Journal / Hormone Replacement Therapy

Intermittent Fasting and Menopause

Nancy L. Belcher

Medically reviewed by Nancy L. Belcher Ph.D, MPA

Written by Winona Editorial Team

Last updated November 25, 2021

Intermittent Fasting and Menopause

Intermittent fasting has been around since ancient times, but recently it has gained attention as a way to lose body fat as women enter menopause. In combination with hormone replacement therapy (HRT), there can be some really exciting benefits of combining these treatments.1,2

Intermittent fasting and menopause can go together, and it is possible to get some positive results. Combining fasting with Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy can be used to get hormones balanced and reduce unwanted weight, especially belly fat.2,3


This article will cover what intermittent fasting is, how it works with HRT, tips for beginners, and some of the benefits of Intermittent Fasting (IF) and HRT for women entering menopause.

Menopause & Weight Gain

If you’re between the ages of 35-65, you are likely suffering symptoms related to the ongoing reduction in hormones.  With hormone receptors all over our bodies, it is critical to keep hormones balanced.

With the constantly changing menopause hormones, you may start to notice that maintaining your normal healthy body weight becomes much more challenging. This can be particularly difficult especially when your menopause cravings and appetite seem out-of-control.1,2

Sugar cravings with menopause can be overwhelmingly powerful and intrusive. Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can bring your hormones back into balance and many women have reported that it reduces unwanted cravings that can be contributing to stress and unwanted weight gain.

Women are more likely to gain excess belly weight, especially deep inside the belly (called visceral fat), as they enter perimenopause and into menopause. This change in fat storage is due to dropping hormonal levels which leads to body fat being redistributed from the hips, thighs, and rear to the abdomen.3

While adding a little weight around the waist can be normal, more than 5 lbs of abdominal weight can be dangerous to your health and can contribute to heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.3 The good news is that there are effective solutions to this weight gain. Combining HRT with Intermittent Fasting can have a great synergistic effect.

The Science of the Hormones Behind Cravings

The array of hormone changes during menopause are likely making you crave particular foods in higher than normal quantities. When we eat certain foods, our brain becomes excited and in turn creates happy, positive feelings. These good feelings make us want to keep eating those foods, regularly.3,4

The types of foods that create this ‘happy brain’ are called hyper-palatable foods aka ‘comfort foods’ because they are quick and easy to digest. Comfort foods are typically sweet, salty, and/or fatty. Most people eat these types of food when they are tired and are looking for a ‘late-night snack.’ By reducing the number of hours you eat, you can reduce the consumption of these comfort foods for successful weight loss.5

If all of the hormones in our bodies are balanced, we can sit down and eat a normal meal and our appetite hormone leptin will be released at the right levels to tell our brain that we are full and to stop eating. Then, if the body hasn’t had any food for several hours, the hormone ghrelin is released from the stomach and signals our brain that we are hungry again.

When we are in menopause and our estrogen and progesterone levels are low, it can lead to increased food cravings and less satisfaction after eating.3-5 The good news is that you can decrease your feelings of hunger directly by normalizing your estrogen levels with HRT which can also suppress hunger by decreasing levels of ghrelin and increasing the effectiveness of the appetite-suppressing hormone leptin.4

Menopause & Intermittent Fasting

Research also shows that for postmenopausal women, intermittent fasting (IF) can be useful for weight loss and weight control. IF doesn’t restrict what you choose to eat - it just restricts when you eat it.6,7,8

The loss of body fat with IF is partially due to the reduction in the amount of calories you eat, and the impact fasting has on insulin levels. HRT + IF can be very helpful during menopause because women often gain weight because of hormone changes, fatigue, decreased lean muscle, poor sleep, stress eating, and other factors.

A recent study showed that when people were only allowed to eat during a four-hour window, they ate about 650 fewer calories per day which could lead to over 5 lbs of weight loss per month.8

Intermittent Fasting and Hormones

Research demonstrates that intermittent fasting is effective at reducing body weight, decreasing fasting glucose, decreasing fasting insulin, reducing insulin resistance, decreasing levels of leptin, and increasing metabolism.4 Some studies found that patients were able to reverse their Type 2 diabetes and need for insulin therapy with intermittent fasting.4

Intermittent fasting can promote weight loss by decreasing the number of calories you eat, but also by impacting your metabolic rate. If you have sugars (carbohydrates) circulating in your blood, and you don't break them down for energy, the extra sugar (calories) gets stored in fat cells. When you fast, your insulin levels decrease, allowing fat cells to release the sugar they’ve been storing and you use it as energy. This is how intermittent fasting works with your hormones to promote fat burning.

Using HRT and intermittent fasting together can decrease cravings, and promote fat burning and weight loss. No calorie counting or food tracking is involved with IF and HRT, and there are no restrictions on what foods you can or cannot eat.

What Is Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent fasting (IF) is simply limiting yourself to eating within a self-designated time frame. What is particularly satisfying about IF is that you are in charge of your own schedule. There are many variations of IF that you can choose from and decide which type fits into your lifestyle. There are hourly fasts, daily fasts, periodic fasts, and evening spontaneous fasts.

Please note that for the best results and lowest risks, shorter and less frequent periods of fasting may be a better approach to intermittent fasting for women.8 For all options water, coffee, and other zero-calorie beverages are allowed and encouraged during the fast, but no solid foods are permitted during fasting periods.

A couple of ways to approach intermittent fasting are listed below. Discuss with your physician before you try them, some are pretty extreme:

I. 16:8 or 18:6 Daily method. Using this method, you will eat only within a 6- to 8-hour window each day, then fasting for the remaining 16 to 18 hours. This is found to be the most sustainable method, and can actually be as simple as not eating anything after dinner and skipping breakfast.1,4

Getting started can be difficult, so try using other variations of timing to begin. Maybe a 12/12 (eating for 12 hours, fasting for 12 hours.) and then progress to a stricter schedule. This method is very manageable and can be adjusted to a person's schedule.

II. The Warrior Diet or the 20:4 method. This intermittent fasting method is most common for people who have used fasting before and are comfortable with balancing the time frames. 

The Warrior Diet involves eating small amounts of raw fruits and vegetables during the day and eating one large meal at night. So, you fast all day and eat in the evening within a 4-hour eating window.

III. 5:2 method. Eat normal, healthy meals for 5 days of the week and then limit yourself to 500-600 calories during 2 days of the week. You can eat all your calories in one meal or spread them throughout the day, do what works for you. Typically people choose the same day of the week to restrict their calorie intake.

IV. Alternate day method. Eat normally every other day followed by a ‘fasting’ day where you eat 25% of your normal calorie intake. So, if you normally eat 2,000 calories/day on a regular day, then on your fasting day you’d eat 500 calories. A full fast every other day can feel rather extreme, so it’s not recommended for beginners.

V. Eat-Stop-Eat or 24-hour fast method. Just like the name indicates, you will be fasting for a full 24 hours once or twice a week. If you choose this method, one way to time it is to fast from breakfast to breakfast or lunch to lunch. Typically this method is only done sporadically. For example, a couple days a week or a few times a month and definitely limit this to 1-2/week.

VI. Spontaneous meal skipping. Skip meals from time to time. So, if you’re not hungry one day, skip breakfast and just eat a healthy lunch and dinner. Skipping one or two meals is a spontaneous intermittent fast. Just make sure to eat healthy, balanced meals during the non-fasting periods.

Regardless of which method of intermittent fasting you decide to try, it's important to eat a quality diet, staying hydrated, and proper caloric intake is important.

How To Intermittent Fast

The key to intermittent fasting is to ease into it. To start, consider your schedule - what does your daily and weekly schedule look like?  Decide when the best window to eat will be for you and your family. A common fasting window is between 7 PM and 11 AM the next morning. With this, you are fasting the majority of the time in your sleep, and can still eat dinner with your family.

When you’re not fasting don’t go crazy with extra portions or poor food choices. Stick with nutritious whole foods for the best results. You can’t expect to lose weight if you find yourself overeating during the eating periods.

Tips: Intermittent fasting can seem challenging at first, but don’t be discouraged. Work your way up to a full 16:8 fasting period, or try again if it didn’t work the first time. Here are a couple of tips that can help set you up for success:

  • Start slow, with short fasting periods, and then gradually work your way up to the length of fasting that you’re comfortable with.

  • If you normally snack when you are bored, find ways to stay busy, find new activities.

  • Don’t get overly focused on the timing. Just figure out the ‘windows’ of eating as your days’ progress. Some days it may be a 16-hour window from 7-11 and then another day it could be 8-12 - that’s okay.  Don’t sit around timing your fast or counting down the hours until you can eat.

  • Don’t over-restrict your caloric intake during your eating window. You still have to consume enough energy to feel good and stay healthy.

  • Stay hydrated, it’s critical. Also, drinking beverages can stretch the stomach to help you feel full.

  • Don’t binge or overindulge during your eating window. It will defeat the purpose of intermittent fasting, and make you feel sluggish.

  • Be patient with weight loss. No matter what the weight loss routine is, patience is a must.

  • You will experience ‘hunger waves’ and it can be tough - but give yourself enough time to see how your body adapts to IF -  HRT should help to reduce the cravings.

What Are the Benefits of Intermittent Fasting + HRT?

Both Intermittent Fasting and HRT provide a range of health benefits.  Researchers have shown that IF and HRT both can improve your metabolism, mental health, and possibly prevent some forms of cancer. They can also ward off certain muscle, nerve, and joint disorders which can affect women over 50.3,4

For many people, it seems strange that by altering when they eat, they can lose weight but our bodies respond to fasting in some exciting ways. The health benefits include specifically:

I. Musculoskeletal health. This includes conditions like osteoporosis, arthritis, and lower back pain. Fasting and HRT can promote hormone secretion which promotes bone health and helps prevent bone fractures.

II. Reduced inflammation. We know that HRT and IF help to reduce inflammation in the joints that can cause the aches and pains often simply associated with aging.8

III. Weight Loss & Metabolic health. When your body enters fasting mode, this triggers your fat stores to be used as fuel, which leads to getting rid of unwanted body fat by causing you to burn body fat for energy.3,4,5

IV. Mental health. Fasting and HRT have both been shown to promote mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, brain fog, memory issues, and the emotional roller coaster that is associated with menopause. Fasting has also been proven to improve self-esteem and reduce stress.8

Intermittent fasting and HRT have the potential to:5,7,8

  • Reduce your risk for heart disease,

  • Decrease diabetes (Type 2) risk,

  • Prevent muscle loss and improve tissue health,

  • Lower blood pressure, 

  • Decrease LDL cholesterol, 

  • Reduce belly fat, 

  • Improve insulin sensitivity, 

  • Keep metabolism on track,

  • Stabilize blood sugar,

  • Increase energy, 

  • And even can increase life expectancy.8

The Bottom Line

Intermittent fasting is a weight-loss tool that works for some people, but it isn’t for everyone. Always check with your doctor before trying a new diet, or changing your medications. If you decide to try intermittent fasting, keep in mind that food quality is crucial. It’s not an opportunity to binge on ultra-processed foods during the eating periods and expect success.

This combination can be an exciting opportunity to have a positive impact by using Intermittent fasting with HRT for women in menopause.

Intermittent Fasting doesn’t work for everyone and it is not recommended for people who: 

  1. Have a history of or are prone to eating disorders.

  2. Are experiencing underlying health conditions.

  3. Suffer from diabetes or other blood sugar problems.

  4. Are under the age of 18.

  5. Might be pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Conclusion

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) combined with Intermittent fasting for menopause can open a world of opportunities to help you to embrace this menopause stage as a positive beginning. With menopause support from Winona, you have the opportunity to take preventive action against health risks associated with the ever-decreasing hormones as we age.

Intermittent fasting combined with Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy can be used to get hormones balanced and reduce unwanted weight, especially belly fat.2,3 Hormone replacement, when prescribed by a physician,  is a safe and physiologically natural way for you to regain your vitality, and HRT can restore proper hormone levels using substances that are bioidentical to those produced by your own body.

Winona’s healthcare platform is available for FREE. Check out Winona today bywinona.com.

References

  1. https://adapted-nutrition.com/blogs/news/intermittent-fasting-everything-you-need-to-know-before-you-start

  2. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/cravings/

  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0195666317302994?casa_token=U9DD6XdunhkAAAAA:EZM98cxFBUr7eUS74Lk8U7p_rA6QrivJ5XgSNoOMcoSy4RjS4IRLGT0Kc08e-qJtYKHz-cAbkQ

  4. https://clindiabetesendo.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40842-020-00116-1

  5. https://www.webmd.com/menopause/features/oh-do-you-know-the-muffin-top

  6. https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/what-to-know-about-intermittent-fasting-for-women-after-50#1

  7. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/6-ways-to-do-intermittent-fasting

  8. https://blog.lisahealth.com/blog/2019/5/26/menopause-and-intermittent-fasting-plus-5-tips-for-doing-it-right