Getting Started With 16:8 Intermittent Fasting on The Leangains Method Diet

When you start a new diet you’ve got a lot to work out. It’s hard. Your body and brain struggle to incorporate change, and the newness of the approach introduces uncertainty and can lead to flail. You’ve got to make loads of decisions all while maintaining control and willpower is critical. You’ve got to figure out:

  • What to eat — What types of food are allowed? What macronutrients are you shooting for (e.g. grams of protein, carbs, fat)?
  • When to eat — Are you trying to eat at certain times? Not at other times?
  • How much to eat — If you eat a lot of food at one meal, how does that impact future meals?
  • When to workout — Oh right, your diet probably has a workout attached to it. So you gotta figure out when you can get to the gym—and then what exercises to do, how often, and how heavy.

It’s no wonder diets are so groan-inducing.

Understanding Bodyweight and Glycogen Depletion

If you are dieting or are planning to start a diet, you need to understand the connection between bodyweight and glycogen, that is how carbohydrates get stored in your liver and muscles, so you don’t overestimate your weight loss as you cut carbs—or your weight gain if you add some back. Understand the connection and you’ll have a much better chance of keeping your cool for the long-haul when swings inevitably happen.

So what exactly is going on?

The Leangains Method | Diet & Book Review

Does the world need another diet book or fitness routine? Check the news and you see obesity levels rising globally, ever more new and weird diets, and a lot of people wanting to improve their health but failing, lacking the tools, gumption, or know-how to do it.

Available at, of course, Amazon for $10. NOTE: All links to the book in this review are affiliate, which basically means I make a little more than fifty cents if you happen to buy the book based off this review. Yay. 🤷‍♂️

Think about this: we have two popular diets right now that are both, on the face, downright extreme. One is based on eating big ribeye steaks every day with no fruits or vegetables (The Carnivore Diet). Another is based on eating fat and little fruits, veggies, and a little protein to maintain a constant state of ketosis (The Keto Diet).

This isn’t diet innovation, it’s flail. And with flail comes failure. So while we may not need another “new” diet, we do need a method in the madness. A method that works.

Today, August 16, 2018, after nearly a decade of waiting, Martin Berkhan has put to words a system—a methodbacked by research, practiced successfully by thousands, and “perfected.” It’s called The Leangains Method: The Art of Getting Ripped ($10, Amazon Affiliate Link).

For the unfamiliar, Berkhan is the Polish-German Swede who originated 16:8 intermittent fasting over ten years ago. He’s deadlifted 700+ lb. (315+ kg) at over 3.5X his bodyweight and is, well, shredded. It’s ridiculous how lean and strong the guy is.

Martin transformed his physique over years, learning the most effective way to do it through trials, tribulations, research, and clients. The Leangains Method is his story—and what he learned, distilled so you can put it to work in your life.

I’ve followed Martin via Leangains.com for years and have come to know him better than most—I even get a shout in the Acknowledgements to the book. Aside from him (now) being a friend, Martin has been my coach and teacher, often in ways that I’m not sure he realizes. Martin’s greatest strength isn’t his deadlift, it’s his focus and no-bullshit attitude. Through it, he’s acquired clarity of mind on how to be strong and lean—and then shared that clarity with us.

Before and after photos may be cheesy, and, well, when they are yours, they make you squirm. A lot. But publishing them is proof: The Leangains Method works. It worked for me first when it was in it’s infancy almost a decade back—after trying and failing at low-carb, Paleo, CrossFit, and more.

The Leangains Method still works for me to this day.

If you’re interested in The Leangains Method and want to know more, well, read on.

Seth Roberts and the Shangri-La Diet

I cite Seth Roberts’ blog a great deal over at Linked Down. Seth is a Psychology Professor at Berkeley and an avid self-experimenter. I’ve learned a great deal from subscribing to his blog.

For those who don’t know, Seth Roberts created the Shangri-La Diet, which is a diet centered around reducing the association between flavor and caloric load. I haven’t read the book, so this is an approximation of how it works, but the gist is that the more correlated taste is to caloric load, the greater hunger can be, the harder it will be to cut calories, and the higher your body’s set point for weight will be. “SLD” hacks this relationship via ingesting flavorless calories within certain windows of time. These flavorless calories reduce the brain’s association of high energy density and high flavor. Interestingly enough, the macronutrient source of the calories may be unimportant: you can do SLD with oil, sugar water (so long as it is flavorless), or nose-clipping while eating protein. If you’re skeptical about this diet, I suggest taking a trip over to the SLD Forums and be prepared to see plenty of evidence that SLD works.

Even as I have not tried SLD, it is a fascinating idea and it seems that anyone who is serious about better understanding why we gain weight and what regulates hunger and adiposity must take it seriously enough to figure out how it fits into the big picture of human health. Barring that gargantuan task, it’s at a minimum another way to try and hack weight loss if your current regiment isn’t cutting it for you.

I mention all of this because I stumbled on a 2008 interview between Roberts and Gary Taubes, author of Good Calories, Bad Calories, which I’ve blogged about exhaustively. What a great thing to find that two people I admire had a thoughtful discussion and, even better, said discussion has been made available to me?

Blogging, science and the internet FTW.

Back to trying to understand how SLD fits into the grand scheme of human physiology. An interesting comment was made at the bottom of Part 13 of Roberts’ Interview of Gary Taubes:

I’ve thought a lot about how consuming tasteless food could supress hunger. My favorite theory is that it is similar to what happens when an animal is hibernating. The “magical” appearance of calories fools your body into thinking it is living off its fat and then it actually does so.

This comment reminded me of how the metabolic pathways while fasted are the same as when we consume a diet of only fat and protein. One effect of low-carb diets is appetite suppression. Could the common theme here simply be that both SLD and low-carbohydrate diets and/or fasting act to “trick” our bodies into switching to a non-hungry state?

Obviously that can’t be the entire picture because insulin is the storage hormone that is unleashed by carbohydrate consumption (though less so with fructose).

This issue is worthy of further thought.

James Hogan’s Four Principles for Effective Dieting

http://jhogan.livejournal.com/73389.html

James Hogan recently posted his “four principles for effective dieting,” which were developed from his personal experience with dieting. It’s a great read on what has worked for James (and as he says, this is a nine-year trend in the making). Comparing notes to my own experiences (Better Health via IF and Low-Carb), I see a lot of overlap. In particular, regular measuring, incremental change, and intermittent fasting (which somewhat translates into Johnson’s Up-Day Down Day) all worked well for me. Of all of those things, I think fasting is the best way to improve your habits because it so starkly breaks rank with existing eating habits.

I also really liked how Hogan articulates targeting the “Healthy Stretch.” I liken this to falling into the dieting “zone.”

Anyway, it’s worth the read in full, so I’m just going to excerpt James’ the four top-level principles:

  • Manage your motivation — “So, the most important thing you can do while losing weight is to successfully manage your motivation.”
  • Use data — “Measuring and using data helps us in two ways. It helps us understand the consequences of our actions more accurately than we’d otherwise be able to. It’s also motivating.”
  • Try different approaches — “Try different approaches. Observe which pieces work (and keep them) and which don’t work (and discard them). Don’t become disheartened if an approach fails …”
  • The alternate-day diet — “The structure of the diet is that you eat a very low number of calories some days (20-50% of the amount required to maintain your weight — your “break even” amount), and a higher number of calories on alternate days. If you’re trying to lose weight, you might target closer to 20% on the “down days,” and if you’re trying to maintain your weight, you might target closer to 50%.”

Finally, I like noting that I know James through Patri through the Seasteading Institute. I suppose I know Patri from having read David Friedman’s blog originally and stumbling into Patri’s works on the old Catallarchy site. What’s fun about these somewhat unpredictable connections is that my old childhood (and adult friend – he was a groomsman of mine) friend Andy happened to be the primary creator/writer for Johnson of the UDDD. The internet: making the world a smaller place a day at a time.

Five tips to lean out from Brad Pilon

http://bradpilon.com/2009…r-shredded.html

— Below is my comment that I left on Brad’s blog

Brad,

Thanks for the post! Quite a response you’ve garnered, which I can only assume is a testament to the truth your words contain! Your #3 comment reminds me of something you have previously said, which I’ll paraphrase as, “Eat to gain muscle and diet to lose fat.”

One method I use to somewhat reliably keep a pulse on my cutting progress is to take on a regular basis a bare chest, mirror snapshot with my cameraphone. Consistency here is important; I usually take mine after working out and before hitting the shower. Consistent lighting and distance from the mirror are also important, but pretty easy to replicate in your own bathroom. This habit (OCD?) is easy to do and hones a dieter’s ability to see where he’s making progress (or not).

Thanks to Eat Stop Eat / intermittent fasting (and heightened carb-awareness) I’ve managed to hack a lot of body fat off while putting on lean mass via kettlebell training, a three month stint with crossfit, and just general weight-lifting. Today, I am noticeably more lean than I was a year ago when I first experimented with fasting even as I only weigh about five pounds less. My weight went from about 182 to 163 and is now around 175. That’s a leaner 175 than 163!

Even so, and as I had alluded to in a prior comment, I have hit a wall on leaning out. I’ve observed firsthand how exercising more has been sine’ed away via larger meal portions, snacking (even on jerky!), cheating, or whatever. I know that with a little practice I can get everything dialed-in and finally see the coveted six-pack. It just takes a little patience. I remind myself that for most of my life (I’m 28) I’ve been soft around the edges, and it’s reasonable to assume that it may take some time and practice to whittle away the fat that’s been hanging on for the past twenty years.

Thanks again!

— And below are the bullet points on Brad Pilon’s 5 tips to get “super shredded:” you’ll have to go to his site for the details! —

  1. Give yourself permission to get “light”.
  2. Give your diet the opportunity to do the work for you.
  3. Avoid using Cardio to Compensate.
  4. Don’t let the Sine Wave get you.
  5. MEASURE, Measure and measure some more.

Sugar on the brain

Is sugar another addictive white powder?

A recent study suggests sugar may be addictive. Below are parts of the U.S. News article summarizing the experiment and interpretation of the findings. I suggest reading them all:

“Our evidence from an animal model suggests that bingeing on sugar can act in the brain in ways very similar to drugs of abuse,” [said] lead researcher Bart Hoebel . . .

“Drinking large amounts of sugar water when hungry can cause behavioral changes and even neurochemical changes in the brain which resemble changes that are produced when animals or people take substances of abuse. These animals show signs of withdrawal and even long-lasting effects that might resemble craving,” . . .

A “sugar addiction” may even act as a “gateway” to later abuse of drugs such as alcohol . . .

For the new research, rats were denied food for 12 hours a day, then were given access to food and sugar (25 percent glucose and 10 percent sucrose, similar to a soft drink) for 12 hours a day, for three to four weeks.

The bingeing released a surge of the neurotransmitter dopamine each time in the part of the brain involved in reward, the nucleus accumbens. “It’s been known that drugs of abuse release or increase the levels of dopamine in that part of the brain,” Hoebel said.

But it wasn’t only the sugar that caused this effect, Hoebel explained — it was the sugar combined with the alternating schedule of deprivation and largesse. . . .

But longer periods of abstinence didn’t “cure” the rats. Instead, there were long-lasting effects with the animals: They ingested more sugar than before, as if they were craving the substance and, without sugar, they drank more alcohol.

My anecdotal experience confirms the above findings. For one, the more I have abstained from sugar and refined carbohydrates (the latter of which are one tiny step away from being sugar), the easier it has become to strictly avoid sugar/carbohydrate-dense foods. This suggests to me that the addiction can be controlled by almost completely abstaining from the “drug,” sugar in this case.

Of note, however, is that in those instances when I have fallen off the wagon* and started eating sugar/refined carbs, I tend to overeat/binge. Is this the behavior of an addict? Or is it the psychological response to the forbidden fruit? Or is it a predictable response of treating a diet like a binary system? I.e. going from strict adherence to the diet to “Well I already ate that candy, might as well have some ice cream, too!” Any of these are plausible explanations for my behavior.

The alcohol angle is fascinating: I’ve experienced a clear connection between alcohol and carbohydrate-binge-eating. As before, I am unclear how the alcohol is catalyzing my reaction — is it that alcohol impairs my judgment, handicapping my will power? Or could it be more fundamentally metabolic — the alcohol spurs a chemical reaction resulting in craving sugar/refined carbohydrates? Why do I go from having little-to-no craving for French fries and tator tots to no-holds-barred “pass the ketchup now!” after downing three or four beers.

I have previously blogged on how hard liquor has zero carbohydrates. I’ve since learned that hard liquor (i.e. whiskey) will cause an insulin response even though there are no carbohydrates in the alcohol. Could insulin have something to do with this#?

This study, rather than confirming something I’ve suspected about the addictive nature of sugar, leaves me with more questions than answers. Is modern man doomed to be addicted to sugar? Is sugar addiction similar to alcoholism in that the only successful means to control the addiction is to avoid entirely the addictive substance? Can abstaining from sugar/refined carbohydrates make the addiction worse? Is sugar a poison that should be taken in small doses to control its ill-affects (A particularly strange notion)?

It seems there are more questions than answers. However, I maintain that sugar in any close-to-raw form is unnatural, which means that our evolutionarily designed bodies are inept at handling it. And it seems reasonable to conclude that, even if I tend to overeat refined carbohydrates when I do consume them, over the long-term, I’m still drastically reducing my intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates by maintaining a lifestyle focused on a low-carbohydrate, natural diet mixed with intermittent fasting.

* How often have you heard the phrase “fallen off the wagon” to describe failure at dieting? I hear it all the time (and use it). Probably just a coincidence, this phrase originates in alcoholism. Here we have a study that paints sugar as being similar to alcohol in its addictive characteristics.

# I can’t help but wonder if insulin is the culprit behind addiction to both alcohol and sugar. Has anyone looked into this?

Back to basics: Fasting and Fasted workouts

Having returned from India and a month-long hiatus from eating healthy and working out, I started brewing on a strategy to “get back at it” and continue working to my ultimate goal, which is achieving never-before-seen (on me) lean-ness and vasculature.

My approach for most of the summer had been working out about five days a week (doing CrossFit) with daily fasting (i.e. 16 hour fasts daily). I tracked a lot of my daily workouts via my workout blog.

Unfortunately, I ran into any number setbacks as I had a couple long periods where I couldn’t manage to eat right or workout (A two week stint out west and a three week stint in India).

That brings me back to today. I’m going “back to basics,” which for me, was eating breakfast/lunch and the fasting until dinner the following day, with a weight-lifting oriented workout an hour or two before breaking my fast. This method worked for me the first time, stripping away a great deal of fat and focusing my diet/weight-training efforts. This time around, the only tweak I’m implementing is that I will do two fasts per week, lifting on days I break the fast, working out on days I eat, and resting on any day I begin a fast. Per usual, my diet will be carb-light, which means no breads, rices, cereals or starchy vegetables while still allowing for most fruits (apples and berries being preferred), some cheats (ice cream), and alcohol.

Goal is to try this for three weeks, track my progress daily and see how I come out on the other end. Stay tuned.

“Insulin Control” – what it’s all about!

I subscribed to Mike OD’s The IF Life1 awhile back. Mike is a personal trainer with years of experience who is a big advocate of incorporating intermittent fasting into your life. However, his site isn’t merely about IF. From what I can tell, the IF Life aims to be a holistic resource on living a healthy and happy life. Mike’s site is a great resource — check it out.

In two recent posts on The IF Life, Mike used the phrase “insulin control” to sum up one of the key tenets of effective diets (See here and here).

In the first post, Mike alludes to the fact that insulin control is the chief goal of all effective diets, whether the diets know it or not (I.e. diets that advocate six meals a day are aiming to control insulin spikes, even if they don’t say so explicitly).

In the second linked post, titled Diet Book Insanity. When did Eating become this Complicated?, Mike states:

Now I know what many may say, but diets can work right? Sure … at the heart of all diets you see 2 main things that will get people results: Insulin control (see the carbs are not the enemy post and insulin and sugar post) and Calorie Deficit Intake (so the body burns from internal fuel sources, which is what you need if you want to burn that stubborn body fat).

Mike smartly tacks on caloric restriction to insulin control as the two overarching diet-advice mantras that tend to get results (Almost certainly so when used together). And though this wasn’t really the point of his diet insanity post (and I know I didn’t coin the phrase), I’m still going to take some credit for distilling the diet madness down to two simple words:

They’re all about insulin control!

Update 09/10/08: Robb Wolf, another blogger I’m subscribing to these days, happened to use the phrase “insulin control” back in October of 2007:

Super simple: Our nutritional recommendations are focused at insulin control. You could also say that our nutritional recommendations are what we are designed to eat and thrive on …

The post is about CrossFit, overexercising, and dialing in nutrition in order to see body composition changes. In my (limited) experience, his post rings absolutely true for me: exercise did little in the way to improve my body composition until I reigned in insulin.

1 “IF” stands for “Intermittent Fasting”, of course, and you gotta love the play on words the acronym creates!

Being healthy on the road

Traveling has an uncanny tendency to thwart healthy routines. It is difficult both to make time for exercise and to eat healthy amidst the bevy of fast food restaurants, hotels, free food, abundant spirits and people who eat differently than me. How do you navigate these health obstructions while on the road?

I’m hardly an expert, but here is how I’m managing to maintain a low-carb diet replete with activity while being away from home:

  • Be active. Some Hollywood star has the following motto: “I try to break a sweat everyday.” (H/T IF Life) This just seems like a robust life-motto that reverberates in my head — a life where you exert enough effort to break a sweat every day just seems right to me.

    On the road, it can be difficult to do this with limited equipment. I like having a kettlebell around, but if you’re flying, you can forget about taking a 35 lb. or 53 lb. kettlebell along for the ride.

    This means you have to improvise. Good ways I’ve found to improvise include running sprints, doing push-ups, and air squats. I’m still trying to find a good pull-up substitute that can be performed with everyday furniture (Any ideas?).

  • Skip a meal or two. Fasting is such a powerful tool to recenter/refocus after finding yourself lost in the bad habits that result from traveling. I’ve found the easiest way to fast is to skip breakfast. Depending on how you’re feeling around lunchtime, feel free to skip lunch, too. I did this yesterday, not eating anything until dinner and I felt great all day and even managed a nice workout compliments of a treadmill and one of those all-in-one weightlifting machines (Improvise!).
  • Go for level-two fast food. I just made up that Level II distinction. What I mean by it is that you should take the extra ten minutes to seek out local restaurants that can serve up some healthier takeout dishes. For me, I’ve eaten a few greek salads with gyro meat or chicken. It’s not ideal but its better than getting a number five combo from McDonald’s.
  • Don’t strive for perfection. When you inevitably cave to cravings and eat that fresh-baked cinnamon bun that was calling your name at the hotel breakfast bar, let it go. Striving to acheive a perfect maintenance of your healthy habits while on the road is a recipe for failure. It’s okay to deviate — just take steps to get back on track (i.e. trying a mini-fast or having an intense workout in the hotel gym).

So that is what I’ve come up with so far. I’m interested to hear any ideas from any readers regarding other ways to be healthy “on the road”. Please comment if you think of something you’d like to share!

Finally, one of the hardest parts about breaking routines is getting back on track after the traveling is over. That topic remains a discussion for another day: though I will say that I’ve found fasting to be an excellent way to “re-rail” post-vacation.