Three Meals a Day is the New Tobacco
A geek’s guide to rapid weight loss: 10kg in 4 weeks, while sitting at a desk in office hours.
In summary: this is a sure way to to make your body run on fat for a full three days per week.
If you liked this post also read the follow-up post: I Want To Look Good Naked
I tried low carb / paleo diets over the last two years, maybe 8 weeks at a time, on and off, and I’ve gained some muscle in the gym, but I never really felt that I was seeing a real impact and results. I see results as dropping a jeans size and/or losing 10kg. So, I did a bit of research and found a way to fairly easily lose 10kg in four weeks.
“Skinny is the new skinny!” — all this “Strong/Healthy/Fit Is the New Skinny” talk is amusing, but I still want to lose weight.
I have this theory that there is this an evolving barrier as to what is considered radical or extreme. Nutrition is a complex mine field of information with lots of vested interests (Sugar Inc. and Corn Inc.). There is a lot of legacy popular thinking around (things people just accept without any critical thinking).
It’s not hard to think that in the evolution of the human body there must have been many days where finding food was hard, yet topics like Intermittent Fasting (IF) are considered extreme. When I first read Lean Gains some months back I thought an IF diet was extreme, but after reading about it a few times in different places and a friend mentioning it, I changed my mind. I guess I triangulated the message.
Almost everybody likes to believe that you have to eat breakfast and get your three square meals a day. Three square meals a day is a major reason why so many people are overweight. Fasting is not an extreme thing. Get over it. Move that barrier in your head. You can probably go 30 days without food if you have to. A 3 day fast is a walk in the park in the bigger picture, and it’s a very efficient way to burn fat.
“Three meals a day is the new tobacco.”
The human body wants to store fat because it’s afraid it will not get food over the next few days. Every time you eat till you are full, with some nice carbs and sugars (in just about everything available in the supermarket), the body produces insulin and packs away lots of energy, just in case it needs it later. Keep eating till you are full three times a day, for a few years, and you end up like so many people who are unhappy with their body.
- You can burn a lot of fat if you fast for 2 days of the week. Extend this with a 3rd fat burning day, after getting some protein and fats. It’s not that hard. It’s not extreme.
- Diet is 80% of the story. On low carb / maintenance days, eat only two meals a day. You don’t need to do a lot of cardio to lose weight. Your base metabolic rate and what you eat is most important. Simply get the body to eat itself.
- I can’t just tell you to follow rules. You need a why. You should get interested in this stuff and go read about why all of this works. Figure it out. There is no 5min summary. You have to care.
- It’s a game. Set some targets. Get a friend to join you. Put some data in a spreadsheet every day. Plot a graph. Weigh yourself every morning after you get up — with a digital scale — after the first wee. What gets measured gets managed. You want to aim for 2.5kg loss per week — aim for 300g / day. Think in grams, not kilograms.
- Get into a routine. Find a routine that fits your life and work. Routine. Routine. Routine. Turns out routine is very healthy.
- Lastly, you don’t have to follow all of this advice, but hopefully this gets you thinking and researching for yourself. I’m not a doctor. btw. this post is probably only relevant for people over the age of 23.
Recently my cousin wanted to lose a lot of weight (20kg) before his wedding and I decided to join him — as a good motivating best man would. We did a lot of reading and we tried a few things. I had been feeling a bit out of shape since last year — had a pretty unhealthy stretch of time in London (Techstars programme) and ended up weighing 93kg. I felt like a change and I felt like geeking out on a bit of health related reading and experimentation (on myself).
The following is a set of notes on how I think we can, and should be changing the way we eat and exercise.
Works for me.
My goal was to lose 10kg in four weeks, drop to around 12% body fat and drop a jeans size. I’m 182cm, I was around 91kg when I started and I think my lean body mass was about 70kg.
Three Very Obvious Steps
- Get ready. First get used to a maintenance mode. Eat only two low-carb meals a day, with 16 or 18 hour fasts — skip breakfast basically. Make sure you can maintain this. Do this for a week or two. Your body needs to adapt to be happy with 6 days with almost no carbs. I eat a raw salad for lunch and a protein snack around 18:00.
- 4 weeks of fat burning and rapid weight loss.
- Back to maintenance mode. Two low carb meals a day, 6 days a week. One day per week where you can eat carbs, fruit and dairy.
Daily IF is fairly simple…
16 hour fast: 18:00–10:00, or 19:00 to 11:00. 18 hour fast: 19:00–13:00.
So eat supper at 19:00 and then eat lunch the next day at 13:00. Start with 16h, work your way towards 18h or 19h.
“Have you tried skipping? — with a skipping rope? No — a meal.”
Your body has a mode where it runs on fat, but this only kicks in after all the carbs and sugars in your body are used up. This mode is called Ketosis. You want to get into this state as soon as possible after eating your last meal before a fast. This is the real ticket to rapid fat loss. If you were wondering why low carb diets and fasting work, this is it.
“Ketosis is a metabolic state where most of the body’s energy supply comes from ketone bodies in the blood, in contrast to a state of glycolysis where blood glucose provides most of the energy.”
Below I have a photos of Ketosis testing sticks (you can get them from a chemist). I try and keep a constant colour / level in my 3 days fasts. I confirmed that after the end of the 2nd day where I eat protein and fats I stay in Ketosis for the +1 / booster day.
Keto test strips: Roche Accu-Chek Keto-Diabur Test Strips
You get 58 hours of confirmed ketosis with this (2+1) plan, probably longer. I’ve dropped 3kg in this 72 hour window.
The 72 hour fasts. 2+1 day fasting.
Fast for 48 hours, have some fats and protein, then another 24 hour fast.
Day one can be hard. You might get a very slight headache. Drink enough water. Go for a walk. Day two is usually much easier and you might feel a bit of a natural buzz — high on life — you feel clear headed, with enough energy. Survival mode growth hormones and endorphins kicking in.
“Nothing tastes as good as thin feels.”
The trick is to get into Ketosis as fast as possible and you want a full three days of fat burning. Eat a very low carb diet on the day before the fast. You don’t really fast for a full 72 hours, at the end of day two you have some fats and protein, but keep the carbs extremely low to keep burning fat.
The 7 day cycle to burn fat
Summary: Starting from Saturday: carb, low carb, fast, fast, booster fast, low carb, low carb.
“I can fix you in six weeks.” — Internal dialogue then I see some people struggling at gym / spinning class.
This is my routine, feel free to adapt it to suit you. I like to swim and I like to go to gym at least two times a week. You may want to just go for walks or get some other form of exercise.
- Saturday: Carb day. Eat a pizza. Eat fruit. Eat dairy. Have a few glasses of wine if you like. Have three meals if you want. You get the idea. Don’t stuff yourself too much.
- Sunday, Low carb day. Titanium Tea with MCT oil. High intensity gym. Swim — get those carbs and sugars out of your system. Low carb eating, two meals for the day. Keep it very low carb, because you want to get into Ketosis quickly when you stop eating. Low carb means less than 20g of carbs per day. Less if you can. Check the labels on food. Eat your last meal around 18:00. Have some meat and veg ideally. Take your hand full of of supplements, magnesium is a good idea. From now on it’s just water and green tea.
- Monday, Fasting day 1, morning swim, water, green tea or rooibos tea, no milk in the tea, take a long walk in the afternoon. 24 hours in. This day can be a bit of a challenge, stick with it.
- Tuesday, Fasting day 2, water, green tea. 48 hours in. At around 18:00 on Tuesday you have 30ml of MCT oil (or coconut oil) and 30g of protein. Try and use a very low carb protein powder (1g/100g) mixed in water or eat a can of tuna. As little carbs as possible. 1 hour spinning class. Evening swim.
- Wednesday, Booster fat burning day, Titanium Tea with MCT oil, gym, swim, you can have a nice low carb big meal around 18:00 if you like, steak and veg.
- Thursday, Low carb day, morning swim, IF — two meals. Try and eat raw salad things — get all those micro-nutrients. Raw broccoli. Raw red cabbage. Some tuna, chicken or eggs. No dairy. Take a long walk.
- Friday, Low carb day, morning swim, IF in the morning, two meals, go out with friends and have some food and drinks.
- The Bonus Plan: On the last day of the fast at 18:00, have a can of tuna, MCT and a hand full of supplements, get some more cardio in, spinning, swimming and get that 3rd good data point on the scale on the Thursday morning. This gives you a full 72 hours confirmed ketosis. And I managed to max out the ketosis test strips with this.
Why the protein and fats on day two of the fast? Because I want to minimise muscle loss. Give your body the protein it wants and a bit of energy to get to gym the next morning. Keep the carbs to an absolute minimum (under 2g of cabs — which you can’t really avoid because it’s in the protein source).
- Gym — full body functional workouts, try to stimulate all the muscle groups (at once — which releases more growth hormones). Squat, dead lift, military press, pull ups, dips, bench press. You get the idea. Happy to share more on this topic, but it gets a bit boring. Also try kettle bells. Function training with Olympic bar.
- Swimming — upper body, thermo fat burning effect of the cold water. On days I gym I sometimes only swim 500m. I usually swim 1km at a time.
- Walking — nice and relaxed, go for a one or two hour aimless walk.
- Spinning — tone those legs.
How do you really lose fat? you breath it out, get some cardio.
- No white carbs. Don’t eat bread, sugar, chips, rice, potatoes etc.
- Don’t drink fruit juice or any drink with sugar in it.
- Don’t eat dairy. Don’t eat fruit.
- Take one day off per week — your carb, fruit, dairy and breakfast day.
- Eat mostly: eggs, red meat, tuna, biltong, avo, (raw) salad and vegetables.
- Eat 120g protein per day, a can of tuna is 40g, egg 7g, broccoli 4.2g/100g.
- Eat lots of green veg, broccoli, spinach etc
- Don’t eat anything “low fat” — it’s full of stabilisers.
- No artificial sweeteners.
- Eat raw. Takes more energy to digest. Don’t eat processed food.
- I did not use any fat burners etc.
- I avoid all coffee, but see what works for you.
Random Notes and Tips
- When you skip breakfast for your 16/18 hours IF, take vitamins in afternoon, I have a small bottle with my daily vitamins in my laptop bag.
- Go for blood tests every two months or so. Good motivation.
- Get that VitB shot once a month. Watch your iron / Haemoglobin count.
- Take a 3 min cold shower over neck and top of back after gym.
- Sleep enough, 8h/day.
- Get a health related book as bed time reading, good motivation.
- High intensity cardio like running is probably not your best option for fat loss. Not sustainable, too hard on the body, just makes you age quicker. Who has time to train like a tri-athlete?
- Drink two glasses water when you wake up. Drink lots of water throughout the day.
- Damage control on carb days: eat slowly. Have some fats, lemon juice and cinnamon before you have carbs, more about this in the 4 Hour Body book.
- I do air squats for 2min while a brush my teeth in the mornings. Electric toothbrush feature.
- Stretch daily. Get up from your desk and stretch every now and again. Take a walk over lunchtime.
- If you sit at a desk most of the day — try this stretch — see video below, works well to get into squats.
- For general health reasons, avoiding cancer and rebooting your immune system (keeping it sharp), you want to fast for 5–7 days, 4 times a year. So, 7 days every 3 months.
- Do I really need to go 72 hours without eating? (2+1) No, you can do 24 hours of fasting and then extend with a booster fat burning day (1+1). Or you can have a can of tuna at the end of day one (1+1+1). Or you can just do IF with 16 or 18 hour fasts per day. See what works for you. It gets easier over time. The trick is to get onto a state of Ketosis and then try and extend this. Burn as much fat as you can. Get some exercise to make sure you burn lots of fat in that time. Your base metabolic rate is probably not enough to see rapid results.
- What’s with the +1 / booster day idea? After you are well into Ketosis, you extend your fast with a day in which you are eating protein and fats, you just keep the carbs at ~zero. Have TiTea / Bullet Proof Coffee on the morning of the booster day. Have a can of tuna and MCT on the afternoon of the booster day (if you want to get some cardio in that evening and get another good data point on a scale the following morning.)
- What about muscle loss? Yeah, I suspect there is some muscle loss involved here, but add more protein or BCAAs if you are worried. I wanted to lose a lot of weigh. I was not too bothered. Ketones are anti-catabolic — the protect against muscle loss.
- Why not just low carb with three meals a day? General low carb diets like Paleo, Banting, Slow Carb and Noaks probably work over time, but they did not really work for me. Been trying them since 2011. They get very boring and you lose interest, you keep eating till you are full and you keep taking in lots of energy, too much hidden carbs.
- What about alcohol? Sure, have some at social events. Don’t mix fats and alcohol, only lean protein with wine/whiskey, try to avoid beer. You can in theory stay in ketosis while drinking alcohol, but avoid the carbs in the drinks — this pretty much just leaves whiskey or very low carb dry bubbly.
- Do I have to do TiTea or can I drink Bullet Proof Coffee? Yeah, coffee is fine, if that works for you. I have a mid morning slump if I drink coffee.
- Surely the butter in your TiTea is dairy!? Yeah, take the butter out if you want to be super strict. I just use a bit. Gives it some taste.
- How long before gym do I take the MCT / TiTea? About an hour. Depends on how fast a metabolism you have.
Three Weeks? Six Weeks?
I suspect you can actually do 10kg in three weeks if you follow this pretty strictly and don’t gain too much on carb days.
My suggestion, if you are not yet used to a very low carb diet, is to do: Week1: Low carb + 16h IF Week2: Low carb + 18h IF, try one 24h fast in this week Week3: 2+1 fat burn Week4: Low carb + 18h IF Week5: 2+1 fat burn Week6: 2+1 fat burn
In six weeks you should also be able to condition your body to not need breakfast — and keep the weight off.
I lost 10kg in 4 weeks. I dropped a jeans size. 34 > 33. I ended up 12kg lighter than I was in London last year. A number of people have commented that I look a lot more skinny. So, yeah — happy. Maybe next I’ll try and get some visible abs, for summer.
There is obviously much more to read out there, go research some of these topics.
Feedback Most Welcome
Comments are very welcome. You might need to re-read a lot of this stuff. It’s not easy to take everything in, in one go. If any friends are reading this and have questions or would like advice, I’m happy to chat. Twitter: @SwimGeek — or post comments below.
Thanks to the following sources for information: The 4 Hour Body book, Lean Gains and other IF related articles, Roark Gym blog, my cousin Jacques for all his advice and reading, Wouter for his gym routine, Tim Ferriss for the Titanium Tea ideas, Tom for pointing me at MCT oil, Nikki, Georg and Ernst for early feedback.
Have fun, crazy kids.
UPDATE 2015–08–20: It’s possible to max out the keto test strips, after 84h of fasting, and spinning on the last night, but I would not recommend it. Felt a bit slow after that.
Originally published at www.swimgeek.com on August 18, 2015.