Max Lowery’s approach to intermittent fasting for fat loss
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there are many, many dieting styles that work.
There’s mindfulness and habit-building– the diet of no diet, which forgoes extreme methods and extreme results in exchange for an eating style that’s sustainable and nearly stress-free.
And then there’s intermittent fasting (IF), the diet where you compress your eating into a shorter time window every day.
In this interview, Max Lowery of 2 Meal Day explains why intermittent fasting is an easy and sustainable way to stay slim while improving cardiovascular health and metabolic flexibility.
Max is a personal trainer, author, and UK Mountain Leader. He believes that the modern environment is taking us out of sync with our natural rhythms, affecting our physical and mental health. He teaches his clients how to incorporate methods that reset the body to its natural state: sleep, movement, intermittent fasting, breathing, and cold-water therapy. He can be found on Instagram and at 2 Meal Day.
There are many, many ways to approach intermittent fasting, and like dieting in general, most of them work just fine. The method described here isn’t the one I use, but it’s similar, it’s simple, and it’s easy to follow.
In your mind, what are the main benefits of intermittent fasting?
For me, there are three obvious benefits that people feel on a day-to-day basis. These are weight loss, stable energy level, and reduced hunger overall. The combination of these three things means that it often becomes a way of life for people, rather than a crash diet. It’s sustainable and seems to reset your body to its natural state. What other “diet” makes you feel energized and less hungry?!
In my opinion, it’s a more natural way of eating; it teaches you to eat when you are hungry, rather than eating out of habit, an array of different emotions or boredom. It gives you back control over food—you are no longer a slave to the clock. Many people in my community group describe this as “empowering.”
There are also a whole host of other potential benefits that are less obvious: improved insulin sensitivity, improved metabolic flexibility, healthier gut function, better sleep, and potential anti-aging properties.
Your site is called 2 Meal Day — what exactly is your daily eating window? What made you pick that schedule, and how long have you been on it?
The reason I started The 2 Meal Day is so that you don’t focus on “eating windows” and listening to the clock. When you focus on these things, it never becomes a way of life; it becomes a restrictive diet. You count down the hours until you can eat.
For me, the benefits lie in learning to listen to your body. Once you change that focus, it becomes a way of life, not a crash diet. By skipping one meal, you are essentially getting anywhere between a 12–16 hour daily fast in, but the focus is on eating when you are hungry.
For me personally, I try and stop eating at 8 p.m.—eating late at night is particularly detrimental for a number of reasons—and I break my fast when I first feel hungry. Sometimes this is 11 a.m. and sometimes it’s not until 7 or 8 p.m., but most of the time it’s between 12–2 p.m.
So, how does the 2 meal day actually work? You said there’s not an eating window, but I’m not clear on what you do instead. Do you eat your first meal of the day when you get hungry, your second meal when you get hungry again, and then fast from that point onward?
By skipping a meal you are extending your overnight fast to 12–16 hours, rather than the usual 8–9 hours people get when they are asleep. When you first start your 2MD journey, you choose which meal you want to drop. Most people choose to avoid eating first thing in the morning, so essentially, they eat lunch and dinner. A small number of people choose to eat early in the day, have lunch, and then skip dinner. Either way has benefits…it comes down to personal preference.
What is the best way to organize one’s fasting schedule in order to get the benefits of it — while also maximizing convenience, quality of life, and the ability to fuel one’s workouts?
This depends on a number of variables, like goals, sex, occupation, sleep, alcohol intake, current diet, and training schedule. It’s very difficult for me to answer this in a simple way, but essentially the goal of the 2MD is a better understanding of your body. Everyone has the ability to know when to eat, or when not to eat, when to fast or not to fast, to fasted train, or not fasted train. Eating multiple times a day, all day, means you lose the ability to know what your body needs.
My main advice to people is to cook from scratch from fresh ingredients; that way, you are nourishing your body with what it needs. Once you are doing that, you can then start to extend your overnight fast and drop a meal. When you do eat, eat until you are full, and don’t restrict calories. Going through these steps will give you the tools you need to incorporate it into a way of life.
Fasting has been made to sound really complicated, but it’s not. It’s about eating when you are hungry. The only issue is that you only learn what real hunger is once you go a few extra hours without eating, and you realize “perceived” hunger comes and goes throughout the day. Most of the time, you don’t need to eat as often as you think you do,
What should people do to maximize fat loss with intermittent fasting?
Cook from scratch from fresh ingredients. There is no better way to control your health and fat loss than being in complete control over the food you eat. Once you are doing that, start meal prepping. The last thing you want to do is skip breakfast and then go and eat any old rubbish you can find at work because you’re hungry.
It pays to be organized, so take nutrient-dense food to break your fast with. Get into a decent training routine. Three good sessions per week is enough. On top of that, move as much as possible, particularly before you break your fast.
How can people prevent their metabolism from slowing down during intermittent fasting (IF)?
IF does not slow down the metabolism — this is a myth. Chronic calorie restriction over a period of weeks can slow down the metabolism, so if you calorie-restrict on top of IF, then that will cause issues.
However, if you do IF properly and eat until you are full, this will not happen. One of the main benefits of IF is improved metabolic flexibility, which essentially means your metabolism functions with more efficiency.
There is a big hormonal and metabolic difference between traditional calorie restriction (when you restrict calories at each meal, spread across the day) vs. intermittent fasting, which is when you do get a reduction in calories, but you also get a large amount of time where you are not eating anything at all.
Fasting triggers numerous hormonal adaptations that do NOT happen with simple calorie restriction. Insulin levels lower, helping prevent insulin resistance. Norepinephrine rises, keeping metabolism high. Growth hormone increases, maintaining lean mass.
Can you explain how intermittent fasting helps you sleep, and why eating late at night is detrimental to your health?
Following an IF protocol like 16/8 [an 8-hour eating window with 16 hours of fasting per day] or 2MD is more in line with our Circadian Rhythm (body clock). We are only really primed to digest and utilize food for an 8–12 hour time period every day; during those hours, our bodies are prioritizing digestion. Outside of those hours, our bodies are prioritizing other processes.
When you eat food has a powerful effect on your body clock. Eating late at night can trick your body clock into thinking that it’s the middle of the day, which will affect sleep quality and sleep hormone secretion. Sleep is meant for recovery. If you eat close to bedtime, your body is going to be working on processing and digesting the food, which will stop your body from recovering effectively.
What should people do to maximize their energy levels when fasting?
Initially, people may have less energy. If you are used to eating regularly throughout the day, your body is never going to use its stored energy reserves. It will prioritize the food you eat. After a few days following IF (time varies for different people), you force your body to start using its stored energy reserves (body fat).
Once you are in that fat-burning state, gone are the days of energy fluctuations, or the mid-morning and mid-afternoon slump. You are on one stable energy level all day. So there isn’t much you need to do. This is a natural state of being. The way we are now, with constantly fluctuating energy levels, is not natural.
What is metabolic flexibility and how does fasting improve it?
Metabolic flexibility means that your body can adjust fuel oxidation to fuel availability; it’s ability to switch between burning carbs and burning fat based on what you take in. Someone with great metabolic flexibility can burn carbs (from food) when they eat them, and then in the absence of food can switch effortlessly to burning fat (from stored fat).
But when you constantly eat, your body can lose the ability to do this with ease. By incorporating a daily fast, you are forcing your body to start using its fat stores and therefore improving your metabolic flexibility.
Long term, being metabolically-flexible can decrease the risk of metabolic diseases, like Type 2 Diabetes. I made a video with Professor of Nutrition Dr. Adam Collins (sorry about the video quality!) — the section from 14:02 onward explains this.
How much fasting is too much?
This depends. If you are giving your body what it needs when it needs it, you can fast every day of the year (I do). If you are approaching it with the wrong attitude and focusing solely on weight loss, this can cause issues. The fact of the matter is fasting is a natural state of being for human beings. Everyone fasts overnight; you are just extending that fast by a few hours.
We have evolved to go through long periods without food. Weight loss and overall health is a multi-faceted issue. Fasting is one tool in the toolbox to optimize health and fitness. You also have to look at sleep, movement, activity levels, stress, social life, etc.
What are the most common mistakes you see people make when they start intermittent fasting?
- Thinking it’s a magic pill for weight loss, and therefore eating a lot of processed junk food.
- Doing too much too soon — aiming for 16+ hour fasts straight away.
- Combining calorie restriction and IF.
- Not looking at other areas of their life — sleep, food, activity levels, etc.
- Focusing on the clock, rather than listening to their bodies.
What kinds of people tend to do the best on a two meal a day fasting plan? Who does it not tend to work for?
It doesn’t work well for people that have a history of eating disorders or disordered eating, or anyone that finds it difficult to eat a decent amount of food in a smaller time period. It should also be avoided by anyone with any underlying health conditions, and by pregnant and breastfeeding women.