Intermittent Fasting for Parents
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Intermittent fasting is a popular strategy for limiting the number of calories you eat in a day, but this diet can be difficult while raising kids.
I’m not a fan of the latest and greatest fad diets. Fad diets are something that come and go, and you don’t stick to. Eating healthy should be a lifestyle you live, and something that you always do. It’s not a diet that you go on and off of, but it’s the way that you live and eat every day. If you’re stuck in going on and off of diets, then I’d recommend that you find something that you stick with.
For me, eating is something that I really like to do. Cutting all sugar or not eating some of my favorite unhealthy foods just doesn’t appeal to me, and I know I couldn’t do it - it’s asking for me to fail in a diet. If you can do that, then that’s great. It really is the best option to skip unhealthy foods. I like to eat pizza, ice cream, and other unhealthy foods. I also like to eat plenty of healthy food as well, and I love to teach my kids to eat those same healthy foods.
Due to the way I like to eat and live, I've been doing intermittent fasting. I wanted to be able to enjoy the foods I like, but I knew that working out alone wouldn’t be enough - I didn’t have enough time to work out as much as I’d need since I have kids. Thus, I found a diet that works for my lifestyle. 4 years in, and I’m going strong as ever.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting, also known as IF, is an eating pattern rather than a strict diet. It is not a conventional diet as it doesn’t restrict or specify which foods you should eat, but rather when you should eat them. When doing intermittent fasting you cycle between periods of fasting and eating. For intermittent fasting, fasting involves no calorie intake - water, black coffee, and unsweetened tea are all considered fine to drink during your fast.
Intermittent fasting is quite popular these days since it doesn’t restrict what you can eat, but limits your calories. It’s generally considered easier to eat fewer calories if you’re not always eating. If you struggle with consuming too many calories in a day, then intermittent fasting may be an option to try for you.
What methods are there for intermittent fasting?
There are many different methods for intermittent fasting, but the idea is the same in all of them - longer periods of fasting with shorter periods of eating. A few of the more popular methods are:
- 16/8 method: 16 hours of fasting every day, and 8 hours when you can eat. You can decide which 8 hours your eating window is in (see below for more information about intermittent fasting as a parent), but you’ll fast for 16 hours.
- 24 hour fasts: This involves fasting for a full 24 hours, once or twice a week, for example by not eating from dinner one day until dinner the next day.
- 5:2 diet: You consume only 500–600 calories on two non-consecutive days of the week, but eat normally the other 5 days. For example, 500 calories on Monday and Thursday, but eat normally the other days of the week.
- OMAD (One Meal A Day): This is the most extreme version of IF, and it is literally that you have one big meal each day. This is extremely difficult to sustain over a long period and you have to make sure you’re eating enough calories in your one meal when you do eat. Absolutely do not start with this method.
As long as you don't eat more calories than you should during your eating periods in any of the above methods, you should be able to lose (or control) your weight. The 16/8 method is by far the most popular method for intermittent fasting (or slight variations on it), and it’s probably the most sustainable.
Why does intermittent fasting work?
Fasting is not something that is new in our day and age; it has been present throughout human evolution. Humans didn't always have supermarkets, refrigerators, and other conveniences always available. There were times when there was literally nothing to eat. As a result, humans evolved to be able to function without food for extended periods of time.
There are plenty of studies on intermittent fasting and its health benefits. Because fasting is something that the human body can sustain, it’s unsurprising to see some of these results. Of course, it may take some mental strength to follow these methods. Here are a couple of studies for those interested (1 2).
Your body, naturally, isn’t requiring multiple meals every day, and it doesn't require that you constantly eat. Your body needs a certain amount of calories each day to maintain a consistent weight, but it can go for long periods of time without actually needing food. Listen to your body, and not your mouth in that regard - it will let you know what it needs.
How does a parent do intermittent fasting?
You have kids, and likely a partner, that are probably not on a fasting diet. This means that you’re going to have to muscle through some meal preparation where you don’t eat what they are eating. Your schedules will help determine what this meal is.
For my family and I, breakfast is the easiest meal for me to skip. I’m on a 18/6 schedule where I fast for 18 hours, and eat for up to 6 hours. This means that I skip breakfast, eat lunch, and eat dinner. This works great for me because I’m not hungry in the mornings, and it’s easiest for me to make a simple breakfast for my family that I can skip. During the week, lunch is another meal that’s not eaten with my family (I’m at work), but on the weekends, it’s harder to skip that meal.
Thus, a typical day looks like this for me:
- 5:15 AM: Wake up and workout
- 7:30 AM: Make breakfast for family
- 11:30 AM: Fasting ends - Lunch and snacking
- 5:00 PM: Dinner
- 5:30 PM: Fasting begins
- 9:30 PM: Bed
Yes, I workout in a fasted state. I’ve never had an issue with energy on this plan. In fact, it’s the reason I started on this diet - I was never hungry before or after working out. I was listening to my body and wouldn’t want to eat until near lunch time, so I made it official. Regardless, I take in a lot of water in the mornings before lunch to help squash my appetite a bit as well.
The other key thing to remember with kids is that you’ll have to be flexible at times. I generally always keep my fasting consistent, even when travelling, but I relax it a bit at times as well. Sitting down to breakfast when on vacation warrants breaking my fast so that my family can enjoy our time together. Figuring out what works best for you and your family will be the key. The nice thing about intermittent fasting though is that you shouldn’t have to restrict too much the foods that you do eat, so you can eat and make the same delicious foods for everyone.
Intermittent fasting can be a great way to help you restrict your calorie intake. It will take some getting used to with a family, but once you’ve figured out your schedule, it can be extremely effective.
IF in shelter in place
I really struggle with maintaining a healthy weight with three kids. I've loved IF while I worked away from home, but when I'm at home, feeding the kids every few hours, it's really hard. Every day is a challenge.
I find that when I'm working…
I find that when I'm working and really have to think hard, that's when I struggle the most. On the weekends when I'm with my kids and don't have to work, I find that it's easier for me. Working from home hasn't had any effect on my IF...however, I'm definitely not eating as well while working from home.