Trigger Warning: This article discusses intermittent fasting and weight loss methods, which could be problematic for some. If these topics might negatively impact your mental health or disordered eating tendencies, please use discretion in deciding whether to proceed.
This is part of a regular series of articles exploring the apps that we couldn't live without. Read them all here.
Many apps are a beautiful combination of health, biology, and technology. They take data from your wearable health device, interpret it, and give you a wealth of information and feedback in beautifully designed apps. One of those apps is Zero, and I have been using it regularly for over a year.
Zero is an app for intermittent fasting, which is the process of not consuming any calories for a set amount of time. Unless you have been living in a cave as part of a spiritual awakening, you have probably come across some form of intermittent fasting as the latest and greatest weight loss tool. Unsurprisingly, stopping eating for long periods has been shown to reduce weight, and intermittent fasting is a regimented way of doing this. For example, you could stop eating at 6 pm and not eat again until midday the next day for an 18-hour fast. If you simply stop eating a meal a day and eat otherwise normally, the reduction in calories helps you to lose weight.
However, the benefits of intermittent fasting are much more than weight loss. It seems ancient civilizations and religions have known this for thousands of years, and in 2023, we finally have the science to understand what is happening - which is where Zero comes in.
Here comes the science...
Zero counts down the time you have left on your fast but supports you with other information. In the Explore section of the app are articles and videos that tell you more about things such as how fasting helps keep your blood sugar stable - which can help people with diabetes, how to measure your metabolic health - which is how well our body is turning food or fat into energy, fasting for gut health – and how fasting can improve focus and productivity.
It is not claimed that intermittent fasting is a miracle cure for everything - this isn't 'Bro Science' or from a 'Wellness Guru' with no medical training—links and articles to scientific research papers on PubMed back up all articles within the app. If you go to the Zero website, you'll see a list of researchers, doctors, and professors who have helped develop and advise on the health aspects of the app. Some articles are by Dr. Peter Attia, who you may recognize from the Disney+ show Limitless, which features Chris Hemsworth, or his in-depth podcast, The Drive.
I've lost some weight through fasting; who would have thought that not eating for 44 hours would shift a bit of weight? But I regularly fast, usually for 18 or 20 hours, because I feel more alert and attentive not just in the mornings but all day. I drink black coffee and water until I feel ready to eat sometime in the early afternoon, and it works for me to stay focused and alert.
'But I can just look at a clock and see how long it has been since I last ate! I'm pretty sure I don't need an app!'
The truth is, you don't. If you can tell the time and count, then you're all good to try it, but Zero has some good features both for free and even more as part of its subscription. Zero also directly interrogates Apple Health, Google Fit, Fitbit, Oura, and Biosense. And, of course, there is a gamification element to encourage you to partake in challenges to stay on track with your fasting.
Why it works for me
Three things make Zero a Homescreen Hero for me. The first comes as part of the free app, and it's the widget that sits on your homescreen - it is a true homescreen hero! The simple widget lets you see how long you have left in your fast. When I am hungry, it is there as a countdown until I can eat, but if I`ve already exceeded my goal, it is a motivator just to keep going a little longer.
Then there are the regularly updated videos and articles on how fasting can affect your health and wellbeing.
However, what I really like to dig into is what my body is doing metabolically. By looking at the length of your fast, and taking in other health factors, such as whether you have done any exercise, Zero can give you a rough guess at the stage of the fast you are in. If you have the Zero+ subscription, you can see a breakdown of each stage and what is happening.
For example in the second stage, the Catabolic Zone, your ‘Blood glucose continues to drop, and stored nutrients like glycogen and fat are put to us. This zone typically lasts for 12 hours, but you can accelerate it by experimenting with different pre-fast meals and exercise.’
I’m sure I’m not the only person who finds it fascinating and motivating to know exactly what my body is doing and then recognize how I am feeling both physically and mentally as a result.
Zero is available as a free app for Android and iOS, with some of the more in-depth features locked for subscribers. However, the fasting timer, learning sections, and Challenges are all available, so you can try the app before you delve deeper.
A Zero+ Subcription costs $69.99/£67.99/AU $114.99 per year or $9.99/£9.99/AU $16.49 per month