Using Diet Variation to Lose Weight
Another 180° lifestyle solution to look and feel your best!
Reflecting upon the rich history of the Wild West, there is much to learn from our ancestors to help us live better and healthier modern lives. During time spent visiting beautiful Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I came across some relevant health applications. These principles not only pertain to the clients I coach, but have given me a better understanding of a principle I call diet variation, and how it can work for anyone who wants to be leaner and feel better in the modern age of GMOs, toxins galore, and numerous physical, chemical and emotional stressors.
Feast or Famine
Winters in Wyoming can be frigid and harsh, with snow blanketing the mountains, often accumulating up to 10 feet high. These weather conditions required our ancestors to follow a “feast or famine” style of life, characterized by alternating periods when food was either in abundance or short supply. During periods of extreme cold, the natives would stockpile meat and animal fat (mostly that of bison and elk) to provided hardy sustenance throughout the cold season. There were minimal dietary plant options available during those times, but they endured. Once spring and summer returned, vegetables and fruit were abundant. Nature’s perfect timing provided a high-fat diet in the winter for strength, and shifted to a lighter, plant-based diet in warmer months to provide other key nutrients.
Our ancestors’ followed a feast or famine cycle of eating, or diet variation, wherein they ate different foods at different (and appropriate) times. Contrary to popular thought, the periods of lack and abundance of food were actually beneficial to their health because the body was designed for it. In times of famine, our ancestors simply didn’t have food to eat, yet they managed. It’s natural to be physically uncomfortable at times and experience true hunger, a feeling to which many today are unaccustomed. Moreover, going without food for short periods has been shown to have remarkable health benefits, such as re-booting the immune system, improving insulin sensitivity, promoting longevity, repairing the digestive tract, increasing growth hormone, and most importantly, reducing cellular inflammation, the root cause of most present-day disease.
A modern application of diet variation is intermittent fasting (IF). I’ve written many times about the advantages and styles of IF in previous posts. For example, one can choose to eat within a compressed time window each day or fast a day or two each week. I practice daily IF, and typically eat between the hours of 1PM – 8PM, consuming foods following core principles of my Cellular Healing Diet, such as good fats, high-quality proteins, and loads of organic vegetables. I also frequently take one day per week to do a full 24 hour fast, consuming only water and perhaps pure probiotic-rich whey water, which supports gut health. Studies even show that animals thrive during times of fasting and seasonal cycles of eating, and my veterinarian recommends a diet for animals based upon this principle (Wild Dog Diet 2006 Kimberly Henneman, DVM & Animal Health Options). I believe IF is the most significant thing I do to support my health each day. The practice has diminished my food cravings, the need to eat on a regular schedule, helps me look and feel younger, and has made my body leaner than in my twenties.
Ketosis as a Tool for Weight-Loss Resistance
In addition, IF has supported my shift into a state of nutritional ketosis. Ketosis occurs when the body burns fat for fuel instead of glucose (sugar) due to a dramatic decrease in dietary carbohydrates. Our ancestors remained in ketosis during the cold season, eating a low-carbohydrate diet of mostly meat and fat, and shifted out of ketosis in the summer due to the consumption of abundant seasonal produce. Ketosis is an effective tool for fat loss and healing a variety of health conditions, such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, metabolic syndrome, and more. I’ve found great success for clients and myself by cycling in and out of ketosis as a diet variation.
I discovered the method of diet variation because I had clients who were not able to keto-adapt or lose weight in ketosis. Ketosis should cause weight loss, and is a great tool to help heal the cell because fat burns cleaner than glucose so less cellular oxidation and inflammation occurs. Please read the articles (Part 1 and Part 2) I wrote on this amazing topic, but to this point, if someone has certain hormonal challenges (typically driven by cellular toxicity) they do not easily shift into this fat burning state. The adaptation phase normally occurs in 2-3 weeks, and a simple finger blood prick notes when one is fat adapted and should be losing weight (readings between 0.5 – 5.0 denote ketosis on a $25 ketone meter). I have had clients take as long as 2-3 months before they finally adapt and get results. However, there are some who never fully adapt, and others who adapt yet have no weight loss or results.
For clients unable to keto-adapt or lose weight, I suggest stopping the ketogenic diet and returning to the Cellular Healing Diet, I had them following originally. Most individuals then start to lose weight on the same diet that did not cause weight loss the first round. Eventually the weight loss and health benefits plateau, so I move them back to a keto-adaptation diet, and this time around they adapt and get results. I’ve repeated this diet variation method with several cases and the results were the same. So why does diet variation work? I believe the answer lies in an innate adaptation for survival. Our bodies are set up to survive and thrive with times of feast and famine, and when we vary our diet, the hormonal shifts for adaptation reestablish and trigger the body’s ability to burn fat for energy.
Another way to breakthrough weight-loss resistance is a rule I created through self-experimentation called the 5:1:1 Rule. It works like this: for 5 days of the week, consume a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet (testing ketones to confirm you’re in ketosis); 1 day per week do a full 24 hour water fast or intermittent water fast, consuming high quality fat throughout the day if needed for energy; and 1 day a week do a carbohydrate or protein “load day,” increasing carbs or protein for variation and to remind your body it is not starving. Depending on your health condition, a carbohydrate or protein load day may be preferable. For example, I’ve found clients with thyroid challenges tend to do better incorporating protein load days. Load days may also be altered weekly: the key is variation.
Stress and Rest
Another example of the magic of variation is the principle of “Stress and Rest”. The concept of fasting and feasting through intermittent fasting is similar to the principle of stress and rest as it relates to moving the body. Stress and rest involves periods when the body is pushed to the physical limit (stress), followed by time for the system to recover from the damage wrought by the trauma (rest). The principle corresponds to the cycles by which our ancestors naturally lived. One day they may have climbed a mountain to kill a wild beast, the next day they feasted on their kill, and mentally and physically restored by celebrating the achievement.
The most efficient and effective exercise regimes include intervals of intense workouts, followed by a day or two of rest when the body is given sufficient time to recover from training. Many athletes tend to over-train, which causes more harm than good by promoting cellular inflammation. Symptoms of overtraining include insomnia, frequent sickness (due to lowered immunity), increased injury and a lack of results or progress. Periods of proper rest are vital to peak performance, adaptation, muscle repair, energy restoration, and fat burning. Rest promotes both physical and mental fortification, and without enough the body becomes weak and strained over time.
A perfect contemporary way to put the stress and rest principle into action is a type of workout called Burst Training (or High Interval Intensity Training). Burst training mixes bouts of high intensity, short duration exercise with periods of rest. For example, try sprinting for 30-60 seconds then resting for 60 seconds, and work up to doing this cycle for ten minutes. There’s no need to spend hours pounding the pavement or at the gym. Try following this workout 3-4 times a week—that’s only 40 minutes a week–and you’ll be thrilled with the results it brings in short periods of time. Burst training is my favorite type of exercise for efficient fat burning, weight-loss, longevity, and even offers anti-aging effects because it helps to boost human growth hormone (HGH) production. It allows you to work out smarter, not harder, and makes the body very metabolically efficient.
Our ancestors followed the way of life for which our bodies were designed. They spent most time outdoors, in tune with nature and the seasons. They consumed fresh, seasonal and indigenous foods, and if there was no food to eat, none was eaten. If food was in abundance, they feasted, and enjoyed every morsel. They went on physically demanding adventures, pushing their bodies to the limit, and subsequently rested. Our bodies are meant to experience variation, both in diet and energy expenditure, and variety helps us thrive.
Today, we can apply these historic strategies to help us be healthier and fitter. We can feast or famine by practicing intermittent fasting on a regular or semi-regular basis, eating within a compressed time window and/or taking one day per week as a full-fledged fasting day. We can experiment with nutritional ketosis, using it as a tool to burn fat and supercharge brain function. We can stress and rest our bodies by Burst Training 3 or 4 times per week, taking one or two recovery days between sessions. There are many ways to receive the benefits of our ancestor’s way of life today, and these practices can easily fit into our busy schedules.
The Native Americans and Indians that once inhabited Jackson Hole experienced challenges daily and were made stronger for it. I believe God designed our bodies to experience periods of physical hardship and resources aplenty, since they actually benefit our health. This is a 180° Solution™ for the modern life: do the opposite of what everyone else is doing and you hit the mark every time. Fast when everyone around you is eating three times a day. Consume a diet rich in good fat, grass-fed protein, and organic veggies, shunning low-fat carbohydrates and sugar. Push your body to the physical limit, while others jog for hours, and then take as much time as needed to recover. Our bodies thrive on variation and with diet and exercise it is no different; apply these historic principles and start living your healthiest life today.