When Martie Mesubi’s 7-year-old daughter asked if she could fast with her, Martie wasn’t sure what to do. “I was freaked out,” she says. “She really is always wanting to do what I’m doing.”

Martie finally gave in to her daughter’s adamant request, agreeing to let her go without food until lunchtime. But after she started screaming at her baby sister by mid-morning, Martie cut the experiment short. Since then, her daughter has stopped asking to fast with mom and Martie has figured out other ways to involve her daughter in her daily activities including exercising together and playing outdoors.

Martie is  a public health epidemiologist and an experienced faster. We asked her to address your questions about fasting and parenting in a live Q&A via our Instagram account, and we give you her answers below. 

Her responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Is it safe for children to fast?

I by no means advocate fasting for children. I recently wrote a blog [post] about being a fasted mom of two young girls. My seven year old is constantly looking at what I’m doing. She wants to do everything like me. But in terms of fasting, I just don’t think that it’s a good idea. Children are at an age where their bodies are still growing. Their brains are still developing.

It’s different when we talk about us as adults. Fasting is the best thing that we can do for ourselves. I’m living proof of that. All of my friends and everybody who has joined me on this journey has also found it to be a really great tool and not just for weight loss, but for all types of health benefits.

How do you explain your fasting habits to your daughter? 

It’s not [something] that I’ve hidden from her. We’ve talked about it. I tell her why I do it and I try to stay away from the whole weight loss [topic]. I don’t want her to associate it with that. I really talk more about the benefits of fasting and why I do it. I try not to make it too complicated. I just tell her: When I fast, I feel stronger. I feel I have more energy to play with you and your sister. I’m more energized and I’m more focused. We can have more fun doing things. And that is the truth. I feel so energized when I fast. And when I used to do extended fasting, I had so much energy. And even [now] with just doing OMAD [one meal a day], that time that you take where you’re not eating is really energizing. You have a lot of momentum to just keep going to get through your day. And when you have two small kids, you need that.

What’s your advice for parents whose kids are asking if they can fast with them? 

Just keep it very simple and just let them know that it’s not a good idea for them because they’re growing and there are other healthy things that they can be doing, [such as] exercise. We do a lot of playing outside after school. There’s no screen time during the week, so she’s not sitting at home on her iPad. She comes home from school, she’s out running around, playing with her friends. I’m out with her. And so I just try to steer her away from that mentality that fasting is something that [she] has to do because mommy is doing it. There are other things that [she] can do with mommy, that don’t have anything to do with fasting. 

What’s your advice for keeping kids within a healthy weight range?

That’s a challenge for me as well. My daughter is not overweight, but she is a little bit heavier than her peers. What we have tried to do is to make sure that we are not focused on the number on the scale. There’s none of that kind of talk in our house. I remember being her age and I remember being super insecure about my weight. And I don’t want that for her. She’s so different from me at her age. She’s so much more secure in herself and in how she looks and who she is. I want to nurture that and I don’t want to have her focus on her weight or how she looks.

What I try to do is focus more on just being healthy. I feel like if I knew  at the time [when I was young] that being healthy was more important than being skinny, that would have made my adolescence so much easier. I would say don’t worry about the weight, worry more about what you’re eating [and if you] are we getting enough exercise. The other thing that we do at home is make sure what we eat is nutrient dense. We are a Caribbean-Nigerian family; we eat everything. But we [try to not eat too late]. We usually have dinner between five and six, so that gives us two to three hours before bedtime. 

Is your child a picky eater? Try to find foods they enjoy, but also consider speaking to a dietitian for ideas.

How do you teach your daughter about mindful eating?

Sometimes, especially on the weekends, [my daughter] is in the pantry just mindlessly coming in and getting food from the kitchen. These days we talk about it. Do you really wanna snack? Are you bored? Do you want to do something fun? And then she’ll stop to think and she might say: Yeah, I’m bored. I don’t really want a snack. So we’ll move from the kitchen and we’ll figure out what is there to do. And, all of a sudden, we’re not thinking about the snack anymore.

There are other times when she’s like: I really do want a snack. And I’ll give it to her. But now she is thinking about it. She’s not just grabbing stuff anymore. 

One of our app users asked: How concerned should we be if we feel that our children have not eaten enough? I don’t want to make them eat more, but I also worry they are not getting enough nutrients. How do you handle that balance?

I’m actually going through that now with my 15 month old. She is different from her sister because she’ll drink milk all day long, but in terms of food, there are very few things that she’ll eat. If she is cranky I’ll try to feed her some soup or some tuna. I try to give her more than I would normally. Sometimes she’ll have it, sometimes she won’t. but it’s a hard balance because you don’t want to force feed them. If I try to give something to her and she doesn’t want it, she’s not going to eat it. And so I’m not in the business of forcing her to eat it.

What I would recommend is having a talk with a pediatrician or a child dietician. That person can help figure out what the best way is to create meals for her or what’s the best way to decipher some of the things she may prefer. It might be as simple as she’s just not liking what what we’re eating. If that’s the case, we just have to figure out what she likes.


Have other questions about helping your kids to live healthier without focusing on weight loss? Let us know!