If you’re a woman considering the keto diet, it’s important to know that a lifestyle change can result in hormone sensitivity.
A keto diet for women can be highly successful, whether your goal is weight loss or improved health. Our keto for women guide teaches you everything you need to know about how a female keto diet plan affects women.
Discover how a keto for women plan affects your hormones, as well as how to be successful on a ketogenic diet.
What is the Keto Diet?
The keto diet is a high fat, low-carb diet, enabling the body to use fat for energy instead of glucose. The process of using ketones (the by-product of the body breaking down fat) for energy is known as ketosis.
A ketogenic diet for women can be very successful, whether you’re hoping to lose weight, maintain a healthy lifestyle or achieve another goal, such as aiding epilepsy.
However, many women wonder about the side effects of keto for women, and if they can successfully alter their lifestyle without suffering from any issues. Let’s take a look at a how keto for women plan can impact your hormones.
How A Keto Diet Impacts Hormones
Altering your lifestyle by changing your diet is known to cause hormonal sensitivity. Your body has been used to using glucose for fuel for all of your life. When you make a change and transition to using fat for energy, it’s natural that some side effects may occur. Check out the symptoms of ketosis here.
The most common side effects are known as ‘keto flu’ – feeling fatigued, nauseous, dizzy, or confused. However, if you’re following a keto for women lifestyle, it’s important to understand any hormonal effects that can occur.
Women’s bodies are naturally more sensitive to dietary changes than men’s. This is mainly due to women having a more complex relationship with hormones. For example, women’s hormones fluctuate during menstrual cycles,
sleep, and diet.
Hormone regulation occurs via three glands;
- Pituitary gland (in the brain)
- Hypothalamus gland (in the brain)
- Adrenals (in the kidneys)
These glands work to balance your hormones. This interaction is also known as the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis, regulating your stress levels, metabolism, immune system, sex drive, energy, mood, emotions, and more.
These three glands are highly sensitive to stress, exercise, and calorie intake. Long-term stress can result in the overproduction of cortisol and norepinephrine – two hormones that when unbalanced can put extra pressure on the glands (1). When extra pressure is put on these glands, adrenal fatigue may occur (HPA axis dysfunction) (2).
Symptoms of adrenal fatigue include;
- Weak immune system
- Mood disorders
Some studies have suggested that consuming a low carbohydrate diet may cause adrenal fatigue, as well as increasing production of the stress hormone cortisol (3).
Keto and Menstruation
Research has shown that a keto for women diet may lead to irregular periods in some women. An irregular menstrual cycle can be caused by eating little calories, low carbohydrates, too much exercise or weight loss (4).
An irregular menstrual cycle or your periods completely stopping is caused by a decline in the hormone GnRH (this hormone starts your menstrual cycle) (5) in addition to a decline in testosterone, progesterone, estrogen, and other hormones. When these drops occur, functioning in the hypothalamus can slow. The hypothalamus is the area of the brain responsible for releasing hormones.
Being on a low carb diet can also lower leptin levels. Leptin helps to regulate your reproductive hormones. However, studies suggest that amenorrhea (when periods stop for at least three months) is often a side effect of women who follow a low carbohydrate diet for a long period of time (6).
Following a keto diet for women may also affect thyroid functioning. Thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) are two hormones produced by the thyroid gland which are essential for the nervous system, heart rate, controlling temperature, and cholesterol levels.
T3 is particularly sensitive to your carbohydrate and calorie intake – when this intake is too low, T3 levels decline and reverse T3 levels increase. Reverse T3 prevents the functioning of T3, slowing your metabolism, fatigue, low mood, low concentration, and weight gain. One study on the keto diet found that T3 levels declines on this food plan, with T3 levels declining by 47% in those following a keto diet (7).
Knowing how to keep your hormones balanced while following a keto for women lifestyle will prevent any side effects from occurring.
One of the best ways to do this is to keep a wellness journal to track any changes you may notice. No-one understands your body quite like you so listen to what its telling you. Track your food intake and macros and make a note of how your body responds. A keto for women diet won’t work for everyone so don’t be afraid to make alterations if your body is not responding in the way you hoped.
In the next section, we’ll look at which women benefit most from a keto for women diet plan.
Can Women be Successful on A Keto Diet?
A keto for women diet can be very successful. However, some women are more suited to a low carb diet than others.
What type of women are suited to a low carb diet?
A low carb, keto for women diet is particularly suited to those who are;
- Have epilepsy
- Have polycystic ovary syndrome
- Have insulin resistance
- Have diabetes
- Have certain forms of cancer
- Have a neurodegenerative disease
These women will generally function better on a low carbohydrate diet. Evidence has shown that a female keto diet plan is beneficial for those who are overweight/obese and need to lose weight to improve their health.
If you’re not achieving a weight loss goal with a low-fat diet, transforming your body to run on ketones for fuel will help you to use your fat stores for weight loss.
A keto for women diet has also been shown to be beneficial for supporting those with diabetes and epilepsy. During ketosis, your blood glucose levels are kept low but healthy. This means that those taking insulin will require lower doses – if you’re diabetic, it’s best to consult your doctor before starting a keto diet. A low carb diet has also been found to control seizures in those with epilepsy (8).
Who should not be on a keto for women diet plan?
There are certain women who are better sticking to a higher carb diet of around 100-150 grams of carbs daily. These include women who are;
- Have an underactive thyroid (even with medication)
- Are not menstruating
- Have irregular periods
- Very active but struggle with recovery
- Have been on a low carb diet for a long time
A keto for women plan can exacerbate symptoms in those with thyroid issues as the thyroid needs glucose for production hormones (9). If you suffer with thyroid issues, following a high carb diet may be better.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid a ketogenic diet as pregnancy requires glucose from a higher carb diet to fuel fetal development. Carbohydrates are also needed for breast milk to be made. If enough calories aren’t being consumed, breast milk supply will suffer. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, avoid a keto for women plan to ensure optimal health of both mother and baby.
If you’re suffering with an irregular menstrual cycle while on the keto diet, consider increasing your carb intake to up to 80 grams of carbohydrates daily. If you’re following a low carb diet, participating in high intensity exercise and are already lean, you can cause menstrual problems due to putting stress on the adrenal glands (10).
To help your body to recover, try switching to low intensity exercise, cycling out of ketosis or taking a vitamin B supplement. Men are able to recover from adrenal fatigue much faster than women as they have a different hormonal system but following the same advice will also help men to recover from fatigue (11).
Ketosis and Hormone Balance
To keep your hormones balanced when following a keto for women diet, try our following tips;
1 Consume more calcium rich foods to aid PMS symptoms – opt for seeds, salmon, almond, and green vegetables.
Consume more probiotic rich foods to aid gut bacteria.
Consume more carbohydrates during the 10th to 15th days of your menstrual cycle.
Consume more protein three days before you start your period.
Remember to eat fiber foods to prevent constipation.
Test your PH levels – a lower PH will help to alleviate inflammation.
Test your hormone levels.
Keep your stress levels under control by participating in yoga, meditation, walking, etc.
Can an alkaline diet be combined with a keto diet?
Following an alkaline diet has highly beneficial effects on your health and well-being, including lowering inflammation, balancing hormones, and reducing early signs of aging. An alkaline diet also helps with symptoms of PMS and menopause by enhancing the absorption of nutrients.
Our bodies are natural alkaline but processed foods, including sugar, cause them to be more acidic. To test your PH levels, use a urine testing kit – an alkaline state is between 7.0 to 7.5 PH.
Before you follow a keto diet, it’s best to try and get your body in an alkaline state. However, the combination of an alkaline diet and keto for women plan will help to lower toxicity and gain more nutrients from your diet.
There are plenty of alkaline low carb foods you can add to your female keto diet plan. These foods include;
- Green vegetables, such as spinach, kale, wheat grass, and chard.
- Non-starchy vegetables – mushrooms, avocado, tomatoes, broccoli, oregano, garlic, and ginger.
- Raw foods
- Healthy fats – grass fed beef, coconut oil, nuts, seeds, eggs.
- Alkaline water
- Organic produce to reduce toxicity
Processed foods, caffeine, alcohol and dairy should be limited.
Intermittent fasting and keto for women
Intermittent fasting on the keto diet can be significantly beneficial for increasing weight loss. If your goal is to lose weight on a keto for women plan or you’ve already started the keto diet and have hit a weight loss plateau, intermittent fasting can get you back on track.
There are varying types of intermittent fasting. One of the best ways is crescendo fasting or carb cycling. This is when you eat more carbohydrates on certain days – a method popular with many bodybuilders and athletes. This helps to keep your hormone levels balanced.
Crescendo fasting involves fasting on two to three non-consecutive days each week (for example, Monday, Wednesday and Friday). On these days, stick to low intensity exercises and leave high intensity workouts to days when you’re eating carbohydrates.
This type of fast won’t work for everyone but there are different types of intermittent fasting you can try to see which one provides the most positive effects on your life.
Common Side Effects and How to Overcome Them
Transitioning to a low carb diet or taking part in intermittent fasting can lead to varying side effects.
- Bad breath
- Low energy levels
- Irregular periods
We’ve already looked at ways to balance your hormones which will help to alleviate irregular periods. When it comes to dealing with low energy levels, constipation and fatigue, there is one aspect that you need to remember – hydration!
Following the keto diet eliminates water and electrolytes. To prevent constipation and fatigue, drinking lots of water throughout the day will help.
Ideally, you should be drinking your weight in ounces of water. If that’s feels like too much, aim for half your body weight instead and gradually increase your intake. You can always drink herbal teas if you’re struggling with water.
Keto for Women Success Tips
Our handy tips will help you to be successful when following a keto for women diet;
1. Think long term
If you think you may struggle with a keto diet, try gradually working towards it. Following a low carb diet after years of consuming lots of carbohydrates can be a shock to your body.
Some women find it easier to begin by consuming around 100-150 grams of carbs daily and then gradually reducing their intake by 50 grams at a time. Following this routine gives your body several weeks to adjust to your new lifestyle, preventing the side effects that a keto for women diet can produce.
Entering ketosis doesn’t need to be a quick process. The time this takes varies from person to person – even if weight loss is your goal, taking your time in the long term may be better for your health.
2. Be flexible with your carb intake
To keep your hormones balanced, remember it’s okay to be flexible with carbs. You may need to adjust your intake depending on your menstrual cycle or energy levels. You can use ketone testing strips to check that your body is still in ketosis.
3. Minimize stress
Stress can have a negative impact on your body, especially when you’re following a keto diet. Try to get at least 8 hours sleep each night and manage stress by relaxing – yoga, meditation, running or being social can help.
A keto for women diet can produce many beneficial effects for your health, including weight loss and blood sugar regulation.
Approaching a keto lifestyle slowly and adapting your diet to what works for you will help to bring you success.
Just remember, it’s okay if the keto diet doesn’t work for you – listen to your body’s needs and don’t be afraid to increase your carb intake if you’re noticing any side effects.
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