By Ryan Johnson, as told to Emily Shiffer
My name is Ryan Johnson, and I am 34 years old. I live in Jacksonville, Florida, and I am a service representative.
Heaviest Weight: 265 pounds
Current Weight: 206 pounds
I used to be in the Army, and after years of staying in shape, I struggled with depression. It led to binge eating and weight gain. Before trying fasting, I had done yo-yo diets my whole life. My weight has gone up and down 80 pounds over the years, but nothing ever stuck.
Before fasting, a typical day consisted of sleeping in until the last possible second and grabbing either a toaster pastry or a chicken biscuit from a drive thru. I would go to work at my very stressful job from 8-6 and get little to know movement at work. I would always eat out for lunch and pick very unhealthy options—sometimes I’d even get dessert with lunch! After work I would come home and eat dinner around 6:30pm and sit on the couch until it was time for bed. Before bed, I would usually have ice cream or another dessert. Sometimes I would wake up and get a “midnight snack.” I was literally eating around the clock.
The first time I heard about fasting was almost a decade ago. I was into fitness at the time, but back then I thought fasting would make me lose muscle and go into “starvation mode.” However, after years of putting on weight, I started learning more about it and decided I wanted to give it a try.
My turning point came on April 19, 2020. A few weeks into the COVID lockdown, I was stress eating like crazy. It was a Saturday morning and I stepped on the scale that I had been avoiding for months. After I read it, I just said, “That’s enough.” Something had to change.
My goal when I started fasting was to be in better shape than I was when I was 24. Back then, I was 180 pounds and less than 10% bodyfat. I had a six pack and was very fit. From the start of this journey to get healthy, I told myself that I wanted to be in better shape in the next decade than I was in the last.
I found Zero two weeks into my journey.
I loved it so much, I actually went back and retroactively added the fasts I had completed in the couple of weeks before downloading the app. It has been a huge help in my journey. Tracking the fasts helps me to see trends, and with that I am able to make adjustments. My favorite feature is 10,000% the calendar feature. I love being able to look back and see how I’ve done. The Zero Facebook group has also been a great source of motivation.
I currently follow a 16:8 fasting schedule, but I try to keep it flexible. Most days I end up following 18:6. I change my fasting times to suit my lifestyle. If I want to go out and have a big dinner with my wife, I’ll just do a longer fast leading up to it so I stay in a deficit. And some days when I’m really hungry, I’ll break my fast at 12-14 hours. I listen to my body and hunger signals. That’s what I love about intermittent fasting—it’s all about flexibility.
The first few mornings I started fasting I was so hungry, but honestly by the second week my body had adapted fairly well. That’s part of the reason I’ve been able to do this so long (coming up on 7 months). It’s not a struggle for me to follow the plan.
Aside from the weight loss, fasting gives me freedom from food. I no longer feel like food is my source of comfort. I can focus my thoughts and feelings more. I also did not change my overall diet. But that may come later. Currently, my favorite meal to break my fast with is chicken.
Here’s what I typically eat in a day:
Breakfast: Black coffee
Lunch: Chicken tenders
Dinner: Chipotle Bowl (steak, brown rice, pinto beans, salsa, cheese, sour cream)
Snacks: Mixed nuts, protein shake
I feel completely different now that I am fasting. I no longer need to take a nap every day. Before, I would always eat a huge lunch and then be worthless for hours afterwards. Now, I experience the mental clarity that comes from fasting. I also started tracking all of my calories in MyFitnessPal because I wanted to stay in a deficit, which was key for weight loss. I aim to eat 2,400 calories each day. I also started exercising 2-3 days a week. I mostly lift weights and do resistance training. It has been great, and I almost always train fasted which gives me an added fat burning period of the day.
These three changes contributed the most to my weight loss success.
Change 1: I gave myself more than a year to reach my goal.
By taking a longer-view approach, I don’t get discouraged by little missteps. I still have plenty of time to reach my goal. When you set a short timeframe to reach your goal, you can get discouraged if it doesn’t happen “fast” enough.
Change 2: I only focused on fasting at first.
I’ve done diets before, and when you change everything in the first week, you drain yourself of willpower and end up falling off the wagon. So in the first three weeks, I just focused on hitting my fasting targets.
Change 3: I don’t get down on myself for eating “off plan” or breaking a fast early.
Life happens, and if I get down on myself for being human, that is not going to help me in the future. So instead, I give myself grace and understand this will happen. I acknowledge it and move on instead of making myself feel like a failure.
After sharing my successful fasting journey, I have had a ton of friends reach out to ask about starting fasting. I think the most rewarding part about fasting has been the mental clarity and focus that comes in the last few hours before breaking a fast. I don’t feel mentally drained. But the weight loss has made the biggest difference. It is going to allow me to live an active life well into old age. If I had continued putting on weight, I would have been immobile by my mid-fifties. But now I feel strong, and I don’t feel deprived.