Meal-Prep March series: time management and time restriction
How can planning ahead and intermittent fasting work as a tool
When I first moved out of my home, friends and family had many helpful tips for the process. This made sense because my move from home was also going to be a move out of my country. All these years later, I am glad to say the move worked for me, and I am glad for the experience. That is not what I want to write about today.
One of the most useful tips I got was from my sister, who had herself made a similar move not too long before me. She had a six-year-old, a full-time job, and many demands of beginning a whole new life in the USA. This was the first person who told me about preparing all your week’s meals beforehand. As a graduate student juggling classes, research, and a part-time job, I will not claim my schedule was as demanding as hers, but the tip worked for me – so much so that over a decade later in a third city altogether, I continue to live by it. It may take up nearly half a day during the weekend, but then for the rest of the week, when tired after a long day, I am thankful that all I have to do for a hot meal is microwave a Tupperware container and find a show to watch.
When my sister recommended this to me, both of us were primarily thinking of the time management aspect of it. I now have even greater appreciation for the multiple positive impacts doing this one thing consistently can bring for someone, as I struggle from chronic illness conditions.
Let me first talk about the time management aspect. Cooking for an entire week, while also wanting to make sure that the meals do not feel too repetitive and boring, takes time and planning. For me, the planning begins with the weekly grocery trip. Each week, my grocery list is a marriage between what things I have run out of, what items I would like, and most importantly, which items are on sale. Once I bring home the grocery haul, I quickly note down what I plan on making for the week ahead. This takes up a large chunk of my Saturday or Sunday. Included in this is me chopping the vegetables and preparing the ingredients. I try to clean as I go, washing utensils or pots I no longer need, or taking the trash out while waiting for a stew to simmer. Once all the food is ready, I can look forward to having a meal and not worry about the mess left behind for one of my housemates to stumble across.
Once I am no longer starving, I put away all the stuff I made into individual Tupperware boxes. Some go into the fridge for the next couple of days. Depending on the shelf life of the food, I will freeze the meals I won’t have until the end of the week. At the end of all this, I am ready for some mindless entertainment and then bedtime (which is my way of saying that all of this is tiring and time-consuming). The time depends on what I am making. I have to admit there have been weekends where the entire process took up four hours. This evens out; for the rest of the week, I can come home from a long day of university work and not have to worry about cooking something. This is how I realized the second advantage of meal prepping.
On weeks when the weekend is already packed, I will just make some food every other evening while making sure there are leftovers for the next evening too. Sometimes it works out that way, but at other times, as I walk back home around 8 p.m., the last thing I want to do is go into the kitchen. This is when I end up grabbing takeout, which is something I really should not be doing, for both the sake of my health and my wallet. Not to brag about my own cooking but, most of the time, whatever I end up getting for takeout is a letdown compared to my own meals. For me, the bigger concern is that I am supposed to pay a lot more attention to what I am eating due to a number of chronic conditions as well as a family history of medical complications.
Weekly meal prep has helped me a lot with eating better, but for the last two years I have also added one more tool to my arsenal. I want to emphasize that I did not just start this all in one day. I had a full blood work done, and spoke to my family doctor to make sure I was not exposing myself to any medical risks. Since the fall of 2019, I have been experimenting with time-restricted eating/intermittent fasting (IF). It began with reading some books explaining how IF can help sustain a caloric deficit for certain people. Following my doctor’s clearance, I began by not eating between 8 p.m. in the evening to noon the next day (a total of sixteen hours). Currently, I hit anywhere between 16 to 20 hours, five to seven days a week, taking a break whenever I feel the need to do so.
While there have been setbacks, in this time I have lost enough weight that for a little while last summer, I weighed the least I ever have since high school. More importantly, several blood tests I have had done since then have shown positive trends of reduced risk of chronic diseases. Again, this may not be for everyone. I took this drastic step because I was concerned after one blood test showed negative trends, and even then, spoke to two different doctors who both approved of me trying IF. For me, it has also been good that I have not had to cut out any food altogether, knowing that by fasting long enough during the week, I can always safely indulge during the eating window in foods that I like. Fasting has also had a positive impact on my mental health and clarity. While I do not want anyone to just try it out without proper medical advice, if you, like me, are someone who has struggled with a weight problem and often find yourself lacking energy, this may well be worth looking into! Even if not, I still strongly recommend preparing your week’s meals on the weekend. You will notice the positive impact yourself!
Editors note: IF may cause complications for people with past eating disorders, hormonal conditions, or other mental and physical health issues. You can find a dietician on https://www.saskdietitians.org/, or ask your general practitioner for a referral.