Whether you’re surfing YouTube, browsing Barnes and Noble, or flipping through Instagram posts, you can always find them: the “experts” telling you exactly what to eat.
Yet they all say something different.
Is the Keto Diet the way to go? Atkins? Mediterranean? South Beach? Every long list of nutritional advice offers a unique avenue to better health; some bring success, others only bring frustration and disappointment.
I’m here with my talented Nurse Practitioner, Jen Justus, because I believe we’ve been placing our weight loss focus on the wrong question.
“It’s the number one question we get in the exam room when we meet with patients,” Jen says. “‘What should I be eating?’ Or maybe they say, ‘I know what I should be eating, but I don’t really do it consistently‘. But when to eat never comes up.”
I’ve spent years studying and practicing in the obesity and weight loss space. During that time, I’ve advised countless patients on weight loss using a low-carb diet. But after a few eye-opening conversations about intermittent fasting with Zane Griggs and using it myself , I wondered… had I been missing a piece of the puzzle?
As a result, I’ve spent the last few months digging deep into the power and potential of intermittent fasting. By focusing not just on what we eat, but on when we eat, we can do more than lose weight. We can optimize our bodies and minds to escape the jaws of fatigue and perform at maximum capacity.
The Three Levers of Restriction
I’m hopelessly curious, which is why I love to explore the ideas presented by industry leaders and trusted voices like Peter Attia.
Peter recently provided one of the most eloquent descriptions of nutrition that I’ve ever seen. Instead of focusing solely on food, Peter described his nutritional framework by outlining three forms of restriction. These three parameters or “levers” can be used in combination to achieve optimal nutrition and wellness:
- Dietary restriction (DR): What you eat or don’t eat
- Caloric restriction (CR): How much you eat
- Time restriction (TR): When you eat and don’t eat
While Lever 1 and Lever 2 can quickly become convoluted with calorie trackers, meal prep recipes, and costly grocery bills, only the time restriction lever offers simplicity. In fact, diligent use of time restricted eating (often known as intermittent fasting) is so effective that it can easily achieve the goals of Lever 2 as well!
This is important to know, since most people need to pull at least two levers to achieve sustainable weight loss.
What Exactly is Time Restricted Eating AKA Intermittent Fasting?
Time restricted eating and intermittent fasting are both terms used to describe the process of limiting the window of time when your body is exposed to food. For example, an 8-hour eating window between 12:00 pm and 8:00 pm, followed by a 16-hour fasting window of 8:00 pm to 12:00 pm the following day.
This type of time restricted eating forces the body to burn body fat for fuel since it can’t access the glucose from your last meal or snack. At the same time, intermittent fasting automatically restricts your calorie intake as well. With Lever 2 and Lever 3 already “pulled”, any improvements you make to Lever 1 eating habits, like reducing carbs and increasing lean protein, will achieve more dramatic results!
Intermittent Fasting, Energy, and Decision Fatigue
Beyond weight loss, intermittent fasting offers some surprising benefits, such as its ability to reduce decision fatigue. You know the feeling of decision fatigue well, even if you’ve never put a name to it.
Decision fatigue is the wall you hit when your energy and focus become completely depleted. It’s most notable at the end of a long day at work when Excel sheets and emails start swirling into a blur, when simple tasks start taking five, 10, even 20 minutes. You shut your laptop and think, “I’m done, I need to go home.”
Some of the most brilliant and influential people in the world understand the dangers of decision fatigue, which is exactly why they eliminate unnecessary choices from their routine. Mark Zuckerberg and Mark Cuban, for instance, wear the basic t-shirts and jeans every single day. And Steve Jobs became known as much for his technological innovations as for his iconic black turtleneck and khakis. By avoiding the numerous questions and decisions that surround the wardrobe process, these billionaires preserve their focus for more important matters.
Decision fatigue may even exhibit itself in court rulings. An interesting study that examined 1100 parole board hearings found that favorable outcomes, like probation and rehabilitation, dropped from 65% to nearly 0% from the beginning to end of each “decision session.” Each “decision session” started shortly after a meal time and ended before the next meal time. Such a precipitous decline in favorable outcomes suggests that decision fatigue influences judicial rulings as well.
The tedious nature of making decision after decision after decision makes all of us, even in prestigious positions, less efficient as the day wears on.
We may not be billionaires or judges, but we still make significant decisions hour after hour. Doesn’t it make sense to harness your finite energy for the decision making that matters? Placing so much focus on planning, prepping, and affording three or four meals each day has the same effect as an app running in the background on your phone: It drains your battery.
And what happens if you’re hungry, overwhelmed, and depleted? If there’s one thing I know about human behavior and fatigue, it’s that tired people make terrible decisions about food. That’s exactly how you find yourself pulling through the drive-thru and scarfing down a greasy hamburger.
Intermittent fasting helps avoid decision fatigue by eliminating the need for food choices and meal preparation until lunch or dinner time arrives. Imagine how many other impactful decisions you can make when you don’t have to obsess over those clean eating recipes or calculate calories.
Jen has recently embraced intermittent fasting and was surprised by the freedom of having fewer choices.
“Fasting eliminates that one meal I have to worry about everyday,” Jen says. “Before I was so worried about breakfast, what I was going to eat, when I was going to eat it, meal prepping, how that was going to happen…. [Now] I just start with lunch and move on.”
Finding Your Fasting Rhythm
Jen practices what she preaches, which includes intermittent fasting four days a week. “My husband and I usually eat dinner no later than seven, so I will do my time restricted window and eat my first meal between noon and 2:00 depending on how I’m feeling,” she explains.
“And then for one day out of the week, I try, and I don’t always get there, but I try to do a 24-hour fast.”
Though Jen doesn’t use intermittent fasting over the weekend, a restricted eating window during the week has already delivered encouraging results. She’s watched her body fat decrease, cravings wiped out, and appetite reduced.
That’s the beauty of intermittent fasting: its flexibility! There’s no right or wrong way to fast. The way Jen fasts doesn’t have to match the way you fast.
At its most basic level, time restricted eating can be whatever you need it to be, and it can be different every day. The longer you go without putting your body in a fed state, the faster you can chisel away fat, but the exact rhythm of your fasting is up to you.
“I’ve toyed with other forms of fasting and meal replacements that we’ve used in the past, but never really achieved this reduction in cravings to where I don’t go home and want to raid the refrigerator or cabinet and eat something unhealthy,” Jen says, explaining the noticeable difference intermittent fasting can make right away.
Time restricted eating has even helped Jen normalize her blood sugar. Before intermittent fasting, her hemoglobin A1C was creeping toward the pre-diabetic range, but now it’s steadily moving back into balance.
“For me personally, having done a lot of different diets in my past, it’s just been a game changer in a lot of different ways.”
A Guide to Beginning Your Own Weight Loss Journey
As you’re navigating your weight loss journey, ask yourself the same questions that Jen asks all of her patients before deciding which diet or method offers the best path forward.
First, identify your goals. Do you want to lose 30 pounds? Tone up with lean muscle? Regain your energy and drive? Maybe a combination of all three! This goal sets you in the right direction.
Next, consider the “data” your body has to offer, including:
- Body fat
- Muscle mass
- Resting metabolic rate
- Hormone levels
- Thyroid function
These numbers matter because they influence your weight loss experience. For example, you could be doing everything right, but if you’re suffering the symptoms of thyroid dysfunction, you won’t achieve the progress you seek until your thyroid is properly treated.
It’s also important to consider your current and past experiences. What are you currently eating each day? Have you used methods in the past that worked well or left you feeling disappointed? All of these factors weave together to create your unique weight loss profile! You might even need to unlearn certain rules and principles, especially that misleading adage Breakfast is the most important meal of the day! We know now that it’s most definitely not.
To put all of this together into a coherent and successful weight loss plan, it’s helpful to find a practitioner who appreciates and understands the many layers of weight loss and wellness. You don’t need someone to charge you $150 to only prescribe a 1,200 calorie low-carb diet.
Compassionate Care in Action
Here at Brentwood MD, we care for some of the most amazing, successful, driven people. Yet the amount of overwhelm most of them feel is stunning.
The practice of medicine is an art, and every patient brings new colors to our experience. Jen shared a story of a patient who put incredible pressure on herself to fix every perceived fault and flaw at once.
“And I stopped her,” Jen recalls, “and I said, ‘Hold on. We’re working on one thing at a time. The first thing we’re going to do is get you feeling better to where you want to do those other things. So let’s just correct your hormones, and then we’ll move on.’ And you could just see the weight of the world melt off her shoulders.”
Jen’s story highlights a thought I’ve been considering for awhile. In a modern world, there’s nothing we can’t know if we have access to the web and curiosity. So if we’re struggling with breakthroughs and accomplishments, it’s not because we’re ignorant or lacking insight, it’s because we’re overwhelmed!
Jen offers some famous last words: “The question you have posed today of not what you should be eating but when is huge. It’s made a huge difference in my life. It makes a difference in my patients’ lives.”
With so much information at our fingertips, where can we find wisdom? Well, that’s the role of a strategic, compassionate physician and friend, and it’s the precise reason Brentwood MD exists.
Dr. Aaron Wenzel is a concierge physician specializing in the care of fast-moving entrepreneurs, executives, and public figures in the Nashville, TN area. Dr. Wenzel’s diverse life experience and extensive training in family medicine, emergency care, nutrition, and hormone replacement therapies give him the unique platform to provide unmatched care for his patients.