Intermittent Fasting – What Paleo Didn’t Teach Me

My first exposure to the idea of Intermittent Fasting came from the original Paleo essay written by Art De Vany. I read it in December 2007 and as 2008 progressed, I started tinkering with short fasts. After more than a decade of eating every few hours, it was a radical change. In late 2008, I read Eat Stop Eat by Brad Pilon and began experimenting with 1-2 fasts of 20-22 hours a week.

Although the fat loss that came from IF was a pleasant side effect, one of the main reasons I began doing IF was for the autophagy. For a full discussion on the topic, read the article Going “Green” with Autophagy as Your Evolutionary Health Care Plan by  Mike O’Donnell. I also have a description written by Art De Vany himself on the post Autophagy and Loading Trucks at UPS. In short, autophagy is the cell’s ability to recycle damaged material when deprived of nutrients.

Sounds wonderful, right? It might only be half the equation though.

In all the articles I’ve read on IF, mostly from Paleo writers, the rate of the cell is implied as being constant. By constant I mean that the actions we fasters take do not impact the rate at which the cell performs its job. That might be an inaccurate view.

Before I explain myself, I’d like to revisit an IF experiment I did in early 2011 where I did a daily 16 hour fasting (Leangains style) for 70 consecutive days. You can read the entire post if you like, but the short version is it started very well, but ended poorly. Towards the end my body was cold, I was tired and caught a cold after going through a long period of being in top health.

I don’t want to rehash the criticisms I got in comments and emails. Some of it was valid. Some wasn’t. At the time, I chalked up the problems I experienced to a lack of randomness. The body was predicting times when I would fast and would down regulate my energy via lower body temperature and just being tired. I now think that is a partial explanation.

Do Not Enter

The Bioenergetic View

In the past two years I have been reading more about body temperature and how it relates to health. Danny Roddy, Matt Stone and Andrew Kim have written about how increasing body temperature results in positive health outcomes. A highly functioning cell is working under less stress and that reducing stress is paramount to excellent health.

In November, Andrew Kim posted Diet Dogma Rears Ugly Head Again: Become a Fat Burner, Eat Your Own Crap, and Live Longer. Hopefully he won’t take down this post, as he has with so many of his previous writings.

This is the first article I’ve read that challenges the notion that forcing autophagy is beneficial. Before we get into that, it is important to understand that in the Bioenergetic view becoming a “fat burner” is stressful. It is less stressful to the body to run on glucose, because running on fat can impair thyroid function. Lower the thyroid and your body temperature starts to drop. This is a possible explanation for my temperature issues or Richard Nikoley’s when he was strict low carb.  Note that the often repeated meme in Paleo is that to burn fat, one must deprive the body of carbs. This is not true.

Back to autophagy. From the post :

Simply put, autophagy is an adaptive response to metabolic stress that when chronically activated drives premature aging by inducing catabolic processes that outpace the renewal ability of cells.

In other words, this is the stressful path to repair. But that isn’t the only path.

Andrew Kim explains that a high resting metabolic rate accelerates cell protection and repair mechanisms by way of enhanced protein synthesis.” Reduce stress and focus on increasing the metabolic rate. The article goes on to say that autophagy is a process that occurs regardless of whether we actively try to trigger it. Forcing it and forcing it repeatedly is a stressor and that could result in a lower metabolic rate. 

Reconsidering IF

I don’t know what happens under the microscope, but what Andrew Kim has posted makes sense to me in the context of my own IF experiments. I will still engage in Intermittent Fasting from time to time, but far less than before. I still feel benefits from an occasional hormetic stress, but my metabolism comes first. Since I’ve focused on increasing my body temperature, I feel better.

Post Workout Fasting?

I got an email from Don with a question that ties into my ice cream post on the topic of post workout fasting.

I am wondering what you think of the “no fructose (or any carbs, really) for about 4 hours after a fasted work out” so as not to suppress the natural growth hormone spike that occurs after this type of work out (and how ice cream cold fit into that)? I am a 50 yr old guy who is looking to add muscle and natural growth hormone release seems to be a great idea for me and I don’t want to suppress it. I am going to be going on a bit of a bulking cycle and I was thinking of going the ice cream route. Do you think eating ice cream right after my workouts will be more beneficial for me (as far as gaining muscle) than the HGH release or, should I continue with the no carb post work out window and then fill up on ice cream? Thanks!

I’ll start by saying that I am not an expert in hormones and that even the experts have disagreed on this point. I do have personal experience both fasting and not fasting post workout. My opinion has the context that I am an ectomorph at a healthy ideal weight.

When I fasted for a few hours post workout, I lost strength. It was fatiguing to my body. I covered this in the 2011 post Intermittent Fasting – Mistakes I’ve Made:

This may just apply to ectomorphs, but I what I discovered in 2009 was that fasted weight training not only resulted in fat loss, but without a post-workout meal I started to lose strength.

From a paleo perspective this makes sense. I was hungry and went on a hunt. At the hunt I engaged in a battle. For me that was lifting weights at the gym. A successful hunt would have resulted in a kill and a meal. After a few months, I kept returning from the hunt in a hungry state. From the standpoint of nature, I was being every bit as energy foolish as the cardio junkies. That behavior gets punished if it happens repeatedly.

Assuming one exercises safely, the limiting factors for gaining muscle are calorie surplus and reducing stress. Reducing stress increases recoverability. I believe that reducing post workout stress is even more critical for ectomorphs, because we have less glycogen stores.

By denying yourself food after an intense workout, you might have higher GH, but your body is also in a high stress mode. As a side note, there are concerns that growth hormone might be stressful for its own reasons. See the article Growth hormone: Hormone of Stress, Aging, & Death by Dr. Ray Peat. Matt Stone also has a good article on the topic titled Low-Intensity Exercise Part III – Lactic Acid and Growth Hormone.

I think that ending the post workout stress by restoring glycogen levels should be your primary goal. When glycogen levels are depleted or run low, the stress hormone adrenaline is released. That could impact your sleep, especially if your workout was in the afternoon. Poor sleep is no friend to muscle growth.

ice cream

Ice Cream Horror by wee lakeo. Don’t fast post workout. Eat some ice cream!

For reasons I’ve already covered, I think ice cream is the perfect food to eat post workout. If you can’t handle dairy, make it coconut milk ice cream. Regular milk or dairy kefir with fruit work as well.

When I stopped post workout fasting, my strength returned. I was able to gain muscle. I had better sleep and I recovered from workouts faster. I’d love to hear from others on their experiences post workout fasting in the comments.

Loosening the Paleo Collar

I slowly started the Paleo diet back in 2008 and was fully on board by the end of that year. Long story short is that I leaned out and cured my rosacea. The strategies I aggresively followed in the first few years included:

  1. Low Carb
  2. Cold Temperature Exposure
  3. Intermittent Fasting

During this period I never went dairy free and I didn’t increase my exercise. Unlike other diets, the health benefits were not short term. By 2010 it was clear that my health was better and that it required no extra effort to maintain the gains. By following the 3 strategies above, I was in the best shape of my life.

Was it Carbohydrate Restriction?

My early interpretation of the Paleo diet was low carb. I consumed no grains, no rice and minimal amounts of starchy vegetables. I would have an occasional sugar treat such as dark chocolate or ice cream. Since I exercise minimally, I never experienced any problems that seem to be more common with many in the Paleo community that exercise, in my opinion, excessively.

Then in 2010, I started a year of eating seasonally. I wanted to see the effects of eating more carbohydrates in the summer and less in the winter. Since I had already leaned out, I was also interested to see how my body would respond to the reintroduction of higher carbohydrate levels. This is when I added back rice and more starchy vegetables. Unlike my fellow CrossFitting MMA Parkour P90X Extreme More-Is-Better Paleo comrades, outside of walking I exercise typically less than 30 minutes a week. Would the bringing back the safe starches (sweet potatoes, yams, white rice) I removed cause a change in my health or body composition?

I ended the year of eating seasonally in the summer of 2011 and my health didn’t change. My skin, digestion, sleep and body composition were the same as when I followed a more strict low carb approach to Paleo. So I continued eating the safe starches and have now on a regular basis throughout the past year.

Photo by Alan Levine

Was it the Cold Temperature Exposure?

The topic of cold temperature exposure is getting popular again. It is now being called CT or Cold Thermogenesis. Jack Kruse and Richard Nikoley (FreeTheAnimal) are all over this topic. From 2008 until the start of this year, I engaged in some form of cold temperature exposure near daily. My exposure was tame compared to what Dr. Kruse and Richard are doing.

Even though I can’t prove it, I feel that cold temperature exposure helped me lose fat up to a point. Once I dropped 3 inches off my waist and had leaned out, it didn’t help me get Level 3 Lean. From January 2012 until April 2012, I stopped all cold weather exposure to see what would happen. Stopping the cold exposure did not change body composition.

Was it Intermittent Fasting?

I’ve written extensively on my experiences with Intermittent Fasting. I am a huge fan. I’m no longer a slave to hunger. I’m never in a position where I need to eat unhealthy food, because I can always delay eating until a healthy option is available. That might be 2 hours or 20 hours. Intermittent Fasting builds resilience.

One thing I’ve learned from my IF experiments is that when the body starts to feel cold, you are either fasting too much or not eating enough when you break the fast. For the past year, I’ve been listening to my body and dialing back the amount of fasting I’m doing. My typical fast is closer to 14 hours than the longer 16 to 22 hour ones I did in the early years. Reducing my fasting has not changed body composition.

Loosening the Paleo Collar

The steps I took with the Paleo diet are not the ones I am using to maintain my gains. I’m no longer low carb. I’m lower than most Americans though. I still avoid gluten, most soy (fermented is OK), most legumes (sprouted is OK) and seed oils. I’ve added back some cold showers for post workout recovery. I still fast, but the fasts are shorter.

I believe the benefits I got from Paleo mostly occurred in the first two years. I don’t believe following a stricter interpretation of Paleo would yield greater results. Now I am more interested in pushing the boundaries back in a controlled manner. That will be the topic of my next post.

Destroying 3 Fitness Myths With a Single Example

Yesterday I went for a 20 mile urban hike through Seattle. The city was covered with snow and the winds got pretty intense at a few points. But I made it and I still had enough energy to spend an hour cooking my dinner once I got home. How I accomplished this hike with relative ease flies in the face of conventional wisdom in the fitness field. In this post, I’m going to take on 3 different fitness myths.

Myth #1 – Eat Breakfast Before Engaging in Endurance Events

On the majority of my urban hikes, I consume zero calories before I take my first step. I fast. The body is fully capable of using stored body fat for fuel. Intermittent Fasting will not “eat up” your muscle, nor will eating breakfast jack your metabolism more than the calories consumed. From the post Intermittent Fasting – Fears and Motivation:

When you fast your insulin levels drop big time. Your Growth Hormone (GH) levels increase. Exercise, especially interval and weight training, also elevate GH levels. GH is protein/muscle sparing and GH helps the body mobilize fat for fuel. Not eating for long periods of time (starvation) is catabolic, short periods of fasting aren’t.

When I wake up in the morning my body is in a fat burning mode. Why would I want to interrupt that process with a smoothie or Cliff Bar? I can eat when I get back home. My energy levels are much more constant in a fasted state than when I used to ride the carbohydrate roller coaster. Yesterday, my “breakfast” consisted of a few ounces of kimchi and one tablespoon of coconut oil. If that seems odd, read the post Intermittent Fasting – The No Hunger Method. It describes a wonderful hack that I tested from The Perfect Health Diet.

Perfect Health Diet: Regain Health and Lose Weight by Eating the Way You Were Meant to Eat
Perfect Health Diet: Regain Health and Lose Weight by Eating the Way You Were Meant to Eat by Paul Jaminet

Myth #2 – Endurance Events Require Endurance Training

Back in 2008 and 2009, I used to do a lot of urban hiking throughout the hills of Seattle. However, in the last few years it has really slowed down. In fact, the last long hike I did prior to yesterday’s 20 miler was in June 2010. I consider a long hike to be more than 10 miles and without multi-hour breaks. The only exercise I do these days, other than neighborhood walks, is a 7-10 minute High Intensity Training workout that happens just once a week. How is this possible?

How did I perform an endurance event, not only without doing any endurance training, but without doing any cardio? Most fitness professionals fail to understand exactly what creates endurance. Renaissance Exercise has an FAQ written by Greg Anderson called Why Not Aerobics? (PDF) that explains that the three components of endurance are genetics, skill and muscular strength. Genetics we can’t do much about. I could train “the skill” of endurance, which the article says are things like stride length and efficiency. A better plan is to just work on getting a lot stronger and then letting those benefits spill over to other activities.

Muscular strength is the single most trainable factor in endurance performance. It is the muscles that actually perform work. When strength increases, the relative intensity of any given task decreases.

I’m someone that has done it both ways. When I was in college, I ran two marathons and didn’t work on muscular strength. I focused on the skill components of endurance. These days, I just focus on muscular strength. Let me say that life is much sweeter now. My energy levels are higher, I no longer get aches and pains from over use injuries and my immune system is much stronger. When I trained as a marathon runner, my “skill” didn’t carry over into cycling or other endurance activities. It was localized.

Earlier this week I reviewed HillFit by Chris Highcock. His message is the same as mine. The most efficient and safest way to get to the top of mountain or whatever your endurance goal happens to be, is to increase your strength.

Myth #3 – Make Sure You Get the Right Gear For Your Event

Seattle is the home to REI (Recreation Equipment Incorporated). They sell any piece of outdoor fitness equipment you could possibly imagine. Hiking shoes and socks for every season. They offer a jacket or coat for every possible micro-climate condition. Bring your credit card, because this stuff isn’t cheap. And in my opinion, it isn’t necessary. Most of the customers that go these sporting gear stores are not climbing K2. They might be doing a 2 hour hike. That shouldn’t require hundreds of dollars in gear. Don’t fall for the “must get gear” mentality. The best gear you can bring with you to any event are stronger muscles.

For my 20 mile hike through the snowstorm, I wore a sweatshirt with a rain jacket. I didn’t have water proof pants, gloves or hat. Oh well. I didn’t run out to REI to save me from the elements. Yes I was cold, but my body adapted and I made it home OK.

sledding downtown

The sledder on the left is using a piece of cardboard for a sled. No trip to REI for her!

You’ll Be Fine

You don’t need breakfast, skills and special gear to take on the world. Focus on getting stronger and you’ll be fine.

Intermittent Fasting – Mistakes I’ve Made

It has been a little over 3 years since I started the practice of Intermittent Fasting. On the list of positive steps I’ve taken to improve my health, only removing wheat has yielded greater benefits. As great as things have been, I have made a few mistakes. Let me share my errors, so you don’t need to repeat them.

#1 Fasting While Sick With a Cold

Don’t do it. In 2009, I decided to see if fasting would have any impact on my health when I got a cold. From the post Intermittent Fasting – The Common Cold:

Doing an Intermittent Fast while I had a cold did not work for me. I am a huge proponent of IF, but I do not think it is wise to do if you have the common cold. I started thinking about this from an evolutionary perspective and it made sense. If a member of the tribe was sick, they wouldn’t be invited on the hunt (or gather). Instead, they would be treated back to health so they could participate in future food gathering for the benefit of the group.

My current belief is if you catch a cold, you should restrict sugars and load up on foods that support strong immunity such as bone broths and fermented vegetables. Fasting does put a stress on the body and probably should be avoided when the body is dealing with the stress of fighting off the common cold.

#2 Excessive Fasting While Weight Training

This may just apply to ectomorphs, but I what I discovered in 2009 was that fasted weight training not only resulted in fat loss, but without a post-workout meal I started to lose strength.

From a paleo perspective this makes sense. I was hungry and went on a hunt. At the hunt I engaged in a battle. For me that was lifting weights at the gym. A successful hunt would have resulted in a kill and a meal. After a few months, I kept returning from the hunt in a hungry state. From the standpoint of nature, I was being every bit as energy foolish as the cardio junkies. That behavior gets punished if it happens repeatedly.

These days I follow the Leangains advice of consuming BCAA prior to lifting and just after. Then when I get home I have a large refuel meal. In other words, I’m now telling my body that the hunt was successful.

#3 Not Eating Enough After the Fast is Over

When I did 70 days of 16 hour fasts, I began to have issues in the second month. I detail my experience in the post Intermittent Fasting – 70 Day Review of the Leangains Method. I was getting tired, my body felt cold and my immune system was weaker. I got a few comments stating that I probably wasn’t eating enough. At the time I felt I was eating enough and that I could make the protocol more effective by adding more randomness and taking periodic breaks. Now I am thinking the truth is somewhere in between.

The more I read about metabolism, the more it makes sense that extended periods of fasting would result in a slower metabolism and reduced body temperature. Appetite is reduced. Nature is energy efficient. For a daily protocol to work, I would need to force myself to eat more until the sluggishness goes away and body temperature increases. If that isn’t enough then a break is necessary.

So the take away lesson I learned is to increase calories after your fast if you feel your metabolism slowing down. Override your reduced appetite. Failing that, take a few days or a week off from any fasting until you are back to baseline.

#4 Eating Too Much After the Fast Ends

This is common when you first start fasting. It happened with me in the first month or so and it happens with others. The good news is it tends to be self correcting. As you gain comfort with the practice of Intermittent Fasting, your post-fast meals will stop be gorge fests.

Other Lessons?

How about you? Do you have any lessons you’ve learned with Intermittent Fasting? Please share them in the comments.

Intermittent Fasting – The No Hunger Method

I started doing Intermittent Fasting over three years ago. My strategy has always been to just deal with the hunger. If you ignore it, it goes away. When I first began fasting, I’d think about my hunger constantly. These days, it barely grabs my attention. Recently, I was inspired by a post over at my favorite nutrition website Perfect Health Diet to try an alternate approach to Intermittent Fasting.

Before I go into the changes I tested, let me go over two benefits from Intermittent Fasting.

  1. By restricting carbohydrates for an extended period, you can shift your body into a state of ketosis. Ketosis has a host of health benefits. One of which is you burn fat at a quicker pace.
  2. By restricting protein, you can trigger autophagy. This is the process where cells consume and recycle their own damaged material. This results in many health benefits, including life extension.

The Perfect Health Diet post Ketogenic Diets, I: Ways to Make a Diet Ketogenic is a detailed explanation of the ketogenic metabolic pathway. The part of the article I found most interesting was how the use of coconut oil, which is loaded with short chain fats, can accelerate the production of ketones.

This means that if you eat a lot of coconut oil (which is 58% short-chain fats), you deliver a lot of fat to the liver for disposal. The disposal process for fat is conversion to acetyl CoA followed by either burning in the TCA cycle or conversion to ketones.

Since that post was written, I have done many fasts where I consume nothing but 1 to 3 tablespoons of coconut oil. I find it has a slightly sweet taste and it does lower my hunger level. To confirm I was still hitting ketosis, I used Ketostix to measure ketones. After a 16 hour fast with coconut oil, I was measuring Small to Moderate ketones. Pretty cool.



Well coconut oil by itself may not be enough for the hungry. Have no fear, the Perfect Health Diet book came up with another idea. It said you can consume fermented vegetables on a fast. Wouldn’t the carbs from the vegetables interfere with achieving ketosis? Nope. From the book:

Most vegetable carbohydrates are intercepted by gut bacteria, which digest vegetable fiber into short-chain fatty acids.

If the book is correct, I could eat coconut oil and sauerkraut and still go into ketosis. I decided to test it out.

  • Monday night: My last food intake was at 10 PM.
  • Tuesday 10 AM: 1 tablespoon of coconut oil, 100 grams of cortido sauerkraut.
  • Tuesday 1 PM: 1 tablespoon of coconut oil, 100 grams of ghost pepper sauerkraut.

The cortido sauerkraut has some carrots, so I was concerned that those carbs might be enough to prevent ketosis. But it didn’t. At 2:30 PM, I tested Moderate ketones on the Ketostix. Victory!

cortido sauerkraut

Cortido Sauerkraut – Ketosis never tasted so good!

So if you’ve put off Intermittent Fasting, because you can’t deal with the hunger, you now have no excuses. Get yourself some coconut oil and make some fermented veggies.

Intermittent Fasting – Life After Leangains

It has been three months since my Leangains review. Before I go into my latest strategy, I want to address some questions I got regarding my mixed review of the 16 hour daily fasts promoted by Leangains. For a quick recap, earlier this year I did 70 consecutive days of 16 hour daily fasts. The first month went extremely well and the second month didn’t.

Here were the downsides I experienced in the second month.

  1. When I eventually did eat at 2 PM, I got majorly tired. This never happened to me in my prior IF experiences. I sort of solved this problem, by moving my last espresso to after the 2 PM meal and drinking tea in the afternoon.
  2. The second problem I experienced was I frequently felt cold, especially in my fingers. I have experience with cold weather exposure, so the fact my body wasnt throwing off heat like before was concerning. This month was the first month in 3 years where the cold was bothering me.
  3. Muscle loss. The BCAA appeared to stop working. This one really bothers me.
  4. Lowered Immune System. Although I fought off a cold in late January, one nailed me in February. Im very in tune with how my body responds to viral threats and during this month that response was sluggish.


I want to remind others that we all are at different points in our health journey. This is just what I experienced. I’m sure there are many cases of dieters that had excellent results beyond the first month. What I did was just describe the symptoms that I experienced as a possible warning on what to look for should you results stall. N=1 means that my results are just mine.

For me the duration of the 16 hour fasts were perfect, but I actually got greater benefits when I didn’t adhere to the 7 days a week protocol. I’m just speculating, but you may be able to achieve the better results by interjecting some randomness into your Intermittent Fasting plan. That might mean taking 1-2 days off each week or taking a full week off when progress stalls. If your progress never stalls, then don’t stop what is working.

The Last 3 Months

Since ending the daily 16 hour fasts, I have regained my strength and am now at the leanest point of my life. When I scaled back from daily fasts to 2-3 times per week, my metabolism kicked into gear and I started progressing again. Since my plan all along was to reduce fasting as we head into the longer days of summer, I have since scaled my fasts down to a single 16-18 hour fast every 5th day and I never fast on days when I lift weights.

Last Words

What works best for me may not work best for you. Do your own experiments and dial in your own ideal plan. Three years later and I continue to tweak my IF schedule.

Intermittent Fasting – Not For Everyone, But Perfect For Me

I’m not a health professional, but I have written a lot about Intermittent Fasting. Although I feel it is extremely healthy for me and other healthy individuals, it isn’t for everyone. Since I started IF almost three years ago, I have learned there are some people that probably shouldn’t do it. They include:

  1. Those With Eating Disorders – In a recent article in Psychology Today, Dr. Emily Dean recommends that those with eating disorders seek out a health professional’s guidance before engaging in Intermittent Fasting.
  2. Those With Serious Blood Sugar Issues – If you think this may be you, read Chris Kresser’s post Intermittent fasting, cortisol and blood sugar.
  3. Those With Other Medical Issues – What I know about Intermittent Fasting assumes the person is a normal healthy individual. If you are sick, get well first. Even when I had that cold, I learned that fasting was not helping my body.
  4. Kids and Pregnant Women – I don’t know for sure, but it may be best not to fast if you are in these two groups.
  5. Those With High Cortisol Levels – This comes up time and time again on the health podcasts. If you are super stressed, then your cortisol can spike your blood sugar. So the standard advice is to avoid IF. This make sense if you already have blood sugar issues (see #2), but what if you don’t? What if your blood sugar levels are OK and you are already eating a healthy diet? Some suggest you still get your stress under control first. I’m not 100% sold on this reason. I’ll explain my views below, but to err on the side of caution, if you are in this group avoid IF for the time being.

When I began Intermittent Fasting, I would have guessed my cortisol levels were high. I never had it tested, but I was going through a stressful period and I was consuming a massive amount of espresso at the time. I suppose I shouldn’t embarked on an Intermittent Fasting program. Yet I did. And I was highly successful doing it.

Not only did IF lean me out, it calmed me. Going without food for the first time in my life was therapeutic. It was empowering. It lowered my stress levels. In a world where I felt I had no control, I found I could control my hunger. Fasting is a common practice with some religions. I understand why now.

Nothing more calming than fasting while doing a 16 mile urban hike in a snowstorm!

What do you do if you are in Group 4? My “non-medical” advice would be to listen to your own body and gradually extend a single fast each week. Monitor your stress levels. Are things improving or getting worse? If they are getting worse, stop doing IF and deal with the stress. If things are improving, keep it up and enjoy the journey.

* Nothing in this post should be taken as medical advice. I am just a health and Intermittent Fasting hobbyist.

Intermittent Fasting – Spontaneous and Random

Just two day ago I posted Intermittent Fasting 70 Day Review of the Leangains Method. In that post, I openly asked why the first month was so successful, but the gains stopped and reversed in the second month. A brief recap of the problems I experienced in the 2nd month of daily 16 hour fasts include:

  1. Fat loss stopped
  2. Lost muscle
  3. Weaker immune system
  4. Colder body temperature

Some ideas put forward to correct the stall included reducing caffeine, reducing sugar, increasing glucose carbohydrates and not doing the 16 hour fast on weight training days. Chuck from Escape The Herd, made a wise observation in his comment.

the term intermittent doesn’t seem to apply here. seems more like scheduled fasting.

This brings up the question on if there is an important distinction between long scheduled fasts and intermittent fasting. While I was pondering the question, I tuned into the latest Jimmy Moore podcast, which was an interview with Art De Vany. De Vany was the writer that first exposed me to the intermittent fasting concept back in December 2007. During the interview, Jimmy asked De Vany the very question I was pondering.

They were discussing metabolism and the topic shifted to the potential downside to doing 16 hour daily fasts.

Jimmy Moore : It sounds to me Art that [daily 16 hour fasts] would kind of – your body would get used to that. Because it would say “OK I’m not going to eat for 16 hours, I better hold onto the energy.” How does work exactly?

Art De Vany: Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. The genes are these amazing learners. “OK that is my last meal for the next umpteumph hours – I better do some things to conserve energy.” It has to be a surprise. That is why spontaneous and random – are big elements of my approach to exercise, everything.

The Leangains method is not spontaneous and random. It is scheduled. If De Vany’s understanding of genes and metabolism is right – and I suspect it is – then this could explain the problems I’ve had in the last month. I need to bring back spontaneity and randomness to my Intermittent Fasting. It also falls more in line with our evolutionary past. Nature is not scheduled.

Going forward I am ending the daily 16 hour fasts. I’m going to mix it up more. Maybe a few short fasts (12-16 hours), a longer fast (18-22 hours) and a few days where I feast. I’ll go back to listening to my body more and looking at the clock less.

Intermittent Fasting – 70 Day Review of the Leangains Method

About a year ago, I reported that I was experimenting with the Leangains 16 hour intermittent fasting method. I wasn’t strict with it. I did it about 3 days a week. From the post Intermittent Fasting – The 16/8 Update:

Personally I like this intermittent fasting method better. It just seems more natural. I’m also gaining even more discipline over hunger. Being able to decline poor food choices when hungry is now something I’m very comfortable doing. I wish I could say I notice the results better than the other method, but it is still too soon to tell.

As the days got longer and my activity increased, I backed off from the Intermittent Fasting. My intention was to return to this method and follow the protocol on a daily basis (as required) in the dead of winter. So unlike my initial review, this time I did daily 16 hour fasts and I supplemented with BCAAs prior per the Leangains guide.

The First Week Can Be Tough

The hardest part of this diet is the first 7 days. It is in this period that you are retraining your hunger signal. Can you really retrain your hunger hormone? Yes. Leangains posted the article Ghrelin and Entrainment which explains how it happens. The take away lesson here is to expect to be hungry during that first week. The best way to deal with hunger is to be active. Move. Your brain thinks food is scarce and is warning you to get out of the cave or you’ll starve.

Month One Went Perfect

The first month was amazing. I got leaner. For the first time in my life, I saw the very faint beginnings of lower ab definition. After the initial week, it just seemed effortless. One of the problems I had with my initial introduction to fasted training was that I had lost strength and muscle. Not this time. Well, not in the first month.

Problems in Month Two

Progress slowed and eventually stopped and reversed in the 2nd month. I was strict with the diet, but I noticed some side effects.

  1. When I eventually did eat at 2 PM, I got majorly tired. This never happened to me in my prior IF experiences. I sort of solved this problem, by moving my last espresso to after the 2 PM meal and drinking tea in the afternoon.
  2. The second problem I experienced was I frequently felt cold, especially in my fingers. I have experience with cold weather exposure, so the fact my body wasn’t throwing off heat like before was concerning. This month was the first month in 3 years where the cold was bothering me.
  3. Muscle loss. The BCAA appeared to stop working. This one really bothers me.
  4. Lowered Immune System. Although I fought off a cold in late January, one nailed me in February. I’m very in tune with how my body responds to viral threats and during this month that response was sluggish.

When I do these N=1 experiments, I do my very best to isolate variables so I can learn what works for my body and what doesn’t. My diet, sleep and exercise did not change at all during this test.

Going Forward into Month Three

I went back and read the Guide again to see if I screwed up somewhere. I think I’ve been strict. My diet is clean. I’m sleeping 8 hours a night in a dark room. I don’t keep food journals, but I have posted the foods I eat. Instead of ending the Leangains program, I’m making a few changes.

  1. I lift weights once every 5 to 7 days in the morning. On this day, I will not do a 16 hour fast. I will start eating the moment I get home from the gym. I’ll still take BCAA before going to the gym.
  2. Since I just started 30 Days Without Sugar or Fruit, I need to up my carbs from glucose sources, such as sweet potatoes.
  3. More protein. I’m eating like caveman already, so I don’t know how much will help.

I was planning to end this experiment on March 22nd, but I’m probably going to continue through April. If I continue to lose muscle, I’ll end it. Hopefully, I can solve the Month Two problems. If you have any ideas, please add them in the comments.

Follow up: Intermittent Fasting – Spontaneous and Random

Eat Stop Eat – A Guide Book For Intermittent Fasting

In November 2008 I bought and read the e-book Eat Stop Eat. This book is considered in the fitness circles to be the definitive guide to Intermittent Fasting. The author Brad Pilon was the first to my knowledge to exhaustively pour through the medical literature to study the effects of fasting on the human body.

I decided that I wouldn’t do a review on it at the time. Instead I would test out the information. It would be premature to post a glowing review and then not make any health improvements. Behind the scenes I let Nick at TheTailGunner know what I was up to. He decided to test out IF too and proceeded to lose 50 pounds. By April of 2009, I was convinced of benefit of IF and I posted exhaustively on the subject. Since then I have received several reports from friends and readers of how much fat they lost.

Eat Stop Eat by Brad Pilon

Losing fat on a diet is no big deal. People do it all the time. The problem is that they often will regain the weight and more. This is why I waited so long to post a review of Eat Stop Eat. I wanted to see if the fat loss was indeed permanent. Based off my small sample pool it has been. It has with me. I carried a weight of 208-211 for almost decade, but since implementing Intermittent Fasting I’m weight stable at 190. This is the real deal.

Art De Vany planted the idea of Intermittent Fasting in my head, but I needed more convincing. I wanted to know the nuts and bolts before I undertook such a radical change in my eating patterns. Eat Stop Eat was my guide. If you need help or guidance in beginning an Intermittent Fasting program, I highly recommend Eat Stop Eat. Eat Stop Eat anticipated and answered every concern I had about fasting. I’m 20 pounds lighter and this book gets a lot of the credit.

Below is video by Brad Pilon compare fasting with exercise.

Disclosure: Because I believe in this book, I signed up for their affiliate program.

Carbohydrates, Blue Light and Willpower

I’ve been preaching the gospel of low carbohydrate diets now for two years and intermittent fasting for almost as long. Several people I know have gotten much leaner following either or both strategies. However, there are some people that perceive low-carb and/or IF as too difficult for them. Why?

I am sure there are a few reasons, but one I want to highlight is an idea presented in the book Lights Out. Cryptochromes are blue light photo receptors. These receptors tell our body when the sun is up and when is not. The study Regulation of the Mammalian Circadian Clock by Cryptochrome explains these as:

Cryptochromes were found to be expressed in all tissues; however, expression was high in the retina and restricted to the inner retina in both mice and humans.

These blue light receptors help humans sync with their circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is defined in the WIKI as:

A circadian rhythm is a roughly 24-hour cycle in the biochemical, physiological, or behavioural processes of living entities, including plants, animals, fungi and cyanobacteria.

The main driver for this process is daylight. More specifically, blue light. Long days mean long exposure to blue light. This tells the body that it is summer and to get carbohydrates to fatten up for the winter. Before agriculture, winter meant food sources were scare. During that time we’d sleep more and burn off the fat we gained during the summer.

This process worked well until the invention of artificial lighting. Artificial lighting also has blue light and blue light suppresses melatonin. Melatonin not only helps us sleep and is a powerful antioxidant, it helps us control our appetite for carbohydrates. Modern man has fooled our receptors into believing it is now summer all year long.

Photo sleep is the enemy by striatic shows a man bathed in blue light suppressing his melatonin levels, which increases his appetite for carbohydrates. Years of doing this can lead to obesity and a host of other health problems. Sleep is not the enemy.

When I first approached low-carb dieting and Intermittent Fasting, I was going to bed around 10 PM in a room that was pitch black. There wasn’t a sliver of light in that room. I had zero electronics in the room. I slept great and somehow after a lifetime of carbohydrate abuse, I suddenly had willpower.

Some of the people I know that can’t execute a low-carb diet or Intermittent Fasting are night owls. They stay up late and are bathed in artificial lighting from computers and TV. They go to bed often after midnight and don’t sleep in pure darkness. Their brain is telling them it is summer, don’t go to sleep and to NOT RESTRICT carbohydrates.

How can we use this information to our benefit?

  1. The room you sleep in should be as dark as possible without the glow of electronics. Strength coach Charles Poliquin tells his athletes, many that travel across time zones to competitive events, to unplug everything in their hotel room and make the room as dark as possible to facilitate great sleep.
  2. Reduce blue light exposure after 10 PM in the summer, earlier in the winter. There are companies out there now that sell light products that reduce or block exposure to blue light. On both of my computers, I have f.lux installed. It blocks blue light when the sun sets. It is a free download.

Go to bed earlier, lower your blue light exposure, sleep in a clutter-free cave and gain willpower over carbohydrates. It may be just the edge you need to lean out.

Intermittent Fasting – Seasonal Strategies

I’m currently reading an evolutionary biology book that got me thinking about how to incorporate seasonal strategies into my Intermittent Fasting. In my zeal to get lean, I may have missed something important.

Photo by Lord Jim

If you are new to Intermittent Fasting, you can read some of my earlier posts on the topic. The quick overview is that mankind did not evolve in an environment where food was available 100% of the time. Our bodies were designed to go through periods of feast and famine. From a hormonal standpoint this equates to growth and repair. Living an entire life in growth mode has the side effects of obesity and cancer. Intermittent Fasting brings back the randomness in food intake that mimics our evolution.

I’ve now been doing some form of Intermittent Fasting for two years. I started with a single 20-22 hour fast once a week. Then on occasion, I would add a second day or half-day. In February of this year I switched to the daily 16/8 method. Both methods are probably equally effective, but neither addresses seasons.

During the summer months there is more daylight and food is more abundant. This is when the paleolithic man went through the growth and reproductive phase. During the summer is when excess carbohydrate consumption was stored as body fat for the winter. The winter months had less daylight and food was scare. This is when the body favored repair. With artificial lighting and endless amounts of food, modern man is always in summer mode.

You can probably guess where I am going with this post. I am going to alter my Intermittent Fasting strategy based upon the season. Now that we are entering summer, I will decrease my fasting until fall. During the depths of winter, I’ll incorporate a greater fasting period. It should also be noted that I am already lean. An obese person, who has treated their body to a lifetime of summer mode feasting, should continue Intermittent Fasting until ideal weight is within reach.

Weekly Intermittent Fasting Strategy
Winter(7) 14-16 hour fasts or (2) 20-22 hour fasts
Spring(3) 14-16 hour fasts weekly
Summer(1) 14-16 hour fast
Fall(5) 14-16 hour fasts or (1) 20-22 hour fast

Note this table is a work in progress. I fully expect to tweak the numbers as needed.

Although I got lean doing two years of Intermittent Fasting, the downside is that I limited some of my anabolic (growth) potential. I did lose some strength in 2009. Hopefully, this course correction will help me regain some of my losses this summer.

It should be noted that modern man sits in his cave eating all winter long and then emerges into the sunlight with a desire to get lean for the beach. This is backwards from our evolutionary history. Man should enter the cave with a little excess weight, rest during the winter and emerge the following spring lean.

Intermittent Fasting – The 16/8 Update

A month ago in the post Intermittent Fasting – Improving Your Success Rate, A New Strategy, I announced that I was trying a new intermittent fasting method. Instead of doing 1-2 weekly fasts of 22 hours, I would try the daily 16/8 fast. This is how I described the 16/8 method.

All eating is done in an 8 hour window (EX: 1pm 9pm). No day is special. Just wake up and push your breakfast to 1pm. And because everyday is normal, there is no reason to celebrate or get sloppy in that 8 hour window.

Well it has been a full month and I’m ready to report my findings. After a week on this method, I made some alterations. On days when I lift weights, I will start eating at 10 AM. I’ve also found that many days, I just feel like 14 or 15 hours is enough. It could be because I’m already at my ideal weight and I’m an ectomorph. If I were overweight or an endomorph, I’d probably be more strict.

One trick I added was making my first meal super low on carbohydrates on days when I end the fast at less than 16 hours. This usually means eggs and sausage cooked in butter. To be clear, I do not do this on days I lift weights. Those days I consume a moderate amount of carbs. I’m medium carbs on workout days and low carb the rest of the week.

Personally I like this intermittent fasting method better. It just seems more natural. I’m also gaining even more discipline over hunger. Being able to decline poor food choices when hungry is now something I’m very comfortable doing. I wish I could say I notice the results better than the other method, but it is still too soon to tell.

Did anyone else try the 16/8 method? Do you prefer it?

Intermittent Fasting – Improving Your Success Rate, A New Strategy

In the post Intermittent Fasting Reports From the Field, I reported on the success several of my friends have had with Intermittent Fasting. They lost weight and feel great, but not everyone is succeeding. I’m going to list the reasons that I have witnessed that caused Intermittent Fasting to not provide the results desired. Then I am going to share a new strategy that I believe will work better.

  1. Post-Fast Gorging – I was guilty of this at first. As soon as I ended a 22 hour fast, I’d eat everything in sight. When you exit an IF, you should resume eating as you would normally. There is no need to double down on the calories.
  2. Non-IF Sloppy Eating – I’ve witnessed some people that think Intermittent Fasting once or twice a week means they can booze it up or eat lots of carbs the rest of the week. The main purpose of IF is reduce your insulin levels to increase access to stored body fat. It is not an excuse to spike your insulin more on your eating days.
  3. Life Happens – We try to plan our IF, but something happens. A party, a trip, a special dinner or whatever. It throws us out of our routine. I personally like to do my fast on Monday and then lift weights on Tuesday. This week Monday was Presidents Day and so I made plans that involved eating. Do I push back my weights or postpone the IF?
  4. Restarting IF After a Hiatus is Tough – The first fast is the hardest, but they get progressively easier. That is unless you “fall off the horse” (see Life Happens). The difficulty of restarting the weekly fast becomes an obstacle for fasting itself. Sort of like putting off exercise.

The Intermittent Fasting strategy I have talked about and used is the one Brad Pilon wrote about in his book Eat Stop Eat. He advocates two 24 hours fast each week. I modified it to 22 hours and then suggested twice a week for the overweight and those with a history of cancer in the family and once a week for the rest of us.

There are other Intermittent Fasting strategies, so I set off to see if there might be a better method. My research has turned up an alternate IF method that I believe might be better. Note that I said “might”, because I have not tried this method yet and my definition of “better” could be different than yours. Do what works best for you and your schedule.

Martin Berkhan of LeanGains advocates a 16 hour daily fast. All eating is done in an 8 hour window (EX: 1pm – 9pm). No day is special. Just wake up and push your “breakfast” to 1pm. And because everyday is normal, there is no reason to celebrate or get sloppy in that 8 hour window. The daily habit overcomes reason #4 above. And for the ladies, Martin has found a 14 hour fast is often enough for women. Also recommended is ONLY increasing your carbohydrate intake on days you exercise.

Even though I have been successful doing weekly (and sometimes twice a week) fasts of 22 hours, I am going to try the 16/8 daily method. I’m all in favor of a new experiment and since pictures are more powerful than words, check out the latest Client Update post on LeanGains.

Intermittent Fasting – Protection From Cancer

Intermittent Fasting works for fat loss. We have already covered that.

Intermittent Fasting may also your reduce risk for many forms of cancer. It reduces your insulin levels and helps your body access stored fat for fuel. Since body fat produces its own estrogen and many forms of cancer are correlated with excess estrogens, reducing body fat will lower estrogen levels and may reduce the risk of some cancers.

In the book Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes, the link between estrogen, weight gain and cancer is discussed. Gain weight and estrogen production increases and those organs that are regulated by hormones, increase their risk of cancer. For a detailed understanding of the relationship between insulin and cancer, read page 209-212 of GCBC.

This all ties into the autophagy benefit of Intermittent Fasting. For a detailed overview of that topic read Going Green with Autophagy as Your Evolutionary Health Care Plan. It is a long article, but the take away lesson is that when the flood of nutrients into a cell is interrupted, a nutrient recycling takes place. Damaged material is used for fuel. In modern society, where we never miss a meal, that flood of nutrients is constant. Constant growth to cells with damaged proteins may lead to or fuel cancer.

There was a study in 2008 that showed cancer patients that did fasting were better off, because the healthy cells were protected. From the WebMD post Fasting may Improve Cancer Chemotherapy:

A new study suggests starvation induces a protective shield around healthy cells, allowing them to tolerate a much higher dose of chemotherapy.


Researchers say genetic cues prompt starved healthy cells to go into a hibernation-like mode that produces extreme resistance to stress. But cancerous cells don’t obey those cues and remain stuck in growth mode.

If the healthy cells can tolerate periods of under nutrition, but cancer cells are stuck in growth mode, doing periods of fasting seems like a healthy strategy to reduce cancer risk. It also falls more in line with our evolutionary past, where food was not always available. We are here today, because our genes adapted to a world where food sources were not constant. Many forms of cancer are thriving today in the modern environment of over nutrition.

Give Intermittent Fasting a try.

Intermittent Fasting – Reports From the Field

Last April I started posting about what I learned and my experiments with Intermittent Fasting. Although Intermittent Fasting (IF) can be done several ways, what I do is pick one day a week and go 22 hours without food. Not only has it leaned me out, but I now have far more discipline over hunger. I can delay meals whenever I want and I’m no longer a slave to frequent feedings or low blood sugar.

For more background on the motivation and reasoning for IF, I encourage you to check out the following posts.

This post is about all the feedback I’ve received from people that have read my posts and decided to try Intermittent Fasting for themselves. The response has been amazing. I know 3 people that have fat loss in the 25-35 pound range. I also know people that have had some moderate fat loss as well as individuals that have gained focus and have taken control of their hunger signals.

I’d love to hear some feedback if you’ve tried Intermittent Fasting and what it has done for you.

Intermittent Fasting – The Common Cold

Last week when I realized that I was starting to get sick from the common cold, I decided to run an experiment on myself. You know how I love a good experiment. Anyway, I wanted to disprove the old wives tale about feeding a cold. Here is the saying.

Feed a cold, starve a fever.

The starve a fever part makes perfect sense. A fever often comes with nausea and lack of appetite. The body is sending a signal, which adults often ignore, to not eat. Children and animals have the wisdom to not force down food at these times. But what about the common cold? On with the test.

On Day 2 of the sickness, I did a 16 hour Intermittent Fast. Although I was able to deal with the hunger, I was completely without focus. Usually I notice deeper focus when fasting. I think of the hunter-gather hungry looking for new sources of food. The brain understands the survival dilemma and provides the focus needed. I’ve done 40+ IFs and this was the first time I didn’t get the focus. Walking didn’t help. I had to sit and I had to eat.

Photo focus by ihtatho

On Day 3, I woke up to the same level of sickness that I normally would feel at that point of the cold cycle. In other words, the fast did not help kill the virus. I probably would have been better off eating more anti-viral foods.

Today was Day 6 and I was 90% better when I woke up, so I decided to see if I could accelerate the end of the cold virus with a fast. I did much better than Day 3, but got lightheaded about 3 miles away from my house. I had intended to hike 10 miles, but realized it wasn’t going to happen. I returned home and relaxed for a few hours.

Doing an Intermittent Fast while I had a cold did not work for me. I am a huge proponent of IF, but I do not think it is wise to do if you have the common cold. I started thinking about this from an evolutionary perspective and it made sense. If a member of the tribe was sick, they wouldn’t be invited on the hunt (or gather). Instead, they would be treated back to health so they could participate in future food gathering for the benefit of the group.

You Can’t Spot Reduce Body Fat – Or Can You?

This fitness post is specifically written for females that hold too much fat on their arms and thighs.

Many times I’ve said that you can not spot reduce body fat. You lose fat in the kitchen, not the gym. Doing exercises that focus on flabby triceps or a heavy thighs will not assist with targeted fat loss. Your triceps aren’t thick because you have a tricep kickback deficiency, it is because you ate too much.

What if I’m wrong? What if there is an exception to the rule? What if there was a way for females to target the fat on their arms and thighs more effectively? The idea I’m about to share with you came to me earlier this week. I’ve tried to poke holes in it and can’t. But because I’m neither female or overweight, I have no way to test it.

Why am I singling out females? When men get fat arms or legs, it can sometimes pass as muscle. Also, men hold their fat mostly around the middle. Adjusting diet will easily take off abdominal fat, so a targeted strategy there is unnecessary.

My idea is for the ladies to work up to the point where they can lift weights in a fasted state. Why? In a fasted state, muscle glycogen stores get exhausted quickly. Insulin levels drop and growth hormone levels rise. What happens next is the body seeks out another fuel source. One of those fuel sources is intermuscular fat. Remember that high insulin levels tell the fat cells to hold onto their energy. Higher growth hormone levels make accessing body fat easier. So the answer is to drive your insulin levels low. Fasting accomplish this.

How did this idea pop into my head? For the past few months, I have been doing one fasted weight workout per week. Despite the fact my strength went up, I lost almost 1/2 inch off my arms. Because I’m an ectomorph male, I stopped doing fasted weight training. Lifting weights in a fasted state was too effective at targeting intermuscular fat. Although I don’t want smaller arms, this strategy could work great for females.

In addition to the fasting part, I have added a few other training concepts to my plan. Here is a step-by-step program.

  1. Collect Data – Measure your arms, thighs and widest point. Get in the habit of taking your measurements at the same time each day (3 times per week). Also get a scale weight. Throw away the highest and lowest number. Follow the trend.
  2. Pre Fasting Phase – I have listed 5 tips to prepare yourself for Intermittent Fasting in the post Intermittent Fasting – Overcoming Objections. Do no cardio. Cardio will only increase your carbohydrate cravings. Do these for 2-3 weeks.
  3. Fasting and Light Exercise – Get comfortable with walking and light workouts in a fasted state. This may take a few weeks as well. Again avoid cardio.
  4. Fasted Weight Training – You will only do low repetition compound exercises. 5-6 reps is it. When it gets too easy, increase the weight or add an additional set. You will not get bulky with higher weights and low-reps, as the dominant hypertrophy is myofibrillar not sarcoplasmic. Keep your rests under 1 minute. Compound movements are those that recruit multiple muscle groups that work together (incline bench, squat, dead lift). Minimize isolation moves. Stop treating your body like a butcher.

Keeping the reps low is not only safer, but it targets the larger fast twitch muscles. Fast twitch muscles have higher levels of UCP3 (Uncoupling Protein). Studies have shown that increasing expression of UCP3 results in lower levels of visceral, subcutaneous, and intermuscular fat. (see Differential fat distribution in UCP3 over-expressing transgenic mice – PDF). Once again, I strongly encourage you to avoid all cardio. Endurance training lowers the expression of UCP3. It also increases cortisol levels, which results in the body holding onto abdominal weight. Short burst interval training is much better than steady state aerobics.

Fat loss is still 80% diet. This plan is to supplement a healthy diet. Never try and overcome a poor diet with exercise. It only works in your youth. Note that my plan is probably the exact opposite of anything you will hear from a trainer or read from most media sources. Try it and tell me how well it works for you.

Disclaimer: I am not a certified trainer or nutritionist.

Somehow I Stayed Thin While the Other Guys Got Fat

Today at the Glitter Gym, the one trainer I respect the most turned to me in front of his client and commented on how lean I have gotten. Then he asked for my secret. I think he expected me to say that I eat 5-6 small meals a day. This is the message that he has been repeating to his clients as they work out. This is the fitness consensus. Unfortunately, like I discovered in investing, survivorship bias clouds the truth.

This is what I said.

I fast one day a week, usually on Mondays. It lowers my insulin levels, increases my growth hormone level and allows me to burn fat much easier.

His client, who was an overweight guy in his early 50s, looked stunned. I had seen that guy around the gym since last summer. He is still the same size. He hasn’t lost a pound. The client responded that it would be too difficult for him to do that. I told him this.

It takes practice. It might be months before you can go an entire day, but it is possible.

I sensed the trainer was going to make the case for 5-6 small meals, so I continued.

I used to eat 5-6 meals a day, but as we get older, we get more insulin resistant. What works for 20 year olds becomes less and less effective as we age.

The trainer then defended the 5-6 meal case, which I will admit can work. I just think it gets more and more difficult as we age. I go back to the observation I made in the post Intermittent Fasting – Fears and Motivations.

Weight lifters, particularly body builders, tend to eat cleaner and more healthy than any other sport. They need to gain muscle and shed fat, so they watch everything they eat. As they age, they get more and more muscle, which equates to a higher metabolism. However, at certain point I noticed they all had a puffiness from fat gain. Given their clean diet and large amount of muscle, they should be much leaner. I suspected the constant eating was affecting their insulin sensitivity.

The trainer then stated getting lean was a constant battle. I kept this disagreement to myself. Being lean should not be a battle. It is your birthright. Get off the treadmill. Lift heavy things. Stop eating so many carbs and be comfortable missing the occasional meal.

Post title comes from Big Audio Dynamite – Rush.

The Ectomorphs Dilemma

About 10 years ago, I came up with a phrase to best describe the choice ectomorphs must make when pursing their fitness goals. Before diving into the topic, review the image below to show the different somatypes.


Image from How to Eat Right For Your Body Type by Dr. John Berardi. Typically Ectomorphs are taller and Endomorphs are shorter. Other than that this image is a good representation of somatypes.

Mesomorphs are ideal candidates for both losing fat and gaining muscle. Endomorphs may never sport washboard abs, but they tend to gain muscle easily. When it comes to gaining muscle, the Ectomorph has been dealt the worst hand. It is possible, but it comes at a price and therein lies the dilemma.

The Ectomorphs Dilemma: Do you want to look good with your shirt on or with your shirt off?

The quest for muscle on the ectomorph frame will require lots of calories. Not all will be directed at muscle growth. Some will end up as fat. The upside is your chest to waist ratio will improve. The downside is your waist size will increase. In other words, you’ll look good in a shirt, but not as good at the beach. Or you could choose the 6-pack abs and end up with a physique that looks great on the beach, but stick boy in a shirt. This is what I call The Ectomorphs Dilemma.


Bruce Lee is an Ectomorph that pursued leanness.


A shirt and jacket completely hides the strength of Bruce Lee.

How did I answer the Ectomorphs Dilemma? From 2001-2008, I decided to pursue muscle over fat loss. Since gaining muscle is much harder than leaning out (especially for the ectomorph), I always figured that I could do it later. Well, later has arrived. For years my weight was steady at 208. Since leaning out this year, my new normal weight is 193. Did I lose muscle? Possibly, but it all could just be a visual illusion. Let me explain.

There are 3 types of fat.

  1. Visceral – This is the fat between the organs that is also known as “belly fat”.
  2. Subcutaneous – This is the fat just beneath the skin.
  3. Intramuscular – Located throughout the skeleton.

Although it may look as if I’ve lost muscle, I think all I really lost was intramuscular fat. This was confirmed Friday when I reviewed some material from fitness guru Art De Vany. In a presentation he stated that working out in a fasted state does a great job of targeting intramuscular fat. And since I typically do one fasted weight workout per week, this means I am specifically targeting intramuscular fat.

This may sound like good news on the surface, but I don’t think it is for the ectomorph. Sure we want less visceral and subcutaneous fat, but a little more upper body intramuscular fat would help us fill out our shirts better without increasing our waist size.

Starting this week, I am ceasing fasted weight workouts. On days when I do Intermittent Fasts, I will stick to just walking. On weight days, I will resume post workout protein shakes. This is just a test and I’m not sure if I have the science right, but I love a good experiment! I’d be interested in hearing feedback from other lean Ectomorphs.

Intermittent Fasting – Overcoming Objections

In previous posts, I explained what Intermittent Fasting and why it works. Instead of repeating myself, you can follow these links for a background on the topic.

This post is about overcoming objections that I’ve heard to Intermittent Fasting.

Several people have told me it is too hard, they get light-headed or that they have low blood sugar issues. I am not a medical professional and you should research everything yourself. With that caveat out of the way, I’d like to start with the low blood sugar crowd. How do you KNOW you have low blood sugar issues? Brad Pilon, author of the book Eat Stop Eat, covered this in his post Fasting for Weight Loss and its Effect on Blood Sugar.

Hypoglycemia is another way of saying low blood sugar. While many people claim to suffer from low blood sugar, as little as 5-10% of the population actually have a malfunction in their ability to regulate their blood sugar levels. There is no actual cut off value for blood glucose levels that truly defines hypoglycemia for all people and purposes.

Research in healthy adults shows that mental efficiency declines slightly but measurably as blood glucose falls below about 65 mg/dL (3.6 mmol/L). However, the precise level of glucose considered low enough to define hypoglycemia is dependent on the age of the person, the health of the person, the measurement method, and the presence or absence of negative effects.

According to the research on using fasting for weight loss, a 24 hour fast should not place you into a hypoglycemic state, and I have not seen any research that has shown a subject going below 3.6 mmol/L blood sugar during a short term fast.

In a different post titled Fasting, Exercise and Blood Sugar, Brad Pilon pulls up another study on blood sugar levels and fasting.

Did you know that when scientists studied people who exercised after fasting for 23 hours, their blood sugar levels were actually found to be slightly higher then when the same people exercised after a small meal? (Coyle EF 1985; Dohm LG 1986)

I like to look at things from an evolutionary perspective. You are here because you won the genetic lottery. Your genes have survived hundred of thousands of years from ancestors that did not have access to food every 3-4 hours. They went days without food and survived. In other words, you are made of tougher stock than you give yourself credit for. I would never tell someone that claims to have low blood sugar to start a fast, but I will ask them to question their assumptions.

Now onto the crowd that feels Intermittent Fasting makes them light headed or is too difficult. My guess is your normal diet is already experiencing too many insulin spikes. Here are some steps you can take with your current diet that will make Intermittent Fasting easier when do decide to try it.

  1. No liquid calories. No juice, cola or alcohol. Water, tea and coffee is all you should be drinking.
  2. At the first sign of hunger, drink water and wait 15 minutes. Thirst is often disguised as hunger.
  3. Cut your carbs in half and triple your veggie intake.
  4. Only eat full fat dairy. Avoid reduced fat options.
  5. Do not eat any carbs until 20 minutes into the meal. Eat your veggies and protein and wait 20 minutes for your carbs. It takes the brain 20 minutes to send the “stop eating – I am full” signal. You will find that your carb intake will plummet using this trick.

Do those 5 steps for 2 weeks and I think you’ll have no problem slowing extending the times of your Intermittent Fasts.

Proving that Diet is WAY MORE Important Than Exercise

May 2009 was a tough month for me. I had severe back pain early in the month. The rest of the month I had neck and shoulder pain. With the exception of some light stretching and short walks, I was inactive the entire month. I did not lift weights a single time. My diet did not change. Well, I did eat a lot more carbs on my weekend trip to Vancouver.

By every indication I should have gained weight. I lost 2 pounds. My waist size should have increased. It stayed the same. How did I emerge from a month of inactivity leaner than ever? Intermittent Fasting. I did 5 Intermittent Fasts of 20-22 hours during May.

I discussed Intermittent Fasting in other posts:

Unlike other dieting tips, I suspect that Intermittent Fasting becomes MORE efficient the more you do it. I never had my serum insulin levels tested, but I would suspect that they are lower now that they were after my first month of Intermittent Fasting. I could be wrong on this. It is an avenue of research I will pursue.

We see the cumlative effects of eating 3-6 insulin spiking meals a day. Our population is waddling around overweight and full of inflammation. The pint of ice cream that 20 year puts away is more determinatal to the 50 year old. Why? The media tells us it is age and metabolism. My old beliefs were that body composition was 50% diet and 50% exercise. I now think it is 80% diet and 20% exercise for men. It is probably 90% diet and 10% exercise for women. Want to lean out? Put down the fork 1 or 2 days each week. You’ll be fine.

Intermittent Fasting – 20 Times

The is my 4th post on Intermittent Fasting. For a background, I refer you to these 3 posts.

Last Friday was my 20thIntermittent Fast. What started out as unthinkably difficult is now part of my weekly routine. It is now easy. I pick one day a week where I delay my first calorie until about 7 PM. This is what I wrote a month ago in Intermittent Fasting – Adventures in Not Eating:

I consider IF to be amazing success if for no other reason, I am no longer a slave to eating by the clock. If I come across poor food options, I can now choose to eat nothing. Hunger is now an acceptable feeling. Because I am now comfortable being hungry, I am longer pressured to eat fast. Taking the time to prepare a healthy meal even if it means waiting another hour is no longer a dilemma.

2009 has started as a rough year for me on the exercise side of the health equation. Most of this year I’ve had back problems and some shoulder pain. I’m working on those with very low-impact stretching, yoga and alignment exercises. I’ve had back problems in the past and been sidelined with injury. And every time that has happened I’ve gained weight. Not this time.

Not only have I not gained weight through inactivity, I’ve actually gotten leaner this year. As we get older, we start to lose our insulin sensitivity. Decades of eating grains and sugars without pause has caused our society to gain weight and hold bodies full of inflammation. Your goal should be to get your insulin levels down and allow GH (growth hormone) to do its job of repair. Intermittent Fasting will do that.

Intermittent Fasting – Tips and Advice

This a random collection of thoughts I have after almost 5 months of Intermittent Fasting. This is not medical advice. You are responsible for your own health.

Before I could go the full 21-22 hours without eating, I first needed to get comfortable being hungry. I started something I called – Practicing Hunger. You could use this trick with any diet. When you first get hungry, look at your watch and then commit to not eating for 60 minutes. This builds discipline. Like any exercise, it isn’t going to be fun at first, but if you stick with it, you will get better at it.

For me it took months of Practicing Hunger before I could attempt my first IF, but I’m a slow learner. I know people that hit the ground running. The best way to do that is to keep delaying the start of your first meal until you are going the full 21-22 hours. Week 1 you might make it to 11 AM. Week 2 you might take it to 2 PM. Slow and steady. Eventually you will get there.

Do just one per week for a while. If you are overweight or have a family history of cancer, proceed to two once you are comfortable. If you are underweight, but want to take advantage of the autophagy, make coconut milk your best friend. It is highly nutritious and calorie dense. Make a curry.

The biggest mistake I made in the early weeks was coming out of the Intermittent Fast, I would overcompensate and eat extra large meals. It is not necessary. In the post What to eat AFTER you fast, Brad Pilon writes:

When you finish your fast you need to pretend that your fast NEVER HAPPENED.

No compensation, no reward, no special way of eating, no special shakes, drinks or pills.

The minute you decide to stop fasting, you need to wipe the fast from your memory, and eat the exact way you would normally eat at that specific time of the day (responsibly of course).

The easiest way to fast is to be ACTIVE. Inactivity will make the minutes drag and hunger greater. Think about it from an evolutionary perspective. Mr. Cave Man is sitting around the cave and he gets hungry. He knows if he doesn’t start his quest toward food, he will die. When you are fasting, don’t sit on your sofa. Move. Do a project. The hunger pings go away if the body senses you are moving toward a food source. If you are forced to sit an office, get totally immersed in your work.

Use caffeine. You are not getting any fuel from food, so a little boost from coffee or tea will help you keep going. Plus caffeine is an appetite suppressant.

If you are using IF for fat loss, focus on inches not weight. Most diets work in the early weeks because they reduce the dieter’s intake of sodium and as a result the dieter loses water. They step on the scale and they are a few pounds down, but their waist is the same size. My experience with IF is I was able to keep my weight, but reduce inches. My skin felt tighter. Tape measure first. Scale second. Your goal is reduce your widest point, not necessarily the digits on the scale.

Leangains published a blog with photos showing the progress of their clients that use IF. Notice the significant change in body composition, even with a small reduction of pounds. Mary lost just 3 pounds in 4 weeks, but the transformation was amazing.

Good luck if you try IF. Let me know how if goes.

Intermittent Fasting – Adventures in Not Eating

In the previous post Intermittent Fasting – Fears and Motivations, I mentioned that I had started experimenting with Intermittent Fasting (IF).

In the end, I decided that I needed to know if Intermittent Fasting would work for me. Both sides of the IF debate knew more science and nutrition than me. Only my own tests would answer the question.

It has been almost 5 months and I’ve done 16 Intermittent Fasts. My Intermittent Fasts go between 21 and 22 hours. I average one per week. If I were obese or had a family history of cancer, I would two per week (on nonconsecutive days). During the fast, I consume no calories, unless you want to count that single rogue calorie one gets from espresso. Here is how a typical IF works for me:

  • Finish eating last meal at 9 PM.
  • Go to sleep.
  • Go entire day only consuming unsweetened tea, espresso and water.
  • Break the fast with meal around 6 or 7 PM.
  • Resume normal schedule.

I had two fears with IF. Did either fear materialize?

  1. Did I lose muscle or strength? No.
  2. Did I gain fat due to a slowing metabolism? No.

By all accounts I should have gained fat this winter. For a large chunk of December I couldn’t lift due to a shoulder injury. In January, my back was in serious pain. And this month I had the back injury which has sidelined me completely. Despite having my activity level plummet this winter, I got leaner. It could have been the cold weather exposure, the intermittent fasts or some combination.

During IF, I was able to lift weights and go on urban hikes of 12, 15, 16 and even 22.5 miles. My energy level was higher than I imagined. No Cliff Bar needed.

I consider IF to be amazing success if for no other reason, I am no longer a slave to eating by the clock. If I come across poor food options, I can now choose to eat nothing. Hunger is now an acceptable feeling. Because I am now comfortable being hungry, I am longer pressured to eat fast. Taking the time to prepare a healthy meal even if it means waiting another hour is no longer a dilemma.

Something else cool happened this winter. Despite being surrounded my sick people, I never once caught a cold. That has never happened before. That could be a result of food choices, IF or some combination.

Some people have commented that it would be too difficult to do intermittent fasting. Trust me, I understand exactly how you feel. A year ago I never could have imagined this possible. It is doable. I do have some tips and advice, which I will save for my next post.

Intermittent Fasting – Fears and Motivations

A little over a year ago, I started seriously reading about Intermittent Fasting (aka IF). The Wikipedia definition of Intermittent Fasting is:

Intermittent fasting (IF) is a pattern of eating that alternates between periods of fasting (usually meaning consumption of water only) and non-fasting. A specific form of IF is alternate day fasting (ADF), which is a 48-hour routine typically composed of a 24-hour fast followed by a 24-hour non-fasting period.

Whenever I heard holistic or religious people discuss fasting, my thoughts would be something like this:

Not for me. I need to eat to 6 meals a day, consume lots of protein and lift weights. If I don’t, I’ll lose muscle and my metabolism will drop. Missing a meal throws the body into a catabolic state. Plus it would be too difficult. I need to eat.

Then I started reading about Intermittent Fasting from nutritional gurus that coached athletes, including weight lifters. Arthur De Vany, Conditioning Research, Brad Pilon and Mark’s Daily Apple were all using and or recommending IF. However, the vast majority of nutritional experts oppose Intermittent Fasting. Both groups were smarter than me and they had a big disagreement.

I had been following the never skip a meal and keep eating protein mantra for as long as I could remember. I was relatively lean, I had gained muscle, but something was wrong.

  1. Whenever I got injured or got sick, I was unable to down regulate my appetite and I’d gain fat. This cycle repeated itself over and over. Longer periods of injury or sickness resulted in more fat gain.
  2. Weight lifters, particularly body builders, tend to eat cleaner and more healthy than any other sport. They need to gain muscle and shed fat, so they watch everything they eat. As they age, they get more and more muscle, which equates to a higher metabolism. However, at certain point I noticed they all had a puffiness from fat gain. Given their clean diet and large amount of muscle, they should be much leaner. I suspected the constant eating was affecting their insulin sensitivity.
  3. I started reading about pre-Agriculture man. Those that survived birth and accidents, died with more muscle on their bones than modern man. They did not eat 6 small meal day. Once the food was gone in their area, they picked up and moved on. They would go through periods of having no food. Yet they were lean, muscular and cancer free. If fasting really was catabolic then pre-Agriculture man would not have had large muscle points on their skeleton.
  4. Many nutritional studies are funded by food and supplement companies using college males (they have higher levels Growth Hormone (GH) and Testosterone (T) than older adults). You end up hearing about the ones that prove a need for their product. There is no financial motivation to discover a health benefit with zero profits. The financial media is financed by entities that want to keep people fully invested all the time. Could the food and supplement industry be motivated to keep people eating and buying all the time? The similarities seem very strong here.

Intermittent Fasting had caught my attention. I was interested in getting leaner or at least not gaining fat during my non-active periods. The anti-inflammatory effects and autophagy were also interesting to me. I also recognized that I had reached the limit of where 6 low-glycemic meals a day could take me. However, I still had two fears I needed to address.

    1. Is fasting catabolic? Not for pre-Agriculture man is wasn’t, but why not? When you fast your insulin levels drop big time. Your Growth Hormone (GH) levels increase. Exercise, especially interval and weight training, also elevate GH levels. GH is protein/muscle sparing and GH helps the body mobilize fat for fuel. Not eating for long periods of time (starvation) is catabolic, short periods of fasting aren’t. In a recent post titled Protein Breakdown by Brad Pilon, he cited data showing the body targets visceral fat over muscle by a significant amount, even using a full 7 day fast (non-IF).

During a 7 day fast, your liver will lose 40% of its nitrogen (a marker of protein breakdown) and your visceral organs (your G.I. system) loses anywhere from 20-28%. Your muscle, skin and skeleton only lose around 8%.

  1. Will my metabolism drop and cause fat gain? The very act of eating protein and carbohydrates is thermogenic. You will burn off 20-30% of those calories just by eating. So, yes your metabolism will drop by not eating. However, since you can never burn off more than you can eat, each meal ends with a caloric surplus. You keep feeding the insulin monster at the expense of lowering your GH levels.

In the end, I decided that I needed to know if Intermittent Fasting would work for me. Both sides of the IF debate knew more science and nutrition than me. Only my own tests would answer the question. If I lost muscle or strength, I could end the experiment and resume the old way. Plus, I would only try the IF one day a week.

It has been about 5 months since I started this experiment. What happened? I’ll save that for my next post.