Intermittent Fasting, Feasting, and the Perfect Pesto

A few weekends ago, we decided to have a feast. We didn’t have any guests over. It wasn’t anyone’s birthday. It was just our little family of four on an ordinary Friday evening after a long week of school and work.

My girls helped set the table excitedly, fueled by the aroma of fresh bread in the oven. Meanwhile, my husband whipped up a batch of homemade pesto sauce so fragrant that it permanently infused its scent into the walls of our farmhouse. A huge fresh salad picked from our produce field was placed on the table, and you better believe we popped open the biodynamic Italian wine we had been gifted at Christmas.

As we sat down to eat and I held the hands of my family as we blessed this very-special-for-no-particular-reason meal, I realized something important: feasting is so much more meaningful when you’re not doing it all the time.

Since the beginning of January, I’ve been practicing daily intermittent fasting. I’m not typically one to embark on New Year’s Resolutions, but after a crazy autumn season and the holidays, I’d been feeling an uncomfortable fullness, like I was over-consuming food in general and needed to take a step back. Even though I was overeating, I felt hungry all the time. In fact, I never felt satiated.

I also wanted to feel more comfortable in my clothes. As a farmer, my job is very physical, so I also wanted to let go of carrying any excess weight I didn’t need. Since I don’t weigh myself, I would determine this by how I felt in my own skin, not by what a scale told me. With a history of unhealthy body image and controlling behaviors surrounding food, I knew that to stay emotionally healthy I needed a solid, sustainable plan—not a diet.

After discussing it with our family’s functional medicine doctor, he explained how intermittent fasting could help stabilize my blood sugar fluxuations and even balance hormones. Really?! I was skeptical that going without food would actually help me feel more stable and satiated, but I was willing to try. After reading Dr. Jason Fung’s book, The Complete Guide to Fasting, which our doctor recommended, I decided to try intermittent fasting for the month of January. I haven’t turned back since.

So what is intermittent fasting? It’s simply a way of eating where you switch between periods of eating and fasting. Fasting is not starvation—it’s just the absence of eating for a certain amount of time. It’s an intentional choice to give your body a rest from processing and digesting food so it can heal, recover, and stabilize.

Dr. Fung is a Canadian nephrologist who is considered an expert on intermittent fasting, especially for treating people with type 2 diabetes. His book on fasting and the helpful videos on his website do a great job of explaining why fasting is important for good health, the myths surrounding it, certain types of people who should not fast (like nursing moms) and the wealth of physical benefits—decreasing inflammation, reducing insulin resistance, promoting brain health and better digestion, to name a few.

The list of benefits is long, and it’s backed by plenty of case studies and scientific research. As I studied up on fasting, I was reminded that this is nothing new—people have fasted all throughout history, for physical and spiritual reasons. It’s only in the last 30 years or so that we’ve added so many extra “feeding times” to our schedules.

There are several different kinds of fasting, but I’m specifically practicing 16:8 intermittent fasting, which means I fast for 16 hours each day and only eat during an 8-hour window. This means that after I finish dinner around 6:30 or 7:00 p.m., I don’t eat again until 10:30 or 11:00 the next morning. I do drink a morning bulletproof-style coffee or matcha latte with coconut milk, and the addition of healthy fats doesn’t spike blood sugar during the fasting period.

Within the 8-hour eating window, I usually eat two whole food, nutrient-dense meals and sometimes snack in between (if you’re interested, you can read my Day In the Life post for what I ate on a typical day). I’ve also done a few longer 20-24 hour fasts sprinkled in.

Anyway, I’ll leave all the medical stuff to the experts—intermittent fasting isn’t for everyone, so ask your doctor before you try it. I’m just a girl on a journey toward being my healthiest physical, mental, and emotional self, and I wanted to share 5 good things I’ve learned from intermittent fasting over the last several months:

1. I need much less food than I was eating.

Around the same time I started daily intermittent fasting, our family was watching Marie Kondo’s new Netflix show, Tidying Up. As I decluttered all my drawers and closets, I saw a close parallel between the KonMari method and intermittent fasting—I actually need less than I’m consuming. For me, this applies to both stuff in my home and to food. Intermittent fasting has turned what I have into enough, instead of constantly craving more. Within two days of 16:8 intermittent fasting, I couldn’t finish the food on my plate, and it felt like a small victory to recognize that I was satisfied with less.

2. I’ve recaptured a deep gratefulness for food.

When I visited India in 2005, I sat in a circle of people on the floor in a village home, with one pot of rice and a plate of naan bread in the middle—our only meal that day for 10 people. The bowed heads and prayers of thanks came from a place of complete reverence for provision when food wasn’t always readily available, and we didn’t have every choice under the sun. This was their daily lives; I was just getting a glimpse during a 10-day trip. Intermittent fasting helps me remember my friends in India daily. Now, when I sit down to “break the fast,” I look down on my plate and feel so grateful to have an abundance of colorful, healthy food. I enjoy every nourishing bite and know that it’s a privilege to have even this.

3. I’ve found more freedom in my body image.

In my early twenties, I started eating “low carb” and dropped 50 lbs of college weight rather quickly. But I wasn’t really healthy—I consumed a lot of fake foods and also became quietly, internally controlling over what I would and wouldn’t eat—just three frozen chicken tenders at dinner and a bowl of frozen broccoli. Or, I ate a little too much peanut butter today, so I need to exercise a little longer to “work it off.” Intermittent fasting doesn’t at all feel controlling to me—it feels like freedom. If I choose to have some wine or a special treat, I don’t feel the least bit guilty about it. I just go back into the 16-hour fast and see it as an opportunity to rest my body and remember that food doesn’t control me anymore.

4. It’s okay to “abstain” rather than “moderate.”

Author Gretchen Rubin’s idea is that each person is either a moderator or an abstainer. I’m definitely an abstainer. Personally, I’d rather just abstain from all food during the fasting period and then know that during the 8-hour eating window I can eat however much nutrient-dense food my body needs. It takes much more brainpower and emotional energy for me to measure portions or moderate specific amounts of food at specific times. Because fasting has helped my blood sugar stabilize, I’m more in touch with what my body actually needs, so I don’t overeat.

5. Fasting makes feasting all the more meaningful.

In one of my favorite memoirs, Bread & Wine, author Shauna Niequist says it well:

“There has to be a way to live with health and maturity and intention while still honoring the part of me that loves to eat, that sees food as a way to nurture and nourish both my body and my spirit. I’m working to find a middle ground—some fasting, some feasting. At some points, gobbling up life with every bite; in other seasons, mastering the appetites and tempering the desires.”

Feasting is part of my faith, and I won’t give it up. It’s a gift and a symbol, a way to celebrate and connect with each other over the abundant provision of food, and thank my God who provides all good things…even the glory of fresh pasta with rich, nutty pesto sauce and expensive Italian wine and crusty homemade bread slathered with Irish butter.

Get the perfect pesto recipe here!

p.s. Listen to the podcast episode about this post.

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15 Comments

  1. Sue

    I am just starting, today is day one, to try intermittent fasting. I have read a lot about it. One question I have is, how many days does one follow this? Does it have to be for life? Or can one follow this for a period of time, break from it, then repeat?

    Reply
    • Christine Bailey

      Cheering you on! How long you follow intermittent fasting is up to you – some people do it for a season just to recover or get back on a healthy track. Some people do it as a lifestyle choice for longterm, which is how I feel now. It definitely doesn’t have to be for life but I think our bodies do benefit from fasting from time to time!

      Reply
    • Christine Bailey

      Also, I’d encourage you to watch the videos I linked to in the post – Dr. Fung outlines everything really well there!

      Reply
  2. Lina

    This post really resonated with me. Thank you for sharing!! I have been feeling so uncomfortable lately and I know it’s because my eating is out of control. I tried one day of IF before but it was so hard that I immediately quit. Your post is encouraging me to try again. Especially after this particular Lent season, I see the beauty of fasting and feasting. We need them both. Both are valuable and appropriate. Thanks for your story and encouragement today!!

    Reply
    • Christine Bailey

      I’m so glad it resonated, Lina! I’d encourage you not to give up – the first few days are the hardest – I felt really hungry until my blood sugar evened out. Like I said, it’s not for everyone but if you feel led to try it, try to commit to a week and see how you feel.

      Reply
      • Hayley

        Hey Christine! Loved your post! I have heard about IF for a while and it was really helpful to read about your experience. One question I have is, what did you do on those first days when you got really hungry? Did you just push through it, or allow yourself a small snack? Asking because while it would be interesting to try IF I can see myself becoming a ravenous monster woman around hour 10 of the fasting period…it might take a lot of adjustment for me. 🙂

        Reply
        • Christine Bailey

          Hey Hayley! Basically, I just drank water and pushed through those first few days. You CAN have coffee with healthy fats in it (bulletproof, full-fat coconut milk, or cream), so I had that early in the morning then waited until 10:30 or 11am to eat. Your body will tell you you’re hungry when you’re used to eating, so you just have to push through at first. Obviously if you feel unwell you should eat something but personally I found I could push through if I mentally told myself I could and I really didn’t NEED to eat that early in the morning. Now I’m doing SUPER physical farm work everyday and still able to be sustained with plenty of fuel on 16:8 fasting.

          Reply
  3. Kaye B

    Terrific post. What really caught my eye was your beautiful centerpiece. I have all the ‘components’ to make one very similar – and what a lovely thing for a spring feast!

    Reply
    • Christine Bailey

      Thank you, Kaye! It’s a wooden slice from Michael’s. I just change out what’s on it based on the season – but there’s always a candle and a vase filled with something! 🙂

      Reply
  4. Tammy

    Great post!
    I started IF in December even though I am naturally inclined to do it. As a long distance runner, I ate this way for years much to the dismay of the people around me. I feel so much better and have no guilt about what I eat anymore. It is freeing. I also agree it is easier to abstain.

    Reply
    • Christine Bailey

      Love that, Tammy! I think whatever brings freedom is the most important thing! It’s amazing you’re able to be fueled for long distance running while also doing IF. I feel the same way now about all the physical labor of farming – I never knew I could eat less and work more and still be sustained!

      Reply
  5. Maurie Roselaine

    I really enjoyed hearing about your experience with IF! I am currently breastfeeding, so it’s not for me right now, but after doing a short vegan + sugar-Free fast for the last two weeks of lent, I’m feeling inspired to be more mindful of my eating habits. I can moderate for a while, but I need periods of abstaining to remind me why I don’t just eat all the time. I loved hearing your perspective. Maybe I’ll give IF a try when my little one gets a bit older!

    Reply
    • Christine Bailey

      So good, Maurie! I definitely can’t imagine doing IF while I was breastfeeding – definitely agree that’s not a good idea. But I know of several friends who started the practice afterwards. Cheering you on! 🙂

      Reply
  6. Amy Leong

    Could you give the reference for the passage you quoted in Isaiah? I loved that so much. It brought tears to my eyes to think of Christ preparing a feast for us. Ps. 23:5 has the same idea. So beautiful.

    Reply
    • Christine Bailey

      Yes! Me too! It’s Isaiah 25:6-9, NLT.

      Reply

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