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Tips for Intermittent Fasting While Breastfeeding
Intermittent fasting has been a godsend for me. I’ve reclaimed my health, losing over 35 lbs in the year since I started. And I’ve finally lost the baby weight from 4 back-to-back pregnancies. All while breastfeeding. And taking care of 4 busy kids.
Because of my results, I’ve been asked a lot about what exactly I did to successfully breastfeed while doing intermittent fasting (IF). After nearly a year of intermittent fasting and breastfeeding, here are my top tips and recommendations:
1) Start slowly
Be gentle with yourself. This is not a quick-fix solution for weight loss. Your priority is health, both yours and your baby’s.
To ensure you don’t disrupt your milk supply, start slowly. Start with a 12 hour fasting period (for example, 8:00 pm to 8:00 am) and then gradually increase it from there to a 14 or 16 hour fasting window.
Since adjusting, I have mostly done a 16:8 (16 hours fasting, 8 hours eating). My body is very comfortable with that and I rarely feel actual hunger. I feel best eating between a 6 and 8 hour window.
2) Listen to your body
What is true hunger vs. simply wanting to eat? We spend so much of our life ignoring our body’s signals of true hunger and fullness.
Tune into your body and determine whether you’re experiencing hunger or just in the habit of eating. Pay attention to emotional triggers that send you straight to the fridge, even when you’re not actually hungry.
On this IF journey, I’ve had to wrestle with the fact that I am an emotional eater. My husband has a major work success. So we celebrate with milkshakes AFTER a huge meal.
My child gets injured and we rush her to the ER. So I nervously down a huge bag of vending machine Skittles.
I’m overwhlemed with work, kids, and my many responsibilites. And I find myself in a fast food drive-thru despite the fact I just ate and am not at all hungry.
Cutting through the emotional noise and actually listening to my true hunger cues has been a revelation. I’ve gotten back to my pre-4 kids wedding weight without counting any calories.
I also pay close attention to how what I eat affects my body. After 5 sugar cookies, I am zapped of energy and feel seriously gross. But after the green smoothie, I’ve got all the energy I need to keep up with 4 little kids.
Not only do I eat fewer calories naturally, but paying attention to how food make me feel had helped me make healthier food choices.
3) Drink lots of water
One of the few things my pediatrician insisted on was drinking tons of water. Since I’m never without my trusty, (very banged-up) Hydroflask (the BEST water bottle ever), it hasn’t been a problem.
You need lots of water to maintain your milk supply. And plus, it also helps navigating true hunger pains. And it makes your skin nice, too!
4) Don’t go nuts with exercise
As your body adjusts to a new eating pattern, don’t overdo your exercise routine. While you should certainly exercise regularly, gradually increase your intensity so as not to shock your body.
When I started, I would exercise a few days a week for 25 minutes (doing this workout program). As I grew accustomed to IF, I now do a pretty intense weekly regime (heavy weights and HIIT cardio at the gym 3 days a week and running 2-3 days a week).
5) Exercise right before breaking your fast
Experts recommend exercising immediately before breaking your fast in order to reap the greatest metabolic benefits.
At first, I thought that I wouldn’t have the energy to exercise, but now I feel best exercising on an empty stomach. I have the most energy in the hours before breaking my fast.
Just make sure that you eat protein-rich food quickly after working out. I often will make a protein and fiber packed smoothie to break my fast (frozen berries, greens, chia seeds, hemp seeds, coconut butter, vegan protein powder).
6) Skip breakfast
Most people find this is the easiest way to do IF.
Because I’d always heard that skipping breakfast was the worst thing your could every do, for years I’d eat breakfast despite not feeling hungry. In listening to my body, skipping breakfast and starting my meals at noon gives me an energized morning.
7) Plan a satisfying 1st meal
This was especially important in the beginning. Your first meal should be both delicious and satisfying. A meal heavy on protein and fiber will set you up well for the day.
When I first started to do IF, I was just trying to get a handle on my out-of-control cravings. I wanted to eat ALL OF THE THINGS. All the time.
So making a delicious 1st meal was really important to help ease my cravings. As I adjusted to intermittent fasting while breastfeeding and my craving subsided, my meals naturally became healthier and healthier.
8) Stop eating after dinner
As you go through the day, you are using up your limited store of willpower. After dinner, most of us have very little willpower left. Therefore, eating anything during this time may send us for a ride on the binge-eating train packed to the gills with sugar and carbs.
9) Take PGX before meals
At first, you may be tempted to overeat. Especially, at your first meal of the day. But that will just leave you zapped of energy and will NOT help you achieve your health goals. PGX can help with that.
I first heard about the supplement PGX when I read Dr. Hyman’s 10-Day Detox Diet (which is awesome) where he highly recommends taking it before each meal. PGX is a soluble fiber from natural sources that helps regulate blood sugar, reduces food cravings, and helps with appetite control.
Since it takes 20 minutes after eating for your body to feel fullness, taking a few PGX fiber capsules with water before eating can help with overeating.
I typically take 3-6 capsules a few minutes before eating a meal (especially my first meal of the day) and it helps me not to go nuts and eat everything in my sight. If I’m feeling especially hungry, it helps me not to feel so ravenous so I don’t eat so much that I feel gross.
10) Get protein and fiber with each meal and snack
This combination has been really helpful in satisfying my hunger without overeating. There are so many possible combinations.
For a meal, I’ll eat chicken or fish with a ton of baked veggies and maybe some whole grains. Or I’ll have a smoothie packed with greens, seeds, coconut or almond butter, nuts, some fruit, and vegan protein powder. A snack might be an apple with almond butter or some nuts and raw veggies.
10) Experiment with meal schedule
To find out what works best for you, you may have to experiment a bit before finding what works. For me, this meant a satisfying, protein-rich meal at noon, a snack a few hours later, and then eating a final meal with my family at 6:00 pm or so.
11) Take your Vitamins
Be sure to continue taking the vitamins your pediatrician recommends while you breastfeed. For me, this means continuing my prenatals and taking vitamin D.
12) Quickly forgive yourself when you “mess up”
Don’t let minor setbacks stop you from your health goals. “Messing up” is just how we learn new habits and skills.
My success has come entirely because I refuse to give up, not because I eat perfectly. Seriously, most people can’t do the cold turkey approach.
Most of us give into temptations as we claw our way to better health. Just get back up every time you fall and there is nothing you can’t accomplish. It may take some time, but you will do it.
Intermittent fasting while breastfeeding is possible
For the last year, I have practiced intermittent fasting while breastfeeding. Through following the tips above, it’s been of one of the most important steps I’ve taken to conquer my cravings, lose my baby weight from 4 pregnancies, and finally reclaim my health.
It was the vehicle through which I have managed to slowly lose over 30 lbs while creating a healthy lifestyle. I hope that what I’ve learned from doing IF will help you on your health journey. Just remember, your biggest priority is health: your health and the health of your baby.
Good luck, mama!