The Warrior diet is perhaps better described as a total exercise, nutrition, and fitness program; a diet regimen is only one part of the program. The diet is controversial on account of its proposal of a daily undereating/overeating cycle. The author of the diet claims that this daily undereating/overeating pattern is a natural biological tendency that modern humans ignore to the detriment of their long-term health. The diet's slogan is “It's when you eat that makes what you eat matter.”
The Warrior diet was designed by Ori Hofmekler (b. 1952), a former member of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), an artist, and a contributing editor of Penthouse magazine for 17 years. He was health editor of Penthouse from 1998 to 2000. Hofmekler created the Warrior diet on the basis of his own experiences in the Israeli army and his own theories about how such warriors in ancient history as the Roman legionaries ate and trained. He stated in an interview with a bodybuilder named Mike Mahler that “I did not really come up with the idea [for the diet]; the idea came to me. It really started when I was in the Israeli Special Forces. I found out that some of my friends and I were doing much better when we reduced the eating during the day, or active time, and ate during the time when we knew that we could rest. I realized that when I ate the traditional 6 to 7 army meals plus snacks, I got more exhausted than ever. I suffered from energy crashes and my brain was not as focused and alert as I wanted it to be. . . . I felt a tremendous difference when I reduced drastically the amount of food I consumed during the day. Later when I went on to university and started my career as an artist, I realized that when I minimize eating during the day and have one main meal, I feel much more creative; much more alert. . . . After doing some research, I found out that other warriors of the past used to live like this and that is where I really got intrigued.”
As Hofmekler's biography indicates, he is an artist who specializes in political satire as well as the author of a diet book. According to his art website, he graduated from the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem after his army service and has received study grants from the Israel Museum and the American Israel Foundation.
Hofmekler bases his concept of a daily cycle of undereating and overeating on what he calls instinct rather than control. He has criticized other diets for being “designed according to some kind of theme or a goal that's based on control. . . . Just about every diet you can think of is about control. This [Warrior] diet is based on the assumption that your body has the instinct, like any other instinct, to control itself and to manipulate it very well.” The basic human instinct, according to Homekler, is survival. The Warrior diet website states at the top of the home page, “The Warrior Diet is based on one master biological principle: Human Survival.”
This human survival instinct, according to Hofmekler, was well served by the eating and exercise patterns of Paleolithic (Stone Age) people. Hofmekler believes that “The current epidemic of obesity, diabetes and impotence bears testimony to the fact that humans today have betrayed their biological destiny.” He maintains that there are four reasons why modern people “fail to maintain primal health”: they eat too many meals during the day; they eat when they are not hungry; they make poor food choices; and they do not keep a proper balance between physical activity and relaxation.
Controlled fatigue training (CFT) —The Warrior diet's term for a structured exercise program that trains the body to resist fatigue as well as improve strength, speed, and other performance capabilities.
Estrogens —A group of natural steroids, produced by the ovaries in women, testes in men, and fat tissue in both sexes, that stimulate the development of female secondary sex characteristics and promote the development of the female reproductive system.
Flavonoids —Oxygen-containing aromatic compounds that include many common plant pigments. Flavonoids are thought to strengthen the body's immune system, reduce inflammation, and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Nutriceutical (also spelled nutraceutical) —Any substance that is a food or a part of a food and provides medical or health benefits, including the prevention and treatment of disease. Nutriceuticals include dietary supplements and meal substitutes like those recommended by the Warrior diet a well as fortified foods and functional foods.
Paleolithic —The scientific term for the Stone Age, the period of human evolution when people first began to use stone tools. The Warrior diet is based on the assumption that modern humans have the same biologically programmed instincts as people in the late Paleolithic period, roughly 40,000 to 10,000 years ago.
Parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) —The part of the autonomic nervous system that stimulates the secretion of saliva, speeds up peristalsis, and increases the flow of blood to the stomach and intestines.
Sympathetic nervous system —The part of the auto-nomic nervous system that speeds up heart rate, increases lung capacity, increases the flow of blood to skeletal muscles, and diverts blood flow from the digestive tract.
Thrifty gene hypothesis —A hypothesis proposed in 1962 by James Neel, a geneticist, to explain the epidemic of obesity in the modern world. The thrifty gene hypothesis holds that certain genes in humans maximize metabolic efficiency and food searching behavior, and that humans carrying these “thrifty” genes were more likely to survive during past periods of famine. The abundance of food in the modern world means that people with these genes are predisposed to obesity and other disorders related to overeating. The thrifty gene hypothesis has, however, been largely discarded in recent years.
According to Hofmekler's theory, a daily cycle of undereating and overeating, during which the dieter consumes no more than light snacks of raw fruits or vegetables or a light protein food like yogurt for 10 to 18 hours a day, exercises during this undereating period, and eats one large meal at night, awakens the basic human survival instinct. Evolution supplies the reason why people should have their daily physical workout during the undereating period, which is supposed to begin about 4 hours after the nightly main meal has been consumed. Hofmekler says that both Stone Age people and ancient cultures performed most of their physical labor during the day, ate very little until the evening, and were mentally sharper as well as in better physical condition: “Hunger is part of life and they accepted it. Some ancient cultures such as the Greeks and Romans used to train their children to go through hunger. It was something that they felt it was important to be able to handle. Even when I was in the army, I was told that I need to learn how to handle hunger. It is critical for your body to feel hungry at least once a day from both a physical, emotional, and mental standpoint. Thus, people would go through long periods without eating and maybe have small meals of fruit and veggies during the day. Then they would have a big cooked meal in the evening, which was usually a social occasion. They ate as much as they wanted from all the food groups and stayed in great shape. That is what happened and that was the warrior way.”
Hofmekler maintains that the undereating phase of the daily cycle “ignites the survival engine” because “Our bodies are preprogrammed [by evolution] to activate certain survival mechanisms that are necessary to keep us alive under tough and stressful environmental conditions.” Undereating stimulates certain aspects of human metabolism that “rebuild and strengthen brain tissue, enhance immunity, and increase life span.” Exercising while undereating, in Hofmekler's opinion, “forces the body to detoxify, burn fat and inhibit fat gain.” During the undereating phase of the daily cycle, the body's survival mode is dominated by part of the autonomic nervous system (the part of the nervous system that supplies the heart, glands, and digestive tract, and governs involuntary body functions) known as the sympathetic nervous system, or SNS. The sympathetic nervous system functions to increase heart rate, increase blood flow to the skeletal muscles, and divert blood flow away from the gastrointenstinal system. Eating as little food as possible keeps the body operating under the control of the SNS, “and that's when most energy comes from fat burning.” Hofmekler maintains that undereating increases the body's utilization of protein by as much as 160 percent.
The overeating part of the cycle allows the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS), the other major component of the autonomic nervous system, to take over and regulate digestion, elimination, and other metabolic activities that slow people down and prepare them to sleep. Hofmekler believes that people do not need to count calories for their nighttime meal; rather, their instincts will tell them how much to eat. In an article titled “Your Warrior Diet Questions Answered,” he states, “The Warrior principles are very simple: one meal a day at night. The Warrior diet is based on instinctual principles in which one does not have to check exact times, or for that matter, count calories or restrict macronutrients.” In an interview from 1999, he told the reporter, “Your body... will tell you exactly what it needs [in terms of protein]. ... It's not a diet that's ketogenic or based on suffering and you count the hours. With the Warrior diet, every day has a happy ending.”
Hofmekler does not, however, trust people's instincts completely. His diet has a fairly long list of dos and don'ts:
- Avoid processed foods.
- Eat only organic foods, because ordinary supermarket produce and dairy products contain estrogens.
- Drink only filtered water, and use only filtered water in cooking.
- Minimize the consumption of foods that are wrapped or bottled in plastic containers, particularly soft plastics. Do not store food in plastic containers at home. Plastic fibers contain “estrogenic chemicals that are dangerous to our health.”
- Minimize alcohol consumption because alcohol compromises the liver's ability to rid the body of estrogens.
- Eat carbohydrates last during the evening meal in order to stabilize the level of insulin in the blood.
- Cycle between high fat and high carbohydrate days in order to maximize the body's fat burning during exercise.
Hofmekler considers exercise an important part of fat burning during the undereating part of the daily cycle. He recommends whole-body workouts (squats, chin-ups, high jumps, frog jumps, kicks, sprints, and presses) rather than exercises aimed at only one part of the body, such as the abdomen or upper arms. Based on his notion that Roman soldiers had to carry 40 to 60 pounds of arms and equipment on the back and shoulders while marching 30 to 40 miles a day, he maintains that exercise should focus on building strong joints and a strong back. He also thinks that workouts should be short and intense, no longer than 20 to 45 minutes.
A key part of the Warrior diet exercise regimen is what Hofmekler calls Controlled Fatigue Training or CFT. Basically, CFT means that the person continues to exercise when they already feel fatigued, using workout sets that mimic the fight-or-flight responses that prehistoric people needed when they had to hunt or fight while they were hungry. Hofmekler maintains that humans have inherited so-called thrifty genes from their Stone Age ancestors that make them better able to survive under conditions of biological stress, and that CFT activates those genes. The slogan for CFT is “If you are not actively surviving, you are passively dying.”
Nutriceuticals and dietary supplements
Hofmekler markets a number of protein powders, protein bars, and dietary supplements intended to help the body burn fat, detoxify, rid itself of estrogenic compounds from the environment, and maintain a normal hormonal balance. Warrior Milk is a protein powder intended to be mixed with water or milk to form a pudding-like “treat.” These products, some of which are sold through a website called Defense Nutrition, are said to be free of chemical additives, alcohol, food coloring, preservatives, or fillers.
As the reader may have noticed from some of the foregoing material, Hofmekler maintains that excess “estrogen mimickers” from the food supply and the environment lie at the root of most chronic disorders of modern humans, with overwhelming and sometimes devastating consequences. It is almost impossible to avoid these estrogen mimickers. They're in the air, car emissions, detergents, paints, nail polishes, lotions, soaps, plastics, food and water. Other sources include hormone replacement therapy in women and the steroids used by some athletes. These “estrogenic chemicals” cause what Hofmekler calls “stubborn fat” that resists being burned off by exercise; allergies and recurrent sinus infections; water retention; and fatigue and mood swings, not to mention the “thickening” of women's bodies and the “softening” of men's. The answer to the surplus of estrogenic chemicals in modern life is to up one's intake of flavonoids, plant pigment compounds contained in capsules available from Defense Nutrition.
Training programs and certification
Since 2005 Hofmekler has begun to offer certification programs in the Warrior diet itself and in CFT training. One seminar offered is five days in length but the website gives no details of the course contents or qualifications needed for certification.
The function of the Warrior diet is not weight loss per se, but rather improving fitness through eating patterns supposed to reduce fat, boost the immune system, stimulate the synthesis of muscle tissue, and slow down the aging process, combined with an exercise regimen focused on power and endurance. In terms of bodybuilding, Hofmekler has stated repeatedly that the goal of his diet is to make the body leaner, not necessarily more muscular. In speaking to Mahler, he noted, “…the ‘Warrior Diet’ was never meant to be a bodybuilding diet. It is meant to get you in much better shape. If your goal is to gain muscle, it can be done on the ‘Warrior Diet.’ However, it will be much more gradual…part of being a warrior is having functional strength. You do not want to have quads that get in the way of running or impede fighting ability. Running is the first line of defense and should not be impeded by your thighs chaffing. Also keep in mind that women are more attracted to the lean and athletic build rather than the behemoth bodybuilding physique.”
The Warrior diet's emphasis on “going down to the bottom of the food chain,” that is, eating raw vegetables, fresh fruits, and unprocessed foods, is in line with the advice of many nutritionists. It is also possible that the exercise regimen recommended by Hofmekler might help some dieters adapt more effectively to the high stress level of modern life by becoming more physically active. The diet's claims, however, to anti-aging and “brain powering” as well as fat-burning properties have not been proven. The Warrior diet might conceivably be useful to committed bodybuilders.
Although it is always a good idea for people to consult a physician and a nutritionist before starting a diet, particularly if they are pregnant or nursing, below the age of 18, or have more than 30 pounds of weight to lose, consultation with a health professional is particularly important before beginning a diet that has such an unusual pattern of food intake as the Warrior diet. In addition, anyone considering an exercise program as rigorous as Hofmekler's should make sure that they do not have any previously undiagnosed cardiovascular or musculoskeletal conditions that might make the specific exercises recommended in the Warrior diet inadvisable.
Another precaution to consider is the impact of the Warrior diet's daily undereating/overeating cycle on other members of the dieter's household. A common observation among people who have tried this diet is that the meal schedule works only for people who either live alone or share housing with other people using the Warrior diet.
Vigorous exercise during a period of minimal food intake may not be sustainable for some people. In addition, the specific exercises recommended by Hofmekler would be too strenuous for people who are not already used to some form of athletic activity.
Another risk is that those who may need to lose weight will not see any weight reduction on this diet. Since the Warrior diet emphasizes freedom from calorie counting and portion size, some people might well continue to consume more calories during the one evening meal than they can burn off during the under-eating part of the daily cycle. The diet's alternation between undereating and overeating also seems inappropriate for people struggling with bulimia, binge eating, and other eating disorders, and could possibly trigger relapses.
One risk mentioned by some people who have tried this diet is its potentially high cost. The protein powders, dietary supplements, Warrior bars, and other products sold online through the Warrior diet and Defense Nutrition websites are expensive. For
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR DOCTOR
- What is your opinion of the unusual daily eating cycle recommended by the Warrior diet?
- Do you know anyone who has tried this diet who is not a bodybuilder?
- If so, did they stay on this diet?
- Do you think this diet could pose risks to health for some people? Would it be safe for anyone with an eating disorder?
- What do you think of Hofmekler's focus on estrogens as a major source of health problems in adults of either sex?
example, a 30-day supply of EstroX capsules, an anti-estrogen product, costs $40 as of 2007, while a 16-day supply of Warrior Milk is $24.
The Warrior diet is controversial even among the bodybuilding community. With regard to research, there are no clinical studies of this diet reported in mainstream medical journals as of 2007. Hofmekler's own attitude toward scientific research is a curious mixture of skepticism about standard views of nutrition, a skewed view of history, and selective citation. In an interview from 1999, he remarked that his diet “is more of an opinion or a concept rather than completely [emphasis in original] scientific research, but it's based on opinions and a lot of science, which I hope to verify in the future. The idea is very simple. It's based on my own experience and somehow, because I was so interested in the effect, I did my own historical, anthropological, and scientific research. It's largely based on the romantic notion of the warrior.”
One factor that inhibits Hofmekler's acceptance by the general public as well as by healthcare professionals is the poor quality of his printed materials and the many spelling and grammatical errors to be found in them. Several people who purchased The Warrior Diet noted not only that the paper and binding are not the best, but also that some paragraphs are printed twice. Other examples of uncorrected typos and usage problems can be found on Hofmekler's websites; the Warrior Diet site, for example, refers to Hofmekler as a “reknowned nutrition expert,” while the Defense Nutrition website claims that his diet and training methods have been endorsed by “marshal artists.” While it may be argued that errors of this type do not automatically invalidate Homekler's theories, they certainly do not add to his credibility.
While estrogen levels in the body are known to stimulate the growth of about 80% of breast cancers and to increase the risk of some forms of uterine cancer, it is doubtful that these hormones are responsible for the range of problems Hofmekler attributes to them, or that such substances as plastics can significantly affect estrogen levels in adults. In addition, some of the word-of-mouth advertising for Hofmekler's books has a macho tone that makes the reader wonder whether his concern about estrogen is symbolic. A typical example reads as follows: “Are you sick of diets that are made for forty-year-old women? When is the last time that you read a diet book that was made for men and got you excited?” Although Hofmekler claims that the Warrior diet can help women as well as men improve their physical health, it is difficult to imagine very many women finding this diet useful.
Hofmekler's use of the thrifty gene hypothesis as an explanation for the presumed eating habits of Stone Age people and ancient warriors is a weakness rather than an advantage, in that scientists have increasingly questioned whether humans have ever had a thrifty gene. To begin with, no specific candidate genes have been proposed as of 2007; recent research suggests that numerous genes, each one having only a modest effect, combine to determine a person's susceptibility to obesity. Second, most people who die during a famine die of disease rather than starvation, thus there would be little difference in mortality between lean and obese persons. Third, famines are a relatively recent phenomenon and occur only once every 100—150 years; thus most human populations would have experienced at most only 100 famines during their evolutionary history. Last, the increase in mortality during a famine rarely exceeds 10 percent. In short, famines do not provide enough of a selective advantage for a single thrifty gene to be widespread among modern humans.
One aspect of Hofmekler's system that has received some support from mainstream research is the connection between restriction of food intake and longevity. It has been known for about 70 years that limiting the food intake of laboratory rats increases both their average and their maximum life span. The benefits of calorie restriction have also been shown in hamsters, dogs, and fish. It is not clear, however, whether the model applies to humans, and if so, why calorie restriction might slow down the aging process. One scientist has listed several different hypotheses that have been proposed, ranging from growth retardation and reduction of body fat to alteration of the blood glucose/insulin system and reduction of damage caused by oxidation. As of 2007 none of these hypotheses are considered proven, although the notion that calorie reduction is a low-intensity stressor that may stimulate metabolic defenses against aging is accepted by some researchers.
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Hofmekler, Ori. The Warrior Workout, Part One. Running time: 54 minutes. Both videos can be purchased at the Warrior Diet website, http://www.warriordiet.org/tek9.asp?pg=wdvideos.
Hofmelker, Ori. The Warrior Workout, Part Two. Running time: 54 minutes.Both videos can be purchased at the Warrior Diet website, http://www.warriordiet.org/tek9.asp?pg=wdvideos.
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Defense Nutrition, LLC. P. O. Box 5028, Woodland Hills, CA 91365-5028. Telephone: (866) 927-3438. Website: http://www.defensenutrition.com/.
Hofmekler's art website: http://www.orihofmekler.com. [No mailing address] Telephone: (917) 767-7983 or (212) 909-2793.
Warrior Diet. P. O. Box 5028, Woodland Hills, CA 91365-5028. Telephone: (866) WAR-DIET (927-3438). Website: http://www.warriordiet.com.
Rebecca J. Frey, PhD