Intermittent Fasting: Developing Self-Control and Willpower
Updated: Apr 20
"I fast for greater physical and mental efficiency." - Plato
Ever since I've moved to the wonderful area of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic and reconnected with my island, my mind is more at peace and I'm finally learning to put myself first.
Not only have I managed to relocate across continents, I have also set up a new home for my little family, bought a car, got my eldest son into preschool, and even started entrepreneuring again. Above everything else though, I've really been enjoying a little well-deserved, peaceful alone-time to reflect on myself as well as my lifestyle as a whole. I've been doing a lot of reading, listening to inspiring music, writing and journaling, spending much more outdoor time in nature, and I’ve even been taking the time to go sailing on weekends with my family! All of this has helped me soothe myself and question what I really want in life.
I am approaching my forties, after all (I can't believe I just said that out loud), and being a mother of two, my body has been through a lot. One of the things I was determined to solve this year was losing weight. At the end of 2020, I told myself: "Sarah, if in a year's time, you haven’t lost weight and aren’t physically becoming the person you want to become on your own, then you'll have to seek external help." And by external help, I mean I was so desperate that I was contemplating weight loss surgery...
Looking back, I guess this decisive thought must've triggered something deep inside myself because I'm dead-scared of ending up anywhere near a surgical operating table again. Instead, I decided to work towards my goal on my own, in my own way, and in this sense, do something for myself.
I wasn’t keen about getting into portion control nor any type of restrictive diet, really. Prior to my last pregnancy though, I had tried and liked Intermittent Fasting and I had even started to see results. With more preparation and a double-dose of commitment, I decided to give it another go. For several weeks, I researched, joined a variety of groups, read books, and watched videos of experts discussing the matter. I waited about a month after relocating and settling into our new home, and decided to commit for an entire year, then possibly a lifetime if it worked. If you’re interested in knowing more about IF, I invite you to take a look at a few of Dr. Eric Berg’s videos on the subject.
In my opinion, one of the main factors that made a difference this time around is the long-term mindset. All previous diets or weight loss attempts were usually, unconsciously or not, short-term, but this time, I purposefully gave myself a one year minimum.
Today I'm 5 months into Intermittent Fasting and I've lost 10 whole kilograms! I'm half-way to my target weight goal, and I haven’t lost this much weight since my Dukan diet in 2008. Needless to say, I'm also exercising 3 evenings a week and I'm starting to feel much better both mentally and physically. For me, it's like: If I can get my nutrition and body under control, nothing else really matters. Even if I'm not winning Mother of the Year awards, even if I'm not always the most productive at work, at least I've got this one part of my life under control and feeling right. And in the deepest parts of me, that really just makes me happy because my weight has worried me for so long.
Of course, everyone asks me how I'm losing weight when they see me, because the difference is now largely visible to others too. Yet, most people seem to make a weird face when I start talking to them about Intermittent Fasting, as if it were something incredibly difficult to accomplish. This always surprises me because in my opinion, it's so much more than just not eating for 16 to 20 hours a day. And even more importantly, it's so much easier than any other diet or method I've ever tried in the past!
For all these reasons, I'd like to share some of my views on what I think is an outstanding, life-changing experience.
I progressively started my fasting journey in May 2021. I started with IF 16:8 for 2 weeks, then 18:6 for another 2 weeks, and finally reached 19:5 - 20:4 after about a month. I’m definitely ready to admit that the first few weeks were difficult and challenging but what’s important here is that I allowed myself to struggle mentally and emotionally with the method during this adaptation phase. Throughout the first few weeks, I had a tendency to overeat during my eating windows and would take 2, sometimes 3 days off before getting back on track over the weekends. There were even a few occasions where I broke my fasts or binge on junk and fatty foods out of panic. Despite all that though, I pushed through and I didn't give up - I didn't let the guilt overwhelm me and cause me to fail. I moved forward after each set back, resumed as quickly as possible and became better at fasting and eating right over time. Whether I was "dirty fasting" or "clean fasting", I was still losing weight, so in all, the fasting worked and the more I did it, the better I became at it.
I also had a psychological dilemma with my scale. If I did lose weight, I’d think, well I can cut myself a little slack. I would, and the weight would come right back. On the other hand, if I didn't lose weight, I’d think, what's the point of making all these efforts? So I’d sabotage my efforts and gain the weight back anyway. I quickly became aware of this unhealthy pattern and decided to put an end to this fear of failure and fear of success all at once. I now only weigh myself every 2 weeks when I am sure I will see a positive evolution which encourages me and allows me to stay even more focused before my next weigh-in.
Today, I’m totally comfortable fasting 19 to 20 hours per day. I have 1 or 2 teas in the morning, usually green tea, with half a pressed lime and a piece of ginger. I have a full meal at 13:00. And I have a light snack at 16:30 which is the last thing I’ll eat until the next day at 13:00. For that snack, I usually have a good slimming smoothie, or some soup, a salad, a sandwich, generally something light. Having a smoothie at 16:30 really fills me and helps me resist any types of smells or cravings at the end of the day or the next morning.
I mostly eat lunch at home with my family and our meals are usually balanced and healthy. I don't usually drink alcohol, indulge in sweets, drink soda, snack all day long or eat processed or junk food. If I do, I only do it one day a week, when and if I'm taking a break from fasting. We'll have pancakes on Sunday mornings or order pizza on Saturday evenings or have a few friends over and drink a little wine for example. Like many, I do occasionally please myself with these things, but not more than once a week because I believe moderation is key. I drink a minimum of 2 liters of water a day and this is super important when fasting. If I don't drink enough, my body will tell me, and I get light-headed or somewhat dizzy.
If and when I have cravings and it isn't time for my eating window, my easy trick is to just relax and think to myself: "I cannot have this now, but there's no reason I cannot have it later." and that somehow takes out the "forbidden" notion away and lessens the craving. For example, my husband sometimes cooks a great omelet in the morning and I'm not eating until 13:00. In a case like this, I just drink more tea to cut my craving and tell myself I'll have that omelet at lunch or snack time, that's all. And that really helps me and my mindset.
In all, I love intermittent fasting because I can actually eat anything I want. Not at any time I want, but I can still have anything I want and all I have to do is have them during my eating window. I am allowed to snack in between meals if I want to, I can eat any junk food, sweets or have alcohol if I want to during my eating windows, too. I personally choose not to consume such items 5-6 days a week because that’s my personal preference and I generally eat healthy anyway, but I can. And knowing that helps me because I don't have to mentally struggle with restrictions. In other words, there isn't that much mental effort nor notion of prohibition once you get past the threshold of not being hungry for a certain number of hours. After 6 months, my body is completely used to not eating for 19 to 20 hours, it doesn't bother me at all anymore, and my body gets hungry exactly a little before 13:00 and 16:30 as it has gotten used to eating this way. And I think that's awesome and adaptable. I didn't think I'd ever live this way, but I do. And I've become very comfortable with it.
Not only am I steadily losing half a kilo per week, but I sleep better, my skin is clearer, my hair and nails are growing better, and I have more energy. I love Zumba, Latin dance and swimming which all require a high level of cardio efforts. And ever since starting to fast, I feel much more energized physically. Plus, I'm mindful of the difference between craving food and actually being hungry, which are 2 different things. Craving is more of an emotional response, while hunger is a true physical need. I've learned to maintain my fasting schedule over the weekend and even if I'm away from home which was difficult for me at the beginning. And I like that I've become less stressed and guilty about food too.
By controlling my nutrition and exercising, I feel like I am in control of my mind and my body, and therefore capable of taking control of more aspects in my life. I am exercising my willpower daily and actively choosing to better my health by working toward my weight loss goal. I once read that a habit can be formed within 21 days, and it is true. After that 3 week period, IF and exercising become much easier and more natural for me. I no longer see exercise as something dreadful and requiring a huge mental effort from my part. It has become a great way for me to boost my mind and body one last time at the end of the day before having a good night's sleep. If I'm moody, exercise lightens my thoughts. If I'm tired, it invigorates me. If I'm anxious, it drains out my worries. The results are motivating and push me to pursue this lifestyle as well as to keep eating better. Every 3 months, I reassess what I can improve and make small, positive changes to my overall wellness routine.
I haven’t been this happy about my health in a long time. I'm starting to recognize myself in my body, and I choose to stay in control of myself, as a whole, both mentally and physically, no matter the situation. I push back all limiting thoughts, unwanted comments people around me sometimes make (it happens), old habits that creep up on me at times, or if I have to, I’ll compromise in unknown places or situations. For example, I'll do my best to schedule socializing with friends or family on weekends, so that if I find myself having to eat or drink outside my eating window, I can do so on my cheat day. Sometimes though, I have a social evening that comes up during the week, so I switch the cheat day around, or I have 2 cheat days during the week instead of 1. I do my best, only think about the present or future, and I avoid dwelling on the past when it comes to eating and food in general. Avoiding and brushing off the guilt when it comes to food has considerably helped me move forward and more importantly, in the right direction.
There you have it: I've managed to start achieving a resolution I was constantly bringing back to the table every year and it simply feels awesome. I started this journey in May 2021 weighing 85 kilograms. And I can see myself reaching 70 kilograms by the end of this year! Hopefully I will reach my target weight of 60 kilograms by Spring 2022, and from there, I’ll decide how I want to seal the deal with Intermittent Fasting for the rest of my life. In other words, how to adapt Intermittent Fasting in the long run without necessarily losing more weight but maintaining the weight loss.
Years ago, I never thought Intermittent Fasting would be for me. And sometimes I still can't believe I'm doing it, especially when I talk about it to people and listen to myself brag about its merits. Honestly, I've been locked in mental resistance and defeat for so long that I never thought I'd be able to overcome my issues linked to food and exercise. But believe me, if I can do it, you can too! Don't give up, find your own way, and start putting yourself first!
Sarah The Digital GypSea
Dominican Republic, October 2021