Lou Schuler

Author, Journalist, Presenter

Posted 10/14/2011

The Fasting Fix

I first heard about intermittent fasting a few years ago, while interviewing a nutrition researcher for a magazine article that never ran. The article was about the cleansing craze, particularly the crazy idea that we’re loaded with toxins that can only be purged with prolonged administration of juices and enemas.

The researcher noted in passing that her preliminary studies of intermittent fasting showed promise. I filed the information away but didn’t pursue it. I’ve been recommending four to six small meals a day for as long as I’ve been writing books. If fasting works better, I have a lot of backtracking to do.

All of which is a long way of introducing Experiments with Intermittent Fasting, a new, free book by John Berardi, Krista Scott-Dixon, and Nate Green of Precision Nutrition. I’m about halfway through, and my overwhelming thought is that I’m glad John tested all these diets so I don’t have to.

John’s biggest, most relatable point is this: Weight loss depends on your ability to create an energy deficit. There are lots of ways to do it. The more overweight you are, the more options you have. But John wasn’t overweight when he started his fasting experiments. He was a very solid 190, with 10 percent body fat. His goal was to get down to 170 to compete in master’s-level track.

If you’ve ever been in a room with John, you know you’re in the presence of a physically superior being. There’s a combination of genes, training, and discipline that maybe occur in 0.01 percent of humans. He’s a truly nice guy, so you don’t hold it against him, but you sure wouldn’t want to put yourself in a position where you’re compared. You’d lose, and it wouldn’t be close. Taking 20 pounds off a physique like that calls for something beyond “eat less and exercise more.”

You can jump right to the end and see how it worked. (Executive summary: “really damned well,” as you can see from the photos above.) But that’s only half the story, and not even the most interesting half. Throughout the book, John, Krista, and Nate give lots of reasons why fasting may not be a good idea for you. I especially like this passage from Chapter 4:

I know it’s gratifying to think: “I’m gonna do my research, learn everything I can, adopt the perfect plan, and then I’ll crush this.” But that’s just your ego talking. And its eyes are much bigger than its stomach.

Under these conditions, people rarely ever crush it. Instead, here’s how it usually plays out:

You waste a lot of time reading books and “researching” on the internet. You’re looking for the perfect program and after precious days, weeks, months of inaction, you finally find it. Hurray!

You create a massive, all-encompassing, awe-inspiring action plan and begin to implement it. Out of the gate, you’re a total champ. You’re 100% disciplined and committed. Nothing can stand in your way. Cue the Rocky training montage.

After a few weeks, maybe a month, you notice tension developing. At work, at home, in your relationships – something’s happening. You’re having trouble sticking to the program you created. You lower your head and tell yourself, “It’s just for a little longer.”

By now, you’re either panicking or have succumbed to apathy. Your self-talk is on the decline. “I guess I’m not cut out for this. Maybe other people can do it, but they must not have a life. Me, I’ve got a job, a family, responsibilities. This is impossible.”

You can’t figure out what’s going wrong. Eventually, something’s got to give. The quest ends prematurely. (Or, in some radical cases, it doesn’t end, and you end up jobless and homeless, living in an old VW bus in Santa Monica, California.)

The sad truth is that it never had to happen this way. If you had taken the smallest, simplest action step available to you – even if it wasn’t the “perfect” one – you could have built some positive momentum. You could have built this new change into your life.

That applies to everything we do in the fitness biz. If you aren’t training at all, it’s better to start training now, rather than wait for the perfect program.  You don’t have to wait for the perfect meal plan to start eating better. You can do that now. My favorite emails from readers are the ones that tell me they look forward to starting the program in the latest book, as soon as they finish the program they’re on now.

So what about you? Have you tried fasting? If so, did it work better than something else? Worse? About the same?

  • jim costello

    Thanks Lou for your committed time and knowledge. I have fasted for two or three times a week and in most occasions doing it back to back. My situation was completely unplanned. My energy levels fluxed and within 30 days I reached a personal goal “looking good”. @ 6′ 185. A.and holding 6%BF. I would not recommend this approach. The main factor for me was my physical activities. Work was very physical play was physical and my down time I spent keeping my cores activated. I believe it was a mental period that hid any physiological effects and I would not know how to duplicate.
    What do you think Lou?

    • It’s great that it worked for you. I could never go that far. The leanest I’ve been is when I was moving all the time, which, now that I think about it, were also times when I didn’t have access to meals every 2-4 hours.

      When I was a waiter, for example, we’d get fed between 5 and 6 and then be on our feet for the next 6-8 hours. On a weekend, a few hours of each shift would be nonstop movement. I never thought to call it fasting, but sometimes I’d go 15+ hours between dinner and breakfast.

      Did it work? Sure — in tandem with a whole lot of exercise!

  • Jane

    Hi Lou! I’ve been IF’ing ala Lean Gains style for a couple years now. I had Martin write up my plan for me and I still basically follow his macro/calorie recommendations. My eating ‘window’ is noon-8pm. It’s very natural for me now, and 99% of the time I don’t even really think about it. I like to eat bigger meals, so it has especially worked great for me in that way. I eat most of my carbs post-workout and that also has worked really well for me. IF has allowed me to lose fat, gain LBM, and control my appetite. It fits me well.

  • It’s a pretty good book.

    I fast almost every day. I skip breakfast and often have a late lunch.

    The best thing about fasting is that I learned what it really means to be hungry vs just wanting to eat.

  • I don’t believe in fasting. You need to give your body the right nutrition ever day and then you will not need to fast.