Greetings P4L family! My name is Michael Phillips, and I'm a new addition to the P4L team. I'm introducing a blog series called Gains on the Go. It's all about learning new information, upending fallacies, and using that knowledge to make healthy eating and exercise more sustainable and adaptable to a busy lifestyle. I want everyone to find a way to overcome the obstacles that life likes to put in the way of your fitness goals. I've been in the industry a long time, and fads are more rampant in fitness than just about anywhere else. Thankfully, geeks like me love to sift through the data to separate fact from fad, so you don't have to. Without further ado, let's kick things off by talking about something that is very status quo in the fitness industry: meal frequency.
If you’ve been given advice on a diet for fat loss in recent years, you’ve likely been told that you need to eat every 3 hours to keep your metabolism revved up and burning calories all day long. It sounds good, but I’m not even sure where this information originates. The body of literature that exists on the subject of TEF (Thermic Effect of Food) does not support this suggestion in the slightest. It is true that some portion of the calories you consume is used to power the digestion and absorption of the food itself, but the impact of meal frequency on that is virtually non-existent. If you eat 5 slices of bread in one sitting, or spread those feedings evenly throughout the day, the energy required by your digestive system to process this food is the same. This should be very empowering for you folks out there that find eating so often is incompatible with your lifestyle.
Besides constraints that work may place on your eating habits, food is also an important part of socializing. You can eat dinner with your family, have lunch with a coworker, or try the dishes at your company holiday party without sabotaging your gains (or losses). That is to say, you can eat like a normal person! If you transgress, just adjust the amount of food you consume in the subsequent meals; it's really that simple.
Similarly, you don’t have to force yourself to eat breakfast in the morning if you aren’t hungry. Again, the idea that breakfast stokes the metabolic fire is pretty pervasive, but the support for this idea simply doesn’t exist. The research surrounding the consumption of breakfast is very correlative in nature. It merely shows that those who regularly eat breakfast tend to have lower body weights. However, there are tons of confounding factors: people who are generally hungry in the morning may just regulate their appetite better, or they may eat breakfast because they consider it an important component of health, thus making them more concerned with health in general, or many other possible co-factors. How can you adjust this to help you? Well, a lot of people don't have a big appetite in the morning, have trouble getting up in the morning, or simply just want to wait until they can eat breakfast at the office. If that's you, then you can redistribute the calories to later meals (e.g. dinner with your friend from your hometown), wait a couple hours after waking up, or just have a very quick and easy snack. Make it work for your life and schedule.
The pendulum has even begun to swing the other way, with intermittent fasting diets becoming increasingly popular. Although there is some promising research to support this strategy, I still feel that more research needs to be done on humans, and it needs to be done in a more realistic way. Right now, most of the research showing the positive impact this eating pattern has on health is based on research done on rats, and using an alternating day fasting protocol where you literally skip eating every other day. However, I suggest you keep an eye out for emerging information on this topic, as it certainly shows some potential. If nothing else, this strategy seems viable; I'm just not sold on it being superior yet. A lot of people love this dietary routine because of how well it jives with social eating. If you don't eat anything for 16 hours, then you can cram a lot of food in the remaining 8 hours, relatively speaking. It's not a free pass to clean out an entire buffet, but it's easier to eat like a normal person if you have the flexibility to eat a large meal if you want or need.
My suggestion for using this information is to avoid getting caught up in adjusting your whole life to accommodate a different meal schedule. Eating is too important to our social lives and emotional well being to try and adjust it to fit an unrealistic schedule. Try to make your eating schedule as sustainable as possible. Do you like to sit down and eat a larger dinner with your friends or family in the evening? Do it! Just make sure the calorie consumption throughout the rest of the day is a bit lower to compensate for a larger dinner. Are you the type of person who wakes up starving in the morning? Then have a big ol’ breakfast and let calorie consumption taper off later in the day. Do you want to take advantage of the catered meals your company provides? Go for it. The key is to make your diet work for you.
Dieting requires enough sacrifice and behavior change already; don’t make it harder than it needs to be.
There is also a caveat to keep in mind with this piece of advice. Frequent feedings have some support for improving satiety. That is, smaller, more frequent meals may help you feel more satisfied (i.e. less hungry) than an equivalent amount of food consumed in larger and less frequent feedings. Thus, if you find through experimentation that this describes you, then it may be worth trying. As well, if you simply enjoy more frequent meals and it's not a hassle for you, then by all means go for it. I'm not suggesting it's a bad practice; I'm merely suggesting that eating every 3 hours is not a requirement for you to reach your goals. Meet your calorie requirements in the way you see fit. I promise you that finding a diet you can adhere to consistently is the most important thing you can do to set yourself up to succeed.
Photo Credit : LUM3N