The challenge of intermittent fasting

By Caitlin Kelly

A great doorway on East 9th Street, NYC

The idea is simple — two days a week you consume only 500 calories; 600 calories for men.

The rest of the week you eat normally, (assuming that “normal” isn’t mountains of chips and doughnuts!)

As someone who’s been trying to shed 30-plus pounds for a decade, unsuccessfully, I’m trying this instead.

I  deeply admire people with the consistent and unyielding self-discipline to weigh and measure every mouthful every day but I’m not that person.

Two days a week? Yes. I can do that and plan around it.

Unlike hardier souls, I’m eating 750 calories on my fast days and, for now, not working out or doing vigorous exercise as my energy on these days is simply too low.

But we’ll see. If I get more used to it, I may.

My doctor knows I’m doing it and she suggested 750 calories, knowing my starting weight.

I’m in my third week of it, fasting Tuesdays and Thursdays.

I also know a few friends who are doing it, so sharing advice and moral support is really helpful, too.

So what’s it like?


Not intolerable, but, for me, tiring and uncomfortable.

It does takes serious willpower and planning and preparation to make sure I have the right foods handy; I work alone at home, so that bit is easy.

I don’t have to care for or feed anyone else, so have no temptation in that respect.

I know all the “right” low-calorie foods and, sadly, hate many of them and won’t eat them — tempeh, tofu, sushi, kale. Please don’t even try to change my mind!

I’ve memorized the calorie counts of some of the foods I like that are also healthy: crispbread (45 per slice), apples (80) and peanut butter (30 per tsp.)

Mornings are easiest — and 3pm is hell!

I go to bed hungry, very grateful to disappear into sleep.

The next morning, oddly, I don’t rush into the kitchen starving. I feel a bit disoriented, wary.

(I’ve never struggled with an eating disorder, so that’s not an issue, as it can be for some people.)

Verboten! Sigh….

I see progress.


I don’t own or plan to own a scale. My goal is to be down by 30 pounds by September when I have my annual physical with our GP. Ideally, I’d love to shed 50, but not sure if that’s possible.

My clothes already fit differently, looser. I feel a bit lighter.


100 calories — 1 cup strawberries, 1/4 cup zero-fat yogurt


I won’t pretend it’s easy, but it’s definitely not impossible.


9 oz can of tuna; 2 crackers; 1 tbsp mayo, 1 pickle — 215 calories


It’s disorienting to not look forward to breakfast, lunch, dinner or snacks or sharing a meal with my husband or a friend. (A treat now is a few Lifesavers, at 14 calories each.)

It means arranging my social calendar, avoiding meeting others when my energy is low and my mood…anti-social. I’m definitely grumpy!


A small salade nicoise: 1 hardboiled eg, 1/2 a tomato, 1 cup green beans, 5 olives and 1 tbsp dressing — 155 calories


It does take planning, making sure I have all the foods handy that are healthy, low-calorie and something I enjoy eating — hard-boiled egg (80) or  three cups of asparagus (100.)


I make enormous batches of flavored teas (peppermint, peach, mixed berry) so I have a break from water, selzer and coffee. I drink some diet tonic water for the flavor.

People ask if I binge on “feast” days.

I do indulge in higher-calorie foods (cheese! bread!) and I’m a little shocked by how I do eat, so this has very much sharpened my awareness, and that’s a major step forward.

I tend to eye each mouthful with suspicion, but I won’t freak out about it and am now more likely to split a meal out with my husband and/or bring home half of it to eat on another “feast” day.

I do like the conscious decision to “feast” and “fast.”

It has made me much more appreciative of days when I can eat more — and how it feels to function, let alone work hard, with much less fuel in my system.

I also go to a spin class twice a week and a jazz dance class once a week, plus walking and lifting weights.

Have you tried this?

Has it worked for you?





46 thoughts on “The challenge of intermittent fasting

  1. I do this 5 days a month at 850-1000 calories. Although I don’t go as low as other folks I do know it takes will power and planning! I feel a sense of accomplishment after my fast days. Apparently food is a huge part of my life 🙂 I also feel very appreciative of the bounty available to me on normal days. It reminds me to be grateful for all I have!
    Thanks for sharing your experience!

  2. Good luck to you! Have you heard of the ketogenic diet? You limit carbs, have moderate protein and high fat. The high fat makes you feel satiated so there’s less of a chance that you will eat loads on “feast” days. I’ve found my blood sugar levels don’t fluctuate so much, so I don’t have major energy highs and lows.

    Just an idea. I’m sure IF is very good too.

  3. It’s a tough road Caitlin. I was always a skinny thing and just can’t think in calories but metabolism is a strange machine as you get older that’s for sure. The reality is if you cut out sugar in all its forms you lose weight in no time but it is so hard to retrain your palate, brain etc. to sustain this. A bit of meditation or mindfulness thrown in might be handy – the awareness bit you mentioned is quite important. I can’t cut it out totally but I’ve stopped sugar in coffee and my morning muffin and other ‘stress response’ foods. If you can stop sugar totally for a while you can really taste how sweet foods are (even supposed savoury foods like sauces) and it’s harder to eat so much of these foods. Don’t replace sugar with artificial sweeteners or ‘diet’ drinks though – that won’t retrain your brain. Going out for breakfast or brunch instead of lunch or dinner is good I think – it’s social & you can eat eggs and berries and it lasts for lots of the day.

  4. I’m fortunate enough that I don’t need to diet, but I think fasting would be really difficult. If I miss a meal, I feel headachy, a kind of unpleasant dizzy tiredness, and very grouchy.

    I hope that the diet works for you and that you don’t have to do it for too long…it sounds tough!

    As an aside, have you tried Pilates? I recently started going to a Pilates Arc class (you do the exercises using a foam arc shape), and it’s such a good workout.

    Also, have you ever tried marinated tofu in a veg stirfry with toasted sesame oil and a liberal dash of soy sauce? Maybe I could convince you. 😉


      Seriously. I know the foods I love that are healthy — and the foods I loathe. It is sometimes the taste but it’s also texture; anything slimy (okra, squid, octopus), doesn’t stand a chance. The only exception is oysters.

      I plan to sustain this until those 30 lbs are gone — and ideally 50. I expect that will be at least a year, less if I am lucky.

      I don’t miss a meal, so much as eat a very very small one. There are people (not me!) who don’t eat a thing until dinner then eat all their 500 calories then. That’s out of the question for me.

  5. Rebeca Schiller

    I want to do this! And I eat tofu and seitan so that makes the menus a more varied Now that I’m back to “city” life, it’s also easier to find the foods. Kinda ironic, n’est-ce pas? I’ll start on Tuesday. You know where to find me for support!

  6. this has been a struggle for me for many years and i think that whatever works for each person is what they should do. sounds like you are on your way )

    1. Exactly!

      I’m in no way advocating this for everyone — which is why I noted that if you’ve had an eating disorder, it might not be a fit. I just know it seems to be a fit for me. I get to eat food I enjoy, even in very small amounts, and not spend $$$$$$ for pre-packaged “diet” food.

      It’s worth trying. The first week or so is a bit gross but, as everyone has promised me, it does get easier. And seeing quick results has been very motivating for me.

  7. I have Lyme and have been literally forced not to eat any foods that break down into sugar as these foods cause inflammation or red, blotchy itchy skin. My worry with the limited calorie diet is that you have to be able to maintain the lifestyle. If you don’t enjoy the food you are eating, you probably won’t be able to maintain that low calorie count for too long. The cravings will win over any weight loss. For me, it’s already been decided. If I cheat, I will be in pain or have a worse reaction.

    I highly, highly recommend you read Born Round by Frank Bruni. It is a fabulous book about his struggles with his love of food as well as is issues with his weight. You may be surprised to learn how he was able to enjoy the foods he eats and keep his weight at an acceptable level…especially since he was a food critic for the New York Times and had to eat out at restaurants every night! It’s a funny, sad, intelligent and throughly enjoyable read!

    1. Thanks.

      The only way this is going to work for me — and why it has so far — is that I’m choosing food I enjoy. I won’t eat things I loathe as that would destroy any motivation. I did say this in my post.

      I don’t have “cravings” per se. I get hungry on fast days, as many people do…but it’s a craving for more food, not a hunk of cheese or cheesecake. The element of having 100% control over my choices is why this is working for me. I know what my healthiest choices are (I read a lot) and decide accordingly.

      Thanks for the recommendation.

  8. I have never been really overweight. That being said, as I get older, it is harder to just fit into your pants and eat and drink what you want. I know it is time to lose weight when I don’t fit into my pants. This past year I was on some meds which made me balloon, followed by a cruise, followed by a long cold winter. The pants sat in the closet waiting for me to get my act together.

    I find that Weight Watchers works for me (online). I count the points. Like you I realize how important food/drink can be to me. I change my diet and eat a larger variety of foods that are delicious. This leaves me thinking…why does it seem like every 5 years I get in a rut of eating boring crap, not exercising, and doing all the wrong things for my body.

    Going from one weight to the goal weight is a looooong slooooow journey. I know some are trying to lose hundreds, but losing that 10 kilo is a bitch. The payoff though is feeling better, having more energy, and well…I fit into my pants. 😉

      1. 800 calories though, woooweee. I would be killing people and ramming my car into things. I am a force to be reckoned with when I’m hangry.

  9. Looks like you have more advice than needed… and are working your butt off to stay healthy and conscious of your habits. I too am doing what it takes to stay fit. My best guidance has come from Ayurvedic principals. Best of luck!

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  12. my understanding is that we store toxins in our fat cells. The fasting days can cause those toxins to emerge into the blood stream, which I find (I’ve done some fasting, but not on this scale) makes me feel awful. Anything from irritable through to poisoned. Certainly impacts on energy levels as well. Putting lots of water through the body helps flush out anything emerging. I offer this on the offchance it helps.

    1. Thanks…I’ve been reading some of Fuhrman’s work and he talks about this as well. I do drink a lot of water, coffee, tea on fast days and am now also noticing (!) how my body reacts to certain foods on feast days.

      I get the same response when I have a massage — I often end up with stuffy sinuses and a headache, even though, overall, I feel great afterward.

    1. Thanks!

      I think it is worth trying and worth toughing out the first few weeks. To see results quickly is also highly motivating, for me anyway. It’s really eye-opening to see how much one might eat without thinking it through, even eating a whole banana when half of one would be satisfying and half the calories.

      You also need to get past the notion that hunger = MUST EAT NOW. It’s not a comfortable feeling and I am NOT suggesting AT ALL that “fast” means do not eat. It means eating less and consuming fewer calories. There is a kind of hunger that’s overwhelming and a kind that is discomfort; the latter can be managed.

      If you try it, you’ll see what I mean.

  13. It seems to me there is one good thing about intermittent fasting: It’s intermittent. My wife and I tried Atkins once and I’ll tell you, I never thought a big, juicy T-bone would be a turn-off. It was about a week and all I could think about was Mashed potatoes, gravy and no freakin’ meat!
    I see commercials all the time for diets and supplements that promise rapid weight loss with no exercise. I have decided to try it the other way, with lots of exercise at the gym and in the back yard with my mighty shovel. The Y is pretty boring but the yard work is actually very satisfying.
    I think anyone with the discipline to be a professional writer should definitely be able to follow through and reach your goal, their goal, someone’s goal. Any way good luck and bon appetit.

    1. Thanks!

      My MDs insist that exercise is terrific in every way…but for losing weight. The fewer calories in, the fewer you need to burn off.

      Then the hard part is eating so few of them while (if possible) also eating foods you enjoy — even in minuscule quantities. I like peanut butter (30 cals/tsp.) 🙂

      You do have to spend time with a kitchen weigh scale, measuring spoons and cups. All of which is dead easy at home. I don’t use apps, but I know there are now many people can use when out of home to calculate calories as well.

      I should get a damn gold medal — yesterday I was out, starved, ate at a diner: beside me, a man eating French fries, in front of me on the counter, cases filled with muffins and Danishes — and facing the case FULL of cakes. Arrrrrgggggghhhhhh.

      I did not succumb (cup of lentil soup, shrimp cocktail, clear tea.)

      1. I LOVE shrimp cocktail, usually before steak. I think your doctors are right about exercising and weight loss. I’ve been jumping around the same five pounds for months, in spite of getting “strong like bull”;)
        I may have to give this a try. I know I’m too slack to do all the math every day, but two days I can do. Is it OK to post here if something miraculous takes place?

      2. Exercise is terrific for all sorts of reasons — and it can help burn off a few calories, but we tend to eat far more than we realize and burn off far less than we think. 🙂

        Sure, feel free to post if it works for you. I see a significant difference in my shape (butt, hips, stomach, elsewhere) already — and it’s only been a month. It is a shock when you start and it does become easier. Once you find food/recipes/meals that are very low-calorie but composed of food you actually like, it’s not so miserable.

  14. I really like intermittent fasting as it allows me to focus on the work I have to do rather than think about when I am going to eat next. I like to do 16 hour fast with 8 hour feeding window on a daily basis and then a full 24 hour fast once a week. I like to think about what activity i am eating for and then plan my meals according to these activities.

    1. I think not having to focus on food prep saves time and energy. I now eat pretty much the same few foods on fast days and it makes things simpler. I don’t restrict eating to any time window but am generally done by 6:30 or 7pm, an hour earlier than usual.

  15. I don’t think it’s helpful to “feel starved” & be upset about that. Pack a small piece of fruit for when you know you’ll be tempted. As long as it’s “real” food, it should be fine. I will sometimes have 1/2 avocado or 1/2 banana if I’m really hungry. I load up on liquids 1st but then go to food as dinner approaches. I also find that carbonated water, broth and tea with coconut oil in it or butter helps alot. I can’t imagine ever going back to 3 meals/day – it’s way too much food!

    Thanks for writing this! All the best!

      1. After I wrote that, I realized that fruit raises your insulin level, so that’s probably not a good suggestion 😦 Sorry! But maybe other foods work better. I’ve yet to read Dr. Fung’s book on fasting but I imagine he provides help with how to get through the day.

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  17. joe

    I am 56 years old. I am on dialysis. I am 5’8″ 330 .lbs 51bmi To qualify for a kidney transplant I need to get down to a bmi of 35 or a weight of 230. So I started an intermittent fast today. I need to lose 100 pounds. I am planning on having 4 fried eggs with cheese each morning for breakfast and then fast the rest of the day. I eat this breakfast to satisfy my kidney doctor’s protein requirement and because I am so freaking hungry when I wake up…lol I have the willpower to do this and I AM going to do this….when I am done and I get my kidney transplant I hope I never have to do this again….

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