1 meal per day for 3 months – a tool for productivity and success?

1 meal per day for 3 months – a tool for productivity and success?
27 August 2017

This article is not going to lecture anyone about the latest fad diet.

It’s not going to claim that I can teach you something about nutrition, science, or fitness. I am not qualified to do so, and I won’t even try. It is something for which you should go and seek medical and professional advice.

What I can help you with, however, is to look at diet from a management perspective.

If you are attempting to be as productive and successful as possible, this article might be more relevant to you than you may think.

I lost weight, and I became more productive overall.

Simply by keeping in mind a few time-proven principles that I picked up in management, and which I subsequently applied to how I eat and what I eat.

Why I tried this out

Today’s article is reporting about a little experiment I did after trying – but failing – to lose weight using other methods.

No doubt many of you will have had similar experiences:

  • In between socialising for pleasure and work, you end up overeating and overdrinking.
  • If you travel for work, there’ll inevitably be late-night snacks from mini bars or room service.
  • Demanding jobs are detrimental to your ability to go to the gym as regularly as you should.
  • Spending more time at work than just the average 8h day can easily lead to you treating yourself to food and drinks with the aim of rewarding yourself.
  • Meeting rooms inevitably involve cookies and gummi bears being on the table.

Between 2012 and 2017, I went from 75kg to 85kg (165lb to 187lb). That’s a slow, creeping 2kg (4.4lb) per year. Not much, but it adds up. At the end of that five-year period, that vintage black-tie outfit that you have treasured for ages and that used to fit perfectly will have become incredibly tight.

What’s more, you ask yourself, where is all this going to end?

Why previous attempts didn’t work out

My no. 1 lesson I learned about dieting in recent years can be summed up in a single sentence.

“You can’t outrun a bad diet.”

All efforts to double and triple my efforts in the gym led to exactly zero results. I worked out more; then I ate more. Spending an hour swimming every day resulted in me consuming an extra meal per day. I was ravenous.

Losing weight by switching to a healthy diet? I had long done that anyway, to the degree possible in a busy life. No result.

Losing weight by cutting out alcohol? Easier said than done if you need to entertain people for a living. Not the least as I genuinely enjoy a tipple.

Conventional approaches didn’t work for me. It was frustrating given that it wasn’t for lack of effort.

So I attempted something else.

What works in management can also work in diet

Over the years, I found that success in managing an organisation or a project boils down to a relatively small number of time-proven, simple principles.

If you stick to the following ten management principles, you might well end up going for similar changes in eating pattern that I went for. Plus, you might also enjoy the weight loss and the increase in productivity that I was lucky enough to achieve.

In essence, I switched to having just one meal per day.

Some call it Intermittent Fasting; others call it the “OMAD diet” (One Meal A Day). Personally, I am not too fussed about names, and all I care about is to apply common sense to problems and achieving success.

Over the years, I found that success in managing an organisation or a project boils down to a relatively small number of time-proven, simple principles.

In the second half of May, I started to gradually reduce my food intake from having two meals per day to just having dinner. Breakfast had always been a non-event for me, which made it an easier switch for me.

I did so without restricting what I ate for dinner or drank with it, but also without going on binges. I let my social life dictate my dinners, and I listened to my body to ensure what I craved found its way into my system.

At the end of May, I had fully adopted a lifestyle based on having just one meal per day. Between then and now, I made an exception on only five days.

Here is why it worked

1: Be in control by setting simple rules

A few months ago, I went to a presentation by a Harvard-trained neuroscientist who has explored the science of healthy eating. As he put it:

“In the face of constant temptation, self-control will always fail eventually. Don’t try to resist temptation, remove it.”

It is the no. 1 conclusion of Nick Leslica who published a book about the subject and very generously makes the pdf version available for free on his website.

Putting this into management terms, I’d summarise this as allowing others to push you around almost certainly leading to mediocre results at best and more likely, failure.

I removed others having that much control over my eating, by simply not eating anything before 6 pm. By eating only in the evening, I reclaimed a high degree of control over what I ate and drank.

Other people might find they can take a greater degree of control over what they eat and drink by only having breakfast or lunch. That’s a personal choice. The logic is the same, i.e. minimise the degree to which you let others make decisions on your behalf.

Making it “No food before 6 pm” meant it was an incredibly simple rule and one without room for cutting corners.

As a Dutch billionaire once told me when I asked him what he felt was most important for business success, he said: “It has to be simple. If it’s not simple, it is not going to work.” I had heard this before from elsewhere. But to hear it straight from someone who has ended up among the wealthiest people of his country gave it a different meaning. It has been firmly on my mind ever since.

With one simple rule, I went a long way towards achieving ongoing weight loss.

2: Set targets

I deliberately set myself the target to stick to having just one meal per day for the period of June to August.

The reasons were mostly practical:

  • In summer I tend to have fewer meetings.
  • Also, during summer I can bow out of most business travelling.
  • I wanted to give it sufficient time but also make it happen in a manageable period.

I aimed to go back to 75kg by the end of August. Losing a bit more than 3kg per month seemed entirely feasible and not in any way extreme.

I also wanted to have a concrete goal to look forward to. Knowing that I was going travelling in September, I was looking forward to being able to wear a few of my favourite clothes that had grown just a little bit too tight.

3: Ensure accountability

Mentioning these plans to friends, including on Facebook, meant I had no way of backing out.

I had to get this done. Else, it would have all been way too embarrassing.

Being under a bit of pressure to perform isn’t a bad thing. Make sure you can’t easily slip out of a plan by pretending it never existed.

4: Be authentic

At no time was I afraid to mention my eating regime to anyone to whom I had to mention this.

An invite to a business lunch?

“Sorry, I am only eating one meal per day during summer, and since that’s dinner, I can’t have lunch. Happy to watch you eat though!”

Not once did that lead to any actual problems. I watched a few people eat, and with the vast majority of everyone else, I simply agreed to meet for coffee in the afternoon. Coffee meetings are more productive anyway, given there are few things that need more than 30 minutes of discussion among grown-ups.

All the less since I regularly took the piss out of myself, mentioning how I followed this diet but did not cut down drinking in the evening. Many times, it led to other interesting conversations and bringing a different form of bonding to the meeting.

Be authentic and honest. Most of the time that’ll work to your advantage. It’s also good for your mental health.

5: Ignore conventional wisdom if you have to

How many times have you heard, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”?

Well, I have skipped breakfast for over 20 years. Yet, I am perfectly healthy, fit and sane.

Something else I am tired of hearing is this wide-spread belief that you can lose weight by “snacking” or “grazing”. It might work for others. For me, it doesn’t work. Constantly firing up your digestive system by putting a little something into your mouth only ever made me crave more food – now!

All sorts of people will tell you whatever is in their best interest or whatever justifies their own (bad) choices in life.

Not being able to do things differently is critical to achieving success. If you do the same thing as everyone else, how would you stand out?

The other piece of conventional wisdom that went out the window during these three months is that we need to eat as much as our society dictates we should eat. I have now realised that food has been turned into something we over-eat on for the sake of the pleasure it provides; because of societal obligations; habit; and the manipulation of marketing.

I came to conclude that my three-month exercise was only partially a diet and partially a change in eating patterns. It was geared towards an amount of food intake that is more in line with what I require to function perfectly well and without asking my body to deal with an overload of food.

Don’t be afraid to break the rules if you feel that a different way of doing things makes sense.

6: Set milestones

I wanted to lose weight as gradually as possible, which meant I had to end each month with about 3kg (9lb) less than the prior month.

Breaking down big challenges into smaller steps makes it much more likely that you’ll achieve the end goal.

7: Put resources behind the plan

If you eat less, it matters even more what you eat. After all, you are what you eat.

When you have one meal a day, you don’t want to eat junk food that gives you a quick sugar rush but doesn’t nurture your body.

I have always spent money on buying quality food, but I did so even more during those past three months.

It is a mute point, given that you save a lot of money because you simply have to do less shopping and less eating out. But it’s worth mentioning how important it is to invest in the right “tools”.

No project and no endeavour can succeed if you don’t have the right resources to put behind it

8: Persevere

Personally, I am a big believer that much success in business and management is not about being more intelligent than others or having had better training at university. It’s mostly about working harder and staying at it for longer.

In business and life in general, there are few quick solutions for anything, and perseverance is everything.

When you try to lose weight, you inevitably hit plateaus.

My first month was a dream with weight just falling off me. The second month was a bitch with virtually nothing happening for weeks. The body adjusts to circumstances and learns how to get by on less.

In business and life in general, there are few quick solutions for anything, and perseverance is everything. Sometimes you need to give things a little bit of time. That’s fine. Don’t be surprised about it, don’t fight it, and prepare yourself mentally for the challenges that this brings with it.

9: Celebrate success

Going below 80kg was something I was much looking forward to, and dipping below 77kg also had special meaning to me as it meant my goal of 75kg was truly within sight and success had become a near-certainty.

I didn’t celebrate by going out for a pizza or a McDonald’s Big Mac. My desire to eat junk food had long fallen to zero by that time.

Still, I treated myself to a particularly nice dinner in one of my favourite pubs when I hit a major milestone. Just something to say, “Hey, well done, now let’s have a bit of fun to celebrate.”

That’s cool, and it should be part of your work no matter what area it relates to. Life is short, and we should fire off the occasional celebratory firework rocket to add a bit of sparkle to it all.

10: Develop a long-term strategy for sustainable success

As the saying goes, making money is easier than keeping money.

Being less than 1kg shy of reaching my goal (with five days left), my next big challenge will be not to bounce back. I’ll want to keep my weight stable.

It could be a subject for a whole different article, but I have been thinking about this a lot from the second month onwards. The tentative plan is that I go to having 1.5 meals per day. Something else I am evaluating as an idea is to simply cut out all alcohol from my life. It is now also an option because more and more of my friends are switching to a healthier diet overall and not drinking any alcohol has become a much more feasible option than it was five or ten years ago.

In any case, you need to have a long-term plan in place to keep what you have achieved.

Make sure you do planning for this and establish a system for staying on top of it.

Which, as I said, will be the subject of a future article.

So what about productivity gains?

As the headline alludes to, I had some surprise realisations and benefits from this entire endeavour.

The one that I enjoyed the most (besides losing weight) was the fact that I had extra time available to me each day.

Having one meal instead of two meant that:

  • I had to go shopping less frequently.
  • I spent less time on preparing food or going out to eat.
  • I spent less time on actually eating.

In total, I estimate this saved me about 1 hour per day. Spending less time on food means you are freeing up your mind to deal with more important things.

Add the fact that after the initial two-week period of feeling hungry, I gained mental clarity at times of the day when I was usually a bit groggy from having eaten a full meal. I’d say that was worth another 0.5 hours per day.

1.5 hours extra per day equals 10.5 hours per week equals having one more work day available to get stuff done. That makes a noticeable difference to your week.

I loved that!

Having these 1.5 hours per day was a temporary situation. However, by continuing to apply some of what I set out above, I’ll keep saving time every day. My estimate is that I’ll gain between 0.5 hours and 1 hour per day in productive time.

Besides that, feeling happy in your skin because you have the weight that you aspire to isn’t to your disadvantage in business (or life in general). Humans instinctively pick up the energy when someone is happy and feels they are thriving and succeeding. Your positive energy and aura will also help you achieve stuff quicker. More time saved!

Dietary choices might not be an immediate part of managing and building a business, but it sure is an aspect of your life that influences other parts of life. Make sure it does so in the right way!

What else did I learn?

This is the 2nd version of the article that I wrote about this.

The initial draft very much focussed on the practical aspects of this diet. I made a lot of observations along the way and wrote them all down. However, in the end, I decided that I didn’t want to add another dieting article to the vast ocean of articles about the subject. So I binned it.

What I felt most important to get across is the following:

  • In dieting just as with managing and building companies, with a few clear-cut rules you increase your chance of succeeding by a significant margin.
  • Never be afraid to break conventional wisdom when your instinct tells you to go your own way. Everyone is different and you need to find your own way.
  • Keep your mind open to discovering new ways of handling old problems. One of my key realisations was that I should never again in my life think about “diet”, and instead think about “eating patterns”. The former is a short-term fix and mostly unsustainable. The latter is a lasting solution and much easier to achieve once you have the right mindset for it. It’s about re-setting your eating patterns.

In retrospective, I wonder why I didn’t do this earlier!

Then again, the simple things sometimes are the most difficult ones to find. All the more, given there are all sorts of people out there who have an interest in preventing you from being successful.

Don’t let them get away with it!

P.S.: One final word, in amidst the plethora of material I read about this subject to educate myself, one source in particular stuck out. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the videos from OMAD Revolution, a YouTube channel set up by an ordinary guy who had to lose weight and went about it by having only one meal per day. I never spoke with him, and haven’t even given him notice about this recommendation appearing in my blog article. But I found his insights useful, inspiring and authentic.

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