“Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go.”
~ Publisher William Feather
These aren’t exactly the best two pictures in the world to convey the point I’d like to make in this post, but we’ll just have to roll with what we’ve got.
The preceding picture was taken in the spring of ’08, after having roughly a year’s worth of Paleo lifestyle under my belt. Not too bad from a body composition point of view, especially considering this was an “all the time look”. In other words, there was no “diet down” or dehydration measures taken before the photo. And, more importantly, no post-photo “photoshopping” to “nicen” things up. I chose this particular view, though, so that you could look closely at my lower back and oblique area from the rear. What you’ll see is the “last to go” remnants of stubborn fat retention and a bit of water accumulation. For most guys, this is body composition “ground zero”, where the war of “first on and last off” is waged. For females, this would be analogous to the notorious hips and thighs region. This is generalizing, of course. Everyone has their own, special, battlegrounds to contend with.
The following shot was taken just last week, and captures the oblique and intercostals region from another angle.
After 10 Months of Approximately 5, 24-Hour Fasts per Month
Now, I don’t know what difference in body fat level is represented between the two pictures – it’s not really all that much, whatever it is — though I do feel much tighter in the lower back/oblique/intercostals area currently as opposed to back in the spring of ‘08. What I can tell you this: Intermittent fasting (IF) is the final piece of the puzzle when it comes to stripping off the last of that stubborn fat from those “first on, last off”, problem areas; the perfect adjunct to the Paleo lifestyle.
And I should point out as well, that the second shot is representative of the way I look all the time; I can’t reiterate this enough. I don’t make this point to boast, but in order to demonstrate the effectiveness of this lifestyle and of appropriate use of the IF tool. Any other “after” shot you’re likely to see in a physique-related advertisement, or, for instance, a physique celebrity photo shoot, will be taken subsequent to a painstakingly elaborate (and miserable) diet-down and dehydration regimen, concocted specifically to better showcase the “ripped to shreds” look. It’s all an illusion, though, that doesn’t last more than a day or two past the shoot or the physique contest itself – the photos, however, live on in perpetuity, thus projecting the illusion of this being the subject’s year-round condition. One can only imagine the damage done to the subject’s metabolism and overall health by repeating this nonsense time and again.
But hey, that’s the vanity side of things. Lookin’ good “nekkid” is all fine and well – and, truth be told, it is a pretty good indicator of overall health (the above mentioned scenario not withstanding) — But what about the real, unseen and ultimately important underlying health related issues? Is IF really Paleo? Is yin to yang, as Paleo is to IF?
Well, this is how I see it: Our pre-agricultural revolution ancestors lived their existence with varying periods of feast and famine. And every bit of current research on the subject of calorie restriction and/or intermittent fasting that I’ve come across indicates that these methodologies (calorie restriction and IF) improve overall health – everything from blood pressure control to inflammation reduction (C-reactive protein as a marker) to positive management of existing conditions, including, I might add, cancer. And I’m talking remission of the “big C”, here.
Note: Please, if anyone has run across studies contrary to what I’ve stated above, please, please, please clue me in. I’m much more concerned with being fully informed (and passing that along) than in being “right”.
Of course, chronic fasting (more properly termed here, extended low calorie consumption) – albeit healthy in and of the fact that it’ll put more years in the ol’ life reserves – is just an out-and-out miserable existance. Could this be the chief reason behind so many diet failures? Hmmmm. Me thinks it so. The good news is, though, that the positive health-related results obtained via the miserable chronic underfeeding route can be matched with an intermittent fasting regimen. Uh, let’s use the term “methodology” here, instead.
And why “methodology” vice “regimen”? Because I suggest going about IF in a totally random and organic fashion, the easy way. Never, never chronically; quite simply, your mind and body will not accept chronic IF and you’ll wind-up losing that hard-earned lean body (muscle and organ) mass. There’s a much, much better way to go about this. Easy intermittent fasting is simply skipping meals randomly and eating to fill later. Not much more to it than that. I like to skip random meals now and then – other times I’ll not eat for 24-hours or longer. Got a very busy day planned? A long day’s worth of travel ahead? Eat a hardy breakfast, then fast the balance of the day. It is best to be active when you fast so as to (1) keep your mind occupied (at least in the IF newbie stage – not so much a concern for the “experienced), and (2) signal your genes to conserve protein (muscle mass). Being active also deepens the temporary negative energy balance of the intermittent fast. For instance, I like to fast on sprint days, as the empty stomach makes me feel fleeter afoot. Everything I’ve studied thus far leads me to believe that it’s the transitory alternations between positive and negative energy balance, that accounts for the underlying mechanism – the silver bullet,if you will — for the positive effects attributed to IF. And for some individuals, this is the final tool required to bring down that stubborn, fasting insulin level. A personal observation of mine is that it is much easier to fast during the summer months, as opposed to the winter. I’d guess that this is due to an increase in the metabolism required to keep warm. It must have also served to keep northern climate Paleolithic man constantly on the move in the winter, hunting animals that had acquired thick layers of fat to carry them through the same period. Something else that I’ve experienced in a fasted state is a heightened awareness and mental accuity. You won’t ever get to this point, though, until you’ve successfully scaled the wall of carbohydrate addiction.
Essentially, we are designed to be intermittent eaters, but continuous metabolizers. We operate in a slight energy surplus during the day, followed by a negative energy balance during the night. In a healthy, lean individual, energy pool stores are constantly turning over; individuals whose insulin level is chronically high, however, cannot adequately access fat stores and, therefore, for them, the fat continues to accumulate, unabated. Insulin resistance can therefore be considered a survival mechanism, in the fact that it develops as a result of the body’s cells’ requiring protection against the continual onslaught of excess nutrients; a protection triggered due to the cells being already stressed from excessive nutrient content. The excess nutrient intake also serves to shut down autophagy, the consumption of damaged tissues within the muscle cell which fuels repair and regeneration. Growth Hormone release is stunted, and muscle gene expression is down regulated. The ancestral environment did not support chronic, elevated nutrient ingestion, nor was there ever “a window of feeding opportunity” subsequent to a bout of energy expenditure (exercise, for us modern-day Paleolithics) to shovel in carbohydrate replacement drinks and protein powders.
Ideally, we’d eat only when the energy substrates in the blood fall to the point of triggering a need for replenishment. The true hunger signal is an elegantly simple energy management system, and one that you would, in fact, expect from evolution. Contrary to the continual drumbeat of mainstream “experts”, there is no “set point” level for body fat, body mass or metabolism. What evolution has endowed us with is a simple feeding strategy that endeavors to keep us on a random energy intake-to-expenditure path that favors the survival (and thriving, if conditions are right) of the organism. Now, if we’d only get out of the way and let this fabulous mechanism take its course.