Sunday, May 20, 2012

Less: Not considered Harmful - exploring "less" around food.


One thing more; one thing less - that is a strategy we've been talking about here at b2d for the past two months: as a way to engage with behaviour change, we can change ourselves by exploring doing one thing more; one thing less - just one for a week a go.
In the last post under the subject of exploring "more" i talked about exploring more volume - i'm still doing it - much more to learn there about how my body is responding to that in terms of body composition.

Fascinating. Had a lovely chat with Georgie Fear and Roland Fisher, lean eating coaches from Precision Nutrition. Georgie holds an RD and Roland is a veteran body comp and strength coach. We'll come back to their expertise in this space anon. The main take away: working out both every day and with higher volume (and increasing load) is fine. More is more on many levels.
  
This time, we turn to less. And the topic here is LESS food.
With Intermittent Fasting being the New Black of dieting it may seem odd to talk about eating less. That's what dieting is so often about, is it not? Eating less? So how is less here good or different?

Two kinds of less here with food - one is yes, going without food for some period of time. One i find actually harder - is having less when actually eating - the oft cited eat till only 80% full. For me, it's easier to go binary: have something or have nothing. But to have something and then have less of it - when it's food! well that's really challenging.

Indeed, last year, when i was really focussing on exploring leanness, and was plateauing, it was in conversation with Ryan Andrews of Precision Nutrition where he said, sometimes, to really get to that next level of lean, we just need to eat less. That's pretty basic isn't it? THat's dieting. But you see i thought i was eating less. But i wasn't. SO i did. And at that point, combined with what else i was doing workout wise, less was very much more. That was my first experience with a new kind of less and getting to a new kind of lean. Not perfect, but good, interesting. Kinda awesome.

The particular less i'd like to explore here is the ├╝ber Less - the fast.

Let me offer the ending first: the big take away from day long fasts is that we won't break. 

Next, let us consider the fear/stress around fasting - that we've had nasty experiences when we've gone without food for any particularly unusual length of time.To that, the answer - at least for me and some of the folks i coach who have wanted to explore fasting - has been practice: making it possible to adapt to fasting. We'll go over this below, as well as why someone might want to explore this.

Fear of Fast?

Some of us are afraid to fast or go without food for more than a few hours, based on their experience with what is presumed to be "low blood sugar" - and yes roaring headaches from going without food can occur.

Getting Over the "Low Blood Sugar Means I Can't Fast" scenario: Assuming a healthy person - no diabetic issues for example (and even there fasting can happen but consult physician etc etc) In my experience working with folks who have such a response (and i've been there), is that (a) starchy carbs form too high a proportion of regular eating and thus (b) ratios of protein, veggies and healthy fats are chronically way too low. This seems to mean that the capacity Mike Nelson researches called "metabolic flexibility" seems less tuned in. We have fewer reps of dealing with a lower amounts of available glucose in our diets, and thus are not nearly as comfortable or efficient at converting fat (an abundant energy source) for brain fuel in particular.  And so our bodies freak out, stress goes up, and we may feel like crap.

For folks who have a pretty good balance of protein, veggies/and fats with starchy carbs already, especially a more low carb, protein sparring approach to food, going without food for 16-24 hours is not a big deal. Really.


TWO WEEK SWITCH UP - If one wants to explore intermittent fasting and not crash, it may be a good idea to focus initially just on LESS starchy carbs in favour of more protein, fats and veggies for awhile before fasting. It's easy to test - what's your usual longest period without fuel? How do you feel? Try changing up the ratios for a couple weeks to more protein, fat and veggies, reduce the starchies except perhaps after a workout, and then try going for that fasting window - see how you feel hitting your typical pain point. Have you gone past it? you may feel hungry but is the headache edge there? If not, well, you're on track. Congratulations on a new effective Less.  Lean Gains, by Martin Berkhan has made the 8 hour window for eating popular.

IF poster boy Brad Pilon of Eat Stop Eat
Something else that helps to improve metabolic flexibility in genearl and to become what John Beradi calls "a better fat burner" is to exercise. We'll not get into the reasons here, but suffice it to say, exercise of any kind that gets the heart rate up does wonders for improving metflex.
From being at a better metabolic flexibility point, it seems it can be easier to think about pushing out the fasting time to say eating in an 8 hour window. And when that feels safe, that practice can be a bridge to trying a 24 hour fast. From dinner to dinner say. Brad Pilon is really the go to guy on eating, stopping eating for a bit, then eating again. His Eat Stop Eat is in a fifth edition and well worth picking up.

One of Brad's caveats: in terms of fasting for weight loss/body comp, to do so for more than 24 hours hits diminishing returns. He's a once or twice a week guy - for one or two distinct fasts.

Each of the above changes is very much about progressive strategies in LESS
  • - less starchy carbs (in favour of other foods being more - it may help as a guide to think of less foods in the yellow/beige/brown tones and more in the bright rich dark colour tones).
  • - less hours in the day in which to eat
  • - less actual food in 24 hours - privileging water, or other non-caloric intakes.
Lean Guy John Berardi before IF
Lean-er Guy John Berardi after IF
see the PN Intermittent Fasting Book


THere are many rifs on "fasts" and food allowable in fasts. Some folks, like the perfect health diet folks, think spinach and coconut oil in a bone broth is fine on a "fast." Brad Pilon makes a different metabolic argument, saying really, no food. If following john berardi's ideas - having bcaa's, creatine and greens at various points during a fast day is dandy. Me, i'd swap out bcaa's for eaa's (essential amino acids). The point is though, these are all explorations in less. And that doing LESS can be safe.



    WORKING OUT with LESS

    Lonnie Lowery is a champ of fasted lower intensity cardio. For some of us it's a revelation that we can also wake up and work out hard, fasted. For good or ill, almost all my workouts for the past year have been fasted; more than 90% have been fasted for the past 6 months, whether cardio or strength or the usual mix of both. Now, for muscle growth, that may not be optimal - not sure - though i am getting stronger etc. BUT it's interesting to note that it's really really fine to work out without fuel and to fuel up later, and that i feel fine. So

    WE CAN WORKOUT WITHOUT FOOD AND NOT BREAK

    We just may need to work up to that.

    One of the big payoffs of a day long fast: it can help bust a plateau - so many things can tho, it's just one way to get the scale moving again. But perhaps more than that, a fast can be about hedonic control - getting when we're eating because we want to eat rather than because we need to eat. 

    UNBREAKABLE - 

    The biggest realization/experience for me in exploring IF: we don't break if we're hungry. Hunger can be a distraction, but it doesn't need to be dysfunctional. Indeed, i found keeping busy lets time pass pretty easily.

    Why bother with Fasting?

    We don't need to fast. The benefits - physiologically - of fasting it seems can be well experienced by eating better, both for weight loss and for general health. so why bother exploring this particular less? It's perhaps an Uber Less, isn't it? But sometimes, if we don't have our "better eating" practice nailed, well, fasting can give us a boost. And that can help build practice, too.

    Fasting can also be an interesting way to explore one's body - that one won't break - from not eating; that we can, indeed, thrive with less, and that seems a compelling, satisfying discovery. How bout you?

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