The plan is simple:
On Sunday evening after dinner I stop eating and I close my computer (if I’m using it).
On Monday, I go about my day. Except I don’t eat… and I don’t use the internet for anything other than work-related purposes.
On Monday evening… I still don’t eat. By this point I’ve had plenty of water, coffee and tea… but no food. Oh, and I still haven’t checked the internet.
I go to bed on an empty stomach.
Tuesday morning, I go about my day. I’m allowed to check the internet now. But no food until dinner time. More water, more tea, more coffee.
The day goes by quickly. And Tuesday’s evening meal – no matter what it is — tastes delicious. I eat until I’m full. And then I’ll typically eat again before going to bed on Tuesday evening.
This is the end of my “diet” for the week. I’ll eat normally for the rest of the week. I’ll use the computer however I want for the rest of the week.
Yet because of my strategy during the first 44 hours of the week, my weeks are always ridiculously productive. I stay lean – right around 7-8% body fat – despite the fact that I don’t count calories, carbs, protein or any “macros.” Oh, and I don’t do any cardio either.
In this article, I’ll explain why this controversial strategy works so well and I’ll give you all the details on how I developed this system and how you can put it into practice.
Go To Bed Hungry
In large parts of the world, going to be hungry is a normal occurrence. In more advanced countries, we use it as a threat against our kids. And yet, we must consider that our ancient ancestors probably went to bed hungry at least every once in a while.
So it shouldn’t be such a foreign concept to us.
I’ve been following various intermittent fasting protocols for the past few years. But most of them don’t ask you to go to bed hungry. Fasting for 8 hours, 12 hours, 16 hours or even 24 hours is something most people can do without too much trouble. But going to bed hungry is a major tripping point for most people.
To paraphase Meatloaf: I would do anything for abs… but I won’t do that! And yet under the surface we all know the key to getting a body better than most is to push yourself to do the things that most people can’t or won’t consider.
Hence, going to bed hungry.
But it’s not just suffering for the sake of suffering. There are a surprising host of benefits.
# “Quintuple” your growth hormone levels
Yes, quintuple. Not double, not triple, not quadruple, but quintuple your growth hormone levels. That’s 5x more growth hormone for those of you that slept through math class.
Studies show a two-day fast results in a five-fold increase in the 24-hour production rate of growth hormone. And considering that more growth hormone leads to more muscle, less fat, faster recovery, better sleep and youthfulness, that’s a pretty big deal. (1)
# Increased Fat Burning
With no incoming calories, your body is forced to burn stored body fat to provide energy. In the beginning of the fast, the body will opt to use stored glycogen levels. But once that runs out, the body will burn body fat. This is evidenced by an increase of free fatty acids in the blood. After 32 hours of fasting, free fatty acids are 3x higher than after 8 hours of fasting. (2)
# Reduced Insulin Levels
As expected, insulin levels drop right off the bat from the beginning of the fast and continue to drop. This is completely expected but it carries a nice fringe benefit. As insulin levels drop, hunger typically fades. Which is why most people report that the second day of fasting is actually easier than the first. (3)
# It’s easy. Yes, easy.
Look, when it comes to losing weight you need to create a caloric deficit. Everybody knows that. There are hundreds of ways to accomplish said goal. You can run on a treadmill hoping to burn up those calories. You can follow a complicated diet, count calories, carbs, fats, etc. You can painstakingly spend all day in the kitchen trying to craft delicious meals that are lower in calories.
Or… you can just stop.
Just stop eating for 44 hours once a week (maximum) and the let your body naturally burn away the body fat. On the surface, fasting for 44 hours sounds like a tall task. But those who’ve tried it can attest that it’s way easier than trying to count carbs, calories, etc.
With this method, you don’t have to follow complicated or restrictive diet plans. Simply fast for 40-48 hours at the beginning of the week, then eat a normal, balanced diet the rest of the week and you’ll be amazed at how fast the weight falls away. The old-timers had a saying: “Abstinence is easier than moderation.” Anyone who has attempted a fast can attest that not eating anything is often easier than trying to eat less.
# Increases effectiveness of any diet
Just as water will naturally find it’s own level, humans will naturally eat at maintenance levels no matter what diet you end up following. Sure, when you make the initial transition to your new diet plan you will most likely lose some weight. But after that first month, weight loss stalls for most people.
This is because whether you are eating a paleo diet, full-blown keto, low-fat, whatever… you will naturally eat enough to maintain your weight. Your body is wired to want to preserve resources and in this case your survival resource is stored body fat. So unless you are tracking every single calorie that crosses your lips, you are almost certain to end up eating just enough to maintain your bodyweight.
But when you kick off the week with a 44 hour fast and then follow that up with your normal eating method (be it paleo, zone, whatever) then you will see rapid weight loss. This is because even though you will still be eating right around maintenance on the days you do eat, because you have a 44 hour block where you didn’t eat any calories, you will have created a significant caloric deficit for the week.
# Increases willpower
If you’re like most people, you start the week with the best intentions. You plan to stick with your diet and you do pretty well for those first few days. But you start to feel your willpower fading by Thursday and when the weekend hits things have gone sideways. By Sunday, you are kicking yourself for yet another week of dietary failure and you are already re-committing yourself to “do better” starting “on Monday.”
But what most people have discovered is that a 44 hour fast in the beginning of the week makes sticking with any diet the rest of the week much easier. It makes sense when you think about it – you do the hardest part of your “diet” on Monday when your willpower is the strongest. After making it through 44 hours without eating, you will have a great sense of accomplishment and you will find it easier to stick with any style of eating plan the rest of the week.
After all, even an ultra strict no-carb diet is easier than a “no food” diet.
# Increased Productivity
For most of us, the internet is a huge “time suck.” We all know this, of course, but it can be difficult to look away. That’s why I make Monday “internet free” and I find myself knocking out more work on Monday’s than I do the rest of the week. Plus, since I’m not eating anyway it’s the perfect day to knuckle down and focus on work (rather than thinking about food). This of course is my own unique spin on the 44 hour fast. As a fitness entrepreneur I’m always interested in anything that will improve both my fitness and my business acumen. This strategy does exactly that.
Finer Points & FAQ’s:
Many people wonder how it’s possible to fall asleep without eating. I have no easy answers here. Suck it up and expect a less-than-perfect night of sleep. However, you might be surprised. I regularly deal with insomnia but for some reason I sleep better on my fasting nights. Going all day without eating seems to make me extra tired and I tend to fall right asleep on Monday nights.
Like most people, I end up training on Monday-Wed-Friday most of the time. Yes, this means on many Monday’s I train on an empty stomach and then I don’t eat anything or drink any protein shakes after my Monday workouts. The horror! This was difficult at first but my body quickly adjusted and now it’s fairly straightforward.
I wouldn’t try to get compete in the Olympics on an empty stomach, but a training session done on an empty stomach every once in a while shouldn’t be that difficult.
On the flip side, I find that going 40-44 hours without eating and then eating big on Tuesday evening seems to drive additional nutrients and fluids into my muscles. It’s almost like your body super-compensates for the lack of available resources. So on Wednesday mornings, I usually wake up looking bigger and more muscular than usual.
For that reason, it may be best to schedule your toughest workout of the week for Wednesday.
# Every Monday?
I don’t do this every single Monday, although there’s no reason why you couldn’t. I do this if and when it’s convenient. Is this just an average Monday for me? Cool, then I’m probably going to do the 44 hour fast.
But if I’m on vacation or if I’m in the final week of demanding training program then I will choose not to fast. A while back I intended to fast but when I got home on Monday night my kids (I have twin daughters) surprised me by baking their first pizza.
Without a second thought, I ended the fast and ate the pizza. I told them it was the most delicious pizza I’d eaten in my entire life. And I wasn’t lying.
It was a no-brainer. I’m not a slave to this protocol. I use it when it is convenient and “put it on the shelf” when it is not.
At my current level of leaness (less than 8% body fat as verified by a DEXA scan) I don’t need to use this tool every single week. Twice a month is enough to keep me at my current level.
UPDATE: My thoughts on this have changed over the last 18 months. I think using this strategy every OTHER week is good for anyone looking to lose weight quickly. And using this strategy 1 time per MONTH seems to work best for those looking to maintain and improve health.
# Exactly how long should the fast be?
Between 40-48 hours. Less than 40 hours and you won’t reap all the benefits of the extended two day fast. More than 48 hours and cortisol continues to rise. There is also the possibility of beginning to burn lean muscle tissue at this point, although I feel this fear is wildly overblown.
Still, 40-48 hours seems to be the “sweet spot” for getting the most bang for your buck out of a regular fasting program.
# Can I do this more than once per week?
I wouldn’t recommend it. Although I have done so in the past when I needed to lose weight quickly for an upcoming powerlifting competition. But doing this twice per week means you are not eating anything for 4 days (total) while eating only during the remaining 3 days. That makes for a tough week.
# How many times should I do this every month?
Up to you. Some people do it every week like clockwork. They treat their 44 hour diet as a “reset” button to get them back on track after the weekend (since most people relax their eating habits on the weekend.)
Some people do it only once per month. I myself shoot for roughly twice per month, depending on what’s going on in my life.
# So… what can I eat during the fast?
Nothing. But you can drink water, coffee and tea.
# What about diet soda? It has zero calories.
Personally, I would avoid it during your fast. Fasting is a great way to let your body clear up the chemicals that find their way into your system. Inducing chemicals via diet soda would be a step backwards.
Plus many people find that artificial sweeteners tend to trigger hunger cravings. Which is the last thing you want during a 44 hour fast.
# Can I add cream/sugar to my coffee? Can I add milk to my tea? Can I add lemon to my water?
I personally add a small splash of heavy cream to my coffee. And yes, I like to add lemon to my water while fasting. As long as you are not going overboard with the cream/sugar/milk, etc it’s not going to make much of a difference. But I would do my best to minimize sugar or milk since consuming fast-acting carbohydrates is counter-productive to the goals of fasting.
# Who should NOT do this?
Off the top of my head, pregnant women should probably not experiment with an extended fast like this. And anyone under the age of 18 or anyone with existing medical conditions should check with their doctor first.
# What should I eat before the fast? How about after the fast?
The key here – for both before & after – is to eat like the fast never happened. Don’t pig out before in anticipation of the fast. And don’t pig out after as a reward for the fast. If you do this, you will simply be “undoing” much of the fast.
The first few times you attempt this, you will probably find yourself overeating after the fast is over. That is ok. Once you’ve done this a few times you will find it easier to just eat normally despite not eating for the previous 44 hours.
As for what you should eat, just stick with whole foods and you will be fine. I’ve broken my fasts with steak, potatoes, pizza, protein shakes, eggs, cheese, pasta… etc and never had any stomach or digestive issues. Some fasting zealots will say you should always ease out of the fast with fruits and other gentle foods. That may be true for longer fasting periods but because I’m only fasting for 44 hours I’ve had no trouble breaking the fast with any kind of food I want.
This is simply an effective tool I discovered over many years of experimentation. It works, so I’ve stuck with it. But I am not fanatical about this. I don’t believe this is right for every single person. But I think most people who try it will be pleased with the results.
So give it a try (if you want) and feel free to post comments and feedback below. Thanks! Oh, and I’m seeing some impressive results from people who are combining a bi-weekly 44 hour fast with the strategy in my book, The Single Digit Body Fat Manual.
2: Halberg, N, M Henriksen, N Soderhamn, B Stallknecht, T Ploug, P Schjerling, and F Dela. 2005. “Effect of Intermittent Fasting and Refeeding on Insulin Action in Healthy Men.” Journal of Applied Physiology 99: 2128–2136. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00683.2005.