What I’ve Learned from Following Two Meals a Day for a Month

My situation

I should preface this post by emphasizing that I am not an elite athlete, nor have I ever participated in a marathon, triathlon, or Ironman. While I’d love to look like Chris Heria, building and maintaining that kind of a body is a full-time job that I don’t have time for.

Early results

After reading the book, I was excited to make a number of different minor adjustments to my diet and exercise habits. Here are the main changes I made (keeping in mind that I was already fasting 18–22 hours every day):

  • Walk at least 7,000 steps every day, no matter what.
  • Don’t eat any of the junk foods that other members of my household eat. These include candy, sugar cereals, ice cream, and chips
  • Eat whole foods (fresh produce, meat/fish)
  • Eat fermented foods (so far, just Kefir — a sort of drinkable yogurt)
  • Make sure I get enough electrolytes each day. I tried the supplement LMNT and liked it a lot but it’s very expensive so I think I’ve found a much cheaper alternative.
  • Stay active throughout the workday by taking short breaks each hour to move my body in some way: go up and down a flight of stairs, do 10 pushups, do a short 5-minute yoga session, or do some squats or wall angels
  • Intentionally park farther away from my office or stores I’ve driven to so that I am forced to do more walking
  • Do a bit of cold exposure by turning the shower to the coldest setting for 1–2 minutes at the end of my shower

So, what is the program?

The book is roughly divided into six parts:

  1. How your body’s metabolism works and why counting calories is nonsense
  2. Foods to avoid and foods to embrace
  3. The importance of a 24/7 healthy lifestyle: sleeping well, eating well, being active, being social, and reducing stress-inducing digital distractions
  4. Why and how to fast
  5. How to exercise in a more sustainable way (basically, don’t do HIIT; do HIRT instead)
  6. How to reset your psychology and environment to quickly and permanently implement these principles

Metabolism

The single most useful thing I learned in this book is what I view as a reasonable theory of metabolism. In short, your body can use energy either from recently digested food or from fat stores. To prevent becoming overweight or obese (or to lose weight in the long run), you want to turn yourself into a “fat-burning beast,” as the authors put it. Much of the book is centered on how to achieve this through a combination of diet, exercise and other lifestyle changes. In particular, ditching processed foods and fasting will give you metabolic flexibility which means your body naturally and seamlessly transitions between energy sources (food vs. bodily stores). It will also give you metabolic efficiency which means you’ll be able to survive on many fewer calories.

Foods to avoid

The book recommends avoiding “the big three” harmful foods: sugar, processed grains, and industrial seed oils. While the first two get lots of attention, I had never heard of seed oils being bad for you. (Seed oils are cooking oils that are derived from chemical processes. These include basically all oils in our food except for olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil.)

Foods to embrace

The book recommends an “ancestral” diet consisting of four main food groups taken from the book Deep Nutrition: 1) fresh foods (fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds); 2) fermented and sprouted foods; 3) bone-in meat; and 4) organ meats.

Lifestyle

The main lifestyle principle advocated by the book is that your health will spiral out of control if you constantly put yourself in a high-adrenaline/high-cortisol state. This is because when the body is in fight-or-flight mode, it will not use its resources optimally: the body is programmed to trade off short-term health status for protection from death.

Why and how to fast

The “why” of fasting goes back to the principles of metabolic flexibility and metabolic efficiency mentioned above. When you fast, you take away digested food as a potential energy source for the body. As a result, your body draws its energy from fat stores. This has many health benefits, including weight loss and forcing the body to become more metabolically flexible/efficient.

Sustainable exercise

There were a number of helpful tips regarding sustainable exercise habits that I’ll briefly discuss here. The main theme of these tips is to get the body into “fat-burning mode” and to make sure you don’t over-train. Over-exercsing will put the body into fight-or-flight mode which will then cause the body to “liquidate its assets” (i.e. consume muscle for energy instead of fat)

  • “Just [Freaking] Walk (JFW)” — walking is the best activity for turning on “fat-burning mode”
  • Micro-workouts — if you have a desk job, make sure you take breaks often to keep moving (one of my favorite hacks here is to use a bathroom on a different floor)
  • HIRT instead of HIIT — High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a great way to over-exercise. High-Intensity Repeat Training (HIRT) is the way to go
  • Don’t liquidate your assets — Above all things, make sure you don’t get your body into fight-or-flight mode so that it doesn’t liquidate its assets (see here for Mayo Clinic’s endorsement of this idea)

Tips for quick and permanent implementation

The book spends a lot of time building up the reader’s psychology and behavioral habits so that transitioning to this program can be a success. At one point the authors even explicitly state [I’m paraphrasing], “we could fit all of the information you need onto one sheet of paper, but there’s no way you will actually do all of the things you need to without behavioral and psychological intervention.”

My overall takeaway

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I am pleased with the new direction of my life.

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