The dieting craze, like any craze, goes in cycles. In the 1980’s, fat was the culprit. Fat was stripped from every food imaginable and the results were disastrous. By the 1990’s people realized that fat wasn’t the problem, it was those pesky carbs. This carb-phobic approach was ideal for the protein powder manufacturers that convinced you to load up on their carb-depleted product. And man did those protein pushers make a ton of dough.
Along with the low-carb boom came the frequent-eating craze. Everyone, including myself, recommended that people should eat every three hours. Calories should be spread evenly throughout the day to ensure a steady supply of nutrients for energy, repair, and hormonal control. This approach works well if the dieter is diligent and the food choices are fresh.
Then in 2002, Ori Hofmekler came along and told us that we had it all wrong. His Warrior Diet focused on extended periods of undereating, or “controlled fasting” as he calls it. This was followed by a big meal at night where the majority of your daily calories are consumed.
The Warrior Diet, a system of 18 or more hours of fasting followed by one huge meal (at night!), shocked the world. When the book came out, small frequent meals every few hours was considered the holy grail of dieting. And the evening hours were considered such a hazardous period to your waistline that most trainers recommended that dinner be nothing but a small portion of protein and some vegetables. Any carbs at this time would surely lead to a morning scare where woke up to find the Michelin man, with your head attached, staring back at you in the bathroom mirror.
I didn’t think much of the Warrior Diet when it first came out. I didn’t read the book, but I heard enough talk and read enough interviews from Hofmekler to have a firm grasp on the approach. His system was definitely at odds with what I was doing, and the results my clients were getting didn’t mandate any significant change on my part. That was 2002.
Since then, I’ve learned one essential truth. Whether you want to lose fat, gain muscle, or boost your energy, gut health is key. I firmly believe that the reason why you could eat virtually anything when you were 17 and not gain fat was because your gastrointestinal (GI) health was at its peak.
Being a nervous system guy, I usually talk about the power of your motor system to build size, speed, and strength. This central nervous system is made up of the brain and spinal cord, while the associated neurons that control your muscles are part of the peripheral nervous system. However, the simple term “nervous system” is an umbrella that covers many areas.
Your gut also has its own neural power source, the enteric nervous system. It controls the function of your gastrointestinal tract, pancreas, and gallbladder. The human enteric nervous system contains 80-100 million neurons. That’s virtually as many neurons as are found in the spinal cord! And if that’s not surprising enough, the enteric nervous system functions almost independently of the central nervous system. In grad school my professors referred to the enteric nervous system as the body’s “second brain.”
Yes, that’s how important your gut is.
So what does this have to do with the Warrior Diet? Well, this month marks the year anniversary when I actually read the book cover-to-cover and put Ori’s principles into play in my own life. Since I was already ears-deep in gut research, I had been using many supplements for support such as probiotics and HCl. I was satisfied with the results those supplements gave me, but I felt I could do more. I kept reading about the benefits of fasting, so that’s when I decided to give the Warrior Diet a try.
There are many ways to follow the undereating (controlled fasting) phase of the Warrior Diet as Ori explains in his book, but here’s a quick overview of what I did.
From the time I woke up until 7pm I had three glasses of juiced vegetables spread evenly throughout the day. Each glass contained the following:
1 medium/large carrot
1/2 of a large cucumber
2 large celery stalks
A pinch of sea salt (to keep electrolytes in balance)
I drank this concoction at 8am, noon, and 4pm. From 6-7pm I trained and then I had a big dinner that started with a salad, followed by a large protein source, followed by a starch such as a yam or wild rice. For dessert I’d have berries and maybe a small serving of a chocolate dessert. This is the basic formula Ori recommends for the evening meal (minus the chocolate dessert).
Here’s what I experienced while on this diet for one week.
The controlled fasting phase for the first day was tough. I felt pretty lethargic overall. This was no surprise given that I’d eaten every three hours for the last, oh, 17 years. But I powered through it. I was hungry as hell when dinner came around and I ate a larger dinner than I’d had in years.
The first thing I noticed after dinner was that my stomach was almost as flat as when I started, even though I was completely full. This reminded me of my teenage years when I could eat a horrendous McDonald’s super size meal and have no gas, bloating, or indigestion because my gut was so healthy. Without a doubt, my controlled fast with vegetable juice upregulated digestive enzymes higher than the probiotic/HCl supplement combo I had been taking.
The second day was much easier. I actually felt pretty good during the day and by 5pm, the time of day when I usually have an energy crash, my overall energy and alertness was high. Hofmekler says that fasting will boost growth hormone throughout the day and activate the sympathetic nervous system (your energy system). Given the way I felt, this could certainly be true.
By the end of the week I had lost an inch off my waist, my gut health was higher than it had been in a decade, and my energy was at its peak. My venture in the world of the Warrior Diet paid off.
There were other reasons why I chose to give the Warrior Diet a run. First, I’m so busy during the day meeting with clients that I prefer to not eat. Second – and this is the honest truth – I go out to dinner every single night. Why? First, I’m the world’s biggest foodie. I live for great, rich, satisfying food. The boiled chicken breast and steamed vegetables lifestyle has never been a part of my life. Sure, it’s been a part of my client’s plans when fast fat loss was the goal, but these were people who didn’t really care about food. I, on the other hand, think about what I’m going to have for dinner the second I wake up.
So for me, the Warrior Diet fit my lifestyle perfectly. I have no problems with willpower so I could easily skip food during the day, especially when I knew I could eat a lot of satisfying food at dinner that night.
But many people want to eat during the day. Maybe breakfast is the only time when they can sit down with their kids, or maybe power lunches make up the bulk of a business person’s lifestyle. Or maybe the idea of not eating until 7pm every night sounds like torture. These social reasons are valid, and for them, I wouldn’t recommend the diet because you really have to get the undereating phase right for the diet to work.
Out of all my clients, half of them eat Warrior style. The other half eat small, frequent meals throughout the day. Both methods will work. The trick with eating frequent meals is that your food choices have to be fresh and you have to keep the calories relatively low in each meal. A huge meal like the Ori recommends thrown into a frequent feeding diet plan will quickly expand your waistline.
One of the best elements of the Warrior Diet is that you end the day feeling completely satisfied with food. This is where the small, frequent meal dieters typically fall short since they usually eat bland foods. The reason why this approach doesn’t work is simple: if you’re going to eat, the food must be satisfying to your body and senses or else you’ll fall off the wagon.
So here are the points I want to make in this post. First, I give the Warrior Diet my thumbs up. If fat loss, improved gut health, and longevity are what you primarily desire, and if that style of eating fits your lifestyle, give the diet a trial run. Second, I’m seeing more and more people in the fitness industry recommend a style of eating that Ori brought to the forefront almost a decade ago. In fact, I was at dinner last week with a colleague that I highly respect and we had a good laugh about the Warrior Diet. He started experimenting with it at exactly the same time that I did last year. His clients have all reaped big benefits from that style of eating, and he has made it a part of his routine, too.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the next diet “revolution” is going to revolve around periods of fasting.
Finally, you don’t have to eat Warrior style to change your body for the better. However, if that style of eating fits your lifestyle you should definitely try it. I think the key point that Ori taught us is that we probably don’t need to eat six times per day to get results. Our guts aren’t designed to be crammed with food every few hours.
It’s the quality of food that matters. Three or four meals with fresh food sources are better than six or seven meals made up of protein powder and a handful of supplements. Fresh food sources contain all the enzymes your overworked gut is craving. So you can fast, or you can eat fresh produce and wild fish, etc to restore your gut. You shouldn’t be afraid of food, you should be afraid of poor-quality food that doesn’t satisfy your body.
As Wolfgang Puck likes to say, “Live, love, and eat great food.”
However, there is a time and a place for a high-quality protein powder, and the best one can be found at this link.