Intermittent Fasting Experiment

Dr. Berardi’s spends a lot of time preparing his body to work at an extremely high intensity.  As one of his post workout exercises he does a little foam rolling as we read in Post Workout Tips.

Recently there has been more and more talk about  intermittent fasting. Today you will have a chance to hear about the doctor’s experiment with intermittent fasting.

So lets get right into it.

Craig Ballantyne: Okay, perfect.  So let’s go over and talk about your experiment with intermittent fasting.  And one thing you mentioned about your schedule now, compared to the original article you wrote, was the fact that you really wanted to stick to the breakfast schedule.  So it sounds like something has maybe changed since you wrote that article.  But otherwise, let us know everything that you found, what you have there.

John Berardi: I know that you’ve been a proponent, or played around with different intermittent fasting things over the years.  I guess I should start at the beginning.  I’ve been exposed to intermittent fasting for as long as everyone else has been.  At Precision Nutrition we’ve had a really, really good system over the years.

To be quite honest, we’ve worked with more clients one-on-one in nutrition coaching than anyone else in the world right now.  And that’s not an exaggeration and that’s not hyperbole.  We enroll nowadays close to 4,000 clients in our Lean Eating Coaching program every year.  So we have data on everything.  We work with these clients individually.  We have coaches who work with all those clients.  So, we kind of know what works, and we kind of are experimenting and testing things all the time.

And generally our advice had been to eat a bit more frequently throughout the day, for a lot of the reasons that most people have heard – managing blood sugar, managing, certain hormonal levels, keeping people less hungry so that they’re less likely to overeat later in the day – those types of things.

But the intermittent fasting thing has gotten interesting.  There is some great data, particularly in animal models – there’s still not a lot of good data in human models yet – showing that intermittent fasting compared to normal intake has a whole bunch of benefits, from physiology to some psychological benefits to body comp type of things.  It’s something that can’t really be ignored, although it’s simply not for everyone.

With me, I have been in a situation where I wanted to do this track and field stuff.  And I was too big.  I was 195 pounds, and I wanted to get 170 or 175 pounds.  So I needed to lose about 20 or 25 pounds.  And I thought, “You know what?  If I’m going to do this I might as well try this intermittent fasting thing and see what happens.”

So that was the impetus for me to start.  I was real curious about intermittent fasting.  I wanted to give some of the different models a test run.  So whether it’s fasting just one day a week, fasting two days a week, fasting a portion of every day, whatever the case may be I just wanted to try everything.  And in the pursuit of a very specific goal, lose as much body fat as possible and lose about 25 pounds.

You saw the book and you’re probably familiar with it.  For people who haven’t, I tested everything.  I did six or seven different protocols.  I measured everything.  I did blood work.  I did photos.  I did girths and skin folks and ultrasound measures.  I sort of even kept a log of emotional and energy levels and things like that.

And the idea was just which of these worked the best for me, and was I able to accomplish my goal using intermittent fasting?  And the answer was yes.  I ended up losing about 25 pounds, got super ripped.  If that’s your goal this can work for that.  A lot of other things can work too.  And it was overall a good experience.

Although some of the different fasting models absolutely crushed me.  They were too restrictive.  They kicked off eating disorder behavior that I’ve never experienced in my entire life.  And these things, the interplay between our body and our energy balance and our mood and our mental health are so delicate.

And I think few people in our field actually really, really understand this.

You see people who might be suffering from disordered eating.  And a lot of folks who are uninformed think they’re kind of crazy.  Right?  Oh, well you have a mental illness.  But the fact of he matter is a lot of progressive physiologists think these types of disordered eating may be kicked off by nutrient deficiencies, or by too long of a negative energy balance which causes stress.  And cortisol can actually shrink certain portions of your brain.  So, there’s this really, really fascinating and delicate interplay between mood, mental health, physical intake, energy balance.  It’s awesome stuff.

If people want to dig into some of this a little more, a great book that I really liked is “Why Zebras Don’t get Ulcers“, which is basically by a preeminent stress physiologist who talks about all the consequences of stress on our lives.  Why does stress cause heart disease?  Why does stress cause memory lapses?  Why does stress cause any of the things, gastrointestinal distress, what’s the link there?

Historically doctors have thought, “Well, that’s just a mental illness.  You’ve got to get your mind right and then you wouldn’t be having somatic or body symptoms.”  But nowadays we know it’s nonsense.  There’s like a very physical response to our environment which can cause stress.  And that stress can link to a bunch of hormones and neurotransmitters being released.  And that can link to all kinds of health and physical manifestations.  So the mind does govern the body in this regard.

So anyway, this is my long-winded way of saying that intermittent fasting, it was very cool.  Some of the models were fantastic for me.  Some of the other models were awful.  I was literally like it would be time to play with my daughter and all I could think about was food.  And I’d be like, “Okay honey.  Let’s go to Dairy Queen.”  And she loved it, of course.  But I was just obsessed with food.  Some of my relationships suffered.  And my own relationship with myself suffered.

So a tale of caution, intermittent fasting is getting popular, on the internet in particular.  And if you know anything about the industry and about how trends form, and then how trends sort of transfer into mainstream, and you’re watching this, intermittent fasting is coming.  It’s coming mainstream.  I don’t know what the manifestation of that will be.

But like paleo it’s gotten a lot of traction right now and is sort of the big “it” thing in the nutrition world, intermittent fasting is fast on its heels.  So it’s coming.  And if you’re a fitness professional, personal trainer, strength coach, whatever, and you’re not paying attention to this, it’s going to blindside you.  You’re going to be like, “When the hell did this get popular?”

It’s been getting popular.  So be prepared.  Understand what it’s all about for when your clients come to you and they ask questions about it you can answer them intelligently, instead of just being like, “Oh no, fasting, that’s stupid.  You’ll lose all your muscle.”  Well, that’s not true.  Or, “Oh yeah, fasting, it’s the best thing.  You should try it.  Dr. John Berardi lost 25 pounds on it.”

Well, that’s a problem too, because there’s a bunch of caveats.  People who have a lot of stress sin their lives probably shouldn’t start intermittent fasting. People with a history of disordered eating probably shouldn’t start intermittent fasting.  People who are just beginners and don’t have the history of dieting or paying attention to what they eat probably shouldn’t start intermittent fasting.  People who have a young family at home – this is very relevant to me – probably shouldn’t start intermittent fasting.

For me, I was able to kind of manage it because of my long history of understanding food intake.  But nevertheless, you bring all those other things together, young family at home, not a lot of experience with nutrition and dieting, other lifestyle stressors, a history of disordered eating, this is a recipe for disaster.

And none of the intermittent fasting proponents are going to tell you that because they’re just trying to sell you some stuff.  But we published a free eBook on it and we don’t sell anything around intermittent fasting.  You can download the book for free without even giving me your email address on our website.  So I’ve got nothing to sell here.  I’ve got no agenda to promote.  Really it’s just I love educating people.  I did a pretty cool experiment, and these were the results.

So, I think it was an awesome thing to play around with, for me.  But I’m in a different category than most of your clients.  For most clients I think it’s a little bit too extreme.  It’s a little bit too difficult.  It’s a little too abnormal.  My whole life around athletics and nutrition has been abnormal.  So, people give me a flyer on that one.

That’s kind of what happened.  Like I said, if anyone is listening in and they’re interested, they can just come by the site and grab the book.  It’s actually hosted online so you don’t even have to download anything.

Go grab your fee download and come back tomorrow to hear about what happened after the intermittent fasting experiments ended.


Craig Ballantyne, CTT
Certified Turbulence Trainer

ideas might have changed since the experiments