In short, we do not recommend Intermittent Fasting for long term PCOS symptom relief. If you have PCOS, it is very important to consume multiple small meals throughout the day. This approach will allow your insulin levels to self-regulate and remain balanced.
Intermittent fasting can cause too much glucose to enter the bloodstream and inefficient insulin could result in rapid increases of blood glucose levels. If you are intermittent fasting, your large meals cause Hyperinsulinemia (excess insulin in blood). Hyperinsulinemia increases androgen production, which intensify the clinical effects of PCOS!
Intermittent Fasting can disrupt cardiovascular activity
In a nutshell, there just isn't enough data to support the notion that fasting (in any form) can improve cardiovascular risk markers (i.e., blood pressure and blood lipid levels) or insulin and glucose to a greater extent than making gradual and persistent diet improvements.
Moreover, changes in HbA1c or insulin sensitivity levels beyond weight loss have not been established. A study published in Nutrients involving nine intermittent fasting studies lasting 6 months or more, failed to show any benefit of fasting over calorie restriction.
Instead, focus on eating smaller meals throughout the day, at consistent times. We recommend eating every two to three hours, incorporating all food groups into your snacks and meals.
Blood sugar spikes and crashes are harmful
Intermittent fasting can contribute to increased hunger, which can be counterproductive if you are trying to lose weight. Women with PCOS who have high levels of insulin are at risk for having low blood sugar episodes.
Signs of low blood sugar include dizziness, confusion, sweating, headaches, and hunger. When blood sugar is low, carbohydrates are needed to raise levels. This is when cravings and binge eating are more likely.
Instead, emphasize a positive relationship with your food
Approaches such as intermittent fasting can cause you to restrict eating to an extent that is unhealthy. At its extreme, fasting-based diets can contribute to eating disorders. Instead, focus on a carefully tailored approach that includes all food groups, in modest quantities that promote gradual and sustained weight loss.
Use these general tips on building an PCOS Diet:
The best thing to do for PCOS maintenance is to eat a nutrient-dense diet geared towards weight management and blood sugar regulation. Focus on high-fiber carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, quinoa, or beans. High-fiber foods are important in any diet, but especially for women with PCOS.
Fiber helps slow digestion, which can cause blood sugar levels to moderate after eating. Choose lean proteins! Higher fat meats are more calorie-dense and contain more saturated fat than leaner meats. Lean proteins include chicken, turkey, tofu, beans, nuts and seeds. Healthy fats such as avocados and nuts can help keep you fuller for longer.
Anti-inflammatory foods have been shown to improve metabolism and reproduction in women with PCOS. Anti-inflammatory foods include berries, fatty fish, leafy green vegetables, and olive oil. Lastly, try to eat foods with a lower glycemic index. Foods with lower glycemic index don’t cause insulin levels to rise as much. These foods include whole grains, legumes, nuts, fruits and green vegetables.
The bottom line? Food is so important in the management of PCOS. Making your eating window smaller will only cause more issues and make symptoms worse. Eating small meals throughout the day will help you keep your insulin and blood sugar levels stable and maintained.
To read more about foods to avoid, foods to eat, and how to make easy changes as part of a healthy PCOS diet, download our PCOS Nutrition Guide.