Alright, ladies, this post is just for you. I know I have not written in a long time, but I recently found inspiration in the fact that diets are never made sex-specifically. Now, some of you may be thinking, “what are you saying, aren’t you a feminist?”… well, yes I am pro-female, all the way… HOWEVER, ladies, let’s be real, our hormones are different from men’s and if they aren’t then you might be suffering from acne, anxiety, insomnia, and facial hair. Our reproductive hormones, think estrogen and progesterone, are much more sensitive than male reproductive hormones, think testosterone, and can be very greatly affected by the food we eat and the stress we experience. In addition, our female reproductive hormones are highly related to stress hormones, insulin (the hormone involved in blood sugar and diabetes), and thyroid hormone. These hormones will go into whack when we are in high stress situations, whether psychologically stressful or physically stressful, which includes restrictive diets and excessive amounts of high intensity exercise. The reason for this is due to our ability to reproduce. Our body is designed to create new life and when your body senses that it is in distress, it does not want you to get pregnant because of fear of survival. When this happens, your hormone levels become abnormal, your insulin sensitivity may decrease (leading to diabetes like symptoms), and you can get male hormone symptoms (acne, anxiety, insomnia, facial/body hair growth).
Now that we have some good background, let’s talk about some diets that may cause women. Every woman is different, and some may have good experiences with these diets, HOWEVER, I like to air on the side of caution with women, because our reproductive, gut, and thyroid and adrenal systems are super important for our health.
- Testosterone: male sex hormone
- Estrogen: female sex hormone
- Progesterone: female sex hormone
- Insulin: allows your blood sugar to be absorbed by cells for energy rather than being stored for fat
- Leptin: important for hunger signaling, lets you know when you’re no longer hungry to prevent overeating
- Hippocampus: the older part of our brain utilized for survival mechanisms such as hunger, sleep, etc.
- Hypothyroidism: decreased thyroid hormones, associated with weight gain, fatigue, hair loss/thinning, constipation, dry skin, high cholesterol, irritability, sensitivity to cold, sexual dysfunction, slow heart rate, sluggishness, or irregular uterine bleeding
1. KETOGENIC DIET:
This diet involves high fat and protein intake to allow you to have carbohydrate restriction. Background: carbohydrates are the only type of fuel our brain can use, when our body has to convert fat and protein into sugars for fuel, it involves a lot of stressful metabolism mechanisms. This form of restriction can trick you into thinking that your are not depriving your body because fats are very satiating and satisfying, HOWEVER, female bodies see this as starvation mode and will try to reduce your female hormones to prevent unwanted pregnancy. The symptoms that may follow include the same male hormone symptoms presented above along, disrupted leptin signaling (poor hunger signals), and eventual weight gain (if your body thinks it is starving it is likely to eventually start holding onto more fat and decrease your metabolism so that you don’t die of starvation in the wild).
2. INTERMITTENT FASTING (IF)
This diet involves fasting for most of the day and only consuming foods during certain hours (for example, between 3pm-8pm). This, like the keto diet above, tricks you into thinking that are not being restrictive because you are consuming the same calories, HOWEVER, during the hours of fasting, your body is likely to still go into starvation mode (see above). In men, IF as been shown to increase insulin sensitivity, but in women has demonstrated DECREASED insulin sensitivity which means … blood sugar is not absorbed for energy and is stored as … FAT. Sorry, ladies. It can also disrupt normal thyroid function and cause hypothyroid symptoms and upregulate your hippocampus which often leads to being hyper-alert, anxious, and disrupt sleeping, because hey… survival.
My point in this big rant is that, ladies, restriction is very rarely a good thing for us and our health. Some women may benefit from these diets and get good outcomes, however, long-term these are likely not great options for any lady. Once hormones are disrupted, it likely will take a long time (months, years) for them to normalize with good food and health habits. Some ways of decreasing testosterone levels if they are heightened are eating more carbs (EAT ALL THE CARBS – veggies, fruits, starches, some grains), increasing calories (you should be eating at least 1700 calories a day, sorry not sorry) and ensuring that you eat within 30 minutes after exercise, especially high intensity exercise, to avoid sustained, elevated testosterone levels. And I haven’t even gone into all of the psychological and obsessive disorders that can come with restrictive diets. So, especially if you have a history of eating disorders, these diets are not for you.
Upset about this? Sorry not sorry.
Questions? Concerns? Throw em my way.
- Trepanowski, J. F., et al. (2011). Impact of caloric and dietary restriction regimens on markers of health and longevity in humans and animals: a summary of available findings. Nutrition Journal.
- Heilbronn, L. K., et al. (2005). Alternate-day fasting in non obese subjects: effects on body weight, body composition, and energy metabolism. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
- Heilbronn, L. K., et al. (2005). Glucose tolerance and skeletal muscle gene expression in response to alternate day fasting. Obi Res.
- Ruper, Stefanie. Sexy by nature: The whole foods solution to radiant health, life-long sex appeal, and soaring confidence.