It’s no secret that becoming health-focused has hit this century like a tidal wave. There’s a surplus of apps focused on health and fitness, and a limitless amount of articles and books on topics like feeling like you’re in your twenties again.
Admittedly, I’ve fallen prey to this surge of health-focused material. We recently launched our health vertical, Health.fm, which has been really showing us how many companies are now using fitness as a means to improve their health. Through all the research I’ve done to improve my knowledge of the health and fitness world, I stumbled upon the idea of intermittent fasting. Hat tip to John Rafferty for the initial advice and the inspiring story about Mike Maser.
During this discovery phase, I realized that intermittent fasting can potentially help you, as an executive, to save time, keep focused, keep your energy levels up, all while helping you to feel better about yourself as a whole. These elements all add up into making you a better leader.
This whole idea of testing intermittent fasting came about through my interest on how diet can affect your performance, specifically in a business context. But let me tell you a story that about a great guy who put cancer behind him.
In 2014, Mike Maser, CEO of FitStar, later acquired by Fitbit, had been diagnosed with stage IV Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Being diagnosed with stage IV means that the cancer has already spread to the organs and bone marrow, in addition to the lymphatic system. Determined to beat cancer, Maser came upon the research of biochemist Dr. Valter Longo. Dr. Longo’s research has shown that fasting could increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy, along with decreasing chemotherapy’s side effects.
Dr. Longo conducted an experiment to prove this using mice. He found that the mice that fasted during chemotherapy continued to maintain their healthy cells, while their cancer cells were still receptive to treatment.
Maser decided to test this experiment on his own and would fast for five days. The result: Maser became cancer-free after only two rounds of chemotherapy. He was scheduled to have six rounds.
John Rafferty also shared the term ‘autophagy” with me – I had never even heard about it before. The word’s etymology comes from the Greek roots for “self” and “to eat.” During autophagy, cells will create membranes that are made to search for dead, weak, or disease-ridden cells. The membranes will then envelop those sub-par cells and take them to an area of the cell known as the lysosome. There, in the lysosome, the negative cells are broken down and burned by the lysosome, creating energy. Thus, like the Greek etymology, the good cells eat your bad cells.
While this idea of fasting may seem pretty radical, it’s an ancient practice, and virtually every major religion has promoted fasting. In Christianity, Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights. Judaism has 25 events throughout the year associated with fasting, including the holiday Yom Kippur, where practitioners fast from sunup to sundown to atone for their sins. In the religion of Islam, for the entire month of Ramadan, eating is not allowed until sundown. The list goes on.
Needless to say, this practice is not new. And, most importantly, the research has shown that fasting isn’t just good for you, it’s great for you! There are numerous studies that show how fasting can reduce inflammation, create weight loss, promote ketosis whereby the body seeks ketones or fat molecules for energy, and even reduce insulin sensitivity in diabetic patients.
So I tried it. Keep in mind that I’m far from being a doctor and I don’t recommend this for everybody; this is just an experiment I tried on myself.
There are numerous fasting strategies. First, I decided to try a 16/8 fast. In a 16/8 fast, you fast for 16 hours and then during those 8 hours, you’ll skip breakfast and only eat lunch and dinner. After dinner, you won’t eat again until the next day for lunch. I found that this fast wasn’t too difficult, mostly due to the back-to-back meetings I scheduled from 8:30-4. I didn’t make any changes to my daily fitness regimen nor did I alter my diet. Part of the experiment was to change only one thing– skipping breakfast.
The results were promising: I lost weight and my energy levels continued to remain high.
After trying the 16/8 fast, I tried ‘OMAD,’ also known as “one meal a day.” As you can imagine, this required much more mental discipline than eating two meals a day. I drank green tea and coffee to curb the hunger. At around 4PM, I really had to keep focused on my work to avoid snacking. I usually scheduled a meeting or conference call to keep me disciplined. At various points it was absolutely brutal and the hunger was almost unbearable. This obviously was highly counter-productive and distracting.
Despite the severe exercise in self-discipline, I was surprised by the amount of weight I dropped while doing OMAD, considering I kept my diet and boozing at their normal levels of consummation. It was remarkable.
As a further experiment, I tried every “bad” food that you could imagine: pizza, pasta, hot dogs… and the list goes on. On one occasion, to the horror of my wife, I topped off a gluttonous meal with as many donuts as I could eat. No joke. I felt sick and disgusting, but damn, those donuts tasted good going down.
The next day, no weight gain…
At the urging of my wife, I met with my doctor and a nutritionist. I also had blood work done to check my cholesterol levels and to see if any other markers looked off. While my LDLs and HDLs were slightly elevated (but still under 200), my triglycerides plummeted. The general takeaway from both the doctor and the nutritionist was that while a lot of the research is still early, the positive results of fasting are promising. Based on the blood work results, the medial advice I received was to keep going.
There were a few downsides, too.
For starters, my intensity for cardio-based workouts dropped. I just didn’t feel like I had enough energy. Moreover, as my weight dropped, my strength also decreased, given my inability to lift as much weight and complete as many reps as I had been able to do previously. I discussed this with a trainer who explained that fasting depletes the body of glycogen, which is what athletes rely upon for a quick fuel source. Unless you can convert your body into a state of ketosis, where you burn ketones (a topic for another post), without glycogen you won’t have the ability to access fast energy and perform at an optimal level. It became especially apparent during martial arts training, where my sluggish performance resulted in getting hit… a lot.
Also, fasting can be disruptive to family life, particularly during the weekends. My family likes to eat, so meals are an important social aspect of our lives. During the week, breakfast time is a mad rush trying to get the kids out of the house and they can’t monitor my eating when I’m at the office. During the weekend, it’s pretty hard to hide the fact that I’m not eating at breakfast or lunch. That leads to questions about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. My kids expressed an interest in trying it, and that’s when my wife burst a gasket.
I realized three things while fasting:
1. It is unbelievable how much time we spend eating.
I have had countless lunch meetings. It takes traveling time to get to lunch, an hour or more to eat, and then travel time at the end of lunch to get back to the office. That’s two hours of highly productive time lost, not to mention the crash-and-burn scenario that usually comes after a large lunch. When I started skipping lunch during OMAD, I was surprised how much time I freed up. Assuming saving an average of 1.5 hours per day, I’d amass almost a full day of prime, productive-time work by the end of the week.
What really makes it brutal are those wonderful smells of delicious food wafting through the air. To combat that, I booked meetings around that lunch hour, all in-person and phone meetings— none of which included food.
2. My mental clarity improved.
While fasting, I didn’t feel the usual need to bombard myself with caffeine (other than to curb hunger). Because I simply skipped lunch, I didn’t have the typical post-lunch crash-and-burn scenario. I had high amounts of energy and was focused.
3. The physical effects fasting had on my body.
Since fasting, starting in May, my weight has dropped from 173.5 lbs. to 164.3 lbs. My body fat percentage also dropped by 3 absolute percentage points. While I’m not doing OMAD everyday, I bounce between 16/8, OMAD and sometimes just eating three healthy meals that are nourishing. (Hat tip to Mika Salmi for the sage reminder). I also often throw in a weekly cheat day, based on Tim Ferriss’ recent book on body hacking, and notice that there’s no weight gain after being disciplined for five days after the gorge. Fasting has also been known to reduce inflammation and boost the immune system. I skipped my typical summer cold and my wife mentioned that I didn’t have that “puffy” look anymore. Yay!
Once again, I am not a medical professional and am not prescribing this type of lifestyle for anyone, but it’s been fascinating to test this in my personal life and it definitely seems to be working for me. Probably most important is that I’ve developed a better relationship with food and realize that I’m not a slave to eating at specific meal times.
Fasting may not be the key to everyone’s success in their health, but it’s given me the opportunity to focus on my health when I thought I didn’t have the time. Turns out, I do have the time. And being mindful about my health? Well, it works, for me at least.
https://vimeo.com/287355660 – Kevin Rose and Mike Maser Discuss Surviving Cancer and the Future of Zero
• Zero is Maser’s new fasting app
https://techcrunch.com/2018/09/05/zero-fasting/ – Kevin Rose’s fasting app Zero beefs up with new CEO, $1.2M funding (“How fasting helped Mike Maser beat cancer and get back to startups”)
https://blog.usejournal.com/saved-by-zero-594c489fa348 – Saved by Zero — Surviving Cancer, Discovering Fasting, and Turning It Into My Next Career Journey
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9WGQn44XQo – How to Clear Your Body of Senescent Cells Through Activating Autophagy – Dr. Rhonda Patrick
https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/cellular-microscopic/apoptosis.htm – What is apoptosis?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGafhm1cuSI – Dr. Valter Longo – Fasting Cycles Retard Growth of Tumors (ORIGINAL VIDEO MASER WATCHED)
https://www.statnews.com/2017/06/13/fasting-diet-valter-longo/ – He wants to sell you a $300 ‘fasting diet’ to prolong your life. It might not be as crazy as it sounds
https://lymphomanewstoday.com/lymphoma-prognosis/ – Lymphoma Prognosis: What You Need To Know
https://www.bbc.com/news/health-44005092 – Can the science of autophagy boost your health?
https://greatist.com/live/autophagy-fasting-exercise – Autophagy: The Real Way to Cleanse Your Body
https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/medicine/2016/press-release/ – Nobel Peace Prize: Yoshinori Ohsumi
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/11524808/The-history-of-fasting.html – Why fasting is now back in fashion
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jul/11/jeanette-winterson-why-i-fasted-11-days – Why I fasted for 11 days
https://www.myjewishlearning.com/southern-and-jewish/a-few-facts-about-fasting-in-jewish-tradition/ – A few facts about fasting in Jewish tradition
https://www.forbes.com/sites/jerrybowyer/2017/01/06/looking-for-a-cognitive-enhancer-skip-the-drugs-and-try-fasting-instead/#399472db4592 – Looking for a cognitive enhancer? Skip the drugs and try fasting instead
https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/gandhi-begins-fast-in-protest-of-caste-separation – Gandhi begins fast in protest of caste separation
http://danteworlds.laits.utexas.edu/circle3.html – Dante, Circle 3, canto 6
https://www.ucg.org/bible-study-tools/bible-questions-and-answers/why-did-jesus-fast – Why did Jesus fast?