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I don’t normally post about my diet and training, so prepare to learn about another facet of my geekiness. In fact, This is my first training and nutrition related post in 5 years of blogging. In this case, I felt that fasting for 16 hours every day with an 8 hour feeding window was a significant enough change to share my experiences.

This could be a lot more impressive, at just over 1000KCal of rice, eggs, soya mince and veg. Sadly, it needs to fit in a 1.6l airtight lunch-box and I’m only aiming for 3400KCal a day.

I couldn’t live without breakfast!

As long as I can remember, I’ve struggled to function without breakfast. This worsened when I when I took up weights training. I began stuffing myself with everything between 2500 and 5250 KCals of food a day. Eating regularly and breaking my fast as soon as I got up helped me to wolf down some of the more obscene amounts of food. Aside from putting on a bit of belly fat, I became accustomed to eating regularly, eating a lot — and due to budgetary constraints, eating a lot of carbs. I quite sure my insulin sensitivity dropped as despite consuming three eggs and a sizeable bowl of cereal every morning, I felt famished by lunchtime.

Or could I?

I started reading about intermittent fasting and found the idea of being able to eat a reasonable amount of food, maintain or even build some muscle and strength and cut my body-fat simultaneously very appealing. Following the leangains method, I calculated my basal metabolic rate, adjusted for activity and took some percentages based on the goal of body re-composition (+20% on training days, -20% on rest). The rest was willpower. On the first few days at work, I went on a feeding frenzy at lunchtime and gobbled up whatever sweets and biscuits happened to be lying around. This was especially bad when I had a supermarket meal-deal for lunch, including a sugary fruit-juice and crisps (which incidentally, with the right sandwich, adds up to around 1000Kcals.) I gradually adapted, drinking several cups of green tea in the mornings and sometimes not quite making it to 2 or 3pm, as I’d come hope late from martial arts training and only eat dinner at 10 or 11pm.

Some background info (I’ll be just thorough enough to show how unscientific this is)

I’m not going to fool myself; this couldn’t be further from a controlled a scientific study. I changed so many variables in the few weeks before I started this that anything could be responsible. Before I started fasting, I’d been taking the bus to work and eating large supermarket lunches with sugary fruit-juice. I’d recently started cycling to and from work and taking a packed lunch with low-GI carbs, vegetables and some protein. I’d also started doing martial arts training in the evening, which incorporates HIIT circuits – a change from sitting at my laptop when I got home (and a massive improvement, for so many reasons). It gets worse: Due to these other changes, I switched from a 4 our day upper-lower weights training spilt, to a 2 day push-pull split of my own invention. I could squat (& bench press, press, leg press, dips…) on Saturday, when I didn’t have to cycle the following day, rest on Sunday and deadlift (& pullups, power cleans, rows…) on Monday. From Tuesday to Friday, despite martial arts training and cycling every day, I could recover, in theory.

One thing that remained fairly consistent was my my macronutrient balance. I tend to get just over 20% of my calories from protein, around 50% from carbohydrates and just under 30% from fat. The proportion of protein tends to rise to around 26% on days with a lower caloric intake, simply because I’m not adding loads of cheap grains to make up the calories. Maybe my diet isn’t good enough (if we take seriously advocates of very high proportions of protein and fat). I think it’s adequate, considering my limited budget. After all, a similar diet has allowed an 6′ 1″ (185cm) ectomorph like me who weighed just under 70kg to reach 79kg within a year, without a remotely high bodyfat percentage.

Shredded within a month?

Nope,  I was sill about an inch of belly-fat shy of a well defined six-pack. After the first month, my weight hadn’t changed much. I weighed 78.9kg fasted before I started and I don’t believe I weighed less than 78 at  at this point. I reduced my calories and cut out some unhealthier food sources. This included cheap peanut butter (replaced with whole peanuts) and whole-milk. While the peanut butter wasn’t that bad, the wholemilk was; despite containing a bit of high-quality protein, it is just saturated fat and sugar (lactose) suspended in water, along with antibiotics and bovine growth hormone in some countries. I will admit that during one of my past bulking attempts, I’ve consumed close to one litre of wholemilk a day, on the recommendation of strength coaches John Rippetoe and Jim Wendler. It works, yes, but only if you need to drink an extra ~ 640Kcals of mostly empty calories a day.

And in a few weeks I dropped 3kg

I did take some time of training, spend two weekends visiting people but tried to match my enthusiasm for vices such as alcohol with gluttony, an one point eating an entire roast chicken to line my stomach with slow-digesting fat and protein before going out drinking. Despite telling myself I’d keep cutting until I hit a fasted weight of 75kg, I’ve decided to slam on the breaks and eat more again. I’ve had cravings for juicy steaks and rich, crispy pies and ice-cream recently, which may or may not be the result of just having lost about a kilogram a week. I’ll allow myself a few treats, but don’t want to go mad and fall into the trap of unsustainable crash-dieting.

Go back to eating breakfast every morning?

I actually don’t enjoy starting the day with bowl of grains and dried fruit any more. I still wouldn’t mind the eggs (and a 10oz bacon-wrapped steak for that matter!), but that’s a different story. I enjoy being able to go longer without food, is research indicating a range of heat benefits aside from fat loss.

However, this research is still in relative infancy. A considerable amount of research still supports meals spaced out over one’s waking hours. While I have seen photographic and anecdotal evidence of people reaching impressive body-composition goals on intermittent fasting, I have been unable to replicate this. I’ve become more fatigued and irritable, and have little to show for it in terms of fat loss.

For the time being…

If I put on a significant proportion of body-fat the future, I might consider IF as one of a number of tools to help overcome this. By this point, there may be more conclusive research. At the moment, I’m physically active, have a fast metabolism and a healthy bodyfat percentage; I seem to reap no obvious benefits from IF (less obvious benefits would require blood tests, which may have to wait until I’m older and need them).

I can see little point in continuing this experiment now.

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After passing through the plate glass doors, I was stepped onto glossy white tiles interspersed with a grid of isolated black ones. Around me were polished steel and red neon tubing. On flat-screen behind the counter, a smiling stock photo of a call-centre worker was captioned with  ‘Real Answers from Real People! [my emphases]’ As I sat down to wait to open an account, I noticed the anodyne piped pop music playing in the background.

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Nothing like the demure and bland English high-street banks I’m used to, this building bellowed ‘I’m American!’, in loud red, white and blue graphics. I gazed around in amused fascination, wondering how this aesthetic could belong to a bank that hadn’t yet fallen to corporate sleaze – one that wasn’t yet too big to fail.

The sceptic in me suspects that the bank’s favourable ratings with Ethical Consumer and  Move Your Money are simply because they have a clean rap sheet. They haven’t had time to invest in the arms trade, evade taxes and mistreat their customers, let alone be bailed out by the state and continue to do so.

I put in my earphones to block out the Muzak. ‘All my senses rebel!’ Brendan Parry’s voice solemnly proclaims. I’ve walled myself off to the extend that the man just who sat down next to me is seen first. I shrug.

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A retouched photograph of what the site of the bank 100 years ago was printed onto a large backlit canvas. The colours are vivid and artificial, in a sense aiming to be more real than those of the original scene.

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‘Dogs rule’ read another poster. Pictured in this one is Metro Bank founder Vernon Hill’s dog Sir Duffield. This no-doubt expensive canine-friendly branding exercise seems to be Hill’s personal whim.

All of the branding makes more sense when you view it as a manifestation of the aesthetic sensibilities of a man who cut his teeth developing properties for McDonald’s. He already has the successful American Commerce bank behind him and he hasn’t altered his fast-food retail strategy of long hours and smiling mascots a great deal for the UK.

I hope the fast-food analogy doesn’t run too deep.

A degree in the arts or humanities is a poor financial investment, especially for males, according to recent research by Professor Ian Walker of Lancaster’s Department of Economics and Dr Yu Zhu of the University of Kent.

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‘Degree subjects were divided into four major groupings, mirroring those used in the Labour Force Survey: science (including health-related degrees), technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); law, economics and management (LEM); arts, humanities and other social sciences (OSSAH); and combined degrees (COMB)’

The most striking feature of these graphs is that they indicate that in the case of females, completing a degree in any of the four subject areas tends to be highly advantageous in terms of earnings — while merely attaining A-levels without continuing to higher education is a poor move indeed. In the sample from which this data is derived, this appears to be the case; whether a larger sample would offer significantly different results, I can only guess. Nor can I be sure of the cause of this phenomenon. What is fairly clear is that mean earnings for women appear to be lower than those for men.

If I look only within the estimates for the male gender, it is clear the a degree in the arts and humanities isn’t that much better a choice than going straight into the job market with A levels. According to estimates from the working paper(Walker I and Zhu Y, 2010) a male with a poor arts and humanities degree, when tuition fees are taken into account, stands to lose on his investment. The table below indicates that a second class degree in the arts and humanities could be far more deleterious to the long term earning prospects of men, than to those of women. This tendency is only slightly more marked when one takes the £7000 annual tuition fee into account, meaning that an arts and humanities degree is not going to be that much more economically worthless when the higher fees come into effect.

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Table 8. from Walker I and Zhu Y, 2010, Differences by Degree: Evidence of the Net Financial Rates of Return to Undergraduate Study for England and Wales, Lancaster University Management School

What frustrates me about the data used in this research is the four broad categorises used. I suspect that someone with a psychology, philosophy or history degree would be better off than a fine art student like me. However, they are all lumped together so one cannot tell.

Research like this does make me feel a bit anxious — what if I want to support a family?— but it’s worth pointing out that I didn’t choose this career path for monetary reasons. I am quite aware that acquiring further qualifications and then teaching or lecturing are my best options for work. Of course, there is the slim chance that I could support myself on my own practice, but that’s not worth considering as a realistic outcome.

My main reasons for studying fine art are quite existential, or maybe just selfish and concerned with my own being above all else: I want to be able to fulfil myself creatively, on my own terms and without relying on external agencies. I am afraid of becoming trapped in something that I don’t find fulfilling because of external pressure, If I were a scientist relying on corporate funding for example. I wanted to keep my options open, art can be almost anything, and I know that at my age, I have no idea of what I really want to do.

I have had trouble building or finding meaning in my life and I feel art is the best means to pursue it. As I see it, if I can’t make or find meaning in art, as free cultural production, I have little hope of finding meaning elsewhere.

Winter’s sky – like a soiled dishcloth, hangs slackly over the white-speckled greys and browns of Hainault. I sit at my computer, reading Kafka’s The Castle, which given my resent involvement in bureaucratic quagmires and quandaries, is more than appropriate. I am kept company by the hum of my computer and the regular passing of cars outside my window, occasionally reaching for chocolates. I wish I could read German, but maybe Kafka’s prose is equally or more barren in its original language. OK – That’s not fair, it’s good writing but it offers little sustenance compared to Martin Amis’ Money, which I finished yesterday. Money, I could get my teeth into – so meaty that I chose to conveniently forget about my supposed vegetarianism. I should be doing something more productive, but instead, I’m writing an abortive account of my thoughts.

I can only imagine that the usual Christmas indulgence and the cold weather’s effect on my immune system have led to these irritating mouth ulcers. I’m a little sickly but really can’t complain. I have a roof over my head and a full stomach (full of festive crap). While I would like to have a passport, then I could get a job and finish my degree – I am content with the slow days for the time being, blessed as I am with a sedentary nature. Maybe I’m better off on this long and bookish holiday – I could be out there, struggling – chasing shadows and battling illusions.

I am a little apprehensive. I mean, there’s the ever-present undercurrent of premature death and decay, ruin, disappointment and the scuppering of one’s hopes. But there’s also a lingering question: In the wheel of my life with its vicissitudes, its ups and downs… Am I on the ascendancy or teetering on the brink of a fall? Everything is so pleasantly so so, so idle and relaxing – What’s going to happen when I’m forced to pick myself up and join life’s dynamism again. Perhaps I’ll be rejected as a part with no function – maybe I’ll adapt to the size and shape of an expedient cog. I’m not arrogant enough to presume that I can change the machinery of life – not yet. That’s what education is for, and education requires money, money requires work and work a compromise. I suspect I have a few compromises left in me, I’m young and malleable after all, young at least.

Youth, they say, is wasted on the young – I generally spend my days reading and/or sitting at a computer. My time at university should comprise more of the same, as with the rest of my future life. While I’m young, Should I endeavour to be a moving part, join the thuggery and bitchiness of my social surround? Take up a sport? I don’t think so, I’m not made for Hainault, not as an active resident. More of a passive dweller, taking advantage of the less impure air, the tube station, the anonymity. I’m under less stress than I was in central London, there’s a forest and there’s countryside – it can be quite pleasant.

What sits in this swivel-chair?
What sits, amidst the tangle of electric cords, the books and papers, a discarded teacup?
can this debris be said to be mine, I its, or is it more of a mutual arrangement?
Drowsy-gummy eyes, brought on by flue medicine.
Hands that could easily span the entire keyboard, brought on my genetic (ill) fortune
and the dissonance between the look and feel of them.

Photocopies from art catalogues line the walls, hastily placed
to ward off magnolia’s monotony
Shoes in need of replacement,
words in need of absorption,
pixels in need of pushing.
And It’s over
I go back.
I wait.
Possible work
and perhaps return.

It seems counter-intuitive to say that my body drags me.
When I seem to drag it, not so much for the walking, or the doing, but for the now very abstract goals.
But however one looks at it, it will continue.
The moment will trundle on
The speculation will continue to dance at its head,
and the ramshackle edifice will continue to grow in its wake.