Healthy Weight Part 3
This week I am continuing my 4 part series on healthy weight, with the topic of meal frequency and intermittent fasting.
First, I would like to ask you to consider a few questions.
How many meals a day do you eat? Are they at regular times or all over the place?
Do you regularly skip meals? Does this often lead to poor food choice’s or overeating?
Do you graze and snack between meals, and/or after dinner?
Do you eat between meals because you start to feel hungry, or tired, or stressed, and food helps you feel better?
Do you eat between meals because you have heard its good for your blood sugar or your metabolism?
Snacking, grazing, and smaller, more frequent meals
I want to talk about meal frequencies because there is a lot of conflicting information circulating around this. The prevailing perception for a couple of decades has been that snacking or eating more frequently throughout the day, will help with blood sugar balance and speed up metabolism. This turns out to be more theoretical than grounded in any solid science. More recent research is suggesting that the opposite may be more true.
In the study linked here, when people with type 2 diabetes were given 2 large meals a day, versus 6 smaller meals with the same overall caloric value, their body weight reduced more and their blood sugar markers were all better on the 2 larger meals regimen.
Whether you eat 3 meals or 5 or 6, overeating is the main issue, and weight loss can be attained either way with this in mind. However, in my experience, and that of many others, it is far easier to overeat when eating more frequently. One of the things we want to establish is to put eating in its correct place in our life. We are a food obsessed (and undernourished) culture, and when we graze all day, or eat more frequent meals, food takes up a disproportionate amount of time and attention, and we remain a slave to those impulses. Also, we never feel truly full and satisfied with small meals and grazing, wheras eating larger meals less often (just normal size meals) produces satiating hormones which give us a sense of satisfaction that lasts for several hours.
For 3 hours after eating a meal, your body produces insulin to clear the sugar from your blood and send it to muscles, your brain and liver. While this is happening, you are not burning fat. Once your insulin levels come back down to normal, your body starts to burn fat for energy. When you snack between meals, this process doesn’t complete itself. This is an oversimplificaiton of a complex process, but you get the idea. I foundthis to be a good article on this subject.
Its not for everyone. For those eating a raw vegan diet low in fat, with lots of low calorie fruits and vegetables, or those with severe adrenal fatigue, and NOT needing to lose weight, grazing can be a better option for various reasons. But in this article I am focusing on most adults (not children), and on patterns that support weight loss and a healthy weight maintenance. It is clear that snacking tends to lead to excess calories for most people, as well as poor food choices.
3 sit down meals a day
I encourage 3 meals a day for those wanting to lose weight, as I have been doing myself with David for more than 6 months now, with considerable success.
When you are not eating sugar and flour including artificial sugars, your blood sugar and dopamine reward pathways start to heal and balance and you can get to the next meal without a crash. Hunger becomes just hunger.
At first, if you have been used to snacking or grazing, going from one meal to the next without eating can feel like an existential life crisis. Once you get into the rhythm of it, you wonder why you spent all that time eating. David and I work from home....its so easy to walk to the refrigerator or pantry and mindlessly graze when stressed, bored, upset or a tiny bit hungry. But our expanding bellies were getting harder to hide!
Being hungry before your next meal, is a sign that you are starting to burn some fat, and at first it was very challenging to actually feel hunger for an hour or so before the next meal. Learning to tolerate some hunger is something you do need to train yourself to get used to, and it is not harmful, although at first it can be unfamiliar and a little uncomfortable. We have learned to distract ourselves, drink herbal tea or water, go for a walk, check FB, anything...and pretty soon the intense impulse to eat is gone and before we know it, its meal time. If you have severe hypoglycaemia, you need to take it slowly and gradually space your meals further apart. Your meals need to be significant enough to get you to the next meal, and I will talk about quantities next week.
There are some significant benefits to leaving space between your meals, as the Intermittent Fasting (IF) movement has discovered. Intermittent fasting involves going for prolonged periods without eating- either on some days of the week, or daily between dinner and the first meal of the next day. While IF, at least in its more rigorous forms, tends to work more effectively for men than women, due to our different physiology, itcan benefit both men and women to leave 4-6 hours between meals, and at least 12 hours between dinner and breakfast, which is a moderate form of IF.
Intermittent Fasting has been shown to:
- help drop insulin levels and reduce insulin resistance,
- induce cellular repair, which may be protective against cancer,
- promote antiageing processes,
- enhance overall hormone production toward weight loss,
- increases your metabolic rate,
- reduce the overall amount of food you eat,
- reduce oxidative stress and inflammation,
- lower high blood pressure, high cholesterol and triglycerides,
- reduce the side effects of chemotherapy,
- possibly prevent Alzheimer’s dsease, and to improve symptoms (at least in mice!),
- extend lifespan!
In my husband David’s experience, not snacking between meals as healed his long term digestive issues, which always had him up during the night swigging on milk or snacking, to quell the burning stomach. That has now gone and his digestion is excellent.
Summary Points to consider
- For most people, the habit of snacking tends to lead to overeating
- Eating 3 regular proper sit down meals a day creates an effective rhythm where food is placed in its correct context in our lives- eating to live, not living to eat
- Creating a new habit of not eating between meals and between dinner and breakfast, has considerable health and weight benefits
- Learning to be ok with feeling hungry sometimes is part of the weight loss journey.
- Eliminating snacking can be enough for many people to lose weight