Fasting for Weight Loss and Health – My Experiences

Disclaimer: I'm not a medical professional. I'm only an interested lay-person with a lot of time spent reading. You should do the same, and consult a doctor. Also drink more water and call your mom.

“Everyone has a physician inside him or her; we just have to help it in its work.  The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well.  Our food should be our medicine.  Our medicine should be our food.  But to eat when you are sick is to feed your sickness.”
                                               – Hippocrates

I recently ended a 5 day fast, and I received several requests to outline my thoughts and experiences on fasting for weight management as well as for health. This isn’t a tactical topic, but if our ultimate goal is to protect and preserve our lives, then we have to consider health and body composition as a topic in our self-defense plan. I’ll try to keep this post short and functional, with lots of links that you can explore if you’re so inclined.

Story Time

It’s 2010, and I’m a 27 year old sedentary gun guy. I have a few formal gun classes, and am quite sure I have a good handle on things. I am two years past my first stem cell transplant for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and don’t pay much attention to my diet since I am just sort of happy to still be alive. I don’t like to look at myself in a mirror after a shower because I weigh about 235lbs at 6′ tall and I look like a more-pale Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. I had been a bit overweight nearly all of my adult life, but I have reached apex fat. Time to do something new.

Luckily I find a guiding light. I read a thread on TPI, Craig Douglas’ discussion forum, about intermittent fasting for weight loss. Larry Lindenmen writes a great thread that inspires me to give this ‘don’t eat for a while and lose weight’ method a try. I start with 3 days a week, 24 hour fasting in conjunction with beginning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and I lose 50 lbs within about 9 months without changing the types of food I ate. Simple. But not always easy.

I had found a method that worked for me. I have continued to use intermittent fasting as a way to maintain body composition in the leaner times, and get back down to a reasonable weight in the chubby times. I’m not an athlete. I’m not special. I don’t have a physically demanding job. I just want to look better naked and avoid avoidable diseases related to obesity.

I’m no stud, but I’m better off than I was.

What Is Fasting?

Fasting is simply not eating. No food in. The duration and purpose is variable, but the principle is as old as humanity. Fasting is in our DNA. When we were living in caves, fasting was the time between finding a berry bush and killing the next antelope. The ancient Greek philosophers advocated fasting for health and mental clarity. There’s fasting in every religion. It’s only recently that we ‘just can’t imagine missing a meal’. America’s waistlines show it.

If you want to try  fasting, think of it as chopping out a few meals that you otherwise would have eaten. With only two 24-hour fasts a week, you are hacking 2500(ish) calories out of your weekly intake. Even if you only view it as a way to control calories, you’re still making a profound impact on your caloric intake and you’ll see the fat fall away. No need to alter the foods you currently eat. Pizza and beer is still on the menu, as long as you make up for the splurge with a 24 hour fast somewhere in your week.

There is real evidence that fasting is superior to simple caloric restriction from a physiological standpoint, but I’ll save some of that for later in the post in case you’re in a rush.

It costs nothing. There’s no preparation involved. It’s time flexible. It’s lifestyle flexible. It’s simple. It works.

Is it hard?

Here’s some quick thoughts I have after coming off of my 5 day fast.

  • I lost 7 pounds, 3-4 of which was fat, and the remaining is water weight. As you shed glucose, you don’t hold as much water. The water leaves after a day or two, and everything after that is fat being consumed.
  • You’ll feel real hunger, not the usual boredom hunger you usually feel. It peaks at about day 2, then after that the feeling of hunger goes away.
  • Coffee makes it easier.
  • Taking control of your hunger is reassuring and empowering. Don’t be a slave to food.
  • Think of calories on a weekly time scale. Know that if you smash 4,000 Calories of wings and beer, that it’s OK. Just eat a little less next week and add an extra 24 hour fast.
  • Due to the flexibility of the ‘diet’, you won’t as easily derail yourself with a big cheat day. I’m prone to derailing when the diet is strict. Fasting means you don’t have to say no to birthday cake or a slice of pizza.
  • I notice a real mood lift once I go over the two day hump (which is the body changing energy pathways from glucose to ketone bodies)
  • Energy levels are steady, but lower than usual
  • Glycolytic exercise like martial arts or crossfit workouts become very difficult on an extended fast. I can easily time 24 hour fasts around Jiu  Jitsu classes, but 5 days straight made me take a few classes off.
  • Feeling real hunger is something we are not used to doing. You will feel real body hunger, not boredom hunger. It’s simple, but it’s not always easy. Remind yourself why you’re doing it and keep yourself occupied with other things. The biggest reason people fail is they sit around fantasizing about eating. Stay busy.
  • For me, ‘eating less’ is difficult. ‘not eating’ is easy. I’m pitiful at self-moderation, but I can easily stop eating for a while.
  • Don’t tell people what you’re doing. They will try to sabotage you. They usually don’t even know they’re doing it. You will get offered cookies and snacks. Keep your plan to yourself until you start making progress. Trust me.
  • You will have a lower food bill and fewer dishes. It’s the diet that pays you to adhere to it!

How Do I Fast?

Most of these fasting techniques allow for black coffee, tea, water, and a diet soda or two. That’s really all you want to ingest. If you sneak a bite, you’re only cheating yourself. As with lots of things, people try to make it more complicated than it is, thus lots of rules and specifics to set their methods apart. When in doubt, don’t eat and only drink water. Easy. Here’s a few variations that I’ve tried.

  • Eat/Stop/Eat: My preferred method. You simply eat a meal, say lunch on a Tuesday, then you don’t eat again until Lunch on Wednesday. 24 hours of not eating. Do this 2 or 3 times a week. You’re hacking 4-6 meals out of your weekly diet which adds up to significant caloric reduction in a given week.
  • The Warrior Diet: It’s a little more structured but basically you’re eating one meal a day, or only a small snack for lunch, then gorging at night. It’s feeding within a small window of time.
  • Leangains: It was designed by a body builder but the crux is that you have an 8 hour window in which you eat your daily calories, and then don’t eat for the next 16. 16/8.
  • Extended fasting to encourage Autophagy: This is a process of cellular cleanup that happens when the body isn’t getting any outside fuel/protein. The body scavenges damaged and old cell components and recycles them for building blocks of new fresh cells. It also reduces inflammatory markers which can help with the myriad issues that people can experience with a prolonged inflammation response. My longest is a 5 day fast, but you start benefiting after just 24 hours. This one is especially interesting to me on the cancer mitigation front.
  • Link to a list of a few more techniques you can try.

Diets that Might Accelerate Weight Loss Combined with Fasting

I like to dabble in diets because it keeps things interesting. I ultimately credit my weight loss and maintenance to fasting, but I like to experiment with my performance and body by trying different ways of eating.

I have tried all of these diets for a minimum of four months. I did Paleo for two years. One common feature of the diets I list is they all strive to limit insulin release (the body’s sugar storage hormone) to one extent or another.

When I fail at a diet, it has always been in my adherence to the plan. That’s a personal failure. Life got in the way of adherence. Every single one of the listed diets has worked for me while I did them. I never stopped because I was experiencing adverse effects or unexpected results.

Dr. Jason Fung’s lectures (embedded below) make a strong case that by limiting the input of glucose/fructose, and thus minimizing the insulin-response, goes a long way to allowing the body to burn through the cellular reserves of glucose and tap into fat storage. The problem of fat loss seems to go beyond calories in/out.

  • Paleo: A popular diet that at its core relies on shopping around the outside edge of the grocery store. Meats, veggies, nuts, fruits. Avoiding (insulin releasing) starches, sugars, and grains. It also tells you to avoid common inflammatory foods like dairy and legumes, which many people have trouble processing and causes an unintended immune response. You can dig for the details if you’re interested.
  • Ketogenic: High fat, moderate protein, minimal carbohydrates. No, eating fat doesn’t make you fat. The goal of this diet is to drop carbohydrate (glucose/fructose) intake down the the point that your body changes energy pathways from glucose based to fat (ketone-body) based. The fat that the body uses is a combination of what you ingest, plus mobilized fat from your body’s reserves. This works really well for fat loss for most people. We have good luck with it.
  • 4-hour body Diet (Slow Carb): lean meat, beans, and veggies and no white foods like sugar, pasta, rice, bread, cheese. Eat the same few meals over and over again, Don’t drink calories. Start your day with protein, Don’t eat fruit. one “cheat day” a week. My wife and I both had good success with this. The ‘slow carb’ part is the insulin limiting key of this one.
  • ChaosAndPain’s Apex Predator Diet: This is a bodybuilder’s diet. A period of strict keto, then daily meat-on-bone meal, protein shakes, one day of fasting a week, heavy lifting, etc.

Why Calorie Restriction Fails

It’s safe to say that everyone has tried the ‘eat less, move more’ type diet for fat loss. It turns out there’s a reason that your weight loss slowed and then halted the longer you were on the diet. It’s the body adapting to a long term self-induced famine. If you severely restrict daily calories over a long period, your body turns down its expenditure of energy to accommodate the long-term shortage. Your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) drops to accommodate your caloric deficit.

Fasting is distinctly different than caloric restriction. The total lack of food input actually increases energy expenditure by the body, increases norepinephrine release, and mobilizes fat storage for energy.

If you want to dig deeper into this and see a convincing pile of studies to support this conclusion, I point you towards Dr. Jason Fung. Dr. Fung has a great narrative that is built on 100 years of clinical research. His ‘two compartment model’ makes a lot of sense in explaining why calories in doesn’t always equal calories out. I encourage you to watch his lectures and read his books if this interests you.

If you give it a shot, let me know how it goes. I think you’ll find that it’s a relatively effortless way to lose fat. If you have questions, I’ll answer what I can and refer you to source material as needed.

Resources and More Info

If you have time, please watch this talk:

Dr. Fung also is a big advocate for fasting and actually wrote a book on it. Here he is explaining why fat loss is more than an energy in/out phenomenon.

  1. The Complete Guide To Intermittent Fasting Dr. Jason Fung
  2. EAT/STOP/EAT Brad Pilon
  3. 4 Hour Body Tim Ferriss
  4. Keto-Diet Primer on Reddit



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Ballistic Radio Interview

When your friends ask you to be on their radio show, you just do it.

John and Melody asked me to be on Ballistic Radio to chat. In John’s usual way, I got basically no preparatory talking points and we just had a conversation like we would over dinner.

Here it is: http://ballisticradio.com/2017/08/02/memento-mori-podcast-season-5-ballistic-radio-episode-219-july-30th-2017/

We talk a little about me and how my life experience has formed my current outlook on training, inspiration, discipline, and doing the work. If you ever looked at yourself in the mirror and questioned why you keep trying even though you seem to suck at your hobby or sport, some of this should resonate with you.

I always used to listen to episodes of Ballistic Radio and think to myself, “Man, if I ever got on the air, I’d drop some real science and inspire some people…” being quite sure I’d never have the chance. Yet here I am. This audio file is getting put into the folder I have been building to leave to my son in the event I can’t be there when he’s old enough to hear this stuff.

Thanks for being a part of it,

Mark

Books I mention in the interview:

 “The Path” Tshirt. Check them out.

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The Problem With Being The Littlest Fish In The Pond

Any time you ask a Subject Matter Expert (SME) about the shortcut to getting better, they will almost always include things like, ‘surround yourself with people who are better than you’, ‘If you find you are the biggest fish in your pond, it’s time to find a new pond’, and ‘Work on what you suck at’. These pieces of advice come from the guys you look up to when you’re getting started. And I would give the same advice. But honestly doing so for an extended period can be a very demoralizing and trying experience.

Chuck Haggard of AGILE Training sporting an EAG shirt.

I embraced that concept completely when I started training in 2007. I have been pursuing the core skill sets since that time. It turns out the multidisciplinary approach to self defense has a lot of skills that require competitive spirit and drive. It requires Ego risk. If I’m going to stick with it, there is only the option of becoming comfortable with losing. Because losing is a daily trial.

If I’m doing it right, I’m boxing, grappling, shooting with, shooting at (with simunitions), and doing strength and conditioning with killers. I’m not a killer. I am just a dude who has been throwing myself to the wolves and losing over and over.



How do I weather that? Truth is, I can’t always. I get burnout. I haven’t shot a gun or posted to the blog since the Rangemaster conference in March mostly because I’ve been feeling inadequate and not worthy of my peer group. That’s real talk. I’ve been here before, where I swear I’ll quit if I have one more negative experience. When I get like this, I have to take a step back and evaluate how I’m thinking and approaching the problem. Here’s some ideas if you find yourself there. I’m working through it at the moment.

  • Take time off. Just unplug from stuff for a while. The fire will reignite.
  • Motivation is for beginners. Long term success requires discipline. Just show up.
  • Savor minor victories.
  • Remind myself that all of those SMEs have gone through the same thing, and maybe are even going through it at the same time. They’re people, despite how they appear online or in class. They’ve just had 20 more years  practice at failing.
  • Remind myself I do this because it’s fun. Keep it playful. Make it fun again.
  • Work on another hobby for a while.
  • Performance plateaus are real, the breakthrough is around the corner.
  • Rather than focus on winning, pick a small facet of the discipline to sharpen. Don’t try to win the match, work on getting zero points down, or not shooting a no-shoot target. Don’t worry about tapping your opponent, focus on a part of your game that needs sharpening.
  • Reorient goals so they are internal rather than external. When I’m wrapped up focusing on an external goal (with an outcome I can’t control), it’s a downward spiral of frustration. I try to think of it like “Am I better than I was yesterday? Yes? Then you’re improving”.
  • The only thing you can truly control is how you Think about an issue. Nothing else is truly under your control, and losing is always a possibility.
  • It’s OK to suck. Most people suck more than you do. If you’re doing anything, you’re running laps around the guy on the couch. There is always a tougher, more skillful, smarter, younger, faster, stronger person. That’s the way of the Universe.
  • It’s OK to fail. Just have the discipline to start again.
Competitive pursuits leave space for lots of things outside of our control.

 

In summary, surrounding yourself with people who make you look like an incompetent fool IS the fastest path to mastery, but it requires the fortitude to keep showing up and doing the work, regardless of how much you realize you suck.

It’s good to feel the fire again. Glad to be back.

Mark

PS: I restocked “The Path” Tshirts in S-3XL (6/29). Check them out.

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Memento Mori – 4″ Decal

I decided I wanted a symbol that I could plaster around my house to keep the ‘Memento Mori’ theme alive in my mind. I designed these simple stickers and I’m quite pleased with them. I made extras for my friends (you all).

If you’d like to buy one, here’s a link to the webpage: https://www.freewebstore.org/growing-up-guns-e-store/Memento_Mori__Skull_4__Vinyl_Decal/p3687249_16970782.aspx

For those who have joined the blog recently, here’s the post to have all this seem relevant to this blog and possibly important to you in your life: https://www.growingupguns.com/2015/12/28/goal-setting-remember-that-you-will-die/

Thanks for your ongoing support, it means the world to me.

Mark