making the case for intermittent fasting
As part of hacking my disease, I read a lot of health books. Last year I was turned on to one called Brain Food by my friend Dr. Lisa Mosconi. It’s a fascinating and practical read that lays out a diet, backed by real science, that has been shown to improve brain health. You see for me, I have no desire to live a long life if it isn’t a quality life. The stats around cognitive decline in all its forms—independent of my disease—are pretty staggering.
In any case, one of the key chapters of the book linked intermittent fasting to a healthier brain. I had heard of intermittent fasting over the years but always thought it seemed extreme and unnecessary, and the science behind it seemed suspect. About that same time, I was with one of my dear friends for his 57th birthday in Utah. He had been experiencing significant health issues (eczema, weight gain, lethargy) even though he led an active life with a clean, vegan diet. A few months before his birthday he took up intermittent fasting and really pushed it to the extreme. He would only eat from 6 pm-11 pm every day. While I thought that was a little bananas, sure enough, a few months into his regimen, all his health challenges disappeared. His skin cleared up, his weight became normalized and he was back to his incessant walking (he will literally walk tens of kilometers a day when he has the chance).
Thanks to my constant biohacking, my health doesn’t seem particularly worrisome at the moment but I thought if my friend could do it, I should give it a shot, especially since Dr. Mosconi recommended it to help me maintain my mental acuity. We all know my vertical jump isn’t going to pay the bills.
I embarked on an IF regimen that was pretty simple: whenever I stopped eating in the evening, I wouldn’t eat again for 16 hours. In other words, if I finished dinner at 8 pm, I wouldn’t eat again until noon the next day. Water, decaf coffee and even a no-sugar green juice (less than 50 calories) were OK (and encouraged!) but nothing else.
So what have been the results for me?
A trimmer physique: Look, I was 6’2” and 175 pounds, so it wasn’t like I had a lot to lose. But IF has just made me more generally toned and even shaved an inch off my waist (which if I’m being honest, is super annoying as that meant a whole mess of new pants). I’ve dropped to around 162 pounds which, again, wasn’t the point but was an interesting side effect.
Better mental intensity: I find that, especially in the morning, I’m able to work with fewer distractions and can go for longer without daydreaming.
A feeling of lightness: Maybe it’s the 12 pounds I lost, but I feel more nimble and agile and also just generally don’t feel ‘full’. It’s a little hard to put my finger on it—I just feel like I am ‘quicker’.
A more focused eating routine: When I do break my fast around noon, I really focus on the foods that have the highest benefit to me: blueberries, pistachios, almonds, dark chocolate, eggs, a dried apricot or two, lots of greens, and usually a piece of salmon.
People have asked me if it was hard to start and maintain the IF and I tell them “not really”. The first couple of days you’ll miss your morning chia bar, but once you get past that, it becomes a habit. I find drinking a ton of water really helps keep any hunger pangs at bay, and to be honest, there are days I cut the fast at 15 hours if I feel myself getting a little cranky. Fun fact, according to Dr. Ian Smith (my partner in my company, Jetson), you really only need to go 14 hours to get most of the benefits of IF, so if 16 is too much to handle, you can cut it down.
Recently, in my regular consult with my nutritionist, I lamented the fact that even though I am a pretty rigorous gym-goer with a focus on strength training (got to keep that testosterone up at my age!), I wasn’t really gaining muscle mass. She dove into my habits and quickly identified IF as the leading culprit. Of course, it’s pretty obvious when you think about it, but if you’re working out during your fast, you aren’t really going to build muscle effectively. As I am a morning workout guy this presented a challenge. The good news? Turns out you don’t really need to do IF every day to have 95% of the benefits; three to four days a week is enough. So now on the days I’m going to hit the gym for strength, I eat a little carb load 30 mins before I head out and then hit a protein bomb pretty much right after. So far, it appears to be working, although you aren’t going to see me on the cover of Bodybuilding Monthly any time soon.
Give IF a try. You don’t have a lot to lose (except old pants) and you could be surprised by the benefits.