Returning to What’s Real

Read time: 90 seconds

The more we read about weight loss, the smarter we believe we are about losing weight. We believe that we understand the complex interaction between food and metabolism, between what, when and how we eat and their effect on weight loss.

And so we’re smug, we write blogs, we preach, we vomit data impregnated with associative or causal relationships, and we interpret them into “mechanisms” that make us fat, and “solutions” that make us lean.

But when we finally turn to the mirror and look at the End Point data, the condition of our body, we realize that all this knowledge hasn’t done much for us.

That’s because we micromanage the small stuff, like drinking cold water to boost metabolism, or taking fish oil to accelerate weight loss — rather than taking care of the meaningful stuff that’s been shown to impact the shape of our body and the state of our health.

Like: finding a way to eat less.

Like: move around more.

Whether we eat whole, real food close to its natural state, or mostly processed food — the greatest impact most of us get for decreasing fat and improving health is through eating less.

Of course, eating whole, real food may make it easier to consume fewer calories and it helps us control hunger, but it appears that the use of intermittent fasting also gets us there just as effectively, independent of food composition and quality.

First, the proper use of intermittent fasting results in the consumption of fewer calories. Second, intermittent fasting allows us to face and overcome the sensation of hunger, (by identifying emotional and environmental triggers). You can say that achieving the latter strengthens the former.

Of course, long-time readers of The Lean Saloon know that I encourage choosing mostly whole, real food because it tends to be calorie-sparse while nutrient-dense; but ultimately, intermittent fasting can also get you there without obsessing over whole, real food while preserving the freedom of food choice.

Think of cultures around the world that eat their share of grains, breads, and food otherwise dense in calories, like olive oil, animal fats, and even ethnic sweets, yet don’t suffer obesity or overweight. The thing they have in common? Eating style. They don’t overeat. Many eat slowly, each meal a ritual of deliberate social occasion. Some even eat just 2 meals a day as a cultural norm.

Keep it simple. Find a way to eat less. Intermittent fasting makes it doable.

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37 Responses to Returning to What’s Real

  1. Wood says:

    Keep posting Johnny, because I think you keep me on track. Thanks.

  2. Alex says:

    I understand that it is important to eat less to get lean.But the problem is how can i make my muscles bigger and stronger while i eat less?

    • Johnny says:

      Alex, lifting weight will stimulate muscle mass, and your genetic will dictate the rate and the limitation of muscle gain. As long as you meet the minimum nutrient requirement, diet has little influence on your muscle mass.


      • Lone Wolf says:

        Great article as usual, Johnny.

        I still have the same concerns that Alex does about adding “new” muscle mass. I have just never seen much convincing evidence that a person can gain (not regain) muscle mass at the fastest rates while maintaining a very, very lean physique.

        The body seems to be somewhat reluctant to take on the burden of new muscle mass without a few extra calories. I don’t believe in the necessity of getting “fat” but it seems reasonable for the body to only take on the metabolic burden of supporting more lean tissue in the presence of either a higher caloric intake or a higher level of body fat.

        What do you think? Is the above plausible or am I simply engaging in superstition? For example, do you think you could have achieved your highest level of muscle mass while always retaining your current level of leanness?

      • Johnny says:

        I had two lean friends who became appreciably muscular because they started lifting heavy weight consistently. The training and their genetics gave them the muscle mass increase, while they didn’t change the volume of food intake (the “bobsy twin” never had an appetite). But of course, there are far more people who, from reading muscle mags and from belief, lift heavy weight while eating massive calories. These people also gained appreciable muscle, but also they gained fat. So it’s hard to say that your comment is or isn’t plausible. I don’t think you ought to take my words for it, though. But at least give lifting heavy weight a try without eating more calories than you need for a year. See where it takes you. If you are at normal height and end up gaining 5 pounds after a year of genuinely serious training, then you have your answer. Most non-steroid lifters average that much gain in one year of serious training.


      • Stephen says:

        Lone Wolf,

        It’s true that you gain more muscles if you also gain fat but the point is that whatever extra muscle you have gained from allowing yourself to become fat compared to what you could have gained while staying lean, will be lost when you lose that fat.

        In other words it’s not retainable muscle, unless you don’t choose to stay fattier which is what many non-competitive bodybuilders choose to do by retaining the bulky look.

        If you check those formulas and analysis to determine the maximum rate of muscle gain of a natural builder based on stats of natural bodybuilder during competition, with the lowerst body fat, you’d realize how overestimated is the weight one could have at 5-6% body fat, shredded for a contest. And therefore how underestimated is the amount of muscle one will lose weight trying to going from 15% to 5% body fat.

        Maybe a person was 10% body fat and instead of trying to gain muscle while staying 10% allows himself to become fatter and gain many muscles and become 16% body fat. But when he will lean down to 9% body fat, he will lose all the extra muscles that he gained by choosing to get his bodyfat levels increase to 16% during the bulk than by staying 9%. So either you gain muscles while staying as lean as you’re or either you gain muscles by allowing fat gains and then lose the extra fat, you end up with the same identical muscle mass.

  3. Steve says:

    I agree with Wood, I get so excited when I know there is a new post to read.

  4. David Hoskins says:

    Great post Johnny.

    I love the simplicity of your message on each post. I have personally tried all kinds of diets (timed carb diet, keto, paleo etc) and the only thing that has ever worked is eating less calories! As it stands i now follow intermittent fasting with mostly whole foods and keep an eye on how many calories i eat.

    • Johnny says:

      David, I personally have met and know a few Europeans (now living in the States) who “keep an eye” on their calorie intake, and they’ve done this all of their lives without being obsessed about eating or dieting. They tell me that sometimes they don’t eat breakfast if they had a lot to eat the night before. Yet they’ve never heard of the concept of intermittent fasting. How they eat, then, is just how they eat. And it appears that this thoughtful approach to eating keeps them lean and healthy.


  5. Tracey says:

    Hi Johnny,
    I’m a new reader and I love all your info. I really like how this article sums things up. I have recently started eating primal and have noticed how when I stick to natural foods my calories stay low without effort. I also have noticed how much easier it is to fast now. In the past, I fell victim to blood sugar ups and downs, making a fast difficult. The one problem I have with the primal crowd is their belief that insulin, not calories, lead to fat gain. Now I know I can enjoy my banana and sweet potato and know I’m not gaining weight while doing

  6. Hey Johnny! Wanted to let you know I’ve been following your blog for awhile, and I love it. No-bullshit advice here is what I like to see.

    IF is also a way of life for me, as of about 5 months ago. It’s helped tremendously in more ways than I can describe, but I know you know what I’m talking about 🙂 Thanks for being a GOOD source of reading, and I look forward to more posts.

  7. Annabel S says:

    Hi Johnny,

    I’ve been a long-term reader of your blog since your first post. This is my first comment, and I want to let you know what a profound influence you’ve had on my weight loss over this past year. I feel I owe you so much!

    I’ve battled overweight for more than 20 years, and have adopted dozens of weight loss “diets” but always came out defeated. I can tell you that with each diet I have never lost more than several pounds, and these pounds usually disappear for no more than a month before they pile back on.

    I want to update you that since following your blog from the first day I’ve lost ALL of the excess weight and have kept it off for the entire 2010. I can’t believe how very simple it has been. And the best thing is that I get to live life as normal — and in fact, I get to enjoy life and family more than ever. They are no longer “second” to some hopeless diet.

    And just last month (December 31, 2010) I stepped on the scale and realized I weigh as much as I did in college… over 20 years ago. I am healthy, happy and stable at this weight, and it’s a matter of just living the lifestyle that I’ve lived for over a year — one that you write about.

    Thank you so much for a wonderful and selfless blog. I am a devoted reader and I always get excited with each new post!


  8. Grabber Orange says:

    I don’t know about you guys but every time Johnny throws down a new post it feels like Christmas.

    Please keep them coming!!!

  9. Nic says:

    I have done Paleo for quite awhile. I also dabbled in zero carb after reading a site about it and becoming interested in how that would feel. I never felt quite right and even doing Paleo and eating quite a bit of veggies I still didn’t feel all that great. I decided to add some potatoes and it was like someone zapped me full of energy and happiness.

    Paleo, low carb and all these other diets make sense to me on paper, but I never got the results I wanted or felt very good. Even on zero carb, I stalled and couldn’t lose the last 10 lbs.

    It just doesn’t make sense that most of Europe and Asia include bread, rice etc. and don’t have a problem with it. I think Americans problems stem from JUNK food and a way to uneven balance of carbs. If you stick somewhere in the middle and don’t make meals out of doughnuts, I think you are fine.

    It would be a sad life, even if it was a healthy one to never be able to eat crunchy butter bread again or slurp down some yummy noodles!!

    So I will go the fasting route and try to eat real foods and in the right balance.

    • Nic, I strongly encourage you to give Paleo a try. I’m a big fan of grains and starches (grew up on them!) but I absolutely cannot deny how wonderful I feel when I cut them out of my diet.

      Now I have them occasionally (for a treat meal or something), but not on a daily basis. I feel wonderful, leaner, and more energetic. I’m not 100% paleo since I still eat dairy, but I have cut out grains, sugar, and legumes (except peanut butter occasionally). Coming from a strong grain-lover, it’s definitely worth a shot for your health.

      That isn’t to say you can’t ever have bread or pasta again…just have them in very sparse amounts, and get the majority of your carbs from fruits and veggies. 🙂

      My .02.

  10. Chip says:

    I’m a 15 year old guy
    when I skip breakfast and lunch and eat just dinner and a second smaller dinner
    later I feel better and have more energy and have a better physique

    I’ve been told this was very bad so I tried to correct my “bad eating habit” by forcing myself to eat healthy breakfasts and lunches and when I did I felt more tired, had a slower brain and gained fat.

    It’s a relief to see my way of eating wasn’t that bad after all but I’m not athletic like you and I’m not much into exercise and sedentary except for basket with friends once in a while and PE in school. If this way of eating okay even if you’re not very active or muscular? Should I stop eating like that unless I become serious with weight lifting or it’s okay anyway? I hope eating like that is okay for a non muscular 15 years old because I think I have found something that works for life, I feel so good when I just eat dinner and after-dinner and fast the whole morning and afternoon.

    • Chip says:

      no one?
      I’d really appreciate your opinion on this matter


    • Johnny says:

      Hi Chip,

      I think that you answered yourself in your first paragraph.

      As long as you’re giving your growing body the nutritional requirement for growth, I’d imagine it doesn’t matter how you take it in. (What’s your height compared to your classmates? How is your focus in class?)

      Also, I recommend that you stay active — whether that’s through formal exercise or just informal activities like basketball with friends. Just stay active and move around a lot; it’s important to develop that habit when you’re young.

      In the end, just as any blog like mine inherently implies, you should consult with your pediatrist or doctor about your eating habit.


      • Chip says:

        My focus is better when I skip breakfast and lunch while I’m not able to focus at all when I have breakfast but most of my classmates are not able to focus at all too and always complain of headache or stomach pain.

        I’m of average height compared to my classmates. I’m not expecially tall but neither are my parents. My mother is 5.3 and my father is 5.5 and I am 5.6.

        The problem with consulting with my doctor is that she would never say that skipping meals is healthy, you know how doctors believe in common sense advices. I know because my father asked her about IF since he wanted to lose some weight and she replied that skipping meals would make his blood sugar low, would eat his muscles away and make him a danger for others when he drives. I think no traditional doctor would “condone” intermittent fasting.

  11. TrailGrrl says:

    So simple amd so effective amd effortless. I do IF without thinking about doing IF by not eating until I am hungry, which is sometimes 2 or 3 pm. Alert and focused and able to get the job done. Then a late dinner. I never saw my middle until I broke away from breakfast (even purely paleo like eggs amd bacon or steak). Maybe just not devoting so much thought to eating makes it better for you too. There is no need for perfection… If I eat too much crap in a row, my body wants steak amd sorts itself out.

    Thanks for the new post and for simplicity rather than the usual “over thinking” on primal/paleo type sites.


  12. Every Fall my cat eats like crazy and puts on a few pounds, which he sustains all winter, along with low activity. Spring comes, he eats less, moves more and achieves his beach body by May, which he sustains until Fall.
    Does it get any simpler?

    • Johnny says:

      Good examples, Audley. Intuitive eating, but only if the condition represents the wild. My house cat that’s been on an eating schedule will start crying bloody murder when it’s time to eat, and this indoor condition doesn’t change throughout the year. There’s something to be said about environmental conditions.


  13. kettlebellmonk says:

    Damn, I need to start drinking more ice cold water to help boost my metabolism along with my coffee before workouts and my green tea 27 minutes after I pee. Does anyone have a primal source for water? The water from my tap has way too many neolithic agents causing insulin to direct the water to be stored in my fat cells and as a result my muscles are dry and leathery just like grass fed beef jerky!

    I feel a new ebook coming on…. The iced coffee cod liver oil diet. This is the one secret that you have been missing that will help you lose that last 150 lbs. Or I could eat less often……. Naw, I will go for the $49.95 per month supplement of the week!

  14. Analisa says:

    To the point.
    Respect food.
    Enjoy moving and do it often.
    Love this post JN – thx. 🙂

  15. Dan says:

    I’ve been slowly reading through your blog from start to finish and look forward to joining the discussion from here. Starting to experiment with IF myself and have done so the last week or two, skipping breakfast, not having little nibbles here and there, trying to eat dinner earlier. I have some GI problems related to grains/soy, so I’ve been eating mostly paleo since end of November…actually a mix of paleo with a traditional-chinese-medicine twist…eating foods that boost spleen-qi; which happen to be the same foods that are good for us anyway…easily digested veggies, lamb, chicken, beef, etc.

    And while I like my current “pu-erh tea for breakfast”, I was curious (stupid question) if you find most coffee places have “heavy cream” even available? Most of the Starbucks by me are so busy it’s like throwing a monkey-wrench in the place to ask for anything other than skim/soy-milk.

    I guess I can just carry my own – have a great dairy hear that sells little 8 oz containers of grass-fed heavy cream – but I’m not always by a fridge…

  16. Jordan says:

    Hi Johnny,

    I have a serious question if you don’t mind…
    I implemented intermittent fasting lately (16 hours at least in leangains style) and everything has been fine for me. But, I wanted to know if intermittent fasting could help and if it’s fine in (addition to) cancer treatment. I searched for studies on intermittent fasting and cancer since I’m pretty sure that IF could be beneficial (less insulin, improve health markers…) but I’m still searching, maybe you could help me and give me your thoughts.

    PS: I ask for a person that I know, I worry for him, it’s not me that is concerned.

    • Johnny says:

      Hi Jordan,

      It appears from this study ( ) that Alternate-day intermittent fasting may protect the body from the toxicity of chemo therapy, therefore allowing higher dosage chemo and more frequency of treatment, and therefore more effective cancer treatment.

      Best of luck and hope for your friend,

  17. Dan says:

    Johnny: Had a couple questions for you about Personal Trainer training…recommendations, etc. If you don’t mind sharing a little time, shoot me an e-mail and I’ll try to make it short/sweet with the questions.



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