Do you feel like your smartphone is taking over your life? Take a cue from the wellness world and start a digital diet of intermittent fasting to help get your screen habits back into shape. There’s really only one rule: Corral your digital habits to a block of time or set of days that works for you, giving yourself a structure to live your best analog life.
As an actual dietary protocol, intermittent fasting has launched itself into the mainstream because of its ability to dramatically transform someone’s health profile, as well as its simplicity; after all, the only requirement is to create boundaries of time, without the hassle of tracking how much you’re consuming or changing what you consume altogether. What if we applied this model of health toward our digital habits of consumption?
With our digital devices, the advantage of this arrangement of “fasting” is that you’re not necessarily aiming to cut back on screen time or track your usage; you’re simply giving your screen time some fixed boundaries so that your free time stays screen-free. What this looks like for you is entirely up to interpretation.
Maybe you want to be as phone-free as possible but still, need to be reachable by your kids. Maybe you want to reshape your overall social media habits. Or maybe you just want your digital diet to address a specific app that you find yourself scrolling through compulsively. Whatever your goals and requirements, an intermittent phone fast may be the path to peace of mind, boosting your productivity by limiting distractions, curbing your urge to multitask with phone in hand, and simply reminding you that you exist without the presence of your phone.
Finding Your Fit
The 16:8 and 5:2 protocols are the two most popular models of intermittent fasting, and they both happen to adapt well for a digital diet.
With an intermittent phone fast modeled after the 16:8 diet, you are carving out an 8-hour block of time every day in which you’re permitted to use your phone, “fasting” for the other 16 hours of your day. You get to decide which hours work for you, but most of us would probably opt to align our phone usage to begin around our lunch break and end around dinnertime. Limiting the use of your devices to a set block of time this way can help you stay focused during the “fasting period” on whatever you’d really like to be doing, freeing up your mornings and evenings for other pastimes.
Let’s say you work conventional hours during the week, so you decide to set your personal phone use hours from 11 am to 7 pm, limiting everything in the fasting period except for phone calls. Instead of waking up to a barrage of notifications from social media or diving into your inbox before you’ve even gotten out of bed, you could be using that time to work on a low key meditation practice or you could simply take your sweet time getting ready for work rather than starting out with your usually frenetic pace, a subtle shift that can help you embrace a chill tone for the day. Do as much Instagram surfing as you like on your lunch break, and catch up on the news and respond to personal emails in the free hour or two you have after you get home from work. Then, put the phone away and only hop onto your computer if you want to watch some Disney+ before bedtime. Or better yet, spend the rest of your evening away from blue light altogether to practice good sleep hygiene — and, instead, read a book, actually talk to the person with whom you’re having dinner, go dancing, whatever.
With a 5:2 protocol, you’re designating two days a week to be on a restrictive phone diet. This style of an intermittent fast might be a better fit for your lifestyle if you’re not realistically able to distance yourself from your digital obligations during the workweek but can commit to a digital fast on the weekend.
For example, if you need to be on top of the news for your job but want your weekends to be completely free of endless newsfeeds, a 5:2 fast allows you to build in a significant weekly break from what can otherwise be a non-stop stream of news. You might find that this helps to lift your mood and focus on gratitude, especially when the news cycle is particularly depressing. Restricting your consumption of news on the weekends might even inspire you to subscribe to your favorite newspaper, creating a new morning ritual for you to look forward to on your days off. After a few weeks, don’t be surprised if you feel less compelled to jump right back into your newsfeed on Monday morning, having happily created some space for your non-digital habits to thrive.
How to Implement an Intermittent Phone Fast
Realistically, a lot of us won’t be able to resist breaking our fasts unless we have our phones powered off and under lock and key. Luckily, it’s not necessary for us to have our phones on lockdown. We can use our devices to our advantage.
Most smartphones now have time management programs that you can use to accommodate your fasting requirements. If you have an iPhone, for example, you might like setting up the Downtime feature so that you can block specific apps during a specific period of time, a feature that still allows calls and texts to come through if you like. If you have a group of people who are regularly trying to get into contact with you throughout the week — friends, family, coworkers — it’s worth giving them a heads up that it’s best to reach you by phone so that you’re able to respond efficiently regardless of whether you’re in the midst of a fasting period or not.
Ultimately, going on an intermittent phone fast can emphasize how much free time you really have at your disposal each day, time that gets lost when you’re spending five minutes here or there on your phone — it can really add up. Even if you end up spending the same amount of time on your phone over the course of the week, you’ll likely be much more productive in your fasting periods.
For others, a digital diet may trigger an important personal breakthrough, bringing to light the fact that you don’t really know what to do when you’re not tethered to an electronic device — in which case, you might consider picking up a new hobby or assessing whether you’ve been neglecting other aspects of your life, like friends, family, or your lifestyle. Take the opportunity away from the familiarity of your phone to be your best self, embracing the unexpected, life-changing benefits of your intermittent phone fast.