Reset Your Clock and Enjoy the Benefits
Grandma said, “Eat three square meals a day.” It’s wisdom most of us grew up on.
But then more recently we have a whole slew of nutritionists who caution that if you go more than 3 hours without eating a small meal, you’ve killed your metabolism for the day.
So which is it, and is there any real evidence to support either perspective? (Or is it something else altogether?)
I have been a solid proponent of more frequent feeds for a number of years, but not for the common reasons.
Almost all of the major diet plans out there suggest at least five meals a day, primarily based on the assumed truth that it would keep your metabolism fired up and allow you to burn more fat. This originally comes from a study done in the early 1960s by Fabry et al that showed an inverse association between meal frequency and body weight.
Since that time, a number of other studies have not shown an association between meal frequency and total energy expenditure. Studies evaluating the effect of increased meal frequency on total caloric intake have been inconclusive.
What this means is that eating more often does not really change your metabolism. It can change some things metabolically, which is an easy confusion to make between metabolism and metabolic function; they sound the same, but their means are quite different.
If Your Metabolism Doesn’t Change, What Does?
Things such as postprandial thermogenesis (the heat you produce after eating) and insulin levels show improvement with more frequent feedings. Lipid or cholesterol profiles also improve with more frequent feedings, which may have some great indications for heart-related issues.
But in order to lose weight, you must also understand your meal patterns and food choices.
Metabolic Challenges Improve
The number of times you eat is important if you are metabolically challenged.
Examples of metabolic challenges include the factors that comprise metabolic syndrome, which is a condition where one has three or more of a group of factors (such as high blood pressure, abdominal obesity, high triglyceride levels, low HDL levels, and high fasting levels of blood sugar) that are linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Any improvements with insulin’s response to things that cross your lips are important. Therefore, for the metabolically challenged, I encourage being mindful of your food timing and content.
So, How Do You Achieve Positive Food Timing?
The great part about food timing is it makes sense, both from a scientific standpoint and, more importantly, in the area of weight loss, an achievable standpoint.
I’ve covered this topic in much greater depth in my book The Z Diet, but let me give you an overview here.
Did you ever stop to think about why you always crave sugar in the late afternoon or before bed? I will tell you why: you’ve programmed your internal clock to do so according to what you ate earlier that day, or possibly even the day before.
The good news is that you can reset your clock to a more appropriate schedule and thereby start to benefit from food and not become damaged by it. That is the concept behind food timing.
It is extremely important for every imaginable health initiative (weight loss, muscle gain, lowering cholesterol, controlling and/or preventing diabetes, decreasing osteoarthritis, etc.) to know WHEN to utilize the foods we like to eat.
The timing of food intake in relation to our sleep/wake cycle, exercise, work, playtime, and all the other activities of daily living is what needs to be understood.
Insulin is responsible for the storage of energy in both fat and muscle. It deposits this energy into either fat or muscle based on food timing, activity level, when we ate last, the last time insulin was raised (in response to blood sugar) and a variety of other factors.
Again, using insulin’s response to food, we can develop a timing system to optimize fat loss and maintain or gain lean mass.
Generally speaking, the body will not utilize fat when sugar is present to burn and use for energy. We are survivalists, and our bodies will do anything to protect that fat for what they believe to be the up-and-coming starvation they will be required to endure.
If we repeatedly consume active carbohydrates throughout the day, we cause insulin to continually spike, thereby setting up the environment for fat storage.
What we want to do is tell our system we need to burn FAT for energy. How? We have to decrease the amount of sugar present, thereby decreasing the insulin and forcing the body to turn to fat stores.
In an ideal situation, we utilize active carbohydrates at two times during the day.
- The first is first-thing in your morning upon waking from your overnight “fast.”
- The second is immediately after a workout (if applicable).
This is because exercise utilizes the storage form of sugar in the muscles, and sets up the environment for needing to replenish energy. This causes insulin to rise and deposit the energy into our now hungry muscles.
Optimally, one would get up and exercise, then eat active carbohydrates, as this would combine the best of both worlds in the quest for long-term weight loss maintenance.
We go to bed on an empty stomach and wake up in the morning after our overnight fast when insulin sensitivity is at its highest.
We then have our biggest active carbohydrate meal of the day, spike insulin, and store that energy in the muscles for growth and maintenance of our lean mass tissue.
We ensure adequate protein is available at every meal, and we eat according to our schedules throughout the day.
As the day goes on, we slowly decrease our active carbohydrate intake, allowing a steady drop in insulin, causing the body to return to fat stores for energy while we are carrying out our daily activities.
How one patient achieved optimal food timing:
I visited with a 47-year-old gentleman exactly two months before he came back in for follow up. Before I went into the room, my assistants measured his weight and body composition.
In short, he had lost 20+ pounds and put on lean mass.
As I happily went into the room to give him the traditional high-five for such success, I assumed the menus I’d given to him were the secret to his triumph.
He was quick to inform me, “Doc, I never used them! I simply did what you said when we first met: started eating breakfast, ate according to my schedule, cut carbohydrates out by midafternoon, and did not eat right before bed! That is all I did, and I have never felt better!”
I am confident that with my book The Z Diet you can also be on the road to optimal food timing and great health!
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