Harnessing the Power of Intermittent Fasting for Overall Well-being
The effect of fasting on all aspects of our being and body at different levels
There is no shortage of information out there on the how’s and whys behind healthy eating; but what about the not eating?
That might sound contentious and like I’m promoting some kind of extreme weight-loss goals, but that isn’t the point of this post at all! – I’m asking you to flip your thinking on its head and consider the times when you aren’t eating as important as the interval time in a HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) work out, or a rest day from the gym. – I’m talking about intermitted fasting.
A hot topic it may be, but not a new idea – intermitted fasting has been around for centuries – and it’s benefits on the mind-body far surpass any weight-loss goals.
“Humans live on one-quarter of what they eat, on the other three-quarters lives their doctor”
Egyptian pyramid inscription, 6,000 years old quote 3800 B.C
“Fasting is the greatest remedy – the physician within”
Philipps Paracelsus, one of the fathers of Western medicine
“I fast for greater physical and mental efficiency”
The Benefits of Fasting:
As mentioned, there is an almost endless list of benefits to fasting – from physical, psychological, emotional, mental – and even spiritual.
In a nutshell, controlled and mindful fasting is a great way to cleanse, detox, hit the reset button on your digestive and immune system and reduces oxidative stress*…
*An imbalance of free-radicals in the body
And in a little more detail, controlled and mindful fasting also:
- Benefits the blood by decreasing insulin and increasing Ketones
- Supports a healthy liver through increased beneficial Ketones* production
*Ketones boost energy levels in the Neurons
- Helps the intestines through reduced inflammation and energy uptake
- Boosts improved cognitive function in your brain through increased (healthy!) stress resistance to cope with the challenge of fasting
- Increases the level of mitochondria neutrons in your nerve cells, which help produce more energy and repair DNA
- Reduces both your resting heart rate and blood pressure
- Reduces your fat cells
- Increases the efficiency in your muscles
- Increases your metabolism, as the energy shifts and you start burning fat
- Regulates your appetite as you will feel fuller eating less food after your fasting period, and reduces the ‘need’ to snack
- Offers mental clarity, new perspectives and helps you reach a heightened state of mental acuteness; building stronger mental awareness of your mind – body
- Reduces resorting to emotional eating
- Supports you in becoming a more conscious and mindful eater
- Increases the meditative states you can reach during your meditation practice
- Boosts personal development and growth; fasting gives you a huge sense of accomplishment
If you know me then you’ll know that a lot of my coaching is steeped in primal – or Paleolithic – principles, so for me, controlled, safe and mindful fasting also makes sense in evolutionary terms.
Modern society expects everything all at once – fast living, fast results, fast food – but our body is well equipped to handle long periods of famine, let alone missing one or two meals from time to time.
From studying our ancestors, we know that humans are not designed to eat three times a day. Where did this message come from? Who benefits from the idea that ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day,’ or ridiculous diets like the Special K diet?
These industrial pressures and supposed societal norms do not put individual well-being first and are not science nor evolutionary based.
The most important thing to take from this, is to listen to your body, tune-in and eat/live more consciously so that you can figure out what works for you. – And if fasting sounds like something you’d like to try, then you are well-supported in trying one of these.
The Five Most Common Intermittent Fasting Techniques Out There:
1. The 5:2 Diet
The 5:2 Diet involves eating ‘normally’ for five days of the week while restricting your calorie intake to 500 for two days of the week. For example, you might eat normally every day of the week except Mondays and Thursdays. For those two days, you eat 2 small meals of 250 calories each for women and 300 calories each for men.
2. The 16/8 Method
The 16/8 method involves restricting your daily eating window to eight hours, while fasting for 16 hours. Within the eating window, you can fit in two, three, or more meals. For example, you might finish your last meal of the day at 8 p.m.; meaning that you can’t eat or drink anything (with the exception of water, black coffee or black tea) until noon the next day, so that you’ve fast for 16 hours.
This ratio can be increased to 19/5 or decreased to 13/9 – anything above 12 hours technically counts as fasting.
3. Eat Stop Eat
This method involves a 24-hour fast once or twice per week.
By fasting from dinner one day to dinner the next day, this amounts to a full 24-hour fast. For example, if you finish dinner at 7 p.m. Monday and don’t eat until dinner at 7 p.m. the next day, you’ve completed a full 24-hour fast.
You can also fast from breakfast to breakfast or lunch to lunch — the end result is the same.
Eat Stop Eat is an intermittent fasting program with one or two 24-hour fasts per week. If you’re doing this to lose weight, it’s very important that you eat normally during the eating periods. In other words, you should eat the same amount of food as if you hadn’t been fasting at all.
4. Skipping meals:
You don’t need to follow a structured intermittent fasting plan to reap some of its benefits. Another option is to simply skip meals from time to time, such as when you don’t feel hungry or are too busy to cook and eat.
5. Advance Fasting
This more advanced method involves controlled fasting for longer periods such as:
- 48 hours,
- 72 hours, and
- (for the very experienced) up to 5 days!
A great way to start this method is to begin with a 24-hour fast every 24 days. When you get comfortable you might even try increasing this to one or two 24-hour fasts per week.
You know you are efficient at it when you are not hungry while fasting!
My Top Tips for Fasting:
- If you eat three meals a day, start by reducing this to one meal a day
- Set yourself up for success by choosing and planning a start and end date for the fast
- Make sure you incorporate moderate movement during a fast period
- Avoid packing your schedule with any social/family or work breakfast/lunch/dinner during your fast
- Have an accountability partner who knows you are safe fasting
- Persevere and remember that day one is always the hardest
- Drink a lot of water and
- You might experience a little headache or slight dizziness – so accept the idea of slight discomfort and remember nothing is permanent!
- Remember that coffee, and other zero-calorie beverages are allowed during the fast
- I recommend adding high quality salt in your mineral water during your fast (for example pink Hymalayan or natural sea salt)
- If you decide to try intermittent fasting, keep in mind that diet quality is crucial – For example, it is not possible to fast and then binge on junk foods during the eating periods and expect to boost your health
The pressure to succeed in a high-functioning profession like law can throw your personal wellness into a sort of dark tunnel. Perhaps what lawyers should be told when they pass the bar is “welcome to the dark side, we’ve been expecting you.” Luckily, there are ways that lawyers can find their way out, with the right kind of light.
Many lawyers have been crushed by the dark side of law. In fact, lawyer wellness, on average, is so poor that lawyers rank fourth in suicide rates by profession, according to CNN.
The truth cannot be ignored any longer. Personally, I burned out and saw many of my colleagues burn out as well. The only way our profession can work to make it better is by confronting the dark side. In my case, I knew there had to be a way to bring light to the dark side of law and make it better, which is what drove me to become a life coach for lawyers.
Life Coach for Lawyers
Why such a ‘dark’ side? The answer is: Intense career-induced stress. When my own practice pushed me hard against the wall, I did something radical so I would not break; I decided to step away from my legal practice and step into a wellness quest to become the coach I wish I had when I was practicing law.
I knew there had to be a way to bring light to the dark side of law and make it better, even though it was bold and risky to leave behind a prestigious career. I went on a journey that encouraged me to become a wellness coach. Now, I help design and implement bespoke programmes that help lawyers who face the same health-impacting struggles that lawyers tend to face in the profession. Contact me online to set up a chat with me if you are interested in receiving the coaching I wish I had while I was a lawyer!
Why is Personal Wellness for Lawyers So Hard? Every Profession Has Health Challenges
The world is not perfect, and neither is any job. The health issues that lawyers face are neither new nor unique to them, but what is unique is the frequency and susceptibility. Considering that self-sufficiency is a professional obsession, lawyers are less inclined than others to seek help, especially when it comes to mental health.
The most common profession-induced health issues lawyers struggle with include:
Excessively Sedentary Lifestyle
Movement is incredibly important to both physical and mental health and is one of the most powerful tools to slow down the negative effects of ageing. Sadly, lawyers’ work is often bound to the desktop and tends to reinforce a sedentary lifestyle, both in the short and long run. This can be very dangerous as it sets off a cascade of negative biological effects. Long stressful hours in front of a computer screen erodes one’s mental sharpness. Where long workdays become long work weeks, and long work weeks blend into months, brain performance can deteriorate.
Some of the major issues with extended screen time and sedentary sessions are:
- Poor posture and sedentary behaviour
- Chronic back, neck and shoulder pain
- Poor nutritional choices
- Lack of proper breaks or healthy food
- Chronic stress and anxiety
- Metabolic diseases (diabetes, excess weight, high blood pressure).
Law is a high-pressure field and combined with a lack of regular cardio training that gets to the heart. A study in Nepal showed that nearly 19% of lawyers have challenges with physical activity, with 70% of them being previously unaware of their situation.
Poor Sleep and Excessive Exposure to Artificial Lights
Most clients suffer from chronic stress and elevated cortisol (stress hormone), which negatively impacts sleep. Sleep is essential for lawyer wellness, health, and performance – health can’t be optimal if your sleep quality is poor. Poor sleep can disrupt the overall metabolism, which can lead to weight gain and poor digestion and nutrient absorption. Optimal sleep, on the other hand, improves mental health, promotes weight loss, and wards off metabolic diseases.
Lawyers spend most of their day indoors, in front of a screen, and under fluorescent light. This type of light is known as blue light, a potent disrupter of the hormones regulating our circadian rhythm. The average office worker will spend almost 1,700 hours a year in front of a computer screen, according to a poll conducted by ACCUVUE in 2018. Due to the fact that most workers now work from home, it is likely this number is much higher, and also does not include out-of-hours and mobile screen time. Spending this much time in front of a screen defies human biology, and it is starting to impact our eye health. Including red light therapy in daily work schedules is a cutting-edge way to help offset the negative effects long screen time is having on our eye health.
Light exposure plays a vital role in affecting the biological pathways that impact your sharpness of mind. Light to the brain is a key signal of when you should be awake or asleep. Most of us spend hours and hours in front of or under blue light, and that can seriously impact the biological signals our brains need to function and age optimally. Chronic exposure to blue light means the biological pathways needed for mental rest and recovery are not being activated optimally.
Many of the clients and lawyers I work with suffer from headaches, dry eyes, and migraines, and these are remedied only a few weeks into my programme thanks to the biohacking tools I recommend.
Frequent ‘Social Drinking’
Alcohol has a relaxing effect, and most people will reach for their favourite bottle to help them forget about their problems. Now imagine when in addition to personal problems, your job requires you to handle other people’s problems.
The Journal of Addiction Medicine reveals that 21% of United States lawyers struggle with alcoholism. Some estimates even suggest that as many as one in three lawyers are “problem drinkers.” The desire to quickly relieve the enormous stress they face contributes significantly to “the professional legal disease.”
Alcoholism is one of the key disorders that the American Bar Association highlights in its mental health awareness campaign. Each state in America also offers a lawyer assistance program to support those in the legal profession facing mental health and substance abuse problems.
In the UK, LawCare provides fantastic support for lawyers.
Stress is a progressive chronic disease for lawyers because intense deadlines are a constant noose around lawyers’ necks. People’s lives and livelihoods depend on these deadlines. It’s a lot of pressure!
Other than alcohol, many lawyers tend to abuse substances like nicotine, stimulants, Valium, or sleeping pills to find a sense of relief. Substance abuse issues even begin as early as law school, with more and more studies, like this one from the Postgraduate Medical Journal, revealing the extent of substance abuse in the legal profession.
The problem starts well before lawyers enter the legal profession. According to the American Addition Centers, one in five lawyers who say they have a substance abuse problem report that it began while they were in law school. Part of the problem is the stigma. Up to 72% of law students who reported substance abuse felt that they would be more likely to be admitted to the bar if they did not seek help or admit their issues.
Further, the working conditions in the legal profession lead to a higher likelihood of a co-occurring disorder, such as depression, stress and anxiety. Sixty percent of attorneys receiving substance abuse treatment also had a co-occurring disorder.
The legal profession is one of the most competitive fields. Aside from this, the law is intrinsically competitive, and many times adversarial. In litigation and transaction proceedings, lawyers have to ‘fight’ each other, not only for their client’s sake but also to safeguard their professional prestige. There is always one winner, and every lawyer wants to be that one.
In addition to this, lawyers have to be extremely careful to ‘cover themselves’ when involved in any case. The ease of bringing up malpractice claims, especially out of spite is something they have to protect themselves against. Additionally, there is always ‘Murphy’s law’ to contend with in the life of a lawyer. The anxiety that anything can go wrong and WILL go wrong affects their quality of life. Nineteen percent of lawyers show signs of an anxiety disorder, which is one of the most pressing issues relating to the mental health of lawyers. Anxiety is one of the most common co-occurring disorders of substance abuse – in fact, 19% of lawyers receiving substance abuse treatment also have anxiety. It’s critical to get anxiety under control to help curb the impulses that may lead to longer-term mental health conditions.
Sometimes, for lawyers, it can seem as though there is nowhere to turn. At work, your head feels like it’s in a hydraulic press, and then outside of work, your profession is stigmatized and distrusted. Lawyers are often the butt of jokes, but beyond that, they are often unfairly believed to be dishonest. Because lawyers tend to earn high incomes, society cannot always understand what drives lawyers to suffer such poor mental health.
Remember what I said about lawyers ranking fourth in suicide rates by profession? Lawyers are the most depressed occupational group in the United States and are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than non-lawyers. Similarly, 28% of lawyers receiving substance abuse treatment are also diagnosed with depression. This means that depression is heavily linked to many other adverse health consequences.
So, in spite of what wealth some may accumulate, no amount of money can compensate for the stress and pressure of moving ahead in a legal career. Even when at the zenith, the pressure remains. And, because of the ‘fix-it’ attitude and self-sufficiency of the profession, most don’t seek help, and many end up becoming another sad statistic. There are also well-grounded fears of being considered ‘unfit for practice,’ which may prevent lawyers from seeking help.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
A study in the Psychology, Crime, and Law Journal states that “lawyers who’re exposed to trauma in their practice are 2.62 times more likely to meet the probable post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnostic criteria than their unexposed colleagues.” Working on traumatic issues, like criminal lawyers often do, can be traumatic in itself, especially when visual evidence of gruesome crimes are considered.
However, there is an incredible stigma around mental health in law that even symptoms of PTSD are often ignored. Criminal lawyers are especially prone to this devastating condition, and many lawyers simply fail to seek the help they need.
Vicarious trauma is an indirect experience of trauma and distress. This type of trauma is more common than most people think. I remember how emotionally invested I came to be in some of my client’s cases and lives. What affected them, affected me. It is impossible to be 100% detached from 100% of cases, lawyers are not robots, after all. Additionally, research from Maguire and Bryce’s shows that vicarious trauma greatly contributes to disrupting beliefs about trust, intimacy, control, safety, and esteem
Let’s Make it Better! Optimising Personal Wellness of Lawyers
On the upside, more and more firms and organisations are addressing the toll that legal practice has on practising lawyers. Management is beginning to recognize that these interventions need to happen on the institutional scale to address the root causes of these disorders, such as a competitive, draining, and toxic work culture.
Thankfully, organisations such as the American Bar Association (ABA) have been actively working to dismantle the stigma, especially related to mental health. The ABA provides useful resources, which tend to mirror the strategies found in the corporate wellness section of my blog.
The solutions addressing mental health are never one-size-fits-all. Each person and law firm is unique and needs a tailored approach. My wellness packages include comprehensive strategies to address the overall well-being of lawyers. These strategies leverage biohacking techniques to optimise lawyers’ health and wellness. Most of my clients (individuals and organisations) are immersed in the high-functioning world of law, so no matter how high-pressure or busy your job is, there is a solution for you.
A healthier lawyer is a better lawyer. This is something many young lawyers neglect when they first start practising. By developing healthy habits early on, the goal is to put lawyers in a better position to optimise their health and improve their performance.
There are solutions to help you keep doing the extraordinary work you do as a lawyer while looking after your health. With the right method and blueprint, you can have it all – a thriving career in law and outstanding health.
What to Expect in a Lawyer Wellness Workshop
As a law firm wellness coach, some of the healthy habits included in my workshops, seminars, and coaching programme are:
- Sleep optimisation and recovery
- Mindfulness, breathwork and mindset
- Movement and exercise
- Nutrition choices and eating habits
- Mental and metabolic health optimisation
- Awareness of the environment (light, air, water, indoors vs outdoors)
By teaching breathwork, meditation, and other flexible tools, these workshops are designed to teach you methods to relax, stay mindful, and disconnect from work when needed. They are flexible and quick tools that fit easily into your busy schedule.
Contact a Lawyer Wellness Coach
Always remember that it’s okay to ask for help. It does not make you less qualified to practice the law. Instead, it reflects your self-sincerity and inner strength. These programs are designed to be flexible and “meet you where you are.” If you’d like to know more about my VIP individual coaching or firm-wide workshops and events, check here. You can also subscribe to my life optimisation newsletter so you never miss an opportunity to improve your quality of life! If you would like to reach me directly and find out how a lawyer wellness coach can help you with your specific challenges, you can contact me online to set up a consultation.