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Intermittent Fasting for PCOS

Updated on 23 October 2020

I’m a firm believer in a good PCOS Diet and eating right. But, it turns out that WHEN you eat is just as important as what you eat when it comes to PCOS. Intermittent fasting has become something of a trend in recent years and many people use it as a tool to lose weight, control sugar levels and have seen many other health benefits. So, is intermittent fasting for PCOS something we should consider adding to our way of life?

Let’s have a look at some of the science behind it.

What is Intermittent Fasting?

Intermittent fasting is when you alternate between a fed and a fasted state (1). To really understand what we mean by fed and fasted states we need to dig a little deeper and actually figure out what is happening in our bodies.

Okay, so we know that when we eat foods with protein and carbohydrates, insulin is released. Insulin controls the movement of glucose from our blood streams to our cells and also manages the storage of excess energy (turns it into fat).

Now, after a meal, insulin levels stay relatively high and slowly start to drop over about a 12 hour period. Once insulin levels have dropped and the body needs to rely on its stored energy supplies, you enter into the fasted state (2).

Basically, every time you sleep, you are entering into a fasted state.

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What are the Benefits of Intermittent Fasting?

There are a number of health benefits of fasting. Here are just some of them (3):

  • Improved mental clarity and concentration
  • Weight and body fat loss
  • Lowered blood insulin and sugar levels
  • Reversal of type 2 diabetes
  • Increased energy
  • Improved fat burning
  • Increased growth hormone
  • Lowered blood cholesterol
  • Prevention of Alzheimer’s disease (potential)
  • Longer life (potential)
  • Activation of cellular cleansing (potential) by stimulating autophagy (a discovery that was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in medicine)
  • Reduction of inflammation

That list of benefits looks pretty impressive. But how on earth might it help women with polycystic ovary syndrome?

Intermittent Fasting and PCOS

There are a couple of ways that I think we could use fasting to see improvements in our PCOS symptoms. Looking at the list above, let’s have a look at how some of these things might apply to us.

Weight loss

For so many of us living with PCOS, we know all too well that it is so tricky to lose weight with PCOS and we seem to put it on so easily. It is so frustrating! And we have been told over and over again that we need to lose weight and “we’ll be fine” but nobody actually tells us HOW to lose weight with PCOS.

Our body’s tendency to over produce insulin and the link between PCOS and insulin suggests that high insulin levels are at the heart of our seeming inability to lose weight. We tend to be insulin resistant – something that intermittent fasting can improve as insulin levels begin to lower.

Studies have also shown that intermittent fasting can be an effective weight loss strategy (4).

And remember, the focus here is managing insulin levels, not necessarily caloric restriction.

Lowered Insulin Levels

We’ve already spoken about how lower insulin levels can help with weight loss but we haven’t spoken about how lowered insulin levels may help with our PCOS.

Well, we know that insulin is closely linked with PCOS and we know that our ovaries tend to be over sensitive to insulin. All women produce some testosterone from their ovaries. Women with PCOS, however, produce too much testosterone.

And it is insulin that stimulates the release of testosterone from the ovaries (5).

So, by lowering insulin levels, we will be able to lower testosterone levels and be able to better manage a lot of the symptoms of PCOS.

Lowered Blood Cholesterol

Women with PCOS also tend to have higher cholesterol and this puts us at greater risk of cardiovascular disease (6). If intermittent fasting can help improve cholesterol levels, this will also give us long term health benefits.

Reduction of Inflammation

Inflammation can make us feel uncomfortable and generally achey. And if we were to have a blood test right now, we would probably see that our inflammatory markers are raised. Women with PCOS struggle with chronic low grade inflammation.

This inflammation can also decrease our body’s sensitivity to insulin. So, we need more insulin than normal to deal with blood sugar and this makes our general PCOS symptoms much worse.

So, anything we can do that will help to manage inflammation would be helpful for our PCOS.

Those are just a few of the reasons that I think that intermittent fasting might be helpful for women with PCOS.

Who Shouldn’t try Intermittent Fasting?

I’m going to be honest here. I don’t necessarily think that intermittent fasting is for everyone and there are some women who should be careful of fasting and consult their doctor before they start fasting.

  • Pregnant women – Fasting when pregnant is not a good idea and should be avoided.
  • Women taking prescription medication – If you are taking any prescription medication, you should consult your doctor before trying any form of fasting. Insulin sensitising drugs, like Metformin, can cause you to have bouts of low sugar levels when fasting.
  • Anyone with a history of an eating disorder
  • Women who are already underweight

Time Restricted Eating

Now you might be wondering how to get started with intermittent fasting. One way is to make the most of your current daily eating habits.

You are practising intermittent fasting every single time you sleep. You are not eating and your insulin levels drop, and you start to move into a fasted state.

So, to get started on intermittent fasting, you need to become more intentional about WHEN you eat and aim to shorten the period of time in which you eat. For example, if you have breakfast every morning at 8 am, make sure that you stop eating by 8pm. That will give you 12 hours of intermittent fasting per day.

Working with your body’s circadian rhythm

What is super interesting to me is that our bodies have a daily hormonal rhythm, the circadian rhythm. And that also influences our bodies’ sensitivity to insulin.

We tend to be less sensitive to insulin in the evenings, when we are eating our biggest meals. Basically we could eat the EXACT same meal for breakfast and dinner and we would need less insulin at breakfast time. Why? Because our bodies are more sensitive to insulin in the morning.

So, with this in mind, what if we ate dinner by 6 or 7 o’clock? That way, we are eating when our bodies are still somewhat sensitive to insulin and we can start to extend the length of time that we are fasting for.

Seems to make sense to me!

Now, I would love to hear from you! Do you have any experience with intermittent fasting? Have you seen any benefits or do you feel that it may even have made your symptoms worse?

Leave me a comment below and let me know!

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Tarryn Poulton

Tarryn Poulton

Tarryn Poulton is a PN1 Certified Nutrition Coach and PCOS expert who has been a leader in the online PCOS space for over 8 years. Tarryn has the support of leading clinicians from around the world who support her scientific approach to understanding and talking about PCOS this includes all medical journals and ongoing research. You can read more about Tarryn and the team here.

19 Responses

19 Responses

  1. When I was 15 (2014) , I was somewhat diagnosed with PCOS because all the symptoms and signs were there (the excessive acne, the excessive hair growth, the missing period for about 8 months, insulin resistance, etc.) but late last year the Doctor told me that there isn’t solid proof that I have PCOS because I did not yet go for an ultrasound to 100% confirm the cysts, and I’m currently on contraceptives. I have been on many diets my whole life after 2014, where I saw great results but gained the exact amount I lost. This year I started IF in Feb. and I had longer day periods and was astonished by the results but had a relapse and weighed 88.6 kg (1 April). From there I decided to do IF again because I was in the right mindset and lost 5 kg in total. These 2 months are the longest I have ever fasted and are enjoying the results. I still need to lose 13 kg but I’m taking it slow, setting short term goals to avoid relapsing again to eventually reach my target weight.

  2. I have PCOS as well and have been struggling with weight my whole life, I have been on Metformin for more than 10 years now and get a headache if I skip meals, but I want to try intermittent fasting, can I break the fast with Juice- home made juice in juicer- Cucumber + carrot +apple + spinach +Lemon, Juice as breakfast as I mean, is this fasting or breakfast please advice.

  3. I have used intermittent fasting and it has worked wonders for me. I was at my heaviest and I saw a YouTube video about it. I lost 10kgs. It felt like it just fell off. I also tried to eat less pasta and bread, along with more vegetables. Eating fewer meals meant that I had to make fewer good choices during the day. Now, whenever I gain a little, I just fast a few times. It’s been really good for me. My skin looks better, my mind is clearer, my cellulite is less.

    I also do some exercise in the morning in a fasted state. Only for 25 mins.

  4. Alyssa, im curious if you were following calorie restrictions during your fed periods and were you also exercising during those 9 months of weight loss? Your story sounds extremely similar to mine. I have gained fat, have high cholesterol and blood pressure despite weight lifting and muscle growth and a normal diet. So I’m thinking of doing the 18/6 IF plan. I was just curious how you did yours.

  5. that has to be extremely hard to only eat once a day, whats the one meal you do eat? why not try two meals a day? i started intermittent fasting today. my plan is to eat 2x a day blk coffee in the am to hold me up till lunch time (12 or 1pm) then again anytime before 8pm (mostly will be at 7pm) my foods would include chicken salad and in the evening a chicken beast with veggies, lots of water !

  6. I have PCOS and like most women have had issues shedding pounds, after research I’ve started fasting on the 16/8 schedule for over a month and have been able to lose 15.2 lbs. After losing 10lbs or so I finally had my cycle, which I hadn’t had in 2 years because of the weight I gained with my second child. Fasting has helped me tremendously, even the growth of facial hair has slowed.

    1. May I ask if you eat all food groups or did you cut out dairy and gluten? I’ve been struggling without it and I don’t know if this is something I can maintain long term.

  7. So would breaking the fast be more beneficial in the morning or evening? Does it matter? One of your videos says it’s better to eat the recommended calories in the morning and afternoon as a general rule of thumb for PCOSers.

  8. I have PCOS and have steadily gained about 2 pounds a yr despite being fairly active and bouncing in and out of s ketogenic or low-carb diet. I have just found strict low carb really hard to follow long term. As a result, I tipped over into the obese range and started suffering from high blood pressure and higher cholesterol. Really frustrated with my deteriorating health I heard about IF and started to follow a 16/8 plan. Fasting 16 hrs and typically skipping breakfast. I steadily increased my fasting time and came to prefer an OMAD lifestyle (one meal a day) – I typically eat my one meal during a 4 hour window. Over about 9 months I’ve lost around 30 lbs and have gone down two pant sizes. I feel great and feel a freedom from food that I’ve never had before. I haven’t yet reached my goal weight but plan to continue with this way of life until I do and even to maintain my weight. It might not be for everyone with PCOS but I love it and have found that it really works to lose weight and control my PCOS symptoms.

    1. Hey Alyssa! I just read your story and its so inspiring! <3 I plan on doing OMAD and getting on the intermittent fasting as well. Right now im at 195 and plan on getting down to 130 🙂 Since your last post, how much more weight have you lost? 🙂

    2. Alyssa, im curious if you were following calorie restrictions during your fed periods and were you also exercising during those 9 months of weight loss? Your story sounds extremely similar to mine. I have gained fat, have high cholesterol and blood pressure despite weight lifting and muscle growth and a normal diet. So I’m thinking of doing the 18/6 IF plan. I was just curious how you did yours.

  9. Thanks for this information. I have started intermittent fasting and have seen that i was able to manage some weight lost but have stabilized now. i currently do about a 16:8 fast but i plan to push my self to a longer fast. I have currently been diagnosed with PCOS and was not sure how that affects my weight lost. After some research i have learned that weight management is best but it is frustrating to know that with all my hard work my body is working against me. i wish i had learned about PCOS earlier i may have had a better chance, I’m 39 now . I am working with a fertility doctor and i hope with fasting and treatment we will be able to have a birth. Thanks again this was very helpful information.

  10. This article was right on time, because I have so many questions regarding IF and PCOS. From my research, there’s many different hour ranges for fasting. I’ve been practicing 16:8 and just switched to 18:6 and 20:4. However, what’s the best way to break a fast? Should we eat something light? Or our biggest meal of the day?

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