AUT professor on how to be like Steve Jobs

Grant Schofield: AUT professor of public health and head of the Human Potential Centre at AUT Millennium

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A renewed fasting craze is sweeping Silicon Valley.

Tech execs are "bio-hacking" their bodies, skipping meals to provoke chemical responses that will burn fat, sharpen their minds, raise their immunity and lengthen their lives. 

Elon Musk is reportedly the latest to get in on the craze, first made famous by the late Steve Jobs.

Me, I'm a simple white-collar desk jockey, looking to get rid of an increasingly substantial gut (if NBR publisher Todd Scott and I were Winston Peters and Shane Jones, in weight terms I would be the Shane Jones).

And so it was that I picked up AUT professor of public health Grant Schofield's new book, What the Fast, co-authored with dietitian Caryn Zinn and chef Craig Rodger and, a couple of weeks later, invited him into the NBR View studio – knowing it would inevitably lead to a public weight loss challenge.

Todd is also on board. The NBR owner has recently spoken out about using alcohol and cannabis to self-medicate for ADHD. He's now given up his vices in favour of healthy treatment only but a side effect is that he's found it harder to get up at 4am and go for his usual three half-marathons a week without a puff on his pipe first. Result: He's added 6kg to tip the scales at 81kg.

As for my current weight, that's enthusiastically discussed by Prof Scofield and Todd in the video below (spoiler: 120kg).

From low-carb to no-carb
You might remember the prof from his 2015 book, What the Fat? (also co-authored with Zinn and Rodger) that recommended a low-carb, healthy fat (LCHF) diet to put your body into fat-burning mode. Carbs and sugar were out but treats like bacon, eggs, meat, chilli mince, cream, avocado and butter were in, with no restrictions on calories.

The title provoked a vitriolic response from some quarters, but LCHF has since moved into the mainstream.

With What the Fast, Schofield doubles-down. Fasting two days a week, by skipping breakfast and lunch on Mondays and Tuesdays, will amplify the effect of an LCHF diet, the professor says.

This goes against the received wisdom that skipping meals is counter-productive, because it slows down your metabolism. 

Prof Scofield says there's "no science whatsoever" behind that theory, at least for those who have prepared for fasting with an LCHF diet on other days (people attempting to diet by restricting calories will feel a slowdown).

In fact, he says it's the opposite with an LCHF diet and fasting diet boosting the number of ketones in your bloodstream, fuelling your brain. If you're also into the mindfulness craze, it will help, not hinder.

"You're cognitively sharper; you're in a privileged state," Prof Schofield says.

Mark Mattson, a professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, told the Johns Hopkins Health Review. “From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense your brain should be functioning well when you haven’t been able to obtain food for a while.” If your ancestors hadn't been able to hunt-smart on an empty stomach, you wouldn't be here.

Hurt ahead
My current diet isn't hard to assess. ("Let me guess: Your wife cooks healthy meals and you eat trash in between," a doctor says). 

Things can only improve on the nutrition front. But how hard will it be?

Prof Schofield tells Todd it will probably be relatively easy for him. The publisher has gone low-carb before, and is relatively close to a healthy weight.

"For you," he says, turning to me, "It's going to f**king hurt."

But only at times, and I can ease the pain by having a good run-up of a couple of weeks of LCHF eating before my first fast.

I'm also heartened by the fact Prof Schofield, while a faster and LCHF eater himself, doesn't live like a monk.

A week in his life is recorded in What the Fast; my eyes quickly zero in on his two beers on Friday and three on Saturday. Coffee and tea are fine throughout the week. When you're eating, there's no restriction on portion size.

The odd treat meal that breaks all the rules is okay, too.

"It's how we live 80% of the time that matters," the prof says.

And some of the recipes by chef Carl Rodger(who has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe), including creamy chicken (with actual cream) and bangers and mash (the mash is cauliflower), actually look pretty mouth-watering.

Though I have to admit that other pictures in the book, including mountains of kale and a huge bag of carrots, don't quite get my juices flowing.

There's a good variety of recipes in What the Fast but Prof Schofield also says if you want to zero in on a handful of favourites, that's good too.

Which brings us to Steve Jobs.

Use routine to your advantage
Although Jobs was famous for his fasting (which he pushed to multi-day levels and ultimately a self-destructive level), the Apple co-founder is name-checked in What the Fast for a different reason: his love of routine.

"Steve famously wore the same Levi's, black turtleneck and sneaker no matter what. His idea was that this freed his mind from (clothing) decisions and gave him more mental energy to concentrate on what was really important, like inventing the iPod, iPad and smartphone," Schofield says.

"He was operating under the principle that humans have limited willpower and cognitive effort. That is to say that, on a daily basis, we humans have a limited capacity for willpower and other cognitively-draining tasks like being creative and solving problems. 

"So be like Steve Jobs, and set yourself up to succeed."

Okay. I'm on it.

NBR's ever-helpful publisher has booked Schofield for a return visit in a month, so you'll all see how it's going.

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