense Foods

During the fasting periods of IF, avoid eating solid foods and stick to zero- or very low-calorie beverages, such as water, tea, and unsweetened coffee.

Fasting isn't an excuse to add more junk foods to your diet, which is unfortunately how some people use it. During your eating windows, prioritize nutrient-dense foods rich in fiber, protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals.

Aim for an anti-inflammatory diet (grab my free recipe guide here to get started). This approach is best for keeping you satiated and providing the necessary nutrients to support your body through the menopause transition.

Additionally, women in menopause require certain nutrients in higher amounts, so ensure these are included in your diet even when practicing fasting. For example, menopause increases the risk of osteoporosis; therefore adequate calcium and vitamin D are needed to protect bone health. Furthermore, protein helps with maintaining muscle mass, while antioxidants fight inflammation and oxidative stress.

Healthy Food to Emphasize:

  • Nuts and seeds, such as flax, chia, almonds, and walnuts
  • Fresh fruit, including berries, citrus, apples
  • Whole grains like wild rice, quinoa and oats
  • Vegetables, including broccoli, kale, spinach, peppers, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, etc.
  • Avocado
  • Fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut
  • Olive oil
  • Fish such as salmon and sardines
  • Grass-fed beef and organ meats
  • Poultry
  • Eggs

Foods to Avoid or Limit:

  • Soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Refined carbohydrates like white bread or other white flour products
  • Processed meats and high-fat red meats
  • Fried foods
  • High-sugar snacks (cookies, candy bars)
  • Refined sugars
  • Trans fats

Stay Hydrated and Avoid “Liquid Calories”

Drinking plenty of water is crucial, especially during fasting periods, to prevent dehydration, assist digestion, and keep your energy up. You might feel hungry while fasting, but you don't need to feel thirsty.

Stay hydrated by drinking at least six to eight glasses of water daily. Aside from water, you can drink other hydrating fluids free of added sugar.

Here are some options for hydrating drinks, which you can consume both while fasting and within your eating window:

  • Water: Plain or infused with slices of lemon, cucumber, or herbs for flavor
  • Black Coffee: Without sugar or milk. A small amount of calorie-free sweetener may be acceptable for some
  • Electrolyte beverages: Electrolytes can help with fluid balance and support successful fasting. Look for a sugar-free option that ideally has sodium and potassium.
  • Tea: Herbal, green, black, or white teas are great choices as long as they are consumed plain without added sugars or milk
  • Bone Broth: Some fasting plans allow for small amounts of bone broth, which can provide electrolytes and may help manage hunger pangs
  • Apple Cider Vinegar: Diluted in water, it can be a good option for some, as it's low in calories and can help with digestion

Eat Mindfully Within Your Eating Window

When it's time to eat, resist the urge to overeat. Instead, pay close attention to your body's hunger and fullness cues. Rather than eating while distracted or in a rush, slow down while you eat, take about 20 minutes or longer to finish a meal, and chew your food thoroughly.

All of these habits involve bringing awareness to your eating habits, helping you to control portion sizes and make healthier choices in general.

Go Easy on Exercise (Keep it Light or Moderate)

The best type of exercise during IF varies based on an individual's overall fitness level and how they respond to fasting, such as whether they feel energized or lethargic. On longer fasts, low- to moderate-intensity workouts, such as walking, yoga, and light jogging, are usually best.

If you prefer strength training, consider scheduling these workouts during or after your eating windows, as your body will have more fuel available. For those accustomed to high-intensity workouts (HIIT), it's typically best to perform these closer to your eating periods to utilize the energy from your meals.

intermittent fasting women over 50

Tips and Precautions for Intermittent Fasting During Menopause

While it's wise for just about everyone to approach intermittent fasting armed with knowledge, there are some extra precautions that women approaching or in menopause should consider when beginning to try IF:

Listen to Your Body

Menopause is a time of significant change, and every woman's experience is unique. Pay attention to how your body responds to intermittent fasting and adjust accordingly.

For example, you might have better results when expanding your eating window by one or two hours, or by practicing IF every other day instead of daily.

If you experience any of these side effects, consider changing your method, trying IF at another time, or stopping fasting altogether:

  • Intense feelings of hunger or the desire to binge eat
  • Mood swings or irritability
  • Fatigue, weakness, and lightheadedness
  • Constipation
  • Intense headaches

Begin Gradually

If you're new to intermittent fasting, start slowly. Begin with shorter fasting periods and gradually increase as your body adjusts.

Start with a shorter fasting period, such as 12 hours, and gradually increase up to 16 hours or possibly longer. This helps your body adjust without too much stress.

Prioritize Getting Enough Sleep

Good sleep is crucial during intermittent fasting for several reasons:

  • Recovery and Repair: Sleep is a time for the body to repair and rebuild. When combined with fasting, which also promotes cellular repair, adequate sleep can enhance these restorative processes.
  • Hormonal Balance: Lack of sleep can disrupt hormones that regulate appetite (like cortisol, ghrelin, and leptin), which can make fasting more challenging and lead to overeating during eating windows.
  • Energy Levels: Quality sleep ensures you have enough energy to sustain your fasting periods without feeling overly fatigued or irritable.
  • Stress Management: Poor sleep can increase stress levels, which can negatively impact your ability to maintain a fasting routine and make healthy choices during eating periods.

Be Mindful of Your Mental Health

Menopause can be a challenging time emotionally and psychologically, so if you find that intermittent fasting is negatively impacting your mood or mental health, reconsider if it's the right approach for you.

For example, if you find yourself feeling very tired, moody, or overeating in what feels like an uncontrollable way within your eating window, this might not be the best approach for you. If you have a history of disordered eating, fasting may have a negative impact. In these instances, it's better to consult with your provider before beginning.

Consult with a Healthcare Provider If You're Concerned

Before starting any new diet or lifestyle change, especially during menopause, it's smart to consult with a healthcare provider if you're taking any medications or have any chronic health conditions. Your provider can provide personalized advice based on your health history and current condition.

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Why Consider Intermittent Fasting During Menopause?

IF is not a “diet” as it focuses more on when you eat rather than on specific foods or quantities consumed. While the quality of food is not the central aspect of this approach, it's still important as a healthy diet combined with IF leads to the best results.

Intermittent fasting offers several benefits that align well with the needs of menopausal women, including common issues that women face during this stage, such as trouble managing blood sugar levels, high blood pressure, weight gain, and high cholesterol.

In fact, even many healthcare providers who typically don't recommend fasting view menopause as an opportune time to explore it, considering that hormone levels are less likely to fluctuate significantly during and after menopause.

Here how's intermittent fasting during menopause can benefit women:

Help With Weight Management

One of the key benefits of intermittent fasting for women, especially during menopause, is its potential for weight loss and an overall improved metabolism. While there isn't a vast amount of research specifically on intermittent fasting women over 50, studies have shown that the metabolic and weight loss benefits are the same between postmenopausal women and premenopausal.

By limiting one's eating window, typically to about eight to 10 hours per day, IF can lead to weight loss in women (including those who are premenopausal and menopausal) due to a reduction in food intake and to some extent a potential increase in fat burning.

Intermittent fasting promotes metabolic switching, where your body shifts from carb burning into fat burning. This enables the body to become more metabolically flexible, which has a range of health benefits, including anti-aging.

When the goal is specifically weight loss, the fasting window should be at least 16 hours. 

Hormonal Balance: Intermittent Fasting Women Over 50

IF can help in balancing hormones affected by menopause, including sex hormones, as well as cortisol and insulin. One of the most significant hormonal effects of IF is the improvement in insulin sensitivity.

During menopause, women often experience increased insulin resistance, which can lead to weight gain and a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. IF helps in regulating blood sugar levels, thereby reducing the risk of insulin resistance and its associated complications.

While intermittent fasting during menopause does not directly increase estrogen levels, it can contribute to a healthier overall hormonal profile.

Testosterone is converted to estrogen by fat cells, which is commonly seen in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and those who are obese. By aiding in weight loss and reducing fat tissue, IF can also help in decreasing estrogen dominance, a condition where there is too much estrogen relative to progesterone, which can exacerbate perimenopause and menopausal symptoms.

Fasting during menopause can also influence the regulation of cortisol, the body's primary stress hormone. Maintaining normal cortisol levels is beneficial for getting quality sleep and keeping one's appetite in check.

Takeaway for Menopause and Intermittent Fasting on hormones: Intermittent fasting may improve insulin and blood sugar management, as well as balancing sex hormones. 

Potential for Reduced Menopausal Symptoms

Some studies suggest that intermittent fasting can help in reducing menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats, which are among the most common menopausal symptoms that women experience.

And, if fasting can help improve a woman's sleep, she's likely to benefit in numerous ways, such as having more daytime energy, better focus, less irritability, and a more in-control appetite with fewer cravings (including for sugar!).

Navigating menopause and intermittent fasting may help to improve symptoms.

Mental Clarity and Energy

Many adults practicing IF report a noticeable improvement in mental clarity and energy levels, countering the typical fatigue and brain fog associated with menopause. Some even find that fasting helps improve their physical as well as mental performance.

Reduction in Inflammation

Chronic inflammation is a common issue during menopause, contributing to various health problems, including negatively impacting heart health. IF has been shown to reduce markers of inflammation, thereby potentially easing menopausal symptoms linked to inflammatory responses, such as joint pain and mood swings.

Cellular Repair Processes

Studies suggest that fasting activates cellular repair processes, such as autophagy, where cells remove and recycle damaged components.

This process is crucial for maintaining cellular health and helping to prevent age-related diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers, all of which are concerns as women age into their post-menopausal years.

In this way, IF can promote longevity and quality of life.

Brain Health

If you choose to try fasting for longer periods, you may benefit from your body releasing more brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that supports brain plasticity, which is crucial for cognitive function and mental health. This helps explain why IF has been linked to improved brain health and a reduced risk of neurodegenerative diseases, like dementia.

Intermittent fasting for women over 50 may also support mood by reducing inflammation, increasing brain protective compounds, and offering mental clarity.

Other Ways to Support Intermittent Fasting for Women Over 50

In addition to following the steps above, consider taking these supplements to assist you while practicing intermittent fasting during menopause:

Electrolytes (Such as Magnesium):

Magnesium and electrolytes support the body during fasting, particularly when it comes to maintaining hydration, energy levels, and digestive health. When fasting, especially for extended periods, the body can lose electrolytes and fluids. Electrolytes like sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium assist in maintaining fluid balance in the body and support energy production at the cellular level.

Supplementing with electrolytes, such as by taking Magnesium Plus, can help prevent dehydration and potentially the symptoms associated with electrolyte imbalances, such as fatigue, headaches, and muscle cramps. Magnesium and electrolytes also assist in muscle relaxation, helping you to get quality sleep.

Women's Probiotic:

Maintaining optimal gut health is essential, especially during menopause, as it significantly influences hormonal production and balance. This is particularly relevant for menopausal women practicing intermittent fasting, as gut health can impact the efficacy of this dietary approach.

Women's Probiotic by Dr. Brighten is specifically formulated with bacterial strains tailored to support the unique health needs of women, including those navigating menopause. It features a powerful blend of probiotics, prebiotics, and antioxidants designed to support a healthy microbiome and digestive function.

Inositol:

Incorporating Inositol (a type of carbohydrate) during intermittent fasting can be beneficial in regulating hormones, improving insulin sensitivity, and enhancing metabolic health, all of which help to manage menopausal symptoms.

Myoinositol Plus by Dr. Brighten is specially formulated with an ideal mix of myo-inositol and D-chiro-inositol, along with a blend of vitamins, minerals, and herbs, to support the unique hormonal and metabolic needs of women.

Hormone Support:

During perimenopause, the menopause transition, or if choosing to use hormone replacement therapy (HRT), supporting estrogen metabolism with DIM, resveratrol, sulforaphane, calcium D-glucarate, magnesium, and B vitamins can help during this critical time.

Calcium-D-glucarate aids in eliminating excess estrogens, which is particularly beneficial when fasting for a healthy body weight. Balance Women's Hormone Support features the previously mentioned nutrients and DIM to support healthy estrogen metabolism, which is crucial during the menopausal transition.

The inclusion of resveratrol offers robust antioxidant protection, supporting cellular health amidst the metabolic changes of menopause and fasting.

Essential nutrients like Vitamins B6, B12, and folate are also added to facilitate proper cell differentiation, while magnesium and calcium contribute to maintaining bone density.

Adrenal Support:

When the ovaries no longer produce hormones, the body will derive its estrogen and testosterone from the hormone DHEA. DHEA is made in the adrenal glands, which is why maintaining their health is essential.

Adrenal Support is designed to balance stress hormones, which is crucial as menopause and fasting can both significantly impact the body's stress response.

This supplement combines standardized adaptogenic herbs and nutrients, supporting healthy energy levels and the adrenal glands, which play a key role in managing the hormonal fluctuations of menopause. It also aids in maintaining healthy cortisol levels, which is essential for coping with the stressors of fasting and menopausal changes, and supports the hypothalamic and pituitary function (HPTA axis).

Summary: Intermittent Fasting for Menopause

Intermittent fasting during menopause can be more than just a weight management strategy; it can be a holistic approach to enhancing overall health, including by assisting in hormone balance, cellular processes, and cognitive function, while also reducing certain menopausal symptoms.

However, IF is not an excuse to eat poorly or to overeat within your eating window. Eating nutrient-dense, unprocessed foods is still important, even when practicing fasting. IF is also not a universal solution and should be tailored to individual health needs and lifestyles.

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About The Author

Dr. Jolene Brighten

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Dr. Jolene Brighten, NMD, is a women’s hormone expert and prominent leader in women’s medicine. As a licensed naturopathic physician who is board certified in naturopathic endocrinology, she takes an integrative approach in her clinical practice. A fierce patient advocate and completely dedicated to uncovering the root cause of hormonal imbalances, Dr. Brighten empowers women worldwide to take control of their health and their hormones. She is the best selling author of Beyond the Pill and Healing Your Body Naturally After Childbirth. Dr. Brighten is an international speaker, clinical educator, medical advisor within the tech community, and considered a leading authority on women’s health. She is a member of the MindBodyGreen Collective and a faculty member for the American Academy of Anti Aging Medicine. Her work has been featured in the New York Post, Forbes, Cosmopolitan, Huffington Post, Bustle, The Guardian, Sports Illustrated, Elle, and ABC News. Read more about me here.