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Why “Feast or Fast” is Better than “Slow and Steady”

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How to Apply The Concepts of Intermittent Fasting to Maximize Overall Efficiency

Today’s world is a miss-match with our evolutionary past, and intermittent fasting and HIIT are just two examples of how returning to our bodies with the intermittent approach can produce more effective and efficient results.

As you may have noticed, intermittent fasting has made the leap from fringe to mainstream thanks to its ability to produce awesome results while saving you time and effort. It’s simply more effective and efficient than other nutrition plans.

What I want to reveal to you here are multiple strategies that go beyond nutrition and exercise, and allow you to use an intermittent fasting mindset. 

So, let’s look at why intermittent fasting is so successful.

First – the “magic” of intermittent fasting is the result of one simple concept — the cycling of intensity.

Cycling periods of high-intensity “feasting” with periods of low-intensity “fasting” is more effective and efficient in producing results than continuous moderate-intensity “grazing.”

The cycling of intensity is the secret — rather than “grazing” throughout the day, you drop the intensity with a “fast” and then increase the intensity with a “feast.”  

Without this cycle you wouldn’t get these benefits from fasting: saving time, reducing caloric intake, producing hormonal benefits, and allowing for the removal of damaged cells.

It’s a simple concept, but often gets muddied scientific jargon. If you remember one thing from this article, remember this: cycling between high- and low-intensity is the key to producing effective and efficient results. 

It’s shouldn’t be surprising that intermittent fasting works because our bodies are designed for living intermittently — it’s in our genetics.

Our Paleolithic ancestors lived in a world where cycles of high and low intensity were the only option. Food intake fluctuated greatly depending on the seasons or the success of a hunt. Physical activity alternated between low-intensity movements like walking, gathering foods, or working with brief periods of higher-intensity activities like hunting, running from a predator, or fighting for survival.

Exhibit A: High-Intensity Interval Training

The success of high intensity interval training (HIIT) is another good example of the benefits of cycling intensities.

HIIT alternates periods of high-intensity effort with periods of low-intensity rest and recovery to produce better results (more effective) in less time (more efficient) than other exercise methods.

The similarities with intermittent fasting are obvious: the high-intensity exercise effort is the “feast,” and the low-intensity rest is the “fast.” HIIT just uses a different timeframe for cycling the demands.

It’s only recently that humans have transitioned to a life without cycles of high- and low-intensity. Today’s cornucopia of excessive and constant consumption is pushing us further in this direction. We graze all day long on meals and snacks, we encourage daily long and slow cardio, the 9-to-5 workday is extending to when we wake to when we sleep, and the internet in our pockets has created a world where we are always “ON” and connected.

We live each day continuously “grazing” on everything at the same time, meaning we never really increase the intensity and we never get full rest and recovery.

To maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of your daily life, you need to start applying a “feast or fast” mindset beyond just nutrition and exercise.

The “Feast or Fast” Mindset              

The popularity of intermittent fasting is a huge opportunity to reverse the trend of ineffective and inefficient living that is pervading modern society.

The success of fasting is making people realize the benefit of cycling intensity. If you’ve already tried intermittent fasting then you’ve tasted success, and already understand the basic structure of alternating intensity with a “feast” or “fast.”

Now I’ll show you how to take the idea behind intermittent fasting and apply it to other areas of your life so that you can start increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of everything you do. 

Step #1: Pick something you want to optimize

This approach works on pretty much anything, so choose away. Work project? Perfect. Cooking? Great. Sex? That works too! I recommend starting with one thing at a time and building the “feast or fast” mindset over a few weeks before moving on.

Step #2: Define your “feast” and “fast”

Once you’ve picked something, the next step is to define what it means to “feast” and “fast.” This part is critical because you need a clear differentiation between the periods of high- and low-intensity for this approach to be effective. I think of it as a light switch that I flick between “feast” or “fast,” instead of a dimmer switch where you’re constantly blending the two states and “Grazing.”

Step #3: Set a “feast” and “fast” time-frame

Setting a time frame involves deciding two things: frequency and duration. You decide when you “flip the switch” between “feast” and “fast” and how long until you flip the switch back.

For example, with intermittent fasting you can define a “fast” duration of 16, 20, 24, or 36+ hours and a frequency of daily, weekly, or even monthly.

This step is also responsible for the efficiency benefits, as time-boxing an activity will force you to produce the same output using less time.

Step #4: Increase intensity during the “feast”

Next up is making sure you reap full benefit from the “feast” cycle by increasing the intensity. If you’re going to do something then fucking do it as hard as you can.

We’ve already limited our timeframe and taken care of efficiency in step #3, so this is looking at maximizing effectiveness. The simplest way to do this is by single-tasking instead of multi-tasking.

For example, if your activity is reading and you’re currently “feasting,” then increasing the intensity can involve shutting down the music, turning off the TV, and putting away that snack. Focus on one thing and one thing only, and do it perfectly.

Step #5: Decrease intensity during the “fast”

Just as important as the high-intensity “feast” is the low-intensity “fast.” Without rest and recovery you won’t be able to keep the intensity high during the “feast” and you’ll revert back to the continuous moderate intensity lifestyle that we’re trying to avoid.

Often the “fast” is where the benefit actually comes from. For example, exercise acts as a negative stressor on your body that forces a positive adaptation in your physical capabilities, but only if you balance it with adequate rest and recovery.

You can’t continuously keep your foot pinned to the gas pedal without eventually destroying your engine — you need a “fast” for rest and recovery.

That’s it. Five steps that have become my framework for living a more effective and efficient life.

So, are you feasting or are you fasting?

Here’s where things get practical.

Here are a few examples of how I’ve applied the “feast or fast” mindset to change my life for the better.

  • Nutrition: This one is easy — intermittent fasting.
  • Work: I alternate periods of intense focus every morning (no internet, no email, no distractions) and “feast” on work for 3 hours. Once I crush my most important task, I go cold-turkey and “fast” until my next work cycle.
  • Email Processing: I “feast” twice a day for 30 minutes at noon and 4 p.m. (thank-you Tim Ferriss), and then “fast” the rest of the day with no email.
  • Vacation: When I’m on vacation, I’m on fucking vacation. No phone, no email, no stress. You can think of this as either a vacation “feast” or a “fast” from my regular work schedule. The semantics don’t matter, as long as you are maximizing effectiveness and efficiency.
  • Social: Yes, I even “feast” on my friends. If I’m hanging out with you then you will be getting some high-intensity bonding. But when I’m working on something else I am on a social “fast.” I shut it all down — no back-and-forth texting, no Facebook, and no Instagramming what I’m doing every second of the day.
  • Sleep: Every night starting at 9:30 p.m., I shut down whatever I’m doing and transition to the bedroom to “feast” on sleep. I maximize the intensity and quality of sleep by never bringing a phone or laptop into the bedroom and only ever doing two things in there — sleep and sex.
  • Meditation: This one is new, but has become a critical component of my daily routine. I timebox my meditation “feast” for 20 minutes every morning using the Calm app.
  • Fitness: I “feast” once a week using a high-intensity training protocol The rest of the week, I “fast” and don’t do anything intended to improve my fitness. But I’m also not a couch potato: I play rugby, go to jiu-jitsu classes, and might even go for a jog. The key difference is that I do these for the psychological benefits and not the physiological benefits.

Over to you         

Now it’s time for some action. Without action, these are just words on a pretty blog, but with action this is life-changing advice.

Here’s what to do next:

  1. Leave a comment below with your thoughts on where you’re going to start applying a “feast or fast” mindset.
  2. Learn the basics of building a “Feast or Fast” mindset for exercise and nutrition with my free eBook and email course: “The ROI Fitness Plan: Strategies for Maximizing the Return on Investment of Exercise and Nutrition”.
About the Author

Alistair Clark is a former management consultant and current exercise and nutrition coach that runs worklifefitness.co. He’s on a mission to help busy professionals (management consultants, investment bankers, entrepreneurs, etc.) take control of their health and fitness despite demanding careers and hectic lifestyles.

  • Dave Miller

    If you are interested in reading some informative & helpful weight loss reviews and articles, you should check internethealth.org

  • Lucilla Sallabank

    If it is really the case that feast or fast works better, we have a bit of a problem here. There is some evidence that women don’t do as well as men on intermittent fasting. In addition it’s not a great idea for people who have suffered from eating disorders, bingeing/starving cycles etc. As for exercise, High intensity exercise comes with a much higher risk of injuries. A large section of the population is not in a condition to push the intensity up at all. What’s the point of doing HIIT for a few weeks, then you get injured and the result is that you have to stop exercising altogether.

  • nickjaa

    This was such a good article. I found myself bringing it up over lunch during a discussion about how crummy it is to work a job where there’s not a lot to do so you “work on low” all day. Much better to work intensely then not work at all, something I’m trying to apply everywhere in my life, something that’s a great way to frame the importance of focus. Thanks a lot for this.

  • From theory, I always think that I can maintain a high level of productivity and performance but when I try a strategy to maintain my level of performance – I fail. This makes sense a lot! I’m becoming a fan of this blog. :D

    • I used to feel the same way — that I should be (and could be) productive all the time. I think this feeling stems from the assumption that everyone else is awesome and productive all day, and that if we aren’t then we are falling behind. Two realizations have helped me overcome this mindset:

      1) Realizing that people struggle just like we do, but we only see the end result and not the messy journey.
      2) Realizing that how hard you work is not the primary determinant of your results. Lots of people work extremely hard and still fail. WHAT you work on is far more important.

  • Very insightful article Alistar. I “attempt” to use the same philosophy with work, but need to be more consistent on my fasts.

    • Thanks Eric. I find work “fasts” the hardest, especially now that I’ve branched off on my own. I still find it hard to tell myself that working less will actually produce better results in the long-term.