Before I discovered fasting, I was like many women. For most of my life, I ate less and exercised more to keep my weight and health in a good place. However, when my hormones changed during my perimenopausal years, I kept trying to exercise more but found it wasn’t as effective, and I kept injuring myself. When I tried low-carb diets, including paleo and keto, my perimenopausal symptoms of depression, anxiety and poor sleep went through the roof.
These new symptoms, combined with the emerging research on autophagy [the body’s natural process of reusing old and damaged cells] and intermittent fasting, made me want to try it. Within three days of starting intermittent fasting, I could feel my weight dropping, energy rising, mood improving, hot flushes diminishing, and I found myself sleeping through the night again. It was such a fast and dramatic change to my health that I was hooked.
I like to skip breakfast
The key to intermittent fasting is to shorten your daily eating window, so your systems can rest and you start to burn fat from your body, rather than glucose from food. On some days, I might just eat between noon and 8pm, so I fast for 16 hours a day. But, for me, there’s no one typical day – timings change.
I’m most productive in the morning, so I get up at 5am and meditate. About an hour after I wake up, I drink a cup of coffee with raw cream and MCT oil [a refined form of coconut or palm oil, which contains fats that can be readily burnt for energy]. Then I exercise and continue working until around noon. We use insulin more efficiently during daylight hours, so I usually eat my biggest meal in the middle of the day. I’ll often go for a walk straight afterwards to help use the glucose I’ve just eaten. Then I return to work and have a light dinner. On one or two days a week, I like to extend my fast by just eating one meal a day – that gets my brain thinking better and energises me. It’s a reset.
Fasting boosts fat-burning
Every time you eat, your blood glucose goes up and your body burns sugar from the foods you eat. But if that’s all we do, we’re literally missing another way our body makes energy. When we fast for more than 13 hours, our body starts to burn fat and make ketones, which it uses as fuel. It kicks in within a few days of starting intermittent fasting. Think about our primal hunter-gatherer friends – sometimes they’d make a kill and feast for hours, sometimes it would take them days to find food. So we’ve evolved to switch between these two ways of operating. Within every 24-hour period, we need an eating window and a fasting window, so you can switch between sugar-burning and fat-burning phases.
It’s fine to be flexible with your fasting
Most health habits have to be focused, disciplined and structured – the magic of fasting is the variation, allowing you to match it to your lifestyle. That’s why people can stick to it. When you’re starting out, keep a journal and try eating breakfast slightly later to lengthen your fasting window. And if you get home from work later than usual and cook dinner at, say, 9pm, you could just fast a little longer the next day.
Transform your health with three new food habits
First, eat more good oils (olive, flaxseed, sesame seed), and avoid the bad ones (such as margarine, corn oil and vegetable oil). Second, get off processed carbs like breads and cakes and get onto nature’s carbs – fruit, including lots of berries, veg, potatoes and unprocessed whole-grains. Third, ditch all the fake, synthetic ingredients – those additives such as colourings and sweeteners. If you just change those three things, and learn to fast, even for just 13 hours, you will transform your metabolic health.
Measure blood sugars, not your weight
I’d love to put a blood-glucose monitor on everyone. Scales won’t tell you the whole truth – they don’t show which direction you’re moving in, metabolically. A blood-glucose monitor does – it can change your food habits. Every woman who is menstruating and uses a glucose monitor starts to freak out when she sees her blood glucose go up the week before her period. That’s because the body is trying to bring up its glucose stores to make more progesterone and shed the uterine lining. We all know we crave carbs before our cycle – that’s because we need glucose to be higher. With a glucose monitor, we can see that trend and understand why our body has this rhythm – it’s not the same every day of the month.
The diet you ate at 25 won’t work for you at 45
Oestrogen helps us use insulin efficiently. During perimenopause, progesterone steadily declines, while oestrogen fluctuates a lot more until that too declines post-menopause.
That’s why I think every woman over 40 should be fasting, because it will help with this increased insulin resistance.
After 40, fasting can help with hormonal shifts
I discovered fasting in my early 40s and it became my weight-loss tool. Now that I’ve been almost a year without a cycle, I’m noticing that I’m putting weight on around my belly and my hips, as my body becomes more insulin resistant. So I am trying some longer fasts again, some days doing only one meal a day. I can already feel my mid-section weight change.
Fasting is easier than dieting
Other diets seem to get harder or more boring with time. Fasting is not like that. I don’t snack anymore – I stopped bringing dried mango into the house because the whole bag would be gone.
During a fast window, as ketones go up, your hunger goes down, so you feel more benefits. It’s time efficient, doesn’t cost you any money and you don’t need willpower. You can get addicted to fasting because you feel so good.
As told to Anna Turns