Most people give up their most nagging vices for Lent—like candy, curse words, and Facebook.
But J. Wilson decided to abstain from solid food, choosing instead to drink nothing but beer and water for 46 days. Strange? You bet. But Wilson, a 38-year-old editor from Iowa, wanted to see if he could emulate German monks of the 16th century who supposedly lived solely on doppelbock beer—”liquid bread”—during Lent. So he teamed up with an Iowa brewery to create his own doppelbock that would sustain him for 46 days, and got to drinking. Men’s Health caught up with Wilson—now 25 pounds slimmer—to get the scoop on his extreme experiment, and to see how he’s holding up.
Men’s Health: What made you decide to go on a “beer diet?”
J. Wilson: I spent a lot of time researching extended fasting to find out exactly what occurs in your body when you do it. I learned there was this huge detoxing element to fasting, so I was looking forward to that as much as the historical element. I’m not Mr. Perfect when it comes to health. But when you go on a fast of this nature, you work out all the donuts and cheeseburgers that are still in your stomach and bowels from all those years ago. That sounded like a great idea.
Men’s Health: Did that great idea come with any health concerns?
JW: I’m usually about 5′11’” and 140 pounds. When I talked to a nutritionist early on, she told me this was a horrible idea for someone who’s already 20 pounds underweight. So if I was going to lose weight, I needed to bulk up a little bit. I usually don’t eat breakfast and I’ll sometimes skip lunch, so I disciplined myself to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner every single day, and I put on 20 extra pounds.
MH: Why was dopplebock your beer of choice for the undertaking?
JW: One 12-ounce serving contains 288 calories, and it’s completely unfiltered—just like the kind the German monks consumed in the 1600s. As a result, it retains plenty yeast and B-complex vitamins, making it a hearty, nutritious brew—especially compared to, say, a Budweiser, which has been filtered and pasteurized and weighs in at just 100 calories.
MH: What was your drinking schedule like?
JW: Four beers on weekdays, and five a day on Saturdays and Sundays. I didn’t have to go anywhere on the weekends, so I was less concerned about the alcohol. I drove my kids to school, arrived at the office at 8 a.m., poured myself a beer, had another one at noon for lunch, poured a beer around 3 p.m., and then another beer at 7 when I got home.
MH: What were the hardest foods you had to give up?
JW: I’ve heard from other fasters that your body will usually tell you what it needs, but not once did I crave anything sweet. Which is funny, because I have a major sweet tooth—especially when it comes to donuts, chocolate, and cheesecake. The stuff that popped in my mind was more like goat-cheese omelets, olives, and Mexican food. Aroma would really trigger the idea of eating food. I really wanted to eat all those things, but I realized there’s a difference between needs and desires. I don’t need that cheeseburger—I just really want one right now. But that eventually subsided. My wife could make food, and I could take a huge inhale of it I and still get the same satisfaction that I would get from eating it.
MH: Did your body ever rebel against the diet?
JW: Believe it or not, I never really got sick. But I did lose a lot of weight, and once I went through all of my fat, my body began consuming its own muscle to get protein (and it certainly wasn’t getting much from the beer). As a result, my kidneys started to get clogged up, which manifested itself in back pain. The first solution was to drink more water to try to flush them out. Sure enough, that did the trick. It was a good lesson: I was able to listen to my body, and use that knowledge to find a solution.
MH: What was the very first thing you ate once the diet ended?
JW: I like to smoke meat, but I also wanted to ease back into a normal diet by eating softer foods for a couple of days. So I made myself a bacon smoothie! I also wanted to target the hardest-hit areas of my body, including my kidneys and liver, so I did some research and found that cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflowers are good for those organs. I tried some mashed potatoes, and my body didn’t reject them. I couldn’t believe it. I certainly got full faster, but at no point did my body say, “That was a bad idea, J.”
MH: How are you helping your body recover from the diet?
JW: My first priority is to gain back some weight. I’m 135 pounds now. I want to work my way back up to 150, and I’m exercising so that the extra weight doesn’t turn into fat. To repair the damage to my kidneys, I asked my wife, who happens to be a yoga instructor, to put together a yoga program that would benefit them. I make it a point to do an hour or so of yoga each night.
MH: What did you learn from the experience?
JW: The human body is a pretty amazing machine. Just look at what it’s capable of accomplishing. Who would have thought that you can drink beer for 46 days and live to tell that tale? But you certainly need to listen and respond to your body, and treat it with respect. You’ve also got to be disciplined. Perhaps the most important lesson, though, was learning how to recognize the difference between wants and needs.
MH: Would you recommend the beer diet to others?
JW: Honestly, no. I just thought it would be interesting from a first-hand perspective to try what the monks did. People say, “Great idea! You’ve lost 25 pounds in 6 weeks on your beer diet!” But I wouldn’t seriously recommend it. The alcohol alone is going to stress certain parts of your body. It’s definitely not right for everybody.
Courtesy of Men's Health Magazine