New face of intermittent fasting Max Lowery, gives us the lowdown on the theory behind his new nutrition and fitness plan, why two is the magic number and why fasted exercise could be the way forward
Few eating plans have taken off much in the same way as intermittent fasting. From the 5:2 diet to the Bodhimaya Method , it’s piqued the public’s interest in pretty remarkable fashion thanks to the list of health benefits it purports to provide (ranging from greater energy levels to disease prevention).
The latest incarnation of the intermittent fasting phenomenon? The 2-Meal Day, (T2MD) created by personal trainer and online health coach Max Lowery. Encountering the concept when travelling around South America, he’s experienced its effects first-hand. Advocating it as a particularly effective way for burning fat - especially the stubborn (and more dangerous) visceral fat around the stomach - he also recommends it as an evidence-backed way of improving the immune system and reducing the risk of developing a range of chronic diseases later on in life.
We caught up with Max to find out what the 2-Meal Day plan involves, who it's for, who it isn't for and what he feels are the most compelling pieces of research behind it.
What inspired you to write the book?
After experimenting and researching many different methods of fasting over a four year period, I developed the 2-Meal Day. I realised how simple, effective and sustainable it was. Initially for me, it was all about weight loss. I lost 5kg of fat over a four month period and it was much easier to implement than other fasting methods because I could do it every day and there was no calorie counting. Additionally though, I realised that it was a powerful tool to optimise your overall health, with studies suggesting fasting can slow down the ageing process , improve and sometimes reverse type 2 diabetes , slow down cancer growth and help with chemotherapy side effects .
All you are doing is extending your overnight fast by a few extra hours and forcing your body to burn stored body fat for energy. By spending as much time as possible in the fasted state, you maximise the health benefits associated with it. After having such amazing success with myself, my clients and my online clients, I wanted to spread the message far and wide.
Why is 2 the magic number?
By skipping one meal, either breakfast or dinner, you are extending your daily fast to about 16 hours. Eating two meals and one optional snack in between those two meals means you stop constantly grazing on food all day, giving your digestive system a break and allowing your body to do its job properly. Eating three meals a day essentially means you are constantly digesting food which has been shown to have a negative impact on many biomarkers of health. When you are in a fasted state, your body transfers energy used for digestion to healing itself. Something called autophagy occurs – your body’s innate self cleaning mechanism. It takes anywhere between 12 - 36 hours for this to occur. By sticking to two meals a day, you are unlocking your body’s true potential. Because it’s so simple, it means it can become a way of life, rather than a crash diet.
How does it differ from other fasting plans like the 5:2?
The T2MD method of fasting is called Time Restricted Eating (TRE) in the scientific community. The reason it differs from the 5:2 is because it can be done every day, meaning that your body has more of a chance to adapt to the process. Not only that, but there is no calorie counting or feelings of deprivation. After a few days, you become fat adapted (i.e. where you start burning stored body fat for energy) and you can eat big satisfying meals. It also differs from other similar methods because I am trying to bring the focus away from ‘eating windows’ where you end up counting down the hours until you can eat and getting obsessed with eating times.
This is the opposite of what I am trying to teach. I am trying to teach people to listen to their bodies and understand what real hunger is, rather than eating because the clock tells them to. Understanding real hunger is only possible when your body is ‘fat adapted’. There is also a real focus on eating healthy, whole foods unlike some other fasting diets that say you can eat what you like. Plus, it’s fairly flexible as some days you might be doing a 14 hour fast and some days, an 18 hour one. It balances out.
Were there other people who contributed in creating the plan?
Dr Adam Collins , BSc MSc, PhD in Nutrition [a qualified nutritionist and Senior Tutor in Nutrition at the University of Surrey] helped to verify everything I said in the book.
you MUST eat healthy whole foods while on T2MD - this isn’t going to negate your bad eating habits.
Who’s it for?
It's for anyone over the age of 18 who wants a simple way to optimise health and fitness.
Who isn’t it for?
There are a few groups of people who shouldn't try it - pregnant women and people with adrenal fatigue because adding extra stress onto an already stressed out body may be too much. People with diabetes (both types) can do it, but they need to do it with assistance from their doctors. Anyone with a history of eating disorders should be extra careful. I should mention that this is not a magic pill that is going to automatically change your life, you MUST eat healthy whole foods while on T2MD - this isn’t going to negate your bad eating habits. So this isn’t for anyone who wants a quick fix.
Any tips for choosing between breakfast and lunch or lunch and dinner?
Most people choose to skip breakfast; studies suggest it's more effective at improving biomarkers of health such as decreased body fat percentage, increased insulin sensitivity and improved cholesterol levels. I also believe it's easier to implement practically and socially. You have to have a think about what is going to fit into your life the best. Whichever way you pick, be consistent with it. Initially, you will need to be strict with it, but as your body becomes fat adapted you should be able to mix it up occasionally.
Could you do the programme choosing breakfast and dinner?
No, because there wouldn’t be a big enough gap in between dinner and breakfast. Probably 12 or 13 hours at best.
What your tips regarding social arrangements - a dinner with friends, a brunch, drinking…?
Balance. If you want to eat out with friends once a week, then that is fine, if you stick to a low carb option main course, then allow yourself a dessert. Find an alcoholic drink you enjoy and pay more for quality. Sip the drink, savour the flavours, rather than necking drink after drink. If you are a breakfast skipper and you want to have brunch with a friend, then have brunch. As long as it's not more than once a week, it's not an issue as it’s important that your body gets used to the process in order to maximise fat adaptation. Initially, you should be fairly strict, but then you can incorporate the method into your lifestyle however you see fit. This method isn't about restriction, it's about finding a balance and enjoying life to the full.
How long should you do the plan for or is it for life?
I believe that it can become a way of life. I have been doing it for four years now and I can't see myself ever going back to three meals. Studies (such as Challenging Oneself Intermittently to Improve Health by Mark P. Mattson, 2014), suggest that eating in this way effectively mimics the way our ancestors ate for thousands of years. We need fat to survive, so when we continuously eat food all day, your body holds onto and stores more body fat in case harsh times come. Snacking or grazing effectively stops you from tapping into your fat reserves and you will only end up burning the energy from the food you are eating. Why is two meals a day a better option to simple calorie restriction in this regard? Because calorie restriction isn’t sustainable. You also don’t get the added benefits of being in a fasted state too.
Furthermore, many of us now also live in a world where harsher times never come, so we never tap into that stored energy. You don't have to do it every single day for the rest of your life, but incorporating the principles to fit your lifestyle is very effective and sustainable. Most people try it for short term gains but then feel so much better that it ends up a being a way of life.
Any tips for avoiding initial overwhelm?
Take baby steps and be consistent. If you try and do everything at once, like exercising five times a week, radically changing your diet and quitting alcohol - you will shock your body and end up doing more harm than good. Incorporate small daily changes over a long period to maximise health benefits. Nothing worth it in life is easy, any change in behaviour will be difficult to begin with, but it soon becomes habit or routine. A good first step would be to start extending your overnight fast by a few hours each week.
Workout-wise, why do you recommend fasted training?
It further maximises the efficiency of your body to supply itself with energy - your body becomes more efficient at using glycogen (stored carbohydrate), allowing you to get more out of the same amount. There is nothing more empowering than being free from caffeine and sugar dependence. I trained as a sprinter for four years using fasted training. I would follow the ‘train hard, race easy’ principle. I would train fasted, allowing my body to become super efficient at maximising energy reserves and then on race days, I would eat food before races so I had the combination of my body being really efficient, plus the food for a double whammy effect.
You highlight fasting myths and eating pattern changes throughout history in the book. What do you think are the main reasons behind people's potential misperceptions?
Marketing - eating ‘little and often’ or ‘grazing’ has become the social norm with the myth that it keeps the metabolism going. Unfortunately, we are encouraged to snack in between meals by companies who create ‘food like products’ which are cheap, nutrient sparse and highly processed. We have this fear of having an empty stomach, but in fact amazing things happen in the body when we do (e.g. burning stored body fat, having more energy, the normalisation of hunger hormones and autophagy). I am trying to teach people to listen to their bodies and stop eating because the clock or social pressures tell them to.
The 2 Meal Day by Max Lowery, £14.99, is published by Kyle Books. Photography by Kate Whitaker and Michelle Beatty. Buy it online here .