Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
17 Oct

Embracing IMF: 10 Strategies for Practicing Intermittent Media Fasting

Try Turning It OffThese days most people have heard of the “media diet” concept. The idea is, of course, that we we partake of media sources too much, too often every single day. The result? We’re informationally bloated – mostly with junk media, the kind of stories and drama that will suck up every existing piece of serenity in our lives and have us going back for more. Whether it’s our smart phones, our tablets, our laptops, our T.V.s or Wii console, we can’t seem to let them be. As a result, we suffer the psychological, social and – as I wrote about last week – physiological consequences of this contemporary hobby horse.

One reader’s idea (Thanks, Patrick) in the comment section of last week’s post especially grabbed my attention when he brought up the idea of “periodic media fasts,” specifically “IF-ing all communication devices.” Being a rabid fan of the intermittent fasting concept, I was intrigued. Intermittent fasting in the traditional sense (no food), of course, can do wonders for honing our metabolism and upregulating epigenetic activity. Intermittent euphoria, a concept I’ve shared in the past, can upregulate – and likely upgrade – your emotional satisfaction.

So what would IF-ing media look like? Maybe we can call it IMF, huh? (I think our use of the letters is more catchy and entertaining than the International Monetary Fund, don’t you?) Well, for starters, it can look like any regular IF configuration. For some folks, that means not eating until noon. For others, it means only eating within an eight hour window each day and fasting the other sixteen. Others fast for a full twenty-four hour period once a week. There are numerous other approaches as well.

The same can hold for an IMF trial or routine. It’s not about using any particular pattern but simply reining in your media use, practicing periodic abstinence. When we come back to it after the few hours or few days, we might experience a similar sense of upregulation. Maybe our efficiency is better. Maybe we’re more focused and less distracted. Maybe we find we’re bored with it and don’t want to bother with most of what used to reel us in.

Whether you’re willing to trim down your media by small increments or larger blocks of time, let these offer you some get-started ideas. I hope you’ll share yours as well.

Avoiding the minute to minute media fix…

1. Use the “do not disturb” setting on your phone.

Not everyone is comfortable turning off their phone. After all, what if the daycare center calls with an emergency? Customize your phone’s “do not disturb” setting to allow calls from certain numbers. The rest of the calls/texts will be there when you’re ready to tune in again.

2. Impose a hard and fast email schedule.

Instead of being “available” all day, maybe you’ll only respond to emails or texts 1-2 times a day. Schedule specific times, and try to be consistent in that time each day whenever you can. Not only will it offer fewer distractions in the day, but answering emails in “batches” (a Tim Ferris hat tip here) will encourage you to be succinct and on-task. It will become a chore to begin and finish rather than a continual thread itching throughout the entire span of the day.

3. Embrace a low information diet – set up feed reader and use RSS for this.

Choose what blogs and sites you’ll explore, and keep your readership focused. Again, it’s best to schedule the time in the day or week when you’ll read your feed. Any tips for a Google Reader replacement?

Dodging the hour to hour temptations…

4. Leave your phone at home.

(I can hear the inner gasps….) No one to my knowledge has spontaneously combusted simply because they went for an evening walk without it. We all managed to survive without them until several years ago.

5. Downgrade your text/data plan on your phone.

Cell phone carriers are doing away with the now obsessively coveted unlimited data plans, and you’d think the country was rationing Mountain Dew, people get in such an uproar about it. While the modern me understands the bristling against the overage traps, the Primal part says go ahead and embrace it! Sure, few people are interested in the old style, do-nothing-but-actually-call cell phones anymore. If you don’t mind getting by without one, by all means go for it. If you enjoy having access to the Internet and map apps while traveling or just can’t totally cut the string on mobile FB/Twitter/Pinterest/Weather Channel/etc., consider self-imposing a ceiling on your usage (with rather harsh overage costs as a looming deterrent). Use an app to monitor usage, which can help you gauge your activity and avoid fees.

6. Cancel/downgrade the DVR/cable/Netflix/Hulu.

See how many services you’re willing to limit or do without. The fewer temptations, the better off you’ll be.

7. Unplug the wireless system (and every other system) for all but an hour a day.

Sometimes we just need to make it inconvenient for ourselves to break the rules. This is a pretty low threshold approach, but can be a great one for certain circumstances. When I’m working from home writing, I keep the wireless unplugged to prevent myself from getting on the Internet or checking emails.

Getting the media monkey off your back for longer stretches…

This is where you’ll really feel the break. Trust me – you won’t miss ANYthing (except this blog, but I promise all posts will be neatly archived and waiting expectantly for you).

8. Impose a Power Outage.

Why not shut it all down once or even twice a month? Let loved ones know you’ll be unreachable by most modern means, and sign off for the weekend. You’ll curse Monday even more.

9. Take a Personal Retreat

Take away the temptation altogether by going where there are zero bars to be had. A real retreat (whether at a retreat center or a personal camping spot off the grid) will let you feel the real benefits of extended unplugging.


10. Do the long-term numbers.

Between the cost of Internet/data/subscription related plans and the tech devices themselves (everything from DVRs to the latest IPhone), it might be interesting (if not worthwhile) to examine how much money you’re spending on media. There’s no judgement intended here. It’s simply to gather information and discern whether you feel what you get for that money maintains or improves your life enough to warrant the expense. What else could a portion (or maybe even – for the willing among us – all) of that spending category go to? It’s always helpful to ask whether any specific spending is getting us the life we want.

I love grand personal experiments, and I consider this subject good fodder for a Primal test. What will happen psychologically when you reduce media? Will you feel more relaxed, more focused? Will you feel more or less connected to people? Will you have more free time? What will you do with it?

I think for most people, a regular IMF practice will have eventual impact of naturally consuming less media over time. If we limit or circumscribe our usage enough or set up annoying barriers to using devices, we learn over time that we don’t need it as much as thought we did. In fact, the vast majority of us will acknowledge we don’t miss it either. We end up filling our hours with other pursuits that we eventually can’t imagine giving up to go back in the direction of media frenzy. We don’t feel compelled to watch every Showtime series that piques our interest. We don’t feel the need to keep up on the government shutdown circus. We don’t feel the need to bother with Facebook more than once every day or two.

Any kind of IFing practice, I believe, naturally helps you plan and prioritize your life. Within the structure we set for ourselves, we get into the habit of consuming less and choosing more thoughtfully. We see the limited resources of our life in a new way – our time and energy – and more consciously decide how we’re going to allocate them. We develop a more thoughtful sense of economy in our lives. Intermittent fasting, the choice of deliberate deprivation, helps us discern the path to personal abundance in daily life – whatever we decide that should look like.

Here’s my challenge to you. Pick just one of the above IMF strategies and stick with it for the week. See how your life changes – or perhaps doesn’t. See how your intentions or activity with regard to media changes – or doesn’t.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Let me know your thoughts on intermittently bowing out of the connected society for some special Primal time. Have a great end to the week.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Pfffff…. you are asking something!!!
    I can’t do a email stop with work. I work from 7.30 till 14.00. I need to be reachable for that.
    For years I already shut off the phone after 20.00 (the family knows only to call in case of an emergency after that)
    Phone stays downstairs at night…

    but not watching telly or browsing the web after work hours……… I tried it in January… it’s bloody boring!!! You feel like you are literally living under a rock…

    marielleGO wrote on October 17th, 2013
  2. Love the post I’m a huge IF fan timing great I deleted my Facebook icons on my phone on Monday I still have my account running but it just removes the temptation when I pick up the phone, it too easy just to keep peeking.

    Scott wrote on October 18th, 2013
  3. At the 2013 Ancestral Health Symposium I presented research that shows that the dopamine mediated reward centers of the brain (the ventral tegmental area and nucleus accumbens) are stimulated by social media in much the same way that they are stimulated by other highly rewarding behaviors and substances such as gambling, taking drugs like cocaine, or, as we should be well aware of in the Paleo/Primal community, eating fast food.

    The reward center stimulation coupled with instant gratification and perceived “low costs” (i.e. convenience) sets the stage for a behavioral addiction to social media (and likely other sources of entertainment such as online gaming).

    Proponents of social media cite the broadening of our social networks, the ability to connect with distant friends and family members, etc. as evidence that social media use is only a good thing. However, additionally, studies of cortisol and oxytocin levels in subjects exposed to a stressful experience (in this case, children who had to take a difficult exam) indicate that text based communication is insufficient to give us the full spectrum of benefits associated with face-to-face communication. Salivary cortisol levels decreased when stressed subjects spoke with a parent face to face or on the phone, but stayed elevated when they only texted. In other words, social media is providing us with a sort of “empty” social calories.

    Practicing “Intermittent Fasting”, as suggested by Mark in the above blog post is one effective strategy and one that we should all likely implement as part of a complete Paleo/Primal lifestyle. But the real challenge is managing our daily use in a manner consistent with our health and wellness goals. The pull of social media, smart phones, and other media is strong, as strong as the pull of Oreos, McDonalds, and other processed foods, but we are imbued with the ability to modulate our behavior, we have a well-developed prefrontal cortex that can interrupt the urge to constantly check our phones and to prioritize the “whole food” of face to face communication.

    You can check out the slides from my AHS presentation “Processed Foods and Processed Friends – Is Facebook a Neolithic Agent of Disease” at…

    Tony Federico wrote on October 18th, 2013
  4. Practicing “Intermittent Fasting”, as suggested by Mark in the above blog post is one effective strategy and one that we should all likely implement as part of a complete Paleo/Primal lifestyle. But the real challenge is managing our daily use in a manner consistent with our health and wellness goals. The pull of social media, smart phones, and other media is strong, as strong as the pull of Oreos, McDonalds, and other processed foods, but we are imbued with the ability to modulate our behavior, we have a well-developed prefrontal cortex that can interrupt the urge to constantly check our phones and to prioritize the “whole food” of face to face communication.

    You can check out the slides from my AHS presentation “Processed Foods and Processed Friends – Is Facebook a Neolithic Agent of Disease” at…

    Tony Fed wrote on October 18th, 2013
  5. Kill your TV! Forever!

    “There is nothing more stupid, insidious and mind-numbing than the TV. Nothing will separate you from reality faster than television. If you have cable TV, cancel it. If you have satellite TV, disconnect it. Remove this insidious technology from your life or it will dominate your mind, your beliefs, your emotions and your reactions to everything that happens in the world. Television is a pathway to total zombification. It’s not just the ads either; the programs are also laced with propaganda, violence, perversion and negative influence.”

    There would be three washing machines per home: the washer, the dishwasher and the TV (this is a brainwashing machine).

    Felix wrote on October 18th, 2013
  6. I found that Old Reader works well as a replacement for Google Reader. Since you asked in this post.

    Jef wrote on October 18th, 2013
  7. Just wanted to say that “Intermittent media fasting” is one of those smart and funny things that keep me coming back to MDA. I’ve been giggling about it and what’s more, unplugged the computer from the internet yesterday for as long as I could — I have a lot of stuff on the cloud for work and needed it to wrap some stuff up. But I did realize that with just a little forethought, I could cut down on the distractions and work better for good long stretches of the day. And I can take long walks without a phone or an book or even the radio.

    Martha wrote on October 18th, 2013
  8. Hi from Norway. So much liked this post! I am really working on less use of media. We try in my family to cut at 20.00 p.m. but will work out a plan of IMF. Thank you Mark for all your excelllent writing. It has changed our lives!

    Linda wrote on October 18th, 2013
  9. My strategy: camping once a month in Big Sur!

    Dr. Anthony Gustin wrote on October 18th, 2013
  10. Feedly is probably the best blog reader I’ve come across since Google decided to cancel theirs.

    Matt wrote on October 18th, 2013
  11. I used to be a radio and TV addict. I stopped all that a few weeks ago to replace it by classical music and relaxation.And in only one week I saw great improvements in my family : better mood and our food intolerances are less severe.
    So for me it will be a long-term media fasting !

    Mary wrote on October 18th, 2013
  12. The best Google Reader replacement is Feedly, as voted by Lifehacker readers – and I concur.

    I have my news stream sitting there collecting my news all the time, and every 3 or 4 days I’ll check it out, open the stories I want more info on in a new tab, then clear the feed to accept the next few day’s news :)

    This has really helped to cut down on all the junk-news that used to bombard me.

    Merritt wrote on October 18th, 2013
  13. feedly is an amazing replacement for google reader

    Niral Ramesh wrote on October 19th, 2013
  14. I do not have internet at my apartment. This means I do not check my email right before I go to bed, and first thing in the morning, like I used to. I still sometimes watch movies on the computer, or am reading for school while I drink my coffee, but overall the lack of interwebs has been positive!

    tigerchik wrote on October 19th, 2013
  15. Love Love this idea! Being constantly connected really takes a toll and a break is really important. I already try to limit my emails to once a day but I will be taking on more of these ideas. Thanks

    Viv wrote on October 20th, 2013
  16. I have a “dumb phone” which doesn’t do anything but make phone calls. Funny that.

    I like the 5:2 Diet where you eat whatever you want most days, but on two days a week you keep your calories to 600. Same thing could work with media fasts: 5:2 your media usage.

    shannon wrote on October 20th, 2013
  17. I don’t have a cell phone. I don’t want one. I watch TV maybe three hours a week, which includes a family movie night. I can leave the computer alone, but if I get on it (desk top) for a specific purpose, I get distracted for hours and forget what I was to do online. The computer/the internet is my downfall (but only if I NEED to get on at all. I need to consciously fast from emails and facebook posts and focus on the necessary!

    Lois wrote on October 23rd, 2013
  18. Great post! You motivated me to make a change… and blog about it too! Click my name for the link to see what I’m doing. :)

    Lisa Brown wrote on June 8th, 2014
  19. Just got back from a four day backpacking trip, with GPS off and Airplane Mode on my phone that never lasts the day was my camera for the whole trip and still had 60% left when we made it back to the vehicles.

    Morghan wrote on October 14th, 2014
  20. Set up your own mail server. Configure it to scrape your email services on a schedule.

    For “office hours” morning before shift and evening just before end of shift will work. Can also set to scan email headers and deliver some sources on immediate priority while holding others for scheduled transfer.

    Can do the same with weekends, allowing certain sources through immediately and holding all others until Monday morning or however your schedule works.

    With VirtualBox and TurnkeyLinux you don’t even need (extra) hardware to run a server.

    James wrote on April 14th, 2015

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

© 2016 Mark's Daily Apple

Subscribe to the Newsletter and Get a Free Copy
of Mark Sisson's Fitness eBook and more!