Friday, 7 August 2009

Warrior Paleo Experiment & the Many Faces of Fasting

My Plan
Why was I doing this
What Happened (the meals)
What Happened (body composition)
The Good
The Indifferent
The Bad
Feasting or Binging?
My Verdict
Another Perspective
Other Reading and References on Intermittent Fasting
In the middle of May I decided to try the Warrior style of eating - essentially, one meal per day. There had been a lot of buzz about it on Twitter and I was interested in the concept.

My normal eating pattern – and the one I have returned to since, is roughly this:

MondayBreakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Tuesday Dinner
WednesdayBreakfast, Lunch, Dinner
ThursdayLunch, Dinner
SaturdayLunch, Dinner
SundayLunch, Dinner

The precise days vary, but this is a good representation of the average week. Another way of putting it would be:

- 2 x 24-hour fasts
- 3 x mini, 16-hour fasts
- 2 x full eating days
Intermittent Fasting
For those less familiar with intermittent fasting, the simplified premise is this: your body takes advantage of the ‘downtime’ to perform cellular repair and do other good things. This makes sense as an evolved function - our eating patterns would have been less regular when we were hunter gatherers.

Studies on animals have shown longevity to be extended by periods of reduced calorie intake – even when the net calories over a given period are the same.

The idea with intermittent fasting is that you eat the same number of calories – just in a different pattern.

If you want to read more about intermittent fasting, see the further reading section below.

One important thing to note about fasting – it’s much easier when you have been on a low carb diet (such as Paleo/Primal) for at least a few weeks. This is how long it takes your body to start remembering it does not need a constant supply of blood sugar to function well.
My Plan
My plan was to try this instead:

Tuesday Dinner

Clearly I would have to start eating bigger evening meals.

In fact, if you look at my normal eating pattern, this meant I would be eating exactly half as many meals and therefore need to be eating evening meals that were twice as big!

...although in fact my breakfasts and lunches are typically about two thirds the size of my evening meals, so it was not quite that extreme.
Why was I doing this?
Curiosity: how would this affect me physiologically? I felt like this to be a viable interpretation of ancestral living – spend the day locating and hunting food, then feast in the evening. I wanted to know how that felt.

Greed: I liked the idea of big feasts. I am a greedy eater by nature, and having an excuse to eat big meals was appealing.

Time Saving: I would not have to prepare breakfasts or lunch to take to work. Seven fewer meals to prepare meant at least an hour saved per week (yes, I can make them that quickly!) Each day I would just skip out of the door and return later to make dinner.
What Happened (the meals)
My experiment ran from May 21st to June 11th.

Here are all the meals I ate during that time, taken from my Twitter records:

May 21st

trout with steamed broccoli, onion and kale.
May 22nd

got 2 hungry at lunch (not enuff trout last night) & hit the shops - chicken & nutsRoast rabbit + veg
May 23rd

wine, mackerel kebab, wine, salmon curry, banoffee pie, whisky, biscuits, then can't remember
May 24th

huge bowl of rabbit stew + veg + nuts + chunk of creamed coconut. Forgot photo!
May 25th

crab starter, then 1/2 roast chicken & veg, parsley
May 26th

chicken soup (from last night's carcass) then seabass & veg
May 27th

chicken leg from Monday's roast + small bag of walnuts.sea bass & tomato soup, 16oz cow's heart steak + parsley, cabbage, cauliflower, other veg
May 28th

whole roast wild duck, cauliflower, cabbage, carrot, onion, parsley, courgette
May 29th

Fasted through the morning but overtaken by hunger at lunch so resorted to supermarketduck & cabbage soup + grilled pork rind & tomato puree then pork fried in c'nut oil + tin of salmon + avocado + veg + nut feast afterwards! full!
May 30th

salmon & trout starter then lamb & chicken platter
May 31st

curried venison liver (c'nut cream, onions, spices etc) + steamed broccoli.
June 1st

6 'special' scrambled eggs (evoo & c'nut cream mixed in) + ling + steamed veg
June 2nd

lamb mince fried w onion, pepper, tom, c'nut oil + 2 tins sardine & mixed veg
June 3rd

trout, scrambled egg mixed w c'nut cream, broccoli, peppers, beetroot leaves
June 4th

beef heart steak, tuna, wine+evoo sauce, onion, celery, beetroot, avocado, toms
June 5th

beef fried in c'nut oil, wine & toms + broccoli, avocado, beetroot, aubergine
June 6th

tandoori salmon, chicken and a bowl of mixed roasted nuts.
June 7th

Curried venison & steamed mixed veg
June 8th

Chicken breasts and walnuts. Hunger got the better of me despite big meal last nightWild Sea Bass, scrambled eggs, carrots, cabbage, courgette, parsnip, onion, evoo, almond butter
June 9th

braised grass-fed cow's tongue chunk + steamed veg + evoo + tongue juice
June 10thscrambled organic, kiwi, sardines.

lamb cooked in garlic, onions, mushrooms, tomato puree, olive oil & thyme + mixed veg
June 11th

Beef heart, carrots, courgette, cabbage, kale, avocado, celery drizzled in evoo

What Happened (body composition)
During that time, my weight did not significantly change, as this chart shows:

The Good
Not having to prepare food to take to work did turn out to be a liberating experience – an hour feels like a long time to someone who works a 40-hour week.

In fact it was like a second liberation, since I had already been liberated a couple of years previously from a many-meals-per-day routine when I went Paleo/Primal (that epiphany is described here.)

As an aside, this was a double whammy, liberation-wise, because at roughly the same time in May, I started experimenting with the Body by Science training method (my ongoing account of this can be seen here) – which requires theoretically only 15 minutes of working out per week.

I even noticed the reduction in rucksack weight. I am guessing it weighed between 1 and 2 kilos less on days when I would normally have carried breakfast and lunch to work, a round trip which involves up to an hour of walking.
The Indifferent
Other than the practical benefits, I don’t remember feeling a lot different. Energy levels, gym performance – these were neither better nor worse.
The Bad
When you have only one meal per day, it takes on new importance. For me this meant a few issues.

The first problem was sometimes under-eating. Being an innate glutton, I was not expecting to struggle on this front - yet there were days when found myself driven to eat during the day. As you can see from the meal records, I failed to stick to the protocol on 5 days out of the 22.

Clearly I am capable of fasting through a day until dinner, as I regularly do with my normal eating pattern - but I don’t normally fast on two consecutive days. The ravenous hunger I experienced on these 5 days must have been because I got the meal size wrong on one of both of the previous days.

No doubt this is one of the reasons why well-spaced intermittent fasting works so well – each fast is padded with days of plenty.

In a way this is a great example of the human appetite in action: in spite of my intention to follow the warrior protocol and my usually steely determination when fasting over 24 hours, my body ratcheted up my appetite to a new level when deprived of calories to a new extent.

A second issue was meal composition. I often found myself feasting on nuts after meals to a much greater degree than I would normally recommend – simply because I had not managed to create a big enough meal from meat, fish and vegetables. Too many nuts and I get uncomfortable guts.

I think to an extent I was also using the ‘I must get enough calories’ mantra as an excuse to binge on something I would normally limit myself on – so as the experiment progressed I made an effort to ensure the meal itself was bigger. I would buy bigger pieces or meat or throw in a side of sardines or scrambled eggs – this helped with the third issue...

… which was variety. I am a creature of routine – which means my breakfasts and lunches tend to be composed of similar foods. When I stopped having them, I stopped eating those foods. Eggs, fruit, tinned fish, avocado and salad were the main casualties.

I was happy to lose the fruit, which I consider a nice-to-have - but I valued the others more, both nutritionally and emotionally, so I started incorporating them into the main meals. This also helped increase the meal size. For example, look at the medley of foods I had on May 29th and June 1st.

You may have guessed the fourth issue by now: sleep. Being a 9-5 man, I had little flexibility around when this big meal took place. I could usually get it prepared and eaten before 8pm , but with a 10pm bedtime this scarcely provided enough time for me to go to bed without still feeling full.

Depending on the composition of the meal, this could mean some discomfort - especially when I was still eating too many nuts. Likewise, too much of some coconut-based products and I get bloating. This leads neatly to issue 5…

…which is, ahem, intestinal turbulence. Let’s just say that Mrs M was not always so pleased to be next to me on the sofa during this time. One of the benefits of eating a hunter gatherer diet is a lack of this turbulence. However it would seem that if you eat large enough meals then this benefit diminishes. No doubt the post-meal nut or creamed coconut binges contributed to this, so I am willing to accept that it was not the size of the meals per se that was to blame.
Feasting or Binging?
Finally, a thought about binging and fasting.

In a previous post I talked about how I had taken to repetitive fasting during some festive binges, as a way to repent/recover from large, carb-laden meals. This, I felt, was behaviour akin to eating disorder.

During this experiment I essentially did the same thing, but with real, Paleo/Primal food - and it was interesting to see the differences.

The main one was that my appetite was under control. I recall distinctly from the festive binges that my appetite was no help. I had to consciously decide whether to eat and if so why. I was forcing myself to fast, whilst simultaneously lusting after more junk, whilst simultaneously hating the idea of eating it. Then when I did finally eat, I would eat too much. Another difference is that I put on several pounds with the high-carb binges, as the chart I published soon afterwards showed.
Faithful Guide
This time, hunger was a faithful guide. I looked forward to the feasts, but they always seemed to come to a natural end. I ate a lot more than I would normally do in a sitting, but my body seemed happy. The next day, the hunger seemed to grow proportionally through the day until I was ready.
My Verdict
This is a sustainable approach in my view and great for busy people. Provided you get the meal size and composition right, it does not seem to significantly affect how you feel or perform through the day. However, it does require additional thinking, at least initially:

- how to make those evening meals fulfil the nutritional variety normally spread across lunches and breakfasts

- How to make sure the meals are big enough – buy bigger chunks of meat, for example. Get this wrong and the next day you could find yourself at the mercy of food vendors you would normally eschew...or binging on foods that should be consumed in moderation.

…and based on my previous experience, clearly this only works when the meals are Paleo/Primal – or more to the point, not high in carbohydrate.
If I do it Every Day, is it still Fasting?
It seems counterintuitive that you can fast every day. I imagine that somehow the body starts to adjust and the benefits of intermittent fasting are moderated. Aside from that, the very size of the single meal must extend the digestion period, thus reducing the fasting time. Perhaps the answer is that you are indeed fasting every day, but just not for as long.
Another Perspective… from Rusty at Fitness Black Book
By coincidence, Rusty over at Fitness Black Book posted recently about his experiences with Warrior and Eat Stop Eat, Brad Pilon's approach. As it turns out, my typical week more or less follows the Eat Stop Eat pattern, so it was fascinating (and a little spooky!) to read Rusty’s post just as I was writing mine.

We seemed to come to the same conclusion, but perhaps for partly difference reasons.

The main difference is that I am more interested in the sustainability and practicality of fasting and less in the fast loss.

I am always grateful when I do become leaner through fasting – but personally I have found that regardless of my meal pattern, the main contributor to success or failure in fat loss is whether I am willing to be a little hungrier for a little longer on a day to day basis.
Other Reading and References on Intermittent Fasting
There is a good post about the benefits on Mark’s Daily Apple.

Intermittent fasting can also be a powerful weight loss tool, so if that’s a perspective you are interested in then try this article on Life Spotlight.

I have also written various articles about fasting before, especially in the context of binging and appetite.

My Plan
Why was I doing this
What Happened (the meals)
What Happened (body composition)
The Good
The Indifferent
The Bad
Feasting or Binging?
My Verdict
Another Perspective
Other Reading and References on Intermittent Fasting


Gubernatrix said...

Interesting, thanks for sharing!

Asclepius said...

You experiences are pretty much the same as mine - even down to the adding of your lunchtime ingredients (eggs, avacado, tuna), to the main evening meal to make it bigger. I also have the occasional nut-snack (and get the same effect if I OD).

Generally I guess I do around 1-5 24hr fasts a week. I really keep it mixed. The hunger signals are so mild (a fuel light goes on rather than my 'engine' stalling ), I COULD only eat once a day easily.

When I do eat I ALWAYS respond to my hunger and eat until sated!

By a strange twist of fate, I was photographing my meals of late for a similar post to this....guess I will have to file it away now!

Methuselah said...

Asclepius - I am actually on a second, consecutive, impromptu 24 hour fast, after I was gripped by laziness last night and decided not to make lunch for today. I also used it as an excuse to trough a couple of handfuls of cashews. I had the urge to hit Sainsburys at about 11am but managed to get a grip and now am on the 'fuel light', and likely to happily go through to 9pm.

You must go ahead with your post anyway! I'd love to see the photos of your meals...

Vin - NaturalBias said...

Thanks for such a detailed recap of your experience! I'm intrigued by intermittent fasting, but have am having a hard time accepting the one meal per day idea. Even if some primitive cultures did eat only once per day, what about global variation? There could very well be other cultures that ate more frequently which would support the existence of metabolic individuality. Some people may do well with one meal per day while others may not do well at all.

I'm going to start digging into some of the research done on primitive cultures to see if I can find some answers. I don't think it will be hard to find evidence of multiple primitive cultures that ate more than once per day.

Rusty - Fitness Black Book said...


I really agree with this statement...

"It seems counterintuitive that you can fast every day. I imagine that somehow the body starts to adjust and the benefits of intermittent fasting are moderated."

When I was fasting every day until dinner the fat loss effects seemed to wear off. When I eat somewhat normal 5 times per week and then just fast twice per is the contrast that seems to produce the best results.

Great detailed post!


Methuselah said...

Vin - I definately agree there would have been variation of all kinds, just like with diet composition. My thinking is that in all likelihood there would have been some cultures or tribes who ate a single meal per day but also many who basically 'played it by ear'. Will be interested to hear what you find out.

Rusty - thanks - I am now back to twice per week fasting now and it certainly feels more manageable. In fact I have recently inadvertently taken a 1 in 3 approach due to random circumstances, which also seems to hit the spot.

Chris said...


That was a really good, well thought out and well structured post. The photos really helped too and it was great to read some more of you thoughts and approach to eating.

I read the book and tried the Warrior diet a few years ago and I think there are good principles behind it but the desire for more flexibility and randomness always gets me back to other patterns.



Methuselah said...

Thanks Chris - I think randomness is the key here and it's a natural companion to flexibility. There's nothing more satisfying than being able to skip meals to mitigate time pressures or eat more because it's available, knowing it will then save you the trouble of making a subsequent meal.

Radek Pilich said...

OK buddy, here are some tips from my own experience:

Evening meals structure is follows:
-big ass fresh mixed vegetable salad with rasins, seeds, spices, loads of oil, balsamic vinegar
-main meal
-nuts if there was not enough calories in the main meal

-use a lot of fat to get enough calories in - oil, butter.... cheese is great if you can eat it - I use this one it gives you an alternative to nuts. just cut it into pieces and throw it on your dish :)
-regarding nuts, I eat only almonds and brasilian at the moment, others seems to not work so well for me. it is always better to soak them in salt water in the morning, makes them easier to digest for me
-take some fibre in during the day, you're likely not getting enough. get some organic psyllium
-fermented foods are also helpful - sauerkraut, kombucha, yougurt...

Methuselah said...

Thanks for the tips Radek - I keep meaning to try soaking nuts, but never get round to it. I am told they taste much better that way. I have been eating with my normal eating pattern again more recently but will keep your ideas in mind if I return to 'Warrior'.

thania said...

Great post , thanks for sharing. At the moment I am doing ifast, in a way that I eat when I am hungry, and once did a 24 h one too.

I like your usual plan, I am to try it.

Thanks again Amigo, I always learn something from your blogs, and enjoy your presentation.

Methuselah said...

Thanks Thania - hope it works for you. And thanks for all the great meal photos you post via Twitter - always adds a great bit of colour to the page...

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