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The Leader’s Edge: Fasting for Productivity and Leadership

by | Nov 30, 2020 | +STRATEGIES

Fasting is the go-to habit for anyone who wants better health. (Ditto for weight loss.) But did you know that fasting is also commonly used as a productivity and leadership hack?

It’s true, though productivity isn’t a new application for fasting.

In fact, scientists suggest we’re actually wired to be more productive during a fast. They theorize that our sharpness and mental agility had to increase in a fasted state, otherwise we would’ve been less likely to earn our next meal when we needed it most. [1]

This perspective doesn’t fly in the face of science, either. Dr. Mark Mattson, the famed fasting researcher, says that certain ketones produced during a fast stimulate BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) – a protein that both protects and enhances cognition.

“BDNF plays critical roles in learning and memory, synaptic plasticity and hippocampal neurogenesis, and enhances neuronal stress resistance,” Dr. Mattson said in 2019 paper for Trends in Cognitive Sciences. [2] This means that our hungry ancestors had an internal nootropic that made them better at their job of finding and gathering food.

It’s no coincidence, then, that the great minds of ancient history – Plato, Socrates, Aristotle – also used periods of fasting for enhanced productivity and leadership, or that the founders of great religions fasted before starting their ministries.

Read on to find out the reasons why fasting is such a great productivity and leadership tool.


It’s easier to serve others when you aren’t always eating

The task of leadership is one of selfless service. – ‘How can I help him grow?’ What can I do for her?’ And from a purely mathematical standpoint, it’s harder to serve others when you’re constantly thinking about the food you need.

Daily fasting, then, can be a transcendental lifestyle change for leaders.

In an interview for The Guardian, former Evernote CEO Phil Libin described fasting as one of the top two or three things he’d ever done in his life. “It’s helping me to be a better CEO,” he said.

Having fasting windows helps you cut back on distractions

Research has shown that it can take upwards of 23 minutes to fully recover from a distraction at work. [3] While many leaders and executives are turning off their cell phones notifications to enhance their productivity, still more have adopted intermittent fasting to create as wide of a distraction-free window as possible.

On a guest appearance for the Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said that switching to an OMAD routine gave him more focus throughout the day. “When I paired (fasting) with doing some writing or some reading over the weekend,” Dorsey said, “I just found that I got so much more done during those fasting periods because I was so focused and it just felt like I had much more time to really think and to work at that moment.”

It’s not just enough to simply skip a meal, though. You have to have set eating windows – otherwise, you’ll mindlessly distract yourself with snacking even if you’re not eating a full meal.

Here’s a list of intermittent fasting windows that can increase your productivity.

 Intermittent fasting helps you become more decisive

The word decisiveness comes from the Latin phrase ‘to cut off’, which is basically saying no to a given choice.

We give in to so many of our desires automatically, saying yes to social media urges, yes to checking email, yes to mindless eating. So by consciously choosing your eating window for the day, you’re automatically increasing your ability to say ‘no’. Which is increasing your decisiveness as a leader.

 Coffee breaks are still recommended though! Just make sure to skip the cream and sugar.

Intermittent fasting gives you time for rest and meditation

Meditation might be the biggest leadership and productivity breakthrough of the 21st century, with many A-list companies adding it to their employee packages. The benefits range from enhanced clarity to more productivity, and even greater immunity. [4] But the biggest complaint about meditation is finding the time to do it.

(Experts including Emily Fletcher, founder of Ziva Meditation, say that 20 minutes one to two times per day is ideal.)

By skipping just one meal a day, though, you’ll have made enough space for at least one meditation session.

Not into meditation? Productivity expert James Clear says that the extra time reduces stress anyway. “Intermittent fasting provides additional simplicity to my life that I really enjoy,” Clear said in his blog.

You can use the added time for anything that reduces stress: a quick fasted workout, plugging into your favorite music, or even just propping your feet up and doing nothing for a few minutes.

The Leader’s Edge 

It might be hard to wrap your mind around the concept of not eating all day. But when you take a deeper look into the science and practicality of fasting, you might find that it’s the missing link in your most productive life.

 Curious about which fasting method is right for you? Check out our in-depth tutorial here.


It’s important to consult with your healthcare provider before embarking on any major dietary or lifestyle changes.

Read More:

It’s important to consult with your healthcare provider before embarking on any major dietary or lifestyle changes.

 [1] Evolutionary and Empirical Principles of Lifelong Brain Health

[2] Evolutionary Perspective on Why Food Overconsumption Impairs Cognition

[3] Distractions at Work

[4] Mindfulness Meditation and the Immune System


It’s important to consult with your healthcare provider before embarking on any major dietary or lifestyle changes.