Max Lowery is a personal trainer, online health and fitness coach, and the founder of 2 Meal Day, which is the simplest, most effective method of Intermittent Fasting.
Max first discovered the benefits of fasting by accident when he was travelling around South America, but it has since become a way of life for him.
Using his rapidly-growing social media presence, Max has helped to spread the word about a number of health hacks such as Fasting and Cold Water Therapy.
Most recently, he has been exploring the benefits of hiking in nature, and he has just launched the French Pyrenees-based Connect Retreats.
We sat down with Max to discuss a wide variety of topics and hear his views on some common health and fitness issues.
Thanks for speaking to Human Window, Max. Could you give us a little bit of background about your story and how you got started with the 2 Meal Day?
I’ve been working as a personal trainer in London for five years, having a lot of one-on-one clients, all based around central London. Recently, it’s moved more into online coaching. I have quite a big community with 2 Meal Day now, which is great. Before that, I worked in finance for four years. It was completely and utterly the opposite way of life – partying, entertaining clients, having to be in the office at 7am, sitting at a desk all day and eating lunch at my desk. Before that, I worked in nightclubs in London. I’ve kind of done everything at both ends of the health spectrum!
Essentially, what I talk about now, whether it’s fasting, improving sleep, connecting with the outdoors, exercise, training – they’re all things that I’ve incorporated into my life. It comes from living very unhealthily to where I am now, and over a long period of time, I’ve refined certain processes.
Now I’m sharing these processes with other people, because I think that living healthily and finding balance in a city like London can be difficult. But actually there are some little clever tweaks you can make here and there that can make a huge difference.
For someone who isn’t so familiar with Intermittent Fasting, how would you summarize it?
Fasting just means not eating. Everyone fasts overnight, that’s why breakfast is called ‘break-fast’, you’re breaking your fast. There are recognised different processes that happen in the body when you start to extend your overnight fast. Different metabolic changes happen in the body – one of them is that you start using fat as a fuel source, your stored energy. Intermittent Fasting is just a term that has been coined for when you’re incorporating periods of fasting, either into your day or into your week.
There are many different methods of doing it. I should stress that although it’s very popular now, it’s nothing new. Every ancient religion and culture has been doing it in some way, shape or form, from Christianity to Islam. It was always used as a cleansing and healing tool – and it’s only now very recently that we are beginning to scratch the surface of what that is. Fasting does seem to reset the body in quite some amazing ways. This is why I’m fascinated by it.
As you know, I’ve been doing Intermittent Fasting for a few years now. One of the things I struggled with at the beginning was maybe being too rigid with it all, counting the hours, making sure the eating window is the right length. Recently, I’ve realized that it’s more about balance and it can then become a way of life. How important is it to have that balance?
This is why I started the 2 Meal Day. I stumbled across Intermittent Fasting by accident when I was travelling around South America. I didn’t know what it was initially, I just started doing it. I then went back to the UK and eating normally, didn’t feel as good and put on a bit of weight. I thought, ‘Why was I so lean, why was I so energized all the time?’. I then found out that I was fasting.
I’ve experimented with lots and lots of different methods and then started to incorporate it with my one-on-one clients, which ended up becoming the 2 Meal Day.
The reason why I started the 2 Meal Day was because, like you say, when people start doing it, they can get very restrictive and obsessed with the clock, counting down the hours until they can eat, not eating out for dinner with their friends. That’s just because people are used to restrictive diets and doing things in extreme ways.
For me, the benefits of Intermittent Fasting come from learning to listen to your body. It’s only when you start to ignore the clock and start to listen to what’s going on inside your body, do you actually start to change your life, and it’s a really empowering thing.
The physical benefits of Intermittent Fasting have been well-documented, but what would you say are the main mental benefits in terms of someone’s relationship with food?
I usually focus on the three main benefits. The first one is weight loss, and that’s the reason most people get into it. But the reason people end up doing it for a long period of time and it’s become a top lifestyle trend in the last five years is because people report to have more energy overall and feel less hungry overall – and there’s a reason for this. Digestion takes up a lot of energy – it’s very taxing on the body. Everyone knows what it feels like when you eat a big meal and feel tired afterwards. You start to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the ‘rest and digest’ aspect of the nervous system.
Once you free up that energy for other purposes, it’s an incredibly liberating feeling. That’s alongside the fact that you’re resetting your body to use its stored energy, which is body fat. Fat is a very good fuel source for low intensity activity. In your day-to-day activities, you can just be on one stable energy level all day. You’re not going to run out of body fat.
Then, when you start to get to a 13-14-hour plus fasting, a hormone called Norepinephrine is released, which is related to Adrenaline and has a direct effect on your mental alertness.
The combination of these three things has been known to give you a ‘buzz’ and this is why lots of people end up coming off coffee, because they don’t need it. The reason people feel less hungry is because overall, once you stop confusing food with just energy, when you stop constantly supplying your body with energy, which is food, and it starts using its stored energy, your body basically stops thinking that it needs food for energy.
You start to feel what real hunger actually is – and that’s something that occurs every 16-24 hours not every three hours, when your blood sugar levels crash and you need more sugar to bring them back up. I think the combination of those three things mean that it can become a way of life rather than something that you do in the short term.
What does your diet look like these days?
This is the great thing about Intermittent Fasting – it’s unbiased. You could be Vegan, Pescatarian, Vegetarian – it all fits into an Intermittent Fasting schedule. For me personally, I do eat meat. I’m very conscious of where my meat comes from. I’ve grown up on farms in the south of France and the UK, so I’m very aware of the process.
I eat a ton of vegetables. If you want an example of what my plate looks like, there’s probably three or four vegetables on there, and then there’ll be some kind of meat, fish or eggs. It’s very simple cooking. I love Italian, French and Greek cooking – they have really good ingredients but super simple recipes, so it doesn’t take long.
I don’t eat a lot of starchy carbs all the time. I’m a lot less strict with this than I was in the past, but that’s just what worked for me. I get digestive issues if I eat things like Porridge, Bread and Pasta all the time. It’s nothing complicated, just cooking from scratch with fresh ingredients.
The big mistake some people make with fasting is that they think it’s a ‘magic pill’. They think you can eat what you like, as long as it’s within the time period. That doesn’t promote a good relationship with food, and it’s not a good thing long-term. It’s only when you start to nourish your body with real food, cooked from scratch, do you realize that you don’t have to eat every five seconds – because you’re giving your body what it needs. That’s really important.
You’ve mentioned in the past how you cycle Caffeine and don’t use it very much. Could you explain how you use Caffeine in your diet?
I drink quite a lot of Green Tea and I like Coffee – but it was always a bit much for me. It made me feel a bit anxious and jittery. I did use it as a performance enhancer – and I still do. I believe that if you really want to focus and perform at something, whether it’s at your job, as a pre workout or at work, it’s very good. It also blunts pain signals, so for workouts it’s very effective.
But obviously there’s a danger it can be abused. Most people who I see are using it just to get to a functioning level – they cannot function without it. That’s dependence, and it is a drug. It’s very easy to happen and that’s why I’ve always been very wary of it.
Recently though, I’ve started making my own Cold Brew Coffee, which has just completely and utterly changed the game for me. Because I make it myself, I’m in control of the Caffeine content. I don’t put as much coffee in and I brew it for only 12 hours. I’m someone who cannot drink hot coffee on an empty stomach. It completely destroys my stomach and I actually end up having IBS symptoms for a good six weeks, from just drinking black coffee on an empty stomach.
I think a lot of people are experiencing this and don’t realize it’s from that. Hot brew coffee is very acidic and on an empty stomach that can be problematic for some people (but not everyone).
Cold Brew has a slower brewing process – you brew it for 12-24 hours. It has a naturally less acidic end result, and it actually tastes better because it’s less acidic. It’s a completely different taste, it’s better on the stomach and it has a lower Caffeine content. I still cycle it. I have it about half the days of the month.
One of the other things you’ve become a proponent of recently is Cold Water Therapy. Could you summarize the benefits and how you got interested in it?
I’ve always been aware of Cold Water Therapy and its benefits for recovery. As a sprinter, I used to use it then, but not in the same way I use it now. My first experience with Cold Water Therapy was swimming the Channel as part of a relay team when I was a teen, which was the worst experience of my life! Back then, I was skin and bone and it was horrible.
What got me into Cold Water Therapy recently was someone called Wim Hof. I went to a seminar of his and experienced the breathing technique and the ice. There’s one thing that he said that really resonated with me, and that was that Cold Water has all these amazing physiological benefits and it’s free. The way he was describing it, it sounded like he was talking about fasting. It’s something that’s free, natural and seems to switch on different things in the body that have a positive effect.
Then I started my own cold water journey of seeing how far I could take it. I went up to Scotland and ended up swimming in ice water. As far as the benefits go, there are loads of physiological benefits which are quite well-documented. It’s highly anti-inflammatory, which is good because lots of us are living very inflamed lives, with alcohol, lack of sleep, exercising too much and diet.
It flushes the Lymphatic system, which is essentially like the drainage system for the blood vessels, so you’re ‘cleaning’ the blood vessels. It boosts the immune system, it’s good for the skin. It can make you better able to deal with cold. My girlfriend’s entire life has revolved around her avoiding the cold. By exposing yourself to cold, you’re building your tolerance to cold.
It’s also been shown to be like an alternative to Coffee. You get a massive rush afterwards. So there are these physical benefits, but with cold water in particular, it’s the mental health benefits. It’s now being looked at for treating certain forms of depression because of the massive rush of Endorphins you get afterwards.
This is what I think gets people hooked on it – they are putting themselves through this pain but afterwards you get that amazing rush. That will boost your energy all day and lift your mood.
I’ve had friends who have dealt with Depression and they’ve come along with me and started incorporating cold showers – and it really has helped.
What I personally really like about it is the mental fortitude aspect. It increases mental toughness. When you’re about to get into the water, you know how cold it is, you’ve touched it. Your entire being is saying, ‘do not get in that water’. By forcing yourself to do it, you are making yourself a stronger person. And when you’re inside, your entire body is saying, ‘get the f*** out’. Everything else goes out of the window. Whether you’re worried about your job, or money, or your girlfriend – that is out of the window. You are purely focused on the here and now, so it’s an incredibly mindful experience.
Overcoming all these thoughts jumping into your head about getting out and the cold really does have a knock-on effect on the rest of your life. It’s made me a stronger person and that’s why I think it’s so powerful. For people who are used to saying ‘no’ and staying inside their comfort zones, doing this can really help get rid of that bad habit.
Do you have a specific morning and evening routine that you follow?
I do. It’s not something that I’m doing every single morning, but most of the time I am. My morning routine is basically, as soon as I get up, I drink between half a litre and a litre of water. Then I stretch for between five and 10 minutes. It’s not Yoga, but just loosening things off from the night. That’s pretty much it for the morning routine. Ideally, I try and get out of bed within five second of waking up – that’s a really difficult thing to do sometimes, but you get better at it.
My bedtime routine is a bit more of a process because I do struggle with sleep and find it difficult to switch off. If I don’t do this routine, I do have difficulty sleeping. My bedtime routine is at about 9-9:30, my phone, laptop, TV screens are off, so there are no distractions from blue light or social media keeping me mentally stimulated. Then I start to dim the lights. Being exposed to very intense bright lights in the evening is going to disrupt your sleep and Melatonin (the sleep hormone) secretion.
Once that’s happened, I actually clean up and get myself ready for the next day. This is just something I personally do because it helps me relax and wind down. Also, if I have got myself ready for the next day, then I’m not worrying about it in bed. Then I do more stretching and breath work. If I’ve trained, I just stretch off the specific areas that I’ve trained. Then I might read for 10-15 minutes in bed, with a very dim light.
You’ve just recently launched Connect Retreats. Could you give a bit of a background about it, why you got involved and what you’re offering?
My own personal health and fitness journey is constantly evolving. It’s not a static thing. I’m always looking at new ways of improving my life and my clients’ lives.
Having now lived in London for 10 years, in the past few years as I’ve started to get out of London more and explore the natural environment and hiking more myself, I’ve started to realize how powerful that is from a mental health aspect. Just getting out of the city, for me personally, immediately I can breathe properly. I feel less stressed as soon as I’m out of the city.
I started incorporate longer and multi-day hikes, and started to get qualified. I just started to see how people have reacted to it on my social media accounts. People seemed to be inspired and often said that they wished they could do that but they don’t know where to start. I’m fortunate that my girlfriend has a house in the French Pyrenees in the middle of the mountains. I know the region very well and I’ve been going there since I was 10.
I got myself qualified last year and decided to host two hiking retreats where I took seven of my followers on two trips. It was a bit of a test and the whole thing went really well. I’m just looking at sharing my passion for the outdoors with other people.
Having lived and worked in London for 10 years, and then coming out of that, I really think that there is a market for people who want to come on an experience like that an improve their mental health. I’ve got four trips this year and next year it will expand even more, because we’re building another property on the land. It won’t just be hiking, it will also be fitness-based stuff. I want it to be like a retreat center.
There’s definitely higher rates of mental illness per capita in cities and they are starting to attribute that (partly) to lack of green spaces and accesses to them. Even if there are green spaces, people are not recognizing that it’s a good thing to go and immerse yourself.
Do you meditate?
I don’t meditate enough. I go in and out of it. When I hike, it’s kind of like meditation for me. I don’t listen to music, I’m rarely on my phone – I’m just walking in the elements in the moment. Actual meditation is definitely something I need to do more of. I’m very aware of the benefits and whenever I have done it, it’s been very beneficial for me.
For anyone watching who wants to stay up to date, where’s the best place for them to keep in touch with what you’re up to?
The website is the first port of call – 2mealday.com. Then, you can follow me on Instagram, which is @max.lowery. If you would like to come on a retreat, you can see all of the information at the Connect Retreats website.