Ben Barbersmith

Skip breakfast, live longer.

— Posted on Dec 18, 2020

In this post I’m going to discuss a simple, easy, cost-effective, evidence-based step you can take to live a longer, happier life. Don’t worry, I’m not selling anything.

  • You don’t need to buy anything. In fact, you’ll save money.
  • You don’t need to go anywhere or do anything outside your usual routine.
  • You don’t need to stop eating any particular foods or stop any specific activity.

Sound good? Just wait until you hear the benefits…

  • You will lose body fat, especially dangerous visceral fat.
  • Your blood glucose and insulin levels will fall, dramatically reducing the risk of metabolic diseases including heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.
  • You will reduce inflammation, including chronic inflammation.
  • Your bone density will increase.
  • Your brain neurone development will increase, boosting your cognitive performance.
  • You will reduce your risk of developing cancer.

This sounds like snake-oil bullshit, right? How can there be something so powerful yet so simple? And how can it be free?

The magic I’m talking about is fasting. Specifically, time-restricted feeding, the practice of only eating during a specific 8 hour window each day. Or if we really want to simplify it: skipping breakfast.

Study after study after study has shown that permanent calorific restriction extends life in humans, in primates, in mice, in yeast — you name it. But nobody wants to go through life being perpetually hungry. So instead, scientists have spent decades investigating the benefits of reducing calories temporarily through fasting.

And there’s good news. Studies found that by restricting how often we eat (intermittent fasting), the benefits were almost as great as restricting how much we eat — even if we consume the same amount of food overall.

This got famous in the last decade with the 5:2 Diet (500 calories for 2 days per week) or the Every Other Day Diet (500 calories on alternating days). But the problem with those diets are that they’re psychologically very hard — especially in the long-term. Our bodies don’t really adapt to the routine, and so we constantly feel hungry during the fasting periods. Luckily, there’s an easier alternative.

When studies compared intermittent fasting to time-restricted feeding (only eating during a specific 8 hour window each day), they found that time-restricted feeding produces better results than the intermittent fasting diets mentioned above. And while 20% of study participants bailed out of the intermittent fasting regimes, only 10% of study participants couldn’t handle time-restricted feeding. It’s easier on the body and mind.

So I tried it. For the last few months, I’ve only eaten between the hours of 12pm and 8pm. The only thing that passes my lips from the time I wake up until midday is black coffee or water.

For the first few weeks, I hated it. Every single day was an exercise in misery. I realised precisely why nobody seems to adhere to this lifestyle. I spent my mornings hungry, exacerbated by tiredness and longing for my favourite breakfast foods (fruit and fibre cereal with yoghurt, blueberries, and milled flaxseed). It was not fun.

But over time, the hunger pangs disappeared. I forgot about eating until 11am or even later. I no longer felt miserable — in fact, I felt energised.

It turns out there’s a scientific explanation for this, too. Our bodies have a second circadian rhythm which is regulated by the liver, and this can be trained over time just by eating at consistent times of day. Nice! So my body literally no longer expects food in the mornings.

What about performance, mentally and physically?

Since I started skipping breakfast and fasting until midday, I’ve run 4 half marathons on an empty stomach. Each time I consumed nothing but water. Yet somehow my performance didn’t suffer! And I get a lot of my best work done between the hours of 10am and 12pm.

In short: once you adapt to time-restricted feeding, it’s easy. And you get those ridiculous health benefits listed above for free. 🤯

So why don’t more of us do it? In short: because breakfast cereal companies are rich, good at marketing, and generously fund scientific studies that promote the healthiness of breakfast. No, I’m not kidding. If you’re interested, I highly recommend reading Breakfast is a Dangerous Meal by Professor Terence Kealey. You’ll be surprised at what you learn.

A version of this post first appeared in my weekly newsletter, Twenty-One Hundred.

Each week I send out an email with articles and links that will help us get closer the goal of being happy and healthy in the year 2100. If you want to maximize your happiness and health for many years to come, I think you’ll like it. Subscribe here.

Dec 18, 2020 @benbarbersmith