Written by: Kevin Cann
At the beginning of February of this year I started an individual experiment using a restricted feeding window to take in all of my calories (my initial article can be found here: http://robbwolf.com/2012/03/08/eat-eat-question/). My schedule is never constant, and I am extremely busy between finishing graduate school and working two jobs. Decreasing the amount of meals I had to prepare made my life much easier, and I saw some fantastic results, but buyers beware.
A recent study came out that showed the potential benefits of eating within a restricted feeding window. Mice fed within this restriction showed to be protected against obesity, hyperinsulinemia, and inflammation, had better motor control, and other important metabolic factors were better than the mice allowed to eat throughout the day. The most interesting piece of this study is that both groups ate the same amount of calories from a high fat diet (Hatori, 2012). In my personal experiment throughout the last 4 months, a lot of this has held true.
I have leaned out more during this period then I did playing college soccer. I am able to maintain 6% body fat without any downside. In the past any drop below 8-10% had negative consequences on my energy levels and recovery. The crazy part of all of this is I haven’t even been eating as well as I have in the past either. In fact there was a 5 week period where I was eating 60% paleo and 40% crap when alcohol consumption is added in. There have been splurges on junk food, pizza, and the late night drunken fast food run a few times during this time period. Amazingly, I was able to maintain 170lbs and the 6% body fat. This is not all as good as it seems.
I stretched myself out too thin between school and work, and I got behind. This caused my stress levels to rise, and now that I had less time to myself, my personal stress management was the first thing to go. This caused my energy levels to get flushed down the toilet. Instead of stopping this downfall then by seeing the signs, I decided to handle my energy levels by drinking more coffee. I got up to about 6 cups of coffee on average per day. The increased stimulation decreased my quality of sleep, and my mood started to become negative. My workout performance and recovery were declining, and I actually got my first injury in my 5 years of mma training. This is where my diet began to decline.
I wrote an article on how stress affects neurotransmitters and our cravings for food here: http://robbwolf.com/2012/04/26/diet-stress-biochemistry/. I cited a study by Dallman that showed how our glucocorticoids increased our cravings for calorically dense sugary foods. Dallman also concluded in her paper that she believes that people actually eat these foods to help alleviate the chronic stress response (Dallman, 2003). I found this conclusion interesting at the time, but wasn’t sure what to think.
I have never been a person to be driven by food addiction. When I started eating paleo I was able to cut out all the crap without any issues. When I became stressed these cravings were so strong that I would actually convince myself, through self-talk, that it is ok to eat these foods. From this experience I believe that Dallman’s conclusion may be right.
Maybe our bodies have adapted to handle the chronic stressors of daily life by increasing our cravings for calorically dense, high sugar foods. These foods are in abundance and found literally everywhere. It would make sense in a logical perspective that our bodies would drive us to these easily obtainable foods to counter a stress that we do not handle otherwise. To further support this conclusion my cravings for these foods went away when I fixed my stress.
Once I realized that I was falling apart I decided to prioritize my problems and fix them one by one. I got a melatonin supplement to help with sleep and I also went to bed earlier. I continued to eat the 2 meals a day, but if I became hungry in-between I would have a paleo-friendly snack. I also added in more safe starches to meals to make sure I was not too low with my intake of carbohydrates. Doing this helped me decrease my caffeine consumption. I focused the majority of my workouts on corrective exercises to scale them back. Within a week I was back to normal.
I was able to keep my eating within the restricted feeding window while reversing a pretty stressful situation. Throughout this entire process I have not gained any weight or body fat which is a really interesting factor considering my increasing cortisol and high sugar foods. However, I have maintained this approximate weight and body fat percentage for quite a while now. My experience also increases my belief that intermittent fasting can play a crucial role in health and well-being if we can maintain proper stress management, sleep well, and exercise wisely.
Dallman, Mary (2003). Chronic Stress and Obesity. www.pnas.org. Retrieved on April 17, 2012.
Hatori, Megumi (2012). Time Restricted Feeding Without Reducing Caloric Intake Prevents Metabolic Diseases in Mice Fed A High Fat Diet. Journal of Cell Metabolism. Retrieved on June 9, 2012.
Kevin is owner of Genetic Potential Nutrition. He is a holistic nutritionist, wellness coach, and strength coach. He works with people fighting illness, to competitive athletes. Check out his site at www.geneticpotentialnutrition.