The Fasting Experiment (Part 2)

Back in 2014 I posted Get Rich…Fast in which I wrote about the benefits of fasting.

I’ll say upfront that this is not about penny pinching or cost savings. Good food is one of the great joys of life and we are optimising for happiness around here.

No, the main benefit from fasting is from strengthening your willpower and your ability to defer gratification. The ability to swap instant rewards now for greater payback later is perhaps the ultimate super-power.

And its transferable from one area of your life to another. Not buying shit now and instead saving and investing your money is all about self control and the ability to defer gratification for greater rewards later. You live low cost and work hard when you’re young…a decade or two later and and with a bit of luck you’re financially independent.  If you can fast, you can save and vice versa.

I previously wrote about the challenge of a 36 hour fast – eating nothing from Friday night until breakfast on Sunday morning.  Longer fasts such as this may have benefits for cell repair and anti-ageing that scientists don’t fully understand yet.

The downside I found with my 36 hour fasts is that the weightloss is temporary. It turns out that Rome was not built in 36 hours. And it also restricts what I can do on the day of the fast – I’m not well adapted enough to fasting to be able to lift heavy or do my coaching when I haven’t eaten for over 24 hours.

chicken costume

But for me the main problem is that a 36 hour fast doesn’t create lasting behavioural change. 

It’s a bit like those fat people that run a marathon in a chicken suit to get on telly and then go back to their sedentary ways. Yes, its an achievement and yes its better than nothing but you have to ask yourself: how much lasting change does it create?

Here’s the key point.  If you want to get rich, you need to change your daily habits to make working hard, saving and investing your default setting.  Most of the time, we humans are creatures of habit, running on automatic pilot.

You face dozens of decisions every day with a money angle.  Only by changing your money blueprint can you make all these decisions consistent with a goal of financial independence. That means you need to do the work to re-wire your brain.

Similarly, if your goal is to get your % body fat down and your % muscle up (and that is my goal at the moment), then you need to change your daily practice and your habits.  Its over time that you get the benefits of The Aggregation of Marginal Gains.

The best diet is the one you can stick to. And I’m talking months and years not days and weeks. As Mother Theresa may once have said: “this self-improvement shit takes time, motherfuckers”.

So I’ve decided to experiment with a daily practice of intermittent fasting that I think I can maintain. This form of fasting is much less showy. Its simple and not really that big of a deal.  And that’s where you fast : eat in a 16 hour : 8 hour ratio.  In other words, you have an eating window between say 12 midday and 8pm into which you fit your food intake.

I’ve been doing this for a few days now and its pretty easy.  All you do is to skip breakfast, grab a coffee and power through until midday.  By midday you are hungry but not massively so: just enough to really appreciate and savour your food.  Gratitude is a powerful tool for greater happiness.

When you first need to get your spending under control it can be very powerful to track every £ / € / $ spent to answer the question: where does it all go? Similarly, if you are overweight, its super-powerful to keep a food diary (either paper or via a free app like Cronometer or MyFitnessPal).

But, for this experiment, I will not be counting calories: the idea here is to see whether I can make fat loss as effortless as possible.  So, within my 8 hour window, there are no limits on him much food I eat.  The only rule is that it has to be the right sort of food: no supermarket ready meals, no MacDonuts, no processed carbs (bread, pasta, noodles etc), nothing made in a factory.  Just as much natural food: (vegetables, fruit, eggs, salad, nuts, meat and fish) as I want.

Here’s how it works. By eating only in the 8 hour window and by eating nutrient-dense foods, you feel fuller and make it harder to overeat.  Did anyone ever get fat by eating fish and broccoli?  Its hard to eat that much natural food. This means its more likely that we’ll stay close to energy breakeven (and ideally have a small calorie deficit).  That’s your body’s prompt to burn fat for energy.

I hereby declare that my 16:8 intermittent fasting experiment shall run for 1 month from today. It’s possible that I’ll fall off the wagon every now and again: if that happens I will not declare myself a failure and commit hari-kiri. Nope, I’ll just pick myself up and get back on the wagon. The idea is that it should be sustainable, not perfect.

I will still allow myself morning tea or coffee. These pep up your metabolism (or at least provide a placebo effect). But no sugar and none of those frappucino stylee coffee flavoured ice creams that coffee shop chains sell.

There is this myth that you need to eat in order to “fuel yourself” for the day ahead. But you are not a car engine. Your body is a complex biological system that is infinitely more complicated than that.  Think about thousands of years of evolution where we hunted to be able to eat….we did not eat to be able to hunt.

One of The Principles of Lifehacking is to experiment and figure out what works best for you.  I realised in my 20s that I did my best work first thing in the office in the morning before everyone else got in to disturb me.  Now I do my best writing first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. That way I get the clarity and focus that comes with a slight edge of hunger.  Think about it…are lions better hunters when they’re hungry or when they are fat and full of food?

Its worth looking a bit closer at the history of breakfast in general (and cereal in particular) as it turns out to be a thing that was made up by Mr Kellogg.  Branded cereal served with milk and sugar is The Official Breakfast of The Prison Camp.

Imagine you had some cheap processed carbs to sell, you can see how it might be handy to brainwash the entire population by persuading parents that kids need to start the day with a grain based cereal sprinkled with milk and sugar. Note the huge marketing input behind the product…from TV advertising to free plastic toys to packaging saying things like NOW WITH ADDED VITAMINS to put some lipstick on the pig.

Financial independence
Full of natural goodness?

Breakfast cereal represents the triumph of consumerism over real food.  If you are a running a large multinational food company, selling cereal is a fantastic money spinner.  It’s cheap to produce, there are huge economies of scale and its habit forming for the customers.

Breakfast cereal is processed carbohydrate, which your body quickly breaks down into simple sugars.  A bowl of breakfast cereal is a bowl of sugar in 2 hours time.  Sugar makes you fat.

Back to the experiment. What gets measured gets managed. So I’ll be measuring the results of the experiment. My starting body weight was 13 stone 8 pounds (190 pounds)…but that’s the wrong metric. Weight loss is not a helpful concept because you want to lose fat and gain muscle (which is heavier than fat).

The best way to measure your progress is by getting your body fat % measured. As a rough guide, at below ~15% fat (for a guy) your abs start to hove into view.  At ~10% and below you are ripped like Brad Pitt in Fight Club.

Remember, a perfect outcome is not required either in personal finance or nutrition. But you do need to focus relentlessly on The Process. If you think this is all somewhat obsessive, then you might be right. I never said that getting to financial independence would be easy.  But if you get The Process right, the outcome should eventually take care of itself.

Everyone wants to get rich quick. Everyone wants quick fixes.  But the paradox of personal finance – or fitness – is that you have to combine an unreasonable degree of urgency (the motivation for action) with a Zen-like patience and acceptance that its going to take years to see the full results.

Having said that, I’ll report back in one month’s time with an update. No need to wish me luck: if I screw up, it’s not bad luck, its on me 😉


  1. Looking forward to seeing your results as I’ve been considering this for a while!

    Have you heard of Tom Merrick (Bodyweight Warrior)? He uses this approach if you want to see his thoughts on it too.

    My main concern would be concentration in the morning at work, pre-food. Will eagerly await your verdict!!

    1. Everyone is different so there’s really only one way for you to find out whether your concentration is affected (positively or negatively)…try it!

  2. Lent is on at the moment – it’s a time of traditional fasting but fell out of favour in recent years.
    But there is an intrinsic need for humans to fast – be it dry january or any one of the latest celebrity fads.
    There’s not particularly anything similar for money but maybe there should be

    1. Yes, I don’t think its a co-incidence that just about just about every religion has some periods of fasting / food rotation

      1. Or we humans are not good a conserving finite resources and don’t know when to stop consuming – so we need a religion to guidr us.

  3. paullypips · · Reply

    I have been going without breakfast for years. I just have two cups of tea (with a flat teaspoonful of sugar) upon rising. Lunch is around midday or a bit later (depending if I am hungry or not). I tend to have a large(ish) lunch which is usually fairly sensible (fruit, nuts, eggs, bran etc) but not always (I love bacon and tomatoes which is often on oatmeal bread). At 18:30 I do my weight training exercises for 30 minutes. Followed by a shower and dinner (roast chicken, crispy duck, chilli con carne, or some sort of fresh meat which is always served with vegetables and salad).

    I have never been on a special diet or been more than a tiny bit overweight (by NHS guidelines). I am now 65 years old and reasonably fit for my age (judging by the specimens I saw around the pool on my recent sun holiday). I weigh 77Kg. The only exception to this regime is on every other Sunday when I go for a rideout with the local motorcycle club and a full English fryup in a cafe at 11:00am is the order of the day. Works for me…

    ps I rarely drink coffee or alcohol but I do drink a fair bit of tea and plenty of water.

    1. jeebus001 · · Reply

      Your diet is similar to mine (most of the time) and although I’m only in my early thirties I have never been overweight and have been able to eat virtually anything without ever worrying about the consequences. One question though… do you have milk in your teas?

  4. Good luck, I’ve been trying to do 14-10 which sounds whimpy in comparison. But I race bikes and run a lot, and it drives my metabolism through the roof. When I wake up after not eating for 14 hours I’m so hungry it drives me mad!

    1. Hi Dave – yes…its hard to race bikes (or compete in running races) without the energy boost from carbs. That does makes fasting harder!

  5. Anne-Marie Reader · · Reply

    Another great post, TEA! We hope you can enjoy a drink with us at the meet up on Friday. Scot and Anne-Marie (Your readers from Boulder, Colorado who are vacationing in London)

    1. Anne Marie – Look forward to seeing you both. Please come up and say hi as I may not recognise you otherwise! Cheers, Barney

  6. Copy Cat · · Reply

    After reading your original post I did the 36 hour fast on days off just to see what it was like and found I learned a little about myself. The first time was a breeze as I was motivated and it was novel, the second time it was a chore. I did find for the following few days I was not as hungry and cut out snacking. It makes you think what other habits like three meals a day do we blindingly follow?

    On the subject of food like the cravings we have all experienced for biscuits , chocolate or booze I have found I have had the same cravings to spend money. Clearly it is purely psychological but it has got me thinking what kind of brain chemistry does money effect in my head.

  7. Billy Bow · · Reply

    I recently read two excellent books related to this post. The Fast 800 by Michael Moseley provides guidance and the science behind different forms of fasting including intermittent fasting. By coincidence, I aim to start my experiment with intermittent fasting on 1st April. We should compare results in a months time, particularly as I am doing a marathon training programme at the same time.

    The second good read is Atomic Habits by James Clear. This is essential reading for anyone wanting to establish a good foundation for life and how to achieve more with small changes by compounding gains.

  8. FI Warrior · · Reply

    The cereal one is a masterpiece of low-key marketing genius and I think it was the quakers who started it; imagine people who claim the religious moral high-ground, being just another bunch of greedy charlatans, who’da thunk it huh? Stuff like that makes the paranoid feel that crooks hide behind religion too, to avoid suspicion over their scams, honestly it can make a person cynical before their time. It could make one wonder if the televangelists pleading for millions on TV are actually scammers gouging gullible saps and up to half the population are sheeple for believing what 10-year olds would question on logic alone.

    Do you realise that articles like this could even incite people to think for themselves and possibly consider breaking free from the matrix for an ice-cold plunge in reality for a few seconds. It could lead to lives led consciously, intelligent, sentient living and possibly a fairer world, is that what you really want?

    Nah, just joking, what % of the population as a whole cares beyond bread and circus matters, even if they read serious articles, so it’s the gravy train that’s forever, not diamonds as their industry’s slick marketing department would have matrixteers believe 🙂

  9. Incongruous · · Reply

    I tried this recently and found it unsustainable for me. I was able to make it to lunch without eating, but I go to the gym at lunch time, and was feeling so tired at that point that I didn’t have the energy to work out. I used to go to the gym before work and would often skip breakfast without an issue. The obvious answer would be to change when I go to the gym, but with a young child at home, lunch is my only free time these days!

    I’ve now gone back to eating breakfast (oats and some dried fruit), but have switched to using a small dip bowl and eating it with a teaspoon. This stop me from overindulging in the morning, and takes longer to eat so it feels like I’m having more.

    Good luck with your experiment!

    1. Thank you. No shame in trying and then deciding it doesn’t fit with your lifestyle

  10. Started 16/8 fasting at the beginning of the year and I’m a complete convert. I’ve always been around 5kg overweight and tried a few times to get rid if it. This finally shifted that last bit of flab. I drink green tea or black coffee during the morning and lots of water. You will get peckish but you have to just be mindful enough to know that it will pass.
    A big mental hurdle for me was the anxiety about losing muscle. I’d been brainwashed to believe you need to be taking on protein every 3 hours or your muscle waste away. I’v actually gotten stronger since starting as a smaller eating window has made me want to make sure I’m eating good clean food whilst I can.
    Hope it goes well and this site is a really good place for info:

  11. Started 16/8 fasting at the beginning of the year as well, as I’m 55 now and felt clearly I don’t need so much food any more. Reducing the servings doesn’t work for me, so I skipped an entire meal (breakfast) and in the eight hours I eat what I like. This does NOT lead automatically to losing weight, you can eat a lot of calories in this time. But I feel much better now and I have the impression my body appreciates the long time it doesn’t have to deal with digestion. When my empty stomach complains in the mornings, I drink a lot of water and tea and over the day, I get my 2,5 litres of liquid effortlessly. Much easier then before.

  12. I’ve decided to join you. I’m on day 4 and it’s going well. I’m having a Rocket Fuel Latte in the morning inspired by Healthful Pursuit.

    1. Welcome on board Zoe… I’m excited by the early indications…we may be onto something here 👊

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