Intermittent fasting is a popular wellness trend. When practiced correctly, it can help people lose excess weight, stabilize blood sugar and cravings, and may even promote cellular autophagy, which rids the body of damaged cells. Incorporating short fasting periods into your life can also help you break out of mindless eating habits. If you decide that you’re not going to eat between the end of dinner and the next morning’s breakfast, for example, you’re less likely to spend your evenings snacking.
Most intermittent fasting practitioners do a little more than “from dinner to breakfast.” Common intermittent fasting routines (often called “protocols”) include 14:10 fasting, in which you fast for 14 hours per day and eat your meals in the remaining 10 hours; 16:8 fasting, in which you fast for 10 hours and eat your meals within an 8-hour period; and alternate-day fasting, in which you eat normally one day and fast for 24 or 36 hours the next day.
How does that work when you’re a mom? Does intermittent fasting fit with the typical mom’s busy schedule? Is it difficult to fast while you’re preparing food for your family? What if your fasting protocol requires you to skip a meal while the rest of your family eats? What about holidays and special occasions?
I reached out to four moms, all who have successfully incorporated intermittent fasting into their lives, to ask them about balancing their fasting goals with their family’s needs:
- Varda Meyers Epstein, parenting expert and writer at Kars4Kids
- Amber Nash, exercise instructor and founder of Fit Healthy Best
- Erin Reeder, history professor and blogger at The Incremental Mama
- Barbara Ford Shabazz, Psy.D. and life coach at Intentional Activities
Of course, as with any diet, check with your doctor before you start intermittent fasting to make sure it is safe for you. Here’s what you should know before you commit to the fast.
Getting started with intermittent fasting
“I lost 20 pounds from intermittent fasting and I noticed my brain fog went away,” Nash tells me. “I feel much clearer and can think better when I’m fasting. My energy is also through the roof, which is a must for moms.”
If you’re interested in getting started with intermittent fasting, here’s Nash’s advice: “Start small with short 12-hour fasts every other day or every third day. Also, you’ll need a favorite drink to keep your mouth occupied during your fast. Coffee is a popular fasting drink, but you could also try decaf coffee, sparkling water or tea during your fast. Your energy may tank at first, but, if you stick with it, you’ll likely see serious energy gains.”
Remember, most of the fasting process takes place during sleep. A 12-hour fast, which Nash suggests starting with, is as simple as fasting from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.
Practicing intermittent fasting while participating in family meals
While some intermittent fasting protocols (like 14:10) might still allow you to share three meals with your family, other common protocols (like 16:8 or alternate-day fasting) require you to skip meals. Is it possible to maintain a healthy family food culture—one that supports both nutritious eating and the important aspect of bonding over meals—while fasting?
According to the moms I interviewed, the answer is a clear yes. Their solution? Skip breakfast.
“Mornings are generally a really busy time for moms, so I find it much easier to fast during this time rather than make breakfast for myself,” Nash explains. She practices 16:8 fasting with an eating window between 1 and 9 p.m., which allows her to share evening meals with her family. “I find that my kids don’t notice that I don’t eat breakfast because it’s more of a rushed time of the day. If I were to skip dinner, they would definitely notice.”
There are also alternate-day fasting protocols that don’t require you to skip dinner; simply eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner on Day 1 and then fast until dinner on Day 2. You can practice alternate-day fasting twice during the week (fasting on Tuesday and Thursday, for example) while still participating in all family dinners and weekend meals.
After all, it’s important to regularly share meals with your family. “Have at least one sit-down meal as a family during your eating window,” Reeder advises. “That way you won’t miss on the bonding that happens when a family sits and eats together.”
Breastfeeding while fasting
Yes, it is possible to practice intermittent fasting while breastfeeding. After getting approval from her doctor, Reeder began a 16:8 fasting protocol while breastfeeding her fourth daughter. She described the experience at The Incremental Mama: “At my baby’s 3-month visit, I decided to ask the pediatrician about intermittent fasting while breastfeeding. By this point, my milk supply was well-established and my baby and I were in a great routine.”
Reeder explains that she was going to eat between noon and 8 p.m. and remain well-hydrated during her sixteen-hour fast. Her doctor gave her the go-ahead (with the caveat that Reeder would ensure that her daughter “was still enjoying the milk”), and the protocol worked well for both baby and mama: “[B]y about day 4, it was seriously no big deal waiting til noon to eat. I was no longer hungry in the mornings. In my experience, it was really easy to adjust to intermittent fasting while breastfeeding. Eating during an 8-hour window is so doable.”
Cooking meals for your family while fasting
If you need to do meal prep during your fasting window, whether you’re packing tomorrow’s lunches after dinner or batching a week’s worth of homemade granola bars before breakfast, Shabazz suggests honoring your fast by asking someone else in your family to taste the food.
“It was tough to cook meals without tasting — because in some cases, those ‘tastes’ equal a little appetizer’s worth of food — so I would make my son the ‘taster’,” Shabazz explained.
This is also a great way to get your entire family involved in the meal prep process. If your children are available to help you taste recipes as you prepare them, they might also be able to help you by chopping vegetables, putting sandwiches into lunchboxes, or mixing chocolate chips into those homemade granola bars. You might even be able to persuade them to help you with the cleaning up.
How to practice intermittent fasting during the holidays
Holidays are often difficult for parents who practice intermittent fasting; your family might get together for a special holiday breakfast, for example, or you might be invited to evening parties where you’ll be tempted by delicious treats and holiday beverages. Kids who are out of school might want to relax your family’s mealtimes or meal rules, requesting pancakes on a weekday morning or ice cream during a late-night movie. Do you participate in these social and/or family rituals, or stick to your fast?
Well … it’s up to you. Some intermittent fasters make exceptions for holidays, vacations, and special occasions, arguing that bonding with loved ones over homemade cookies or a shared meal is more important than sticking to a fasting protocol.
Others find ways of bonding without breaking the fast. Epstein, who practices a 19:5 fasting protocol in combination with a ketogenic diet, told me that she found intermittent fasting during the holidays difficult until she came up with a solution that worked for her: “I find that I can still sit with my family and have a glass of soda water or a cup of black coffee and remain social.” Sometimes, simply being in the room with loved ones is enough. You can still share stories, pass gifts, and create memories together, after all.
Getting your family on board with intermittent fasting
After Shabazz began a 14:10 intermittent fasting protocol, her husband and teenage son decided to join her. Now the whole family practices intermittent fasting.
While you don’t need your family to join you on your fasting journey — “It’s about you, not about them,” as Epstein puts it — you can begin to shift your family’s food culture into a routine that supports intermittent fasting. Adopting “no snacks after dinner” as one of your family food rules, for example, is a simple way to institute a healthy habit for the whole family. Likewise, teaching children how to make their own breakfasts can help shield you from early-morning eating temptations while also helping your kids learn essential life skills.
“Lead by example,” Shabazz advises. “Don’t force your newfound beliefs on your family.” That said, don’t be surprised if your family shows interest in your new eating habits — and wants to help you maintain them. That’s how family works best, after all; when everyone works together to support each other’s goals.
Nicole Dieker is a full-time freelance writer. Her work regularly appears on Bankrate, Lifehacker, The Write Life and numerous other sites. She is the author of Frugal and the Beast: And Other Financial Fairy Tales.
This article is sponsored by Haven Life Insurance Agency. Haven Life does not endorse the products, services or strategies discussed here. Opinions are those of the individuals interviewed.
Haven Life Insurance Agency offers this as educational information only. Haven Life does not provide medical advice. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on as such. You should consult with your own doctor or other medical professional.