Becoming Lean

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To become lean, focus on two simple things:

  • Eat mostly wholesome foods.
  • Eat by choice, not by habit.

While weight-loss theories are always under debate, losing weight through a calorie deficit is an irrefutable fact. Eat mostly wholesome food to ensure sufficient intake of nutrients. Eat less.

Intermittent Fasting

Many diets work. A good one is the one you can stay on for the long haul. The best one, however, is the one that is simplest. Intermittent fasting is a no-hassle, no-counting, no-measuring, no-eliminating-anything dietary lifestyle. Intermittent fasting is meant to be a simple tool to develop good health and body weight, and nothing else.

Johnny, once fat, now consistently around 5-6% body fat. Intermittent fasting, a liberating life.

Intermittent fasting. Liberate your life.

51 Responses to Becoming Lean

  1. Kevin says:

    Do you recommend just sticking to the fats from meat/nuts or do you also cook with additional fats?

    • Johnny says:

      Kevin, good question.

      I don’t worry about the amount of fats I eat, as long as they’re mostly from good sources — naturally from meat, nuts, avocados, etc. I cook with duck fat, pork fat, beef fat, coconut oil, olive oil, and good ol’ butter.

      I’m fully aware that these fats add calories to my consumption, but I’m not concerned because I use intermittent fasting which typically averages a caloric deficit through time, or at least maintains a favorable caloric balance to get or stay lean.

      I try not to think about the macronutrients (pro, carb, fat) as much as eating whole, real food. IF will cause a calorie deficit, as long as I eat (mostly) responsibly during feed periods.

      The goal is to make this as simple as possible. Believe me, I’ve done all kinds of diets in the past — the typical bodybuilding diet, to Zone, to body opus, to ketogenic. Eating whole, real food and adopting IF has been the absolute easiest dietary lifestyle, AND it has gotten me leaner than ever before.

      I feel almost guilty how easy this has been.

      • Kevin says:

        Awesome.

        I was starting to get a little confused with Paleo talk on other sites … people getting into ratios with tons of fat, getting “enough” protein, counting carbs even when just eating veggies/fruit, etc, etc.

        I like your approach better. Eat real food when you’re hungry.

  2. Nathaniel says:

    Johnny,

    What’s the longest you have ever fasted? I read a study recently that found that the subjects’ resting metabolism actually increased steadily over time for the first 3 or 4 days without food, and then declined after that. Something to do with serum levels of norepinephrine.

    I’ve done 24-hour fasts before with ease, and I was thinking of trying a 48-hour fast. What do you think about that?

  3. Johnny says:

    A long time ago I fasted for 3 days, but it wasn’t as part of an intermittent fasting lifestyle. I can’t remember what it was for.

    Yes, several studies show that metabolism actually increases for up to 3 days of fasting.

    The study you’re probably referring to is done in 2002 by Patel et. al. They found that norepinephrine via activation of the sympathetic nervous system increases fat metabolism at and beyond the 72-hour mark.

    Another study by Carlson et. al. (1994) demonstrates that fat metabolism increases in subjects who fast for 60 hours.

    Other studies show that catecholamines metabolizes fatty acids from adipose tissue to provide energy.

    Personally I don’t care to fast for more than 24 hours, but I don’t see why you can’t.

    A lot of fat oxidation begins around the 8- to 12-hour mark, and I usually keep it going until the 16- to 18-hour mark. Fasting beyond this periodically is fine, but my intermittent fasting is more of a daily eating pattern, a lifestyle that’s EASY and removes the focus on eating AND fasting.

    Best,
    Johnny

  4. Nathaniel says:

    Thanks for responding, Johnny. Yes, I have recently settled into a daily style of IF based around a couple of big meals in a short window of time. I like this style a lot. But I was thinking about throwing in a much longer fast every now and then, until I get as lean as I want to be.

    And part of me just wants to see if I can make it through a 48 hour fast without discomfort. Not many people can say they’ve done that!

    • Johnny says:

      For the purpose you mentioned (actively getting lean), an occasional longer fast of 48 hours sounds like a good plan.

      When I did my 72-hour fast, believe it or not, the second and 3rd day were actually easier than the first day. I reached what I call a state of nirvana, and felt like I could have fasted forever.

      Of course “fasting forever” would be a bad idea, but a longer fast is, at least in my experience, a lot easier than I had imagined. Just had to get over the mental part, and I imagine it’s the same for most people.

      Here, thus, is the cool thing: when you have proven to yourself that you can fast for 48 hours without too much discomfort, then you already know that fasting for shorter durations (like 16 to 18 hours) is nothing!

      And I’ve proven this for many, many months with the meal pattern I’m using — eating my first meal around 4 or 5 in the afternoon.

  5. Nathaniel says:

    You’re the man, Johnny; thanks for taking the time to respond to me and share your experience.

    I love intermittent fasting. Lately I’m never hungry, even after fasting for 20+ hours. It feels great to not think about food.

  6. Nathaniel says:

    Hey Johnny – right now as I write this I’m roughly 42 hours fasted, and feeling great! It’s so true what you said about it getting easier as you go on; it’s like the hunger gives up the fight when it knows that you mean business.

    I just got home from grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s – they’ve got tons of great stuff, as you probably know – but I wasn’t even tempted by anything. I picked up some stuff, looked at it, and thought to myself, “Nah, what the heck do I need this for? It’s not what I should be eating.” I ended up just buying some sensible whole foods that I knew I would be needing later on.

    Just checking in, and posting this for anyone else who is interested in longer fasting. I don’t know that I will do this very often but I am thinking about possibly doing a 36-hour fast semi-frequently: Eating dinner one night, fasting the whole next day, and then resuming at breakfast the following day.

    • Johnny says:

      Richard Nikoley of Free The Animal has regularly used longer-phase intermittent fasting and received impressive result with it.

      His blog is also very captivating. Check it out, if you haven’t!

      http://freetheanimal.com/

      Best,
      Johnny

      • Nathaniel says:

        Oh yeah, I’m a big fan of Richard’s blog. I check it every day.

        I just have to say, Johnny, that I really appreciate your “keep it simple” approach to everything. There are people in the health and fitness world that seem to try to make everything as complicated as possible. It’s tempting to get carried away with it. Your approach is very refreshing, and your pictures are proof that a simple approach can work.

  7. Trip says:

    Woah! Your physique is exactly how I want mine to be! Ok, maybe that’s not completely possible but I do want to get rid of another 15 pounds of fat and gain a little bit of muscle. I’m not worried about getting huge muscles but I want to look “athletic”. I have started intermittent fasting very recently and found the Lean Saloon to be absolutely inspiring and full of useful information, but I never saw your picture until now! I am completely sold on IF. But I want to know what you do for exercise???

    Thanks for a great blog and I hope you keep at it!!

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  9. Yousef Erakat says:

    Hey. I am new to this blog and LOVE IT. I have become very serious in weight lifting and dieting when I changed my lifestyle on January 17th 2010. It is an ongoing battle and one that will be one. I have 1 BIGGGGG question for you.

    On August 11th 2010 I will begin fasting for Ramadan. So I will not be eating or drinking anything from Sunrise till Sunset. Typically 4:45 am – 8 pm.

    How should I go about doing this the right way.
    I don’t want to lose everything I have worked so hard for and am new to IF and this is IF in its own. I will be going to school, working, and also working out at night so I have to know how to adjust when I eat, what I eat and how to incorporate my workouts.

    Your advice would be greatly appreciated!!

    • Johnny says:

      Hi Yousef,

      It sounds like you’re on the right track overall. Keep your plan to workout at night right before you eat your first meal, and just go about your day normally. Make sure you drink plenty of food at night, and especially before you enter the fast so that you don’t feel thirsty or become dehydrated through the day and through your exercise later at the end of the daily fast.

      Don’t worry, as long as you meet the daily minimum requirement for calories for the month, you won’t lose what you’ve worked for. Muscle doesn’t diminish so easily with a calorie deficit for the month, and especially if you’re still eating at night.

      Good luck and hope to see you regularly in the comment section.

      Best,
      Johnny

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  11. Yannick Messaoud says:

    Everyone is so different when it comes to weight loss, for me low carb as always been best to lose the weight, but havoc when returning to regular eating.

    I have a huge sweet tooth, i am a winner when i can overcome it but such a loser when i give into it.

    IF as worked very well for me too, after some trial and errors you will start to forget about appetite and eating all the time. At some point you have to use trial and errors because of all the info on the net and what we have been hearing for all theses years.

    -cardio first thing in the morning
    -high intensity training
    -cut carbs after 7
    -eat every 2-3 hours
    -keep workouts under 45 minutes

    and so on

    What i believe by experience and from my body typing is that cutting out carbs will work for me, cutting out sugar, relying on foods instead of supplements to feed my body, and taking the occasional fat burner.

    Good luck everyone if it was easy everyone would be slim, thanks Johnny once again for great website and info

  12. Paula says:

    Right on!!! I’m glad I found this blog!!

  13. goni5@msn.com says:

    HI

    My name is Gonçalo and I’m from Portugal.

    I really like your blog so that’s why I thought about asking you a question.

    I have struggled with strong chronic anxiety and some depression for a long time. I’m 23.

    I would like to ask you if you have any suggestion about what I can do to to try to understand if these syntoms have roots in nutritional deficiencies, infections, inflammation, etc. I have
    some history of trauma but maybe some of this is aggravating the problem?

    Are there some probable causes? Any tests I shoud do? cost-effective Solutions?

    Thanks so much

    Warmest wishes

    Gonçalo

    • Johnny says:

      Hi Gonçalo,

      I think that eating mostly a Paleo diet and borrowing some habits of a Paleo lifestyle (getting enough sunlight and relaxation, etc.) may address some of the markers that are *generally associated* with anxiety and depression, but I think that you may benefit by looking into professional clinical advice.

      All the best,
      Johnny

    • foggy says:

      Check out Amy’s “The Daily Egg” for great natural solutions to anxiety problems.

  14. Sonny says:

    Johnny, I am a Marine and attended SERE (Survial Evasion Resistance Escape) school a few years back, and we were forced to fast 3-4 days. I will agree with you, the first day is painful, but you do reach a sense of “nirvana” each and every day afterwards. When the course was over, I looked very lean and cut up. I am 5’8″, and went from 180lbs to about 168lbs. I looked great. However, I must tell you, that I was also weaker due to the loss of muscle mass. Four days of fasting will do it to you. Do you not agree that without protein intake it will be extremely difficult to maintain strength levels? Because of this I don’t think IF will be applicable for some lifestyles like mine. I support you though! I believe IF is a great concept for all to understand and practice in some sort of form.

    • Johnny says:

      Hi Sonny,

      I don’t think it’s so much protein level as it is a 4-day fast that initially depletes strength and function. In this time period, you’ll definitely lose weight, in fat, maybe a little in muscle, in fluid, glycogen, etc. And that has a direct effect on performance.

      Yes, you’d need to meet a minimum protein requirement to maintain muscle, organ, hormones, and general health — on an average through time. But this amount doesn’t appear to be as high as most people who succumb to commercial and marketing sources would believe.

      To be clear, though, I do not recommend continuous multi-day fasting. It just sucks.

      Best,
      Johnny

  15. Cathy says:

    Hi Johnny,

    Love your blogs – -Just introduced to Eat-Stop-Eat a few weeks back which has brought me over to your website. Liking this approach even better – Thou, I know you have wine on occasion or perhaps even more than occasion.. It’s always been a no-no for me on my weight loss plans in the past… I have read thru your blogs and apologize if I missed this but, how many glasses would you say you consume on an average week and are still able to maintain your awesome stats.??

    • Johnny says:

      I drink about 1 to 2 glasses of wine per day, nearly every day. Sometimes more, sometimes none. In the end, wine isn’t the deal breaker in weight control — there are other larger influences when trying to lose weight.

      Thanks for reading, Cathy!

      Best,
      Johnny

      • Ali Santiano says:

        I actually am on IF daily (trying to push my 1st meal later) but do drink 4-6 whisky and coke a night! I know that may seem a lot… but so far, i’m averaging 1lb a week of fat loss. I know alcohol screws with insulin etc… but i’m trying to experiment on what i can get away with.

        I could probably drop fat faster w/o alcohol but…. 🙂

  16. fitinspite says:

    Jhonny, wonder if you have any pointers for me. Been reading and reading and buying into all this but I do have a problem of overdoing it before and after the fast. The first one is obvious.. I’m anticipating not eating so it’s easy to say, enjoy, you’ll make up for it but at this point I’m still trying to lose and this is interfering with my goal. Then afterwards I find once I put something in my mouth, I’m a bit of a runaway train.. seems to be worse if I break the fast within a calendar day; ie morning to morning. Granted I love food so for me eating less often feels a bit of a punishment not liberation but I’m willing to get through the lumps if it eventually evens out with some effort. The liberating part.. well, that’s your blog and research you post to support it. 🙂

    • Johnny says:

      fitinspite,

      Independent of intermittent fasting, you’ll have to make some behavioral changes before anything else. Whether you eat multiple small meals a day or do IF, nothing will help you get leaner unless you make fundamental changes to your eating habit. You’ll have to find ways and learn how to control your eating first. It’s not too hard to blow your caloric ceiling in a single hour. The problem for some people isn’t eating patterns but eating behavior. Change that, and then consider IF as a plan that makes eating less a little less of a hassle.

      By the way, this post might be helpful.

      Best,
      Johnny

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  18. Brandon says:

    Johnny,

    Found your blog through a comment over on MDA and I must say, thank God! I’ve searched the net looking for great quality IF blogs, it was like opening gifts on Christmas when I found yours. I look forward to reaching my sub 10% bodyfat goals following this lifestyle. I have been using IF for several months (mainly, ESE method) and down about 3-4% bodyfat already (estimated begin 20% to about 15-16% now). I think I will begin a 19/5 IF protocol and I look forward to my future progress!

    Brandon

  19. primalmovers says:

    Johnny, I read your blog with interest, I have been playing with IF for a few months, but am yet to find my zone, so to speak, but I think it will come. Thanks for sharing your story, and wisdom.
    Regs, Tom

    • Johnny says:

      It takes work to find your zone with IF.
      And even then, it will still take a proactive approach. It’s worth it.
      The food industry that tries to sell you endless food certainly remains proactive trying make you eat more.
      Stay proactive and defensive. Stay smart.

      Best,
      Johnny

  20. Supertramp says:

    Johnny,
    Would you recommend prolonged fasts, like 48 hours once in a while, or is that not beneficial in the long run? Martin Berkhan at Leangains says that there are diminishing returns with the health benefits when you fast for longer durations.

    What is your take on this?
    Normally, I fast somewhere between 16-20 hours every day and my aim is reduced bodyfat.

    • Travis Pond says:

      Through my own resarch and based on what my doctor has told me, any fasting beyond 36 hours results in muscle cannibalism, mineral loss, and the beginnings of cognitive imparment. I’ve lost over 30 pounds in 5 months and I limit my fasts to 30 hours max.

      ~Travis

  21. Travis Pond says:

    Ya know guys, I just ran across this blog site this morning (5/25/11) and I HAVE to put in my two cents. I am a 35 year old former power lifter that has been struggling to lose the same 30 pounds for 10 years; I carry around a lot of muscle, but a lot of fat as well (around 18%-20% bf). I still strength train 3 times a week, train in martial arts three times a week, and play soccer.

    However, despite all this exercise, I’ve struggled to lose the extra weight that kids and age have bestowed upon me. In mid January I weighed 237 pounds (I’m 6’1″) when I started IFing. This morning I weighed in at 204; the lightest I’ve been in a decade! I’m faster, both mentally and physically, and I have lost NO strength or muscle mass. My current body fat % is at 15.4. My goal is 10%.

    Ifing is the best and EASIEST diet I’ve ever been on. To me, it’s very sustainable and has become a way of life (which is important when trying to stick to a diet). For those of you just starting out on this type of diet, I have one thing to say to you: STICK WITH IT! The results will blow you away.

    ~Travis

    • paul says:

      Hi travis well done that.s a great result sir,i to have done weights for years,i carry a lot of muscle and fat.i would like to lose 2 to 3 stones of fat.Do use use a daily eating window or doyou do alonger fast twice a week or so.I am pondering both options.I can see the logic of an eating window. Regards Paul.

  22. Greg S. says:

    There have been periods of my life where I eat just one meal per day. But it is usually a big ‘ol meal. Perhaps just as much food as I would have eaten spread over 3 meals. Does this qualify as IF? If you assume that I eat the same number of calories during 1 meal per day, will there be any difference on my body vs. eating 3 smaller meals? Thanks.

  23. jayson says:

    hello johnny, i found your website on marks daily apple and i was not a fan of fasting before but i know that was because of the lack of knowledge. i was a fan of frequent meals. i eat 100% primal, whole and natural foods. i get all my fats from healthy fats as you mention avocado, nuts, seeds, ect. i stick to lean meat and i first started fasting a week ago. i started with a 10hr fast and now im at a 12hr fast per day. i want to get to 16/8. i have already noticed major cahnges, i love it. im learning more and more everytime i visit your site so thank you for all the info you make avail. i do want to ask one question and just make sure i get the concept 100%. you said before that you dont worry too much about ratios (fat/carbs/pro) but i just want to make sure it really isnt that important. right now i am where i want to be and i just want to maintain my body and not worry about all the traditional ways of eating. this seems simple. i am 37yrs old, male, 5’6 , 140lbs and 8% body fat. i train 5 days per week, low level stuff. im very happy with my body, very happy. i keep my calories under 2,000 my fat is around 60g, carbs 68g and protein 125g per day. i only eat whole natural food and filtered water. nothing else. do you see anything i can improve on with those ratios????

  24. JeffN says:

    Hi I’m a 44 year old male 5’10” and 221lbs. I’ve started to have a number of ailments due to my very poor diet and lack of exersize so I recently started training. I hit the gym at least 4 times a week and spin for 45 minutes. I can see some results already and have started my own version of Paleo and IF not realizing these existed. My question is it possible for a man my age to become as lean as some of your pictures. I realize it will not happen over night but I am curios to know if such a thing is possible, Finally where can I find some example IF techniques? Thank you for a wondeful blog.

  25. Nate says:

    Johnny,

    I have commented before, a long time ago. I’m a big fan of your blog. Thanks for doing what you do.

    In the past 6 months I have been lifting weights and I managed to put on a fair amount of muscle, as well as some fat, eating a mostly Paleo diet with lots of milk. Now, I’m trying to get rid of the fat and finding it difficult.

    I am finally doing what I think I should have been doing all along, which is following Martin Berkhan’s advice. I’m sure you’re familiar with him. I have been practicing intermittent fasting, eating only within a 3-5 hour window and never earlier than 5pm. Sometimes I wait until 7pm, and sometimes I eat just the one meal, effectively observing an eating window of less than one hour.

    Also I have been lifting weights, following Martin’s recommendations: an abbreviated routine focusing on the major compound lifts. (I also just started training reverse-pyramid style and I really like it.)

    The thing is, I can’t tell if I’m getting any results yet. I feel like my body is fighting it. I know that genetically, some people find it more difficult, yet I also know that what I am doing now should be working.

    It has been a couple of weeks and I weigh only a couple of pounds lighter. I suppose I could try eating even less, but I don’t want to lose strength, if I can avoid it.

    I’m hoping that you can give me some tips and reassure me that this will work, if I just stick to it and give it some more time. Thanks again.

    Nathaniel

  26. Steve says:

    Yo Johnny, amazing stuff man. Great read.

    I practice the 16/8 fast. I cycle calories but not carbs. My results have stalled. Im thinking of switching to a Paleo style of munching.

    Do you have any carb meals after lifting?

    Tah….

  27. T. says:

    Johnny!

    I have done fasting for a while and counted every nutrient (macros) til I cracked and binged for almost a month. Right now I’m back on track after reading your Blog. I was almost 210pounds at 5.9 during highschool, and was able to loose most of the fat with kungfu! During that time, I stopped eating sweets and junkfood and only had one (though huge) meal with lots of salad and less processed foods a day.

    Somewhat that changed by last year and I craved sweets and other junky foods more and more.
    Then I tried to count the macros in my junk to fit in my daily macros of my IF. Bad idea ahah! 🙂

    Right now I am living a pretty similar life as during my kungfu times;

    waking up, drinking some coffee, moving around, some workout, and have a good meal around evening (sometimes with processed foods, sometimes nonprocessed.. just living simple) 🙂 so far everything seems good. Addition to that, I dont weigh myself, I go by the eye 😉

    Thanks for freeing me from the obsessive compulsive eating habits and finally I can enjoy food with my friends without fearing my macro intake.

    T.

    • Johnny says:

      It’s a learning process, and losing weight and keeping it off is truly a part-time job. You have to be vigilant in this eating-centric culture surrounded by food-pushing industries. Keep on doing it.

      Johnny

  28. here says:

    Wanted to drop a comment and let you know your Feed isnt working today. I tried including it to my Bing reader account but got absolutely nothing.

  29. dobiedollmom says:

    Johnny,
    I’ve read about IF for a quite some time but I’m finally ready to pull the trigger on it. I am a 40yr old female and have roughly 50lbs to lose. I’ve read in other places that if you’ve got more than 20% bodyfat that IF may not be the way to go. Can you give me your opinion on this?

    Also, I was once in the Army and was in great shape and lifted weights often. I’d rather lift weights anyday than do cardio. On my 4th birthday (this June), I joined a kettlebell gym and I’m loving it. I do my workouts with my coach in the evenings during the week and in the mornings on Saturdays. Is there something in particular I need to do for these sessions to optimize my workouts or the results afterwards?

    Thank you in advance for answering my questions,

    M.

    • Johnny says:

      There are no rules to intermittent fasting, just as there ought to be no rules for meal timing. Eat whole, natural food; just don’t eat all the time. Body weight has nothing to do with it.

      • Al says:

        Hey Johnny. It’s great to see your words again. Hoepfully you will get back into blogging on a regular basis. We all miss you.

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