What happens if you don’t eat sugar for eight months? An extreme fitness self-experiment to lose weight

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Pull apart

Step 1: Lose body fat by cutting out carbs. Step 2: Muscles defined like a superhero © phi

physical aptitude – If you were to Google ‘unhealthy eating’, you would probably find the contents of my fridge. For more than 15 years, there was hardly any frozen food that did not enter my body on a daily basis. Healthy nutrition? Totally overrated, I thought. In fact, I maintained a slim physique throughout my 20s. Finally, he also exercised daily to convert the supplied energy into muscle. A simple plan! So why didn’t he already have the body of a Rocky? Worse yet, why did my muscles begin to disappear under a thin but inexorably growing layer of fat? Does nutrition really have such a massive impact on my appearance?

So, as a lifelong incorrigible diet refuser, I pulled the plug shortly after my 30th birthday, radically changed my habits, and went to the opposite extreme: avoiding sugar and simple carbs altogether for a defined, lanky body. as fast as possible. Get superheroes with body fat in the single digits. An extreme testimony of a daring fitness diet.

How does fat burning work?

Losing weight is simple: eat less than you burn. However, my goal was to lose weight without losing muscle at the same time. A less easy task. In everyday life, our body extracts the energy it needs from the food we give it. Especially simple sugar can be used quickly. When we eat sugar, the body releases insulin to lower the blood sugar level again. Unfortunately, insulin inhibits fat burning at the same time.

To lose fat, we have to reprogram our body to use its own fat stores for energy by cutting off its supply of carbohydrates. This process is called ketosis.

If you keep your protein intake high while training hard at the same time, your fat stores melt away while your muscles get defined.

However, there are also carbohydrates allowed: whole grain products provide dietary fiber, which causes the blood sugar level to rise slowly and therefore prevents food cravings.

daily bread and water

The change in diet brought me to the brink of despair on day 1. No pizza, no pasta, no sauces, no pretzels, no sodas, no candy; in short, everything that is fun was banned in one fell swoop. Processed sugar, and by extension just about everything that makes our mouths water at the grocery store or in TV commercials, has become my new enemy.

Instead of eating chicken every day, I chose the maritime alternative. Instead of pizza and lasagna, I now fill my kitchen with fish fillets (unbreaded) and canned tuna. Plus tons of cottage cheese, mozzarella, protein yogurt, and beef ham. Protein sources throughout the day!

The last sugary sin left in my fridge was low-fat whole milk; The search for an acceptable-tasting milk substitute for the daily dose of overnight oats proved too devastating. I was finally able to get by, with some effort, with unsweetened almond and coconut milk.

Eat strictly for the time

To give my body enough time to burn fat, I only allowed myself to eat every 6-7 hours. All those little snacks that we normally eat throughout the day cause the body to pump insulin and consequently inhibit effective metabolism.

Even with my hot meal of fish at night, I only ate enough to be able to train afterwards without a problem.

Allowed drinks: tap water. Final. Even thinking about soft drinks, juices or alcohol already inhibits fat burning. (Alcohol is no less than the dictator among inhibitors.)

I did not count calories individually. I reduced my food intake little by little until I was sure that I had reached a tolerable daily minimum (estimated in the range of around 2300 kcal per day).

Power, pain and sweat: the training

To get in shape, I was content with 20 intensive minutes of training a day. (handstand) push-ups, sit-ups, jumping rope, jogging – the possibilities are endless. It’s important to focus on a different muscle group each day and keep your muscles engaged with smaller variations. I have seen the most visible gains with Russian Twists 4 times a week, resulting in ripped, boxy abs.

However, most of the physical restructuring is done through general exercise, that is, biking, walking and climbing stairs at every opportunity. Anyone who travels several kilometers a day gets the internal combustion engine to work properly. And if you bring home two fully loaded shopping bags from the supermarket and walk upstairs, you won’t need to hit the gym afterwards.

However, the most effective arm and core workout I tested required no movement at all: You hold on to a pull-up bar, bend your arms as if trying to pull yourself up, and hold this tense pose for as long as possible. This unprecedentedly grueling workout was used by Sylvester Stallone and Dolph Lundgren to get in shape for Rocky 4. According to Stallone, only the fittest can break the 45-second mark. However, with a little practice, 60-90 seconds is also possible. (My record was 99 seconds).

Full Body Endurance Test: Hanging from the pull-up bar for 90 seconds
Full body stress test: hanging from the pull-up bar for 90 seconds © Bernhard Zehetmaier

Hardly any other technique can maintain the effect of this hanging exercise on the whole body, and that’s once a week with 2-3 attempts (total less than 5 minutes of time per week!).

Within a month I could see dramatic changes in my muscles. Combined with 80-100 pull-ups a week, not only my biceps but also my forearms became hardened steel, adorned with defined latissimus dorsi muscle on my flanks and back, a flatter stomach and broader shoulders.

Post-workout, I used high doses of caffeine to suppress hunger pangs. Here, at the latest, I said goodbye to the illusion that such a diet still had something to do with a healthy lifestyle. Although he no longer ate fast food, he was now at the opposite extreme.

Extreme weight loss methods from professional sports.

In order to gain the motivation to endure my diet reduction without relapse, I looked for other extreme examples. Besides well-known ‘role models’ like Sylvester Stallone, who supposedly lived solely on tuna and oatmeal cookies to reduce fat, I found what I was looking for in Russian professional sports, more precisely in figure skating. For teenage girls, every gram counts toward maintaining a slim, boyish physique through puberty. Before competitions, their weight is weighed several times a day.

European champion Aleksandra Boikova, for example, only allows herself “normal meals” on weekends. During the week there is salad, cashews and tons of coffee. Yulia Lipnitskaya, the youngest Russian Olympic gold medalist, was so strict with protein and meal replacement powders that she suffered from anorexia.

Anna Shcherbakova, also an Olympic champion, never eats at night. Her colleague Alina Zagitova claimed that she herself had restricted her water intake during the Olympic season so that not a single gram weighed too much. Before weighing in, she took a sip and then spit it out again. When Zagitova won the gold medal, she gave herself a single ice cream cone as a reward.

Eight months later: The result of monotony

After two months of a strict, low-sugar diet, I started noticing changes. My body remodeled. I continued to lose weight as my muscle groups became more refined and defined. Well-known side effects of the ketogenic diet, such as dry mouth, became permanent (feeling dehydrated 24/7). My body fat percentage has dropped from 18 to 8% over the course of 8 months, my weight has dropped from 76 to 70 kg. So, on paper, I made more progress in those 8 months than I did in the 15 years of chaotic eating before that. And all without ever having a shake, lifting weights, or entering a gym.

Little by little: After 8 months of a protein diet and only 8% body fat, the end of the road was reached
Little by little: After 8 months of protein diet and only 8% body fat, the end of the road was reached © had
Little by little: After 8 months of a protein diet and only 8% body fat, the end of the road was reached
Little by little: After 8 months of a protein diet and only 8% body fat, the end of the road has been reached © phi

My condition increased immeasurably. Climbing the stairs to the fourth floor didn’t even quicken my breathing. My overall complexion improved. I no longer sweat, neither from the sun nor from physical activity. (Possibly because my body couldn’t afford to lose more nutrients.)

The downsides: eating strictly according to the time of day and accepting and enduring hunger continually consumes you. My body definitely felt like I was starving it. Control and limitation accompanied and determined every day.

After four months, all my pants were too big for me. They told me 24/7 how skinny I had become.

psychic collateral damage

The more visible the fat-burning successes became, the more fanatically I worked my way down my reduced diet. I could no longer swallow everyday foods without a guilty conscience. Studying nutritional tables in the supermarket has become a religion.

I skipped breakfast. I tried to go to bed hungry to burn fat steadily throughout the night. When I had to eat noodles once one night, I walked around town for two hours that same night to immediately burn off the carbs I had eaten.

I tried a sinister nutritional powder (German manufacturer!) used in Russian figure skating for weight loss. One serving contains just 200 calories, so few that I soon ran out of steam on the pull-up bar.

In short: what was previously unthinkable – a diet away from precooked products – has become a radical attitude towards life. When I ate the first pizza after those 8 months, I felt like I was committing a crime.

It felt easier to lose weight in winter because the cold speeds up fat metabolism. In summer with sweltering temperatures, on the other hand, you lose performance during training.

So the next diet can wait a little longer. And honestly, how are you supposed to survive without pizza in the long run?

This is a subjective experience report. I make no claims about the accuracy of nutritional psychology or sports science. -Philip Heggmair

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