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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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December 02, 2008

My Self-Experimentation and Transformation

By Worker Bee
49 Comments

Thanks to Richard Nikoley of Free the Animal for this Guest Post! Here is more anecdotal proof that a high fat diet coupled with intermittent fasting can improve body composition. If you’re interested to know more about Richard’s transformation visit his site, or simply ask him a question in the comment board where he’ll be fielding inquiries. Thanks, Richard!

_______________________________________________________________

I’m a blogger with over two thousand posts under his belt going back five years this month, to November of 2003. And, until May of 2007, about 18 months ago, I was a big fat blogger — one usually filled with rage over politics and all sorts of other societal elements far removed from my direct control. The blog was supposed to be an outlet; but instead, I was a basket case of stress, with blood pressure consistently measuring 145-160 / 95-105, probably well on my way to some cardiac event or stroke within a decade. To make matters worse, I took prescription medication daily, both for gastric reflux (pretty predictable) and for sinus allergies I’d suffered from since my teen years.

I was 46 years of age when I got fed up with it all. By this time, I had racked up over 5,000 miles walking the first hour of every weekday morning over a period of five years. Walking, by itself, doesn’t work — at least not for me.

Tipping the scale at 230 (5’10), 30%+ body fat, I decided to really and finally do something definitive about it. And I blogged about it extensively — mixed in with all of the ineffective, stress-inducing political toxins. But having now racked up nearly 60 pounds of fat loss and almost 20 pounds of lean muscle gain — now at 190 and closing in on 10% BF — I finally decided to blog about health and fitness exclusively last September. I’ll not be looking back. I’m enthusiastic about helping others achieve real results.

The mainstream advice is mostly wrong. One need only take a look around.

So it was easy, right? It’s all math: calories in equals calories out. Boost the metabolism, cut back a little — maybe even on refined carbs, add some lean mass, tip the “energy balance,” and watch the fat melt away. …Well, not exactly. Though, I was lucky enough to stumble upon a trainer who, not only stressed weight training over cardio, but actually steered me toward 30-minute sessions vs. an hour like almost all trainers and gyms try to do. I got set up to go twice per week. That’s an hour per week of ripping intensity and I’ve never worked out for a second longer. I do still walk my 3.5 miles every morning.

And so it began, I trained hard, made real strength gains quickly, initially gained some weight (lean mass) as expected, and then waited for the fat to magically vanish. But It didn’t work out that way. You see, I thought that as I built lean mass, I’d boost baseline metabolism, and my body would just naturally burn the fat over time. Well, maybe a little, but after six months I had dropped about 6 pounds net. At that rate, it would take more than five years. Still, I knew I was onto something, because almost immediately upon beginning the weight training, my blood pressure started coming down, and pretty rapidly too. Within only a couple of weeks I was down to 130-140 / 85-95 most of the time.

So this is when I began to really take others out here in the blogosphere seriously. Guys like Mark Sisson and his Daily Apple. It has been invaluable, and once I learned that diet is 80%, things began falling into place. It was a bit more than a year ago when I really began replacing carbohydrate with fat (mostly from animal sources). My pace of weight loss doubled immediately, to about a pound every two weeks — even though I was still doing too much cheating with burgers, fries, and pizzas too frequently.

But it was working.

Then one day last December I read about “Intermittent Fasting,” and suddenly, the whole foundation of evolution through natural selection, leading to Mark’s Primal Blueprint began falling into place. Think of it this way: everything begins with hunger. An animal — any animal, including the human kind — can only exist in two states with respect to food: fed or fasted. From the point we’re hungry to the point when we eat, we’re in a fasted state. From the point we eat until we’re hungry again, we’re in a fed state.

So, when we think of diet being 80% of the equation, how come so many focus on how to feed and never on how to fast? Could it be that it’s more like 50-60% diet (what we eat), 20-30% fasting (when we eat), and the rest is additional gene expression factors through various forms of brief, intense, stressful-functional activity?

So I decided to give it a go. By this time I’d been working out for over six months, and so had a pretty good idea of the demands. I decided that my first fast would be 30 hours in duration, and, I would do an intense workout near the end at about 26 hours in. It was a profoundly enlightening experience, one that once and for all convinced me that virtually everything you see, read, and hear from the mainstream “authorities” is completely and woefully wrong. I have named this phenomenon modern ignorance.

Far from “losing lean mass,” I and my trainer (to his utter astonishment) found that I gained it even more rapidly. Of the 100-300% strength gains I’ve accomplished over the last 18 months, perhaps 75% have come from the point that I began doing all my workouts moderately to extremely fast. I always ensure that I’ve not eaten for at least 12 hours, but from time to time, I’ll hit the gym not having eaten in 36 hours. Now, of course, I’m not aiming to get “body-builder” big, either; just strong, lean, ripped.

So then I rush to get that post-exercise protein, right? Nope; not even close. It’s never sooner than two hours, and from time to time as much as six hours. But this was an evolution too. Admittedly, at first, I “prepared” for my fasts with a big meal. Then, when I would finally eat, it would typically be the hugest ribeye steak you’ve ever seen, garnished with plenty of butter. What I found is that no matter how long I had fasted prior to the workout, hunger would usually go away 5-10 minutes in. Eventually, I learned to stay right on the edge of it. I could make it come and go at will, just by getting more intense, faster; then backing off.

Fat is king.

In retrospect, I doubt this would have been remotely possible without the essential pleasure and satisfaction I derived in the early stages from really pouring on the fat and pigging out before and after the fasts. I ate lots of fat (animal, olive and coconut oil) with everything, all the time. And then a strange thing happened, spontaneously. Subtly, without even really noticing it, I began eating less, less fat when I did eat, more variety including fruits, and my pre and post-fast meals took on the form of the normal. Now, increasingly, fasts are taken up spur of the moment, as in: “I’m busy; guess I’m fasting.”

I’ve found that fasting gives me high resolution into my own hunger and focuses me intensely on my own place here on this planet with respect to food. Perhaps that sounds a bit too “cosmic,” but I don’t know how else to express it. Consider how much emphasis is given on what to eat, and yet, everything begins with hunger. Could we go a step further? Without hunger, does anything really matter? Well, I can tell you first hand that fasting is your portal to hunger. Sounds obvious, but given the foregoing stated importance of it, how come people fear it so?

So there you have it; my story. It would not have happened without courageous and conscientious people out there like Mark Sisson and the cutting-edge work they do. I can only dream about helping half the people he’s helped; and yet, I’ve already helped plenty — many of them loved family and friends. I really appreciate Mark granting me this wonderful opportunity to put a guest post up on MDA.

What a great way to change a life, and to do it amongst such great people. If you’d care to see a bit more of the evolution in pictures, here’s my latest photo update; and also, my gallery of various progress photos and mashups. Finally, if you’re wondering how all this has effected my lipid panel, here you go.

Other Guest Posts:

Go Healthy Go Fit: Staying Healthy and Fit in Different Lifestyles

Fitness Black Book: Shake Your Gym Addiction. The Outside World is Waiting For You

10 Questions with MizFit from MizFitOnline

Modern Forager: The Tropical Oils

The IF Life: Building Muscle 101

Health Hackers: Conquer Restless Nights with This Simple Sleep Cure

Almost Vegetarian: Almost Vegetarian and Kitchen Geology

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49 Comments on "My Self-Experimentation and Transformation"

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Andrew R
7 years 9 months ago

Hey Richard,

Congrats on the transformation! It’s great to see someone put their mind to a goal, find out how to accomplish it and then just do it! Kudos brotha!

All the Best,

Andrew R

Richard Nikoley
7 years 9 months ago

Hi folks. Just putting up a place holder here so I can get email notice of comments.

I welcome questions if anyone has any.

Holly
Holly
7 years 9 months ago

Thanks for the great story Richard! Congratulations! Quick question about the fasting – even on a primal diet, I find I get tired/moody/cranky/less productive if I fast for too long or when I have a lot going on. Do you ever run into those problems/issues? If so, how did you overcome them to make fasting work so well for you? Thanks! And again, congrats!

Richard Nikoley
7 years 9 months ago
Holly: Sure, I’ve had a few “failed fasts” over the year I’ve been doing it (twice per week). At the beginning, organized, disciplined fasts are probably good just to tough out — to convince yourself you actually can do it. But stresses and activities in life are varied, and who knows why you can easily do five 30 hour fasts in a row, then can’t even get through a 24-hr one without caving at 10pm? I guess it’s something that needs to be taken flexibly, intermittently, and listen to your body. As you lean out, I’ve found, I am much… Read more »
Kloep
Kloep
7 years 9 months ago

Awesome! Congratulations. I’m going to forward this to my mom. She is not overweight but she always talks about losing fat. I’ve tried to explain the primal blueprint to her before; to no avail. I think she may understand this.

Joe
Joe
7 years 9 months ago

Richard,

Congratulations! And really nice progression of photos. I’m in Holly’s boat, even as a guy I find myself getting crankier on the tail end of a fast. Though usually my level of crankiness is inversely proportional to how busy I am. If I can fill up my day with activity, I have less time to dwell on being hungry and less time to dwell on being cranky.

Coed Fitness Tips
7 years 9 months ago

Wow Congratulations Richard! You have fitted the pieces of the puzzle together. Too many people think it only takes one “magic” exercise or diet but in reality it takes a good combination of diet and variety in exercise. Keep up the good work.

Gordo
Gordo
7 years 9 months ago

Follwed you for a while Richard, and posted on your site as well.

Happy to see you are still going strong, but I just have to ask this…

Do you feel any real harsh reprocusions of not doing the whole grass fed ‘thing.’ If I had to eat fatty rib-eyes for a whole year that weren’t from a grass fed cow, do you feel that I am doing my body harm? Eggs?

What about pastuerized cream as a fat source. Given it is basically empty except for fat calories, is it doing any real harm?

Thanks
Gordo

Chris
7 years 9 months ago

That was a great post Richard – well written and accessible.

Son of Grok
7 years 9 months ago

I have been by Richard’s site before quite a bit. Richard has a great success story and it is a continuing one as well. Keep up the good work Richard!

The SoG

Mike OD - IF Life
7 years 9 months ago

Great story Richard….really liked your insight:

“I’ve found that fasting gives me high resolution into my own hunger and focuses me intensely on my own place here on this planet with respect to food.”

Well said. Keep up the great health!

Richard Nikoley
7 years 9 months ago
Joe: I can’t say fasting has ever made me cranky. From my perspective, a _was_ a hugely cranky, disagreeable, volatile guy. Probably that low-level widespread inflammation from all the crap, the stress of running a company, etc. The change was so profound that from my perspective, I have become quite a bit easier to live with in general (just ask my wife :). Gordo: I personally don’t worry a lot about the grass fed — except for raw whole milk (which I’ve given up anyway and feel WAY better for it). I sometimes get grass fed beef and buffalo, and… Read more »
Liz Turtle
7 years 9 months ago

Although I follow a very conventional diet plan, I am always interested in hearing about what works for others. Thanks for sharing your story, Richard!

I’m particularly interested in the eternal “fat” debate: i.e., is it good for you? bad for you? neutral? I’ve been leaning toward the “good for you” side, although I don’t include trans fats in my assessment.

Richard Nikoley
7 years 9 months ago
Well, Liz Turtle, how about give it a try? You might be amazed. I suspect that most issues people have with being hungry and obsessive about food in general is a dietary fat deficiency in the right context (animal, olive, coconut), along with an elimination of processed foods. For example, the Zone Diet (I call it the “Groan Diet”) could never work for me, and I suspect, strict Paleo a-la Cordain either. In fact, I just got “The Paleo Diet” on my Kindle and haven’t learned a thing. “Skinless chicken breasts?” C’mon! Grok ate the skin, I’m pretty sure —… Read more »
Stacey
Stacey
7 years 9 months ago

Great work, Richard!

Now a question on fasting. I’ve tried fasting before on numerous occasions the longest fast lasting 23 hours. Every time I’ve fasted I have become ill, the longest fast rendering me violently ill with headache, vomiting, fatigue, and so on. I’d like to make fasting part of my routine, but my experience is what makes me so frightened to do so. What’s going on here? Why does fasting make me sick? How can I put a stop to it so I can get on with a healthier lifestyle?

Richard Nikoley
7 years 9 months ago
Stacey: When I first began, I had real “intestinal” issues. I don’t know, but my working speculation is that there may be toxins sequestered in your fat, and releasing them in a flood as fasting does causes bad things to happen. Here’s what I do know: glycogen last a couple of hours under strenuous activity while a human can go 3-4 months and longer on fat and protein stores. Given the logic of evolution, what does that tell you. I think there’s a withdrawal element to it, just like if you drink coffee every day and quite, you get headaches,… Read more »
Eddie
Eddie
7 years 9 months ago
Hi Richard, Thank you for sharing your journey-notes. I appreciate the “cosmic” hunger stuff. I’d appreciate if you could elaborate on a couple points. 1)”…Eventually, I learned to stay right on the edge of it. I could make it come and go at will, just by getting more intense, faster; then backing off.” Is the “it” of which you speak, your hunger? The quoted passage, while obviously important to the overall learning you acquired, has me a bit confused. 2)”…I began eating less, less fat when I did eat, more variety including fruits, and my pre and post-fast meals took… Read more »
Marc Feel Good Eating
7 years 9 months ago

Richard,

Congrats. I have watched your progress and you site after seeing your comments over at Art. D’s.

I still have pretty big meals after my fasts.
But I’m also very active, so figure that I still need it.
I only schedule 1 IF day per week and the other day I let happen naturally based on my scedule for the week.
Thanks again for the GREAT post!

Marc

Jolene
7 years 9 months ago

Congratulations on your transformation, I’m a big believer in this way of eating and the various versions of the paleo-type diet. I first heard Loren Cordain speak 10-years and I think the biochemistry behind the primal living is sound and spot on! Richard, you are another great example of this.

Stacey
Stacey
7 years 9 months ago

Hey, Richard. As a follow-up, I was looking over some fasting tips and noting that pretty much everyone says nursing moms shouldn’t fast. True? I’m nursing a 3 month old. Bummer (re: fasting).

BTW, while I’m talking about the baby, carrying a baby counts as exercise?? I just walked to the grocery store and back (1/2 mi, 30 mins – we’re down to one car and it’s not with me) with the baby strapped across my chest. It certainly *felt* like a workout. Counts as one, right?

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[…] I’m a blogger with over two thousand posts under his belt going back five years this month, to Nov… « Talking ‘Toxic Fat’ With Zone Diet Creator Dr. Barry Sears […]

Green Goddess
Green Goddess
7 years 9 months ago
Really enjoyed following your blog as well as from Art’s blog. Glad that you’re staying on track. I read Eat Stop Eat and that was very enlightening with regard to IF and blood sugar levels. I’m quite slim though I would like get more definition. The fasting that I’ve been doing are mostly eating very early dinners and eating breakfast later or skipping it altogether. I can go as long as say 18 hours but beyond that I get light headed. What I do notice though that on my fast days it has a great effect on my digestion and… Read more »
Tee
Tee
7 years 9 months ago

Richard,

Great job on your weight loss and your dedication to a healthy life style.

As a male who is just starting the journey, I’m doing pretty good except I find myself cramping up. Different places of the body at different times of the day. I take vitamins, eat a banana everyday and drink water. I do drink quite a bite of coffee every day-6-9 cups-. My question is do you, or have you had any problems with cramping when you first started?

Thank you.

Richard Nikoley
7 years 9 months ago
OK, here we go. Eddie: Yes, the ‘it’ is hunger. In fact, I happen to be in a fast today. My last meal was yesterday around 2pm (small salad, lunch-size steak, sauteed veggies). I was going to be working out at 4pm this afternoon, eating around 7 but my trainer called wanting to move up, so it’s now 3:30 and I worked out from 1-1:30 and I feel great. A very mild, ENJOYABLE hunger. Anyway, I did upper body first 20 minutes and then deadlifts and leg press. Pretty heavy — and by the 2nd set hunger began to come… Read more »
Fitness blogger
7 years 9 months ago

That is good doing. I liked the 5000 Miles walked part.

Tom Parker - Free Fitness Tips
7 years 9 months ago

Great success story Richard. I have tried fasting but never for as long as you do it (usually 24 hours max). And I’ve never tried exercising during a fast but if the hunger really does go away during the workout I might give it a try.

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Donna
Donna
7 years 9 months ago

Great Post Richard and Congrat’s!!!
So many people are afraid to eat fats, but as you pointed out, eating “good” fats is “good” for you!

Fasting is something i occasionally do, i really like it, i actually feel pretty good the next day after. Taking a 24 hour break from food does a world of good for me. I don’t eat but i do drink water on my fast.

Rachel/Fit Mom
7 years 9 months ago

Wow. That is amazing. What a great story and inspiring as well. I have never really thought about using fasting, ever. Not sure I could take a 24 hour break from food though. Maybe I could start with a 12 hour fast, heh??

Patrick
Patrick
7 years 9 months ago
There seems to have been a lot of attention paid to intermittent fasting recently. In my opinion, there are two camps: those who believe one should eat “nothing” for an extended period of time, and those that believe that “eating light” will produce the same effect. Which is it? I do practice fasting and I realize that I prefer, when fasting, to have a few cups of coffee with cream. It really seems to keep hunger at by and increases my mental focus. Am I reducing or nullifying the effect of fasting by ingesting cream? As you mention in the… Read more »
Richard Nikoley
7 years 9 months ago
Tom Parker: Regarding hunger going away during a workout, just a heads up. Depending on your individual disposition, it might be hard to get this working for you. Because you are simply choosing to use this as a tool to improve, and not for survival, it might be difficult to motivate yourself to really put out when you have this gnawing feeling in your stomach. If you don’t really put out with the intensity in the first 5-10 minutes, you might not see the hunger go away. The key to getting it to go away is to drive the intensity… Read more »
Dr Dan
7 years 9 months ago
Richard, congrats on your weight loss. Its remarkably similar to mine. I had a blog when I was overweight struggling with the issues and getting over dieting. Then I started paleo and took it seriously and the weight has melted away effortlessly. Congrats!!!! Secondly, I just wanted to point out that Dr Cordain says to trim the fat off of meat because wild game meat is extremely low in fat (especially subcutaneous fat) and so they would never have gotten as much fat as we do if we don’t trim the meat. Its obviously not a problem eating it, but… Read more »
Richard Nikoley
7 years 9 months ago
Dr Dan: Let me just say that I recently began reading “The Paleo Diet” for the first time. Frankly, I think Cordain is FOS on this point, and the book is plain IRRITATING with all the bromides he uses liberally (‘heart healthy fats’ — he means unsaturated — ‘artery clogging saturated fats’, etc.). I certainly grant that SOME indigenous populations didn’t have access to lots of animal fats (or it was easier to eat high carb, like the healthful Kitavans, Kuna, etc.). What I think is that humans are generally adapted to a fairly wide range of fat and carb… Read more »
John Campbell
John Campbell
7 years 9 months ago
Most excellent post Richard – Your blog is one I follow regularly (along with MDA! and a few others) – well written, always interesting and you seem inquisitive, playful and not doctrinaire. Works for me – I really like your approach. My experience has been similar to yours. I have lost about half the fat you have – I am shorter (5’9″) and “only” weighed a little over 185 lbs at my heaviest. I don’t know about you, but I have been amazed how much weight I have lost – 30lbs – mostly fat I think – I feel at… Read more »
Richard Nikoley
7 years 9 months ago
John Campbell: “I am just now looking into a gym and trainer to help me get started into working out. I am in good health and I have the same goals as you – strength and leaning out more. Any advice for the workout newbies? – I really want to get some professional help with form etc.” This is another area where I think there’s often too much emphasis on what/how to work out than on just…simply…working out. All newbies need to know is ditch conventional cardio and do brief, intense. There’s a lot of resources like here at MDA,… Read more »
John Campbell
John Campbell
7 years 9 months ago
Richard – thanks for the reply – I am not obsessing over the workouts, but your advice is very good – it will help me judge a personal trainer for maximum benefit. As far your dental findings are concerned, I am not at all surprised by much of it. I posted in another blog I believe you frequent – Diana Hsieh’s Noodlefood – she was posting on a piece you did on vitamin D! don’t you love the incestuous nature of the web. In any case I posted a reply which included: “The plaque is formed by naturally occurring bacteria… Read more »
John Campbell
John Campbell
7 years 9 months ago

Sorry – Mark I must add a huge thank you to you as well for your great blog and giving us all this wonderful opportunity to learn from your wisdom!

Kudos! We are all in your debt! As the name of your blog implies – I never miss a day! I often suggest interested people check out your site since it covers such a broad range of topics and is so intelligent and accessible.

Mark Sisson
7 years 9 months ago

Thank you John for the compliments and kind words. And thanks for being a loyal reader! Keep on referring people. I want to get the word out to as many people as possible, and I can’t do it alone. Cheers!

Mark

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7 years 9 months ago

[…] a body in its natural state. —”Genetics” is just another excuse. —Firsthand transformation. —A soldier who refused to torture. —Knowing isn’t necessarily doing. […]

Richard Nikoley
7 years 9 months ago

John Campbell:

Sorry, I didn’t get that quick question answered regarding “Activator X.” On my site, just pop ‘K2’ into the search function and that will pull up all my posts on it. In those, there are references to other articles. Pay particular attention to Stephan’s posts (Whole Health Source) as well as the substantial article by Chris Masterjohn at the Weston Price Foundation.

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[…] Richard Nikoley’s Self-Experimentation and Transformation – Dec. 2 […]

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7 years 8 months ago

[…] Richard Nikoley’s Self-Experimentation and Transformation – Dec. 2 […]

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[…] Richard Nikoley of Free the Animal write a guest post for Mark’s Daily Apple. It was titled My Self-Experimentation and Transformation. In it Richard told his inspirational story of dropping 40 pounds (while adding muscle), lowering […]

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[…] Free the Animal: My Self-Experimentation and Transformation […]

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[…] I have NEVER done any of that. Ever. The very closest I ever came was to suggest to Mark Sisson a guest post on fasting; for one, because I'd already had contact with him and two, because he'd just published something […]

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[…] of you will recall my guest post over at Mark's Daily Apple. At the time, Mark and I agreed he'd do one here as well, and I […]

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[…] For those who missed it, Mark Sisson guest blogged here a few months back (and here's my guest post at Mark's place). […]

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[…] daily to his own commitment. Not only that. When I hit him up for a guest post by me on his blog, he said bring it on. When it was time for him, he showed up on mine. Then later, he did a video […]

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[…] in the name of his blog. For the newcomers, Mark was generous enough to publish a guest post on his blog from me. But now, let's get right to it; with advanced thanks to […]

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