I grew up being told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. My mom ensured that each day I went off to school with a full stomach, ready to power my brain. As I became more interested in nutrition, I heard fitness and nutrition influencers sharing recipes for a morning meal guaranteed to light your metabolism. However, in the past few years, the concept of intermittent fasting has become more mainstream. Fasting is in no way new, but it is certainly trending in the health and wellness space.
Intermittent fasting doesn’t mean skipping breakfast. Instead, it means eating food within in a 6-8-hour window. As a result, depending on when you start eating, there is an 8-15 hour fast in between your last meal of the day and your first meal of the next. Some people do skip breakfast and eat from 12 p.m.- 6 or 8 p.m., others eat breakfast at 8 a.m., but have their last meal at 4 p.m., and so on.
There are many reasons people choose to fast. Some research provides evidence that it increases fat burning, can help with those who are highly insulin sensitive, can help hormone functions, and can improve sleep. All of these benefits result from the fact that resting and digesting are opposites in the body. When our body isn’t taxed with the task of digesting food, it is able to repair.
Not exactly. The research that support intermittent fasting is just as good as any research, in that it is limited by the participants who have been studied. The reality is that these benefits do apply to many people: men, those with PCOS or extra estrogen, those with autoimmune diseases and neurological disorders, and more. However, that does not include a large chunk of the population… including myself.
I decided to start fasting for weight and digestion purposes (and, admittedly, because ever blogger I saw was doing it, too). At first, it worked for me. I did feel more energized, less focused on food, and my stomach felt great from its daily break. But, after a while, things changed in my body. I felt more irritable, I found myself craving sugar even though I was eating low carb, I constantly was looking at the clock wondering when I could eat again, my anxiety was up, and, most notably, my period was gone. I began to do some research and was not surprised to find that many people, especially many young women, had the same experience.
There is much more scientific research (and jargon) around this topic, but, in the simplest terms, women’s hormones are more complicated than men’s. While men are designed to be able to hunt and gather and go without food, the female hormone system is designed to recreate life. As a result, while men can fast for longer stretches, women’s hormones require nourishment. This is not to say that women can’t benefit from intermittent fasting at all and need to have a feast every morning. However, it is to say that trends and the research that supports it does not apply to everyone. As someone who tries to practice mindfulness, I hope this encourages you to tap into your own intuition and experience.
Now, instead of being hung up on the labels, I try to listen to my body. If I wake up starving, I have my favorite breakfast of eggs, sweet potato, avocado, greens and sauerkraut. If I had a big dinner the night before, I might opt for a turmeric or matcha latte with collagen and ghee added. Most mornings, though, I choose to have a protein shake because it is the perfect vehicle to get nutrients in my body, nourish my adrenals and hormones, and it makes me happy because it tastes awesome.