If you’re unfamiliar with Dr. Mary Claire Haver, allow me to introduce you to the best friend and medical guru you’ve always wanted if you’re over 40. Haver is a board-certified OB/GYN physician who provides valuable medical and wellness information to midlife women on social media.
Haver’s new book, The Galveston Diet, will be available on January 10, so mark your calendars.
In particular, she is a big proponent of intermittent fasting, especially for perimenopausal and menopausal women.
First, A Quick Run-Down On Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting (IF) refers to a pattern of fasting and eating on a regular schedule. Haver’s conversation centers around a 16:8 pattern, which refers to a 16-hour fasting and an 8-hour eating period. Alternate-day fasting, periodic fasting, and daily-time restricted eating are other forms of IF.
Our bodies convert what we consume into glucose, which we use as our primary energy source. Once these glucose reserves deplete in the fasting period, the body switches to burning fat for fuel. While this can aid in weight loss, Haver said this is not just a weight loss program.
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Rather, IF is a supplement to well-balanced nutrition and exercise that can increase metabolism and, yes, promote weight loss. Additionally, Haver cites several studies that show IF can reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes, preserve muscle mass, improve general well-being, and reduce inflammation.
Why Is It So Beneficial For Menopausal Women?
Perimenopause and menopause bring about several physical and mental changes that can feel overwhelming when piled on top of the obligations of everyday life. Intermittent fasting can fortify our bodies, building resiliency to annoying menopause symptoms and improving our quality of life.
Haver breaks down each benefit of IF and how it pertains to menopausal women.
1. Decreased Heart Disease Risk
“Heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, even for women,” Haver said. “Not cancer.”
She cites a 2018 study published in Obesity where researchers found IF benefits including lower blood pressure, lower LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), and lower triglycerides in overweight and obese premenopausal (but still middle-aged, between 40 and 51) women.
Haver notes that these results were seen in obese women, and other women who have heart disease risk factors may need intervention beyond diet changes, such as medication.
2. Lower Diabetes Risk
A review of research published in Diabetes Spectrum in 2020 collected studies showing IF can reduce the risk of diabetes by lowering insulin levels and blood glucose and decreasing insulin resistance.
Haver mentions that obese women have achieved significant reductions in insulin resistance after six months of intermittent fasting.
3. More Muscle Mass
Compared to a calorie-restricted diet, one study published in Obesity in 2018 suggested that IF can promote lean mass retention (read: muscle mass).
Haver said the old-fashioned “less calories in than out” dieting method can result in faster loss of muscle mass, which can create a slower metabolic rate, leading to more weight gain—something Haver calls a “negative feedback cycle.”
4. Disease Resilience
Haver also references the work of Dr. Mark Mattson, a professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, on the effects of intermittent fasting on the brain and cellular function.
His research shows that IF can make us more resilient to disease by causing cells to “undergo just enough stress to start making physiological changes to make them more resilient to disease and injury—almost like working out,” Haver explained.
5. Increased Longevity
Finally, Haver explains that IF has been shown to increase longevity in animal models. Because IF is a relatively new concept, IF research in humans is limited. But animal studies do show an improvement in both longevity and quality of life.
Intermittent Fasting Might Not Be Right For You If…
This form of fasting does have a few caveats. Haver warns that those who have suffered from an eating disorder and would find restricted eating triggering should avoid intermittent fasting.
Those with type 1 diabetes, certain cases of type 2 diabetes, who are currently under a doctor’s care or on medication, or who have a history of hypoglycemia should consult with their physician before starting an IF regimen—and that’s probably a good idea for just about anyone.
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Great, Now, How Do I Start?
If it sounds easy, it’s because it is. Intermittent fasting is as evolutionarily natural to us as sleeping and breathing, Haver said.
“[Our bodies were] not evolutionarily developed to have access to food 24/7. Our bodies were primed not to have food available at all times. It’s more natural to fast from time to time than to have food filling your body 24/7.”
Moreover, IF is cheap, requires no extra apps or equipment, and can be adjusted to fit your schedule. There is no hard and fast rule for delineating your 16 hours of fasting and eight hours of eating. As Haver puts it, “the only program that’s going to work is the one that’s going to work.”
Haver recommended going slow—push back your fasting period after waking up by half-hour increments until your body feels adjusted. She said it took her around six weeks to become fasting-adopted.
Whatever discomfort you experience by limiting your eating windows, the mental, emotional, and physical benefits may well be worth the effort.