At 52 years of age, I have around five per cent body fat. And I haven't done a lick of cardiovascular exercise since I gave up playing soccer in my late 20s due to a knee injury.
Seriously, the only exercise I do is some weight resistance training.
You want in on a little secret?
What if it promises to extend your lifespan and keep you looking and feeling your best well into old age?
What if all it involves is a small adjustment to your daily routine?
And there's no catch. It's even cardio-free. So there's no huffing and puffing or sweating involved.
Seriously, it's a game-changer.
OK, enough of the infomercial stuff. This is all about cutting your daily caloric intake, while simultaneously optimizing your body's ability to burn fat. This can be done by way of a little daily caloric restriction.
The payoff at the end of the day is that you still get to enjoy a hearty, fully-satisfying evening meal. That's the reward for not eating (or hardly eating) from daylight to sunset.
All you have to do is get into a daily routine of some "mini-fasting" (mostly done while you sleep) followed by a light lunch (or none at all) and a big protein-packed dinner.
I find this unorthodox routine is the best way to keep my metabolism operating in high gear. In other words, I simply skip breakfast and go as long as I comfortably can without re-fuelling.
Now it's not easy for everyone to skip breakfast. After all, we're culturally conditioned to eat before starting our work day. But this isn't biologically necessary for most of us. (However, if you have certain health issues, consult your physician before modifying your diet.)
So if you're not ravenous each morning, you can easily subdue any minor hunger pangs by drinking a large coffee (an appetite suppressant) and/or plenty of water (carbonated water works best).
Proof in the pudding
Fortunately, I've found some scientific validation for my long-held intuitive belief that skipping breakfast can be a good idea: Studies reveal that fasting for 16 hours can lower your body's insulin concentrations. In turn, this should discourage your body from producing and storing fat.
Personally, I believe that doing without food for as little as 14 hours a day also works well enough.
Mini-fasting this way also reduces your body's glycogen supply, which is a form of stored energy that is found in your in muscles and liver. It kicks in when all the glucose in your system (produced from digested carbohydrates) is used up as your primary energy source. So when your glycogen reserves also become depleted, you finally start to burn your body fat for energy.
When you eventually get around to eating at night, try to make your meals protein-dense. Also, feel free to eat as many starchy (but healthy) complex carbohydrates as you like. As for vegetables, eat plenty of them because they're a key part of a nutritious, well-balanced dinner.
Why calories count and meals don't
Science has now shown that you don't have to eat three main meals a day (or even half a dozen or so small ones, like many bodybuilders do) to efficiently burn calories.
All that matters is that your total caloric intake stays the same, regardless of how many meals you consume.
One such study involved two groups of overweight men and women, who were randomly assigned to very strict low-calorie diets. Each participant consumed the same number of calories per day. Yet one group only ate half as often as the rest of the study volunteers.
Nonetheless, both groups lost equivalent amounts of weight.
Snack a little if you like
If you follow my lead by eating just one square meal a day, rather than three (or a handful of under-sized meals), it can be beneficial to do a little healthy snacking, too. This is especially the case if you're physically active during the day and need a little additional fuel for energy.
Light snacks are best because they help regulate your appetite and keep your energy level from dipping.
Remember that I'm not talking about processed foods like potato chips or hot dogs. I'm referring to small, nutritious pick-me-ups. For example, eat some organic fruit, a handful of mixed nuts or some raw veggies with a little cheese or almond butter... you get the idea.
Alternatively, an organic fruit and vegetable smoothie also makes for an ideal energy booster in between meals. Finally, keep in mind that a snack should merely be just enough food to take the edge off your appetite for several hours.
Optimize your fat burning to become forever lean
It's a lot easier to "mini-fast" during the nighttime and mornings than most of us imagine. As little as 14 hours should allow your body to effectively burn fat. But again, this can only happen when all the carbohydrates stored in your system for energy have been used up first.
So learn to save your appetite for a big, satiating (but healthy) evening meal. In between, feel free to eat a light lunch and even an occasional small but nutritious snack. What's most important is to abstain from food during the night and the following morning.
I you heed this simple advice, you'll soon be well on your way to a leaner, healthier physique. This daily mini-fasting and feasting diet will also empower you to stay lean and full of vitality well into old age.
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"It 'costs' twice as many calories to break down whole foods vs. processed foods where the breaking down was already done in a laboratory for you," McCarthy says. That makes whole grains like brown rice a smarter choice.
Coconut oil has a bad reputation but it can actually have a fat-burning effect, McCarthy says. It contains medium-chain triglycerides, which the body uses for energy instead of storing as fat.
Protein has a thermogenic effect, meaning that you burn more of the calories you eat compared to other foods. Go with lean choices like white chicken breast, however, if you are watching fat intake.
Hot peppers like jalapenos and chilis contain capsaicin, which may give them a fat-burning effect. "Studies show that capsaicin reduced belly fat in men and women by oxidizing fat," McCarthy said. "Capsaicins have also been found to increase resting metabolic rate, thus increasing the rate in which your body burns fat and or calories at rest."
Aside from being a whole food, lentils are a good source of iron — and many of us are short on that nutrient. If your body lacks an essential nutrient like iron, it's not going to be working as efficiently as it should, slowing your metabolism.
Fruit often gets a bad rap on some diets, but it's got a lot to offer —specifically for bananas, McCarthy says. "Resistant starch found in foods like bananas and beans/legumes has been found to have a positive affect on fat levels," she says. "The starch turns into a fatty acid in the gut by the good bacteria and helps to decrease obesity by metabolizing fats after eating, thus decreasing accumulation in the long term."
These and other nuts contain protein that helps you build muscle, which helps to keep your metabolism speedy.
Sure, we know broccoli is healhty, but this green vegetable (and other cruciferous vegetables) contain sulforaphane, a phytonutrient that stimulates an enzyme to get your fat cells burning.
Avocados are high in fat, but their fats are monounsaturated, which is good news. New research showed that people who eat unsaturated fats (like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) are more likely to have excess fat stored in their liver and abdomen.