This guy says two meals a day is the key to a healthy body - but is he right?
If you’re anything like me, the idea of eating just two meals a day will probably make you balk. Personally, I do a lot of exercise and like to follow a pretty solid three-meal-four-snack routine, often topped up by an extra biscuit or three. But so long as you're not going too crazy with the ice cream, and you make an effort to sweat it all off, you’re allowed to eat what you want, right? Scientists have told us for years that a balanced diet it is a good diet, after all.
However, according to Max Lowery, a former city slicker turned personal trainer, we’re doing it all wrong. Having spent much of his early 20s living the typical "work-hard-play-harder" lifestyle, he says a visit to South America, where he inadvertently took to intermittent fasting, transformed his health and changed his life. Now, he wants it to change yours too. It all sounds a bit gap year, to be honest. But can there be method in his madness? Is two meals a day really the key to a healthy body?
According to Lowery’s website, the plan includes eating two large meals a day, either breakfast and lunch or lunch and dinner, within an eight hour window. By doing this and giving your body a 16 hour fasted period, it will, he says, become "fat adapted", allowing it to "burn stored body fat for energy, rather than being dependent on sugars from food." His website explains further: "You will start to understand what 'real' hunger feels like, something that occurs every 16-24 hours not every four hours. Being in a fasted state promotes incredible changes in the body."
To be fair to Lowery, there is some evidence that intermittent fasting can work for those seeking to improve body composition. Research into the most common intermittent fasting diet, the 5:2, published in the International Journal of Obesity, found that overweight women that restricted their calorie intake to 650 for two days per week and consumed up to 2,500 calories on the other days lost about 14 pounds over six months. Those who ate around 1,500 calories every day lost around 12 pounds.
Meanwhile, Mark Mattson, Chief of the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging, who practices Lowery’s style of fasting himself, usually skipping breakfast and consuming all of his calories within a six-hour window, said intermittent fasting could be useful in warding off diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Performing research on lab mice, Mattson explained in a TED Talk that: "we found we could slow down the abnormal accumulation about amyloid or the degeneration of dopamine neurons in the Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s mile by reducing energy intake."
But at the same time, haven’t we always been told that of all the meals we shouldn’t skip, breakfast is the most important one? Isn’t it better for you to go to work on a big greasy fry-up than on nothing at all? Well, apparently it all depends on how the rest of your health is looking already, in conjunction your background. For example, given that skipping meals can create an unhealthy preoccupation with food, it is not recommended for people with a history of disordered eating. If you already have a heavy schedule, it can also be a pretty hard lifestyle choice to stick to in the first place.
But it also works differently depending on whether you're male or female. While intermittent fasting may be appropriate for men already in good shape, John Berardi, PhD, warns in the Huffington Post that "some experimenters suggest that for women, fasting causes sleeplessness, anxiety, irregular periods, and other indications of hormone dysregulation."
And according to Dr Sara Gottfried, skipping meals can lead to a rise in cortisol levels, otherwise known as the stress hormone: "Women seem particularly vulnerable to the dangers of intermittent fasting, which can keep cortisol elevated when it should be tapering down and create the an undesired effect of storing fat and breaking down muscle. Have you been around intermittent fasters? Not fun to be around!" For (hopefully) obvious reasons, intermittent fasting is strongly recommended against for pregnant women.
All in all, it seems that like most things in life, you just have to play around and see what works for you. Research by the likes of Mattson certainly indicates that there may be some genuine, long-term health benefits to intermittent fasting, and to find a doctor so willing to follow his own advice is both rare and reassuring.
But, if this method of eating isn't really sustainable and only works for half of the population, then it's not exactly helpful as a health solution. And if science tells us anything, it's that despite literally thousands of years of research, there's no silver bullet or magic fix when it comes to health.