Trying a fast to shed some pounds? There’s an app for that.
The latest health and wellness craze in Silicon Valley has people going without food for anywhere from 14 hours to several days. Some tech workers say intermittent fasting helps them focus and be more productive, while others laud the diet as a simple weight loss hack.
While the science behind intermittent fasting is spotty, the diet has racked up some big-name backers. In December, Kevin Rose, cofounder of Digg and a handful of other startups, launched an app called Zero to take the guesswork out of daily fasting.
Nearly every animal under the sun alternates periods of feeding and periods of fasting, often when they’re sleeping. For most, daily changes in darkness and lightness move this cycle along. We know when the sun sets and we’re settling in for bed, it’s time to put down the Snickers bar.
Zero, aptly named for the amount of food you eat during a fast, is a simple tracker that helps users sync a fast with their biological clock. The app fetches the user’s location and figures out when the sun will set in their area. A timer ticks down the hours until sunset, when the user is supposed to begin their fast. There’s a start and stop button. And that’s about it.
Users can choose from a basic fast, which coincides with their circadian rhythm; create a custom fast; or try the 5:2 diet, a popular intermittent fast where participants eat normally for five days and reduce their intake to 500 to 600 calories for two days.
The app charts fasting activity and lets users export it at anytime for further analysis.
Rose rocketed to fame in the 2000s as the cofounder of Digg. As an angel investor, he made early bets on Twitter, Zynga, Fab, and Square, and later worked as a general partner at Google Ventures. In 2015, Rose left for New York, where he runs a luxury wristwatch blog, Hodinkee.
Zero marks his first step into biohacking technology.
“When my friends heard that I was making a little app for this, they wondered why would you need an app to track this time, because you can use a timer,” Rose tells Business Insider.
He did it anyway, calling the project “a labour of love” among a few developers.
Zero launched December 27 and has been downloaded over 20,000 times, with roughly 6,000 new users a day. It also debuted as the number one app on Product Hunt.
Hugh Jackman gave Rose his intro to intermittent fasting. The actor best known as Wolverine gave an interview to Australia’s “60 Minutes” in 2013 in which he discussed his intense training regimen for the big screen. Jackman revealed he eats only eight hours out of the day.
“Hugh Jackman is shredded and [he’s] Wolverine and that is impressive!” Rose says. “But I think, for me, I wanted to build an app around [intermittent fasting] once I had heard about the research that was going on at a few different universities by three different scientists.”
Almost two years ago, a friend of Rose’s was diagnosed with cancer. His friend’s treatment included fasting for two days prior to chemotherapy — a practice based on the research of Dr. Valter Longo, director of the USC Longevity Institute and a leading expert on fasting.
When the body goes into fasting mode, it stops producing as many growth-related hormones and proteins, which are also linked to cancer and diabetes. Instead, the body takes a break to repair cells. This “maintenance state” may be the key to reducing biomarkers for diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, and unlocking longer lives, according to the Longevity Institute.
Rose offers up this (very) anecdotal evidence: “[Fasting] in combination with, obviously, a bunch of other things — my friend is now in full remission from his cancer.”
Today, Rose walks the walk. He stops eating as close to sunset as possible and usually enjoys his first meal the following morning around 10 or 11. He’s been using Zero to track it.
Rose says the diet helps him feel more focused and avoid sugar crashes. He no longer relies on a cup of coffee at 3 p.m. to power him through the afternoon. But even Rose has cheat days.
“I have no problem on a Friday night going out and having a couple of beers and a slice of pizza, because that’s just life. And that would be a shame to lose out on that,” Rose says. “Making the right call 90% of the time is what I aim for.”