Goodbye to breakfast: Could skipping one meal a day can increase energy?
Skipping one meal a day can increase energy, slow down ageing and burn fat. Max Lowery, author of the 2-meal day, tells our reporter why 'time-restricted eating' is his secret weapon
For those searching for the Holy Grail of weight loss, there are more diets to choose from than there are calories in a Friday night takeaway. Yet of all of them - low carb, paleo, clean eating - intermittent fasting is the one with the most traction. As well as shedding pounds, its followers swear by its benefits in terms of better-balanced hormones and insulin levels, and improved general wellbeing.
Dr Michael Mosley put intermittent fasting on the map with the 5:2 Diet - where you consume only 500kcal on two days of the week - but for anyone who finds calorie counting difficult, Max Lowery's The 2-Meal Day plan is an alternative. The UK-based personal trainer and fitness guru, whose celebrity fans include model Suki Waterhouse, advocates having two meals a day as the most simple and effective way to lose weight and boost energy. It's a way of eating that Brian O'Driscoll also follows; the former rugby international recently revealed to Weekend that he prefers to eat a meal at 12pm and one at 6pm and nothing else.
How the 2-Meal Day works is as follows: choose either breakfast and lunch, or lunch and dinner - as long as you're fasting overall between 16 and 18 hours - with a healthy snack between meals but not during a fast. Drinks are limited to water and black tea or coffee, with no sugar or milk, although alcohol, amazingly, is not verboten.
Technically, the 2-Meal Day plan - for which Lowery has just published a recipe and exercise guidebook - is known as time-restricted eating. "One way that it's different to the 5:2 is that you do it every day," Lowery explains. "The second way that it's different is that there's no calorie counting. And the third thing is that the studies seem to suggest that more people do well with time-restricted eating as opposed to intermittent fasting, and that's purely because you can do it every day and it's something that your body gets used to.
"The 5:2 is great, I'm not saying don't do it, but it's often done as a short-term thing - 'I'll do this to get to the weight that I want to be' - whereas this is actually a way of life, and a really simple way to optimise everything."
The idea of skipping breakfast might be anathema to some, but there is some scientific evidence to suggest that, far from being the most important meal of the day, breakfast poses a health risk by increasing our consumption of calories and causing metabolic syndrome, which raises the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Lowery acknowledges that some people may find this way of eating difficult to begin with and warns of tummy rumbling and light-headedness in the initial period.
"If, after two weeks, you still don't feel good, maybe it's not for you," he says. "I'm not saying this is a blanket cure for everyone, but I do think that everyone should incorporate some type of fasting into their lives because there are so many benefits."
However, dietitian and Health & Living columnist Orla Walsh warns that, for certain people, time-restricted eating could be problematic in the long term. "This approach wouldn't be for everyone," she says. "For instance, if you were sporty, it would lead to poor recovery from exercise. If you were Type 1 diabetic, it could lead to low blood sugar levels. If you were over 50 years, it may lead to bone and muscle loss." She also cites a study on time-restricted eating which removed breakfast from the diet of people practising a resistance training programme. While they lost fat and held onto muscle, there was a decrease in hormones including testosterone. The study was for eight weeks, but Walsh says that if the lower levels of testosterone remained for as long as you followed this diet, this could be problematic long term, especially for men.
"No one diet fits all," she says. "This diet may be useful for some people, for short periods of time. However, as it's not proven to be safe in the long term, it is not a lifestyle change that many should be making."
For Max Lowery, diet is only one aspect of his life that has been overhauled. While the 27-year-old is positively baby-faced (intermittent fasting is also said to have anti-ageing benefits), he didn't always lead such a fit and healthy lifestyle. As a teenager he was into swimming, rugby and athletics and won a sports scholarship to a boarding school, but this all fell by the wayside when he was 15 and embarked upon what he describes as a "path of self-destruction".
At 19, he landed a stockbroking job. "I was surrounded by people who were addicted to drugs and alcohol and food. I wasn't exercising; I was drinking a lot," he recalls. After some unspecified troubles (more of which later), he slowly got back into exercise and qualified as a personal trainer.
It was while he was travelling in South America that he discovered intermittent fasting and started doing it almost by accident: getting up late, going on frequent hikes and eating a large meal at night to save on funds. During this time, he reduced his body fat to 6-7pc but once he returned home to the UK and started eating three home-cooked meals a day, it crept up to 12pc. He started experimenting by skipping breakfast and felt "amazing".
"The weight loss was obviously the driver for it but, actually, being full of energy and not constantly thinking about my next meal is so empowering."
Unlike other diet plans, there are no days off with the 2-Meal Day - will such a regimented diet be well received by a public who like their #cheateats? "The whole point is you're teaching your body to burn fat and you're teaching yourself to understand your own body," Lowery says.
He believes that there is a huge amount of misinformation about nutrition, with people cherry-picking elements of the diet du jour - such as cutting out gluten and dairy, for example - but not understanding the reasons why. Somewhat surprisingly for a personal trainer, he doesn't believe in the widely recommended protein loading after a workout. It's the protein intake over the course of the day that matters instead, he says. "I never take protein shakes - they're completely unnecessary. It's a billion-pound industry, and the reason that there isn't more research done into fasting is because there is no drug, no product."
This attitude is reflected in his food ethos, which is to eat nutritionally dense, locally sourced, seasonal food. The recipes in his book have an ingredient list that is relatively simple - no healthfood store trips necessary - and he advocates strategic carbohydrate intake: the book is divided into 'higher-carb recipes' for training days, and 'lower-carb recipes' for rest days.
When it comes to exercise, Lowery advocates quality not quantity, saying he only does three sessions a week but gives each one 110pc. He also stresses that you don't have to do the specific workouts in his book. "My whole philosophy is just: get out there and move."
As for the demon drink, the downfall of many a dieter, Lowery says that while you should cut out alcohol to maximise the results, you don't have to - he professes to love beer. "The key is to change your drinking habits. You can do anything in life in a healthy way but if you've got bad drinking habits, that becomes an issue. I say that having been someone who had very unhealthy drinking habits - I'm not going to go into detail but I got myself into a lot of trouble." To this end, he suggests choosing a drink because you like the taste of it, not drinking shots ("there's no reason to, except to get drunk") and to develop what he calls "sober confidence", something he has taught himself.
"I've always been the type of person to challenge myself and when I started getting more interested in my health and cutting out the alcohol, I would throw myself into social situations I didn't know anyone at and I wouldn't drink. At first it's very awkward and very difficult but, like with anything, it becomes a skill that you get very good at," he explains. "I talk a lot about empowerment and it is very empowering to be able to walk into a room and not be dependent on anything to function."
Above all, he thinks this way of eating liberates people from being a slave to the clock and eating because it's a certain time of the day, rather than eating because your body tells you to. And it can help you redefine your perceptions of and approach to food. "The main reason everyone gets into it is weight loss, of course, but actually the emails I'm getting are that 'I can't believe how you've completely changed my relationship with food and this has completely changed my life'."
I absolutely love pizza, but unfortunately it isn't the sort of food you should eat regularly. These aubergine pizzas, however, satisfy the craving with none of the guilt or side effects of eating pizza. They are also gluten- free, meat-free and low-carb so are a great option for anyone who is avoiding these foods.
Try Max's recipes
Aubergine mini pizzas
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes
1 large aubergine, cut into 2cm slices, salted for 30 minutes, then dried
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp dried Italian seasoning
A handful of basil leaves, chopped
100g freshly grated Parmesan cheese
250g good-quality mozzarella, cut into thick slices
For the sauce:
2-3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, very finely chopped
400g can chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp dried Italian seasoning
1 tbsp dried oregano
Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas mark 5. Start by making the sauce. Heat the oil in a deep frying pan over a medium heat and sauté the garlic until it becomes fragrant; don't let it brown. Add the tomatoes, Italian seasoning and oregano, and simmer until thickened, breaking up the tomatoes as they cook. Add a little water if the sauce gets too thick.
Line a roasting tray with foil. Grease it with a little oil, then lay the aubergine slices on top. Brush the slices with a little more oil and sprinkle with the Italian seasoning. Roast for about 25 minutes.
Remove the aubergine from the oven and layer the sauce, basil, Parmesan and mozzarella on top. Return to the oven and cook the pizzas for 2-3 minutes until the cheese has melted. Serve immediately.
Smoky chicken skewers
These chicken skewers are perfect to take into work, giving you a great alternative to the vending machine.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
3 tbsp hot sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp ground cumin
500g skinless chicken breast, chopped into 3cm cubes
2 tbsp sesame seeds, to garnish
Lemon wedges, to serve
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6. Make a marinade with the hot sauce, oil and spices, then cover the chicken in it. Thread onto skewers. Roast for 16-20 minutes. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve with the lemon wedges.
Trout with bacon and peas
One serving of trout is thought to contain seven of the B-complex vitamins to help properly convert the food you eat into energy. Serve this trout in a deliciously creamy sauce and be sure to add a squeeze of lemon over the top.
Prep time: 7 minutes.
Cooking time: 15 minutes.
25ml rapeseed oil, plus extra for the fish
50g smoked streaky bacon, cut into 2cm strips
50g fresh peas
1 spring onion, finely chopped
200g wild sea trout fillet
2 baby gem lettuce, separated into leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the sauce:
75ml white wine
1 garlic clove, finely sliced
A sprig of thyme
75ml fish stock
75ml double cream
For the dressing:
A handful of parsley
A handful of mint
A handful of basil
A pinch of salt
1 tsp English mustard
1 tbsp organic cider vinegar
100ml rapeseed oil
Start by making the dressing. Place the herbs in a mortar with the salt and mustard. Pound to a paste, then add the vinegar and oil.
To make the sauce, put the wine, garlic and thyme in a saucepan on high heat and reduce for 5 minutes. Add the fish stock, reduce by half, then add the cream and bring to the boil. Finally, whisk in the butter.
Heat the oil in a separate pan and fry the bacon until golden. Add the peas, season, and then pour in the reduced fish sauce. Boil for 5 minutes, then add the spring onion.
Pour a little oil onto a griddle pan, season the trout and cook for 2 minutes, skin side down. Flip over and cook for 2 minutes.
To serve, place a few lettuce leaves on a plate, spoon on the peas, bacon and fish sauce, place the fish on top and drizzle over the herb dressing.
This is a delicious way of cooking chicken, keeping it nice and moist in the rich tomato sauce. The creamy butter bean mash complements the chicken perfectly, absorbing all the lovely tomato sauce. Butter beans are a good source of protein and fibre, and therefore have a considerably lower glycaemic index score than potatoes, which means they won't affect your blood sugar levels in the same way.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
2 chicken breasts, skin on
Extra-virgin olive oil
½ medium onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 x 400g can of chopped tomatoes
3 tbsp tomato purée
1 tbsp dried oregano
85g pitted green or black olives, roughly chopped
1 x 125g mozzarella ball, sliced and drained on kitchen paper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the butter bean mash: 1 tbsp grass-fed butter
½ medium onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 x 400g can butter beans, drained and rinsed
2 tbsp double cream or crème fraîche
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6. Season the chicken. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large frying pan over a high heat. Sear the chicken for 3 minutes on each side or until lightly browned. Transfer to a plate.
Reduce the heat, add a little more oil and cook the onion for 4-5 minutes, stirring until softened and lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for a few seconds. Pour in the tomatoes, then stir in the tomato purée, oregano, olives and a splash of cold water. Bring to the boil and cook for 5 minutes, stirring regularly. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the chicken. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is tender and cooked through. Season to taste.
Top the chicken and sauce with the mozzarella and sprinkle with ground black pepper. Bake for 8-10 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the mash. Heat the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute. Add the butter beans and cook for 5 minutes until soft. Mash using a potato masher, adding the cream as you do so. Serve alongside the chicken.
Two-ingredient peanut butter fudge
Sometimes you may crave something sweet, so it pays to be organised and have these fudge squares ready and waiting for that moment. Don't get carried away, though, as dates do contain a lot of natural sugar. A little bit now and then is fine! Peanut butter contains vitamin E, which can be used to improve your physical endurance. It can increase your energy and reduce the level of oxidative stress on your muscles after you exercise.
Makes 12 fudge squares
Prep time: 5 minutes
12 Medjool dates
300g natural peanut butter (no added sugar or oil)
Blend the dates and peanut butter in a food processor until the mixture turns into a ball. Press firmly into a 25 x 15cm tin lined with baking paper and freeze for 2 hours.
Cut into 12 squares, serve and enjoy. Extras can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week or the freezer for up to a month.