The Human Guinea Pig

At one point early on in my scientific career, before I decided that I would build a research program that required neither calculus nor live animals, I worked with guinea pigs. I convinced myself that the work was for the greater glory of the human race, and that my scientific findings would have great importance, but I hated it. The same with the dozens of white mice whose paths crossed mine, to no good end-for them.

Little did I know that I would one day begin to experiment on myself. Or maybe it was inevitable.

I’ve mentioned one of my enthusiasms, the Fitbit. After a year and eight months using it, I can confidently report that I have walked 8 million steps, about 3000 miles, and climbed 16,000 flights of stairs, the equivalent of the seven highest mountains in the world. I enjoy the encouragement of the online community, located around the world, and stand amazed at my new British friend Susan, who at 64 has walked an astounding 11 million steps and climbed 16,000 flights of stairs! Now I have started a virtual walk across Australia, and am climbing mountains in space. Taller ones than Everest.

A parallel enthusiasm is the FastDiet, or 5:2 Intermittent Fasting. Originally conceived by Dr. Michael Mosley, I learned of it when Phil watched some BBC health-related specials on our marathon flight back from Sydney. Mosley is both an M.D. and a journalist, and has looked at the effects of interval training and intermittent fasting on his own body. The research being carried out in a number of labs, which he visited, and his own experience are compelling. For those of us familiar with Yom Kippur, fasting means no food or water for 25 hours, with headaches, lethargy and a longing for sundown. This is different. Two days a week you limit your caloric intake, to 500 calories for women, and 600 for men, and lots of water. That’s it.

Turns out that intermittent fasting leads to very positive effects in reducing cholesterol, blood sugar, IGF1 (a cancer-supporting growth hormone) and weight. What’s not to like?

I started seven weeks ago, and have lost twelve pounds painlessly. For me, restricting calories is not a problem,and I enjoy the challenge of squeezing interesting meals into that limit. I can ignore any hunger pangs, though drinking lots of water usually keeps them at bay.

On a typical “Fast” day, I have an egg and coffee for breakfast, a giant salad for lunch, with a tiny amount of oil and a good splash of balsamic vinegar, and a dinner of salmon, a vegetable, and more salad. Voila!


There is serious scientific research behind this intermittent fasting. Mice who are calorie-restricted live 40% longer, and the humans who are trying to live that way every day are still a work in progress. Of course the joke about the permanent restriction of calories is that these folks may not live longer, but it will seem that way, with so little pleasure in food.

Will check my cholesterol in a few weeks, as I join the ranks of the human guinea pigs looking at better living through less eating.