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How Intermittent Fasting Changed the Way I Spend My Money

The parallels between the way we consume food and the way we spend money are pretty striking.
Image: A customer pays for her order with a credit card in a cafe
Whether it's food or money, it's all about approaching life through lens of “not just what I want, but what I actually need.”PeopleImages / Getty Images

If I had to name one thing that gets me in the most trouble as the editor of a money website, it would have nothing to do with wasteful things I’ve spent on, or embarrassing work habits, or even the times (and there were several) when I was fired. I get by far the most flak for when I discuss my now-2.5-year-long practice of intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting, simply put, is the practice of eating your caloric needs each day in a shortened window of hours, or in a certain pattern throughout the week, so as to not eat more than you need (or, like many Americans, constantly be eating for no reason). I personally practice 18:6 intermittent fasting (henceforth referred to as IF), which is essentially a pattern of eating for six-hour windows each day and fasting for 18.

Intermittent Fasting: How It Works for Me

  • Breakfast: I generally have just coffee and water in the mornings (I was never a breakfast person).
  • Lunch: I eat a small meal around 2 pm.
  • Dinner: Effectively, I eat whatever I like, somewhere around 8 and 9 pm.

But it's not as bad as it sounds. I almost always have a dessert, and more than once per week, I have a drink or two with dinner. I initially started by counting my calories in tandem with practicing IF, but after a long enough time spent figuring out what your average diet contains in terms of caloric content, you get pretty used to eyeballing it. Now, I’m able to meet my caloric needs without really thinking about it, and have maintained the roughly the same weight and energy levels since I started — even counting for the vacation or “off” days, in which I eat whatever I like.

I did this not just because I wanted to lose some weight and start to feel energetic again, but because I realized I lived in a culture where the omnipresence of food advertising and food access made it feel like constant eating was the norm, and anything short of it was depriving myself. I wanted to get into the habit of consuming just what I needed, and being conscious with my choices, so that the things I decided were worth the expenditure of calories were truly worth it (unlike the bag of kettle chips I was liable to take down while watching reality TV before I started). And while I recognize that it’s a program that isn’t for everyone, I have found that for my relatively modest needs and lifestyle (I went from around 155 lbs at 5’6 to somewhere between 125 and 135, depending on the day) it provides the perfect balance between “still having some of everything I love” and “not having too much of it.”

It Turns Out Diet and Money Have A Lot in Common

There is a reason I called my site The Financial Diet, and it’s because the parallels between the way we consume food and the way we spend money tend to be very striking. They are often tied to emotion, not particularly rational, and the whims that accompany them can drive our decision-making well past the point of anything we objectively need. My spending used to spiral and crest in much the same way my eating did, always taking place in some foggy combination of boredom, high or low emotion, and familiarity. My impulse spending by the cash register was almost indistinguishable from me eating the candy bar I bought so impulsively: if you would have asked me why, I wouldn’t really have been able to tell you.

My impulse spending by the cash register was almost indistinguishable from me eating the candy bar I bought so impulsively.

And that is why my practicing IF is not just about my food, or my body or even my health. It’s about approaching life through lens of “not just what I want, but what I actually need.” It’s shocking the number of things we will trick ourselves into thinking we need or somehow are owed simply because we desire them, but “treating ourselves” is not something we only do in the short-term. It’s about treating ourselves well as a rule, about creating the kind of environment that allows us to feel (relatively) good every day, not constantly swinging between highs and lows because our happiness is dependence on the next rush of serotonin.

It's About What You Get, Not What You're Missing

Do I miss the days I would eat three servings of cake for lunch or spend a third of my paycheck without caring about it? Not really, because I know that those habits came at a cost, and I know that I still get to enjoy all that is most wonderful about those moments of indulgence, and that they are only heightened by their rarity. I enjoy feeling full of energy, sleeping well and knowing that I am giving myself the nutrition I need. Similarly, I love not having to worry about what I’m going to see when I open my bank statement because I follow a budget and spend within my means.

Intermittent fasting has taught me that food, money and life are all about taking care of yourself in the long-term sense, about setting yourself up to feel good and keeping the luxuries to the treasured, savored minimums they should always be kept at. Indulging feels good at first, but what feels great is knowing you’re doing the right thing for "Future You" — even if what Future You really wants is kale.

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