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Is intermittent fasting beneficial for PCOS insulin resistance?


Intermittent fasting is a way of eating which involves periods of fasting alternated with periods of eating. It does not dictate the type of foods you can and can’t eat, only the times when you are able to eat. There are various styles of intermittent fasting, some of the more common types include:


  1. 16/8 method – this involves a 16hour fasting period followed by an 8-hour eating period every day.

  2. 5:2 method – here, you eat normally for 5 days of the week and restrict your calories to between 500-600 for the remaining 2 days of the week.

  3. Alternate day fasting – normal eating days are alternated with fasting/low calorie intake days.


There is a substantial amount of research that has been done on the impact of intermittent fasting on insulin resistance, however, many of these studies have been performed on animals and no studies of high quality have looked at the impact of intermittent fasting in polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).


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If we look at the research that has been done on the benefits in insulin resistance, it all looks rather promising. Studies have shown that intermittent fasting does improve insulin sensitivity and help towards weight loss. However, it is still not something that I would recommend for PCOS and here’s why:


Inadequate research in PCOS


As previously mentioned, there is not enough research looking specifically at how those with PCOS respond to intermittent fasting. PCOS is a complex hormonal disorder and we need a better understanding of how it may respond to IF.

It’s not sustainable

I question the sustainability of IF as it may restrict not only your diet and when you eat but also your social activities, what do you do if you are invited for dinner, and it doesn’t fit into your feeding window (no way of eating should impact your quality of life). Many of the studies are not long term and if you someone boasts about how great IF worked for them, check in with them after 6-12 months, I doubt that they have maintained this way of eating.

What we eat is more important than when we eat


It doesn’t teach you what foods benefit PCOS and hormonal balance. Let’s face it, if we are concerned about when we eat rather than what we eat we may end up loading up on high sugar, high energy foods to compensate for the energy slumps experienced whilst fasting and we all know that’s not going to be great for insulin resistance.


It’s not always conducive to being active


Lack of energy is a well reported ‘side effect’ of IF, if we don’t have energy then we will be less likely to exercise, prepare our meals from scratch and be less sedentary throughout the day.


What do I recommend for PCOS instead?


There is such an abundance of food available, it’s not like the caveman era when they ate whenever food was available because that didn’t happen very often. If we applied that logic now, we’d be eating all the time, because food is always available. And this is what has the potential to make things slightly challenging.


If you’re partial to snacking or grazing throughout the day, then the first place to start would be to focus on having regular meals and snacks with sufficient gaps between. Your meals and snacks should ideally keep you satisfied for 3-4 hours. If you find that you are hungry soon after eating, then it’s important to check whether your portion sizes are adequate and whether there is enough protein in your meals. Protein helps slow down the breakdown and release of glucose which helps improve insulin sensitivity.


Ensure you are making time to move your body; exercise improves insulin sensitivity. Whether this is short bursts of exercise or longer periods – both are effective.

Take an inositol supplement, inositol acts as an insulin sensitiser and as well as improving how your body responds to insulin it also helps regulate the menstrual cycle and lower testosterone levels.


If you can incorporate these three things into your daily routine, you should see an improvement in your insulin levels without having to incorporate a change as drastic as fasting.


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