Intermittent Fasting Is Hard When You're a Mom — Here's How I Make It Work

As a mom, losing weight can be tough — I'm faced with limited time (and so many available snacks) that it's easy to get off track. And with the return of warm weather, so too returned my desire to shed the five (OK, seven) pounds I'd accumulated over our long, sad Midwestern Winter. I'm never quite sure how the weight creeps on. I'm as vigilant about exercise during the colder months as I am during swimsuit season — in fact, probably more so, because what else do I have to do when it's negative 24 degrees out? Plus, my gym has child care, the ultimate motivator.

But then there's the red wine, the pasta, the carbs in general that seem to sneak their way into my Winter diet and then land with a thud on my belly and thighs. According to my scale, it was time for a wake-up call, because things were definitely not moving in the right direction, and with my 40th birthday rapidly approaching, I knew those extra pounds weren't going to take care of themselves. Nor was a mixture of magical thinking and switching from lattes to mistos during my daily Starbucks runs (ahhh, the good old days of my 20s when that actually worked) going to come to my rescue.

I started the assault on my Winter layer with a hard reset: a three-day juice fast. Juicing was a staple of my life during my late 20s and early 30s (i.e. before kids), and I knew a fast had the ability to reshape the way I was thinking about and consuming food long after I'd finished my last juice. I found an online discount for a blended juice fast, ignored the comments from my husband about what a crazy person I was (pretty sure he was mostly concerned that I wouldn't be making him dinner), and found that, besides the slightly painful two days of veggie-and-fruit-only prep, juicing was as easy and enjoyable as I remembered. I lost a couple of pounds, and although I still had five to go, it had the desired effect of making chips and cookies not quite as tempting as they had been just a few days before.

Still, I needed a longer-term solution. Enter intermittent fasting. I first heard about the diet trend through Jimmy Kimmel, who shared that he lost 25 pounds by eating fewer than 500 calories a day two days a week. "Then I eat like a pig for the other five days," he told Men's Journal. That sounded good to me. I knew I had the discipline to be a calorie-restricting queen two days a week if I knew I could eat normally (and occasionally piggishly) the other five days. So I gave it a go, choosing the Kimmel-preferred 5:2 fasting method, versus the also-popular 16:8 method, which involves eating only during a daily eight-hour window.

I was excited about my new eating adventure, until I remembered one thing: I am the mom of two kids, ages 5 and 8, and just because I'm barely eating two days a week does not mean they would be demanding fewer snacks or switching from grilled cheese to spinach salads to help me avoid temptation. I was still going to be surrounded by chicken nuggets, half-eaten bowls of ice cream, and sad, forgotten french fries, all inviting me to forget about sticking to those 500 measly calories. I was going to have to be committed and to stay tough. It hasn't always been easy (my daughter's leftover birthday cake is currently staring at me), but these hacks have made fasting while parenting a lot easier.

  1. Plan your fasting days and food in advance.
    I fast on Mondays and Wednesdays, unless I have a social obligation or any kind of food-heavy conflict on either of those days. If so, I switch my fasting day to another weekday, making sure I'm not fasting on two consecutive days. I also try to plan what I will eat either the night before or the morning of a fasting day. My go-to eating plan: coffee with two tablespoons of milk in the morning (15 calories), a 200-calorie salad for lunch, and a 100-ish calorie soup and low-sugar Greek yogurt (120 calories) with a few strawberries (20 calories) for dinner.
  2. Get out the calculator.
    I find it easiest to write out the calories of everything I'm planning to eat during the day, so I can add and subtract items from each mini meal to make sure I'm under 500. For example, I might forgo the chickpeas on my salad so I can add fruit to my evening yogurt.
  3. Keep plenty of calorie-free drinks in your fridge.
    Hydration is key to sticking to your fast, but plain old water can get boring. Instead, stock up on calorie-free teas and flavored sparkling waters. I reach for one instead of finishing whatever food my kids have left behind.
  4. Stick to light exercise.
    I'll take my dog on an hour-long walk or do some light yoga on a fast day, but I try to keep it light and easy. I learned this the hard way by taking a HIIT class on a fasting day, then spending most of the evening yelling at my entire family in a hunger-fueled rage.
  5. If possible, relieve yourself of dinner duty on fasting days.
    I'll cook for my kids, but unless I'm making something super quick or something my husband loves and I do not, I don't cook adult dinner on fasting days. Instead, I'll pick up prepared foods or tell him he needs to fend for himself.
  6. Be patient.
    My body took a couple of weeks to adjust to my new way of eating, but my fasting days are actually very easy to stick to now. And on the days when they're hard, I know that I'll be able to eat whatever I want the following day (though by the time that day comes, I'm usually, weirdly not that tempted by calorie-rich foods), and that pushes me through.
  7. Move up your own bedtime.
    I put my kids to bed and then quickly follow them on fasting days. A little extra sleep never hurt anyone.

A month into my intermittent fasting experiment, I have to say, I'm hooked. I have lost a few pounds and definitely feel less bloated. Cutting calories two days a week has also helped me make better dietary decisions the other five. I swear bad foods actually look less appealing to me now; many times, I've found myself reaching for an apple over a handful of my kids' leftover fries because the former actually sounded better. I still like my weekend wine, and I ate more desserts at my daughter's birthday party last weekend than any diet would recommend, but I knew my fasting would get me back on track, so I didn't stress about it. And that might be the greatest beauty of intermittent fasting: staying vigilant about my diet two days a weeks means I can relax about it the other five. I'm a full-time mom; I don't have time for a full-time diet.