The Meal Frequency Fairy Tale Have you ever been asked how many meals should you eat per day? Or Read a fitness magazine dictating the number of meals you should eat? And Talked with friends about how many planned meals they eat? The normal response I hear is “I eat small regular meals to speed up my metabolism”. I used to believe the same theory and followed this way of eating for 2 years because this was the normal thing to do with the knowledge and current research at that time. However, I never questioned too much 'why?' I knew all the best fitness pros did the same so I believed I should too if I wanted to look lean, trim and have a set of chiselled abs with a lightning fast metabolism. I would have 5-6 meals each day, spaced apart every 2-3 hours. It sounds crazy now but I was dedicated and I would do just about anything to get me to my goal. The results did show and I was enjoying the process. I saw what I was after looking back at me in the mirror. Although, when I was away from the kitchen and working or out all day it would stress me out because I knew I might miss a meal and that it would ruin my whole day, therefore putting me in a crappy mood. I would be angry with myself for not pre-planning and being ready for the unexpected to happen. I’d often think about how I have wrecked my progress and how it set me back and I would say 'Screw it - I might as well right the day off and eat whatever I want'. Sometimes I did, I was only human. I realised eventually this was not sustainable long term. There had to be another way that would suit my lifestyle easier and not cause the poor outlook I had with my diet that was only going to get worse if I didn’t address this now. I came across a scientist who debunked the whole 'more meals cause an increase in calories burnt'. It was just what I was hoping to find; another way while still chasing after my goals. The relief I felt! I no longer had to pre-cook meals in Tupperware and eat them in unsociable situations, for example when going out, where people would order food while I’d eat the same dry cold lifeless meals. This doctor in nutritional science explained that eating more smaller meals regularly can make you hungrier – the last feeling anybody wants when eating fewer calories. Consequently, this would trigger those cravings to binge and the endless convincing myself that I needed a diet break when in reality I needed to change my approach to eating and factor in my lifestyle and personal preferences in mind. The truth is, eating small meals more often can suit people if they have a lot of calories to consume and like eating recurrently. It depends on the individuals goal and their preferences. Though no one likes hearing that answer it’s fact. Another important matter to mention is tying your beliefs to the method to why you are seeing results. Eating 6 meals per day is not the reason you are losing fat, I promise it has nothing to do with how fast you burn calories like it was sold. Let’s say person A is eating 2600 calories per day spread out across 6 meals. 2600 divide by six = 433cals, rounded down is 430 calories. Take person B who is on the same amount, however, prefers to eat 3 meals. He enjoys a bigger meal and hasn’t got time to eat every 2 hours. 2600 dived by 3 = 866, rounded up 870 calories What do you spot… They both take in the same total number of calories. The body cannot tell the difference. It knows input vs output put quite simply. Over the course of the day, they’ve eaten the same intake and provided the calories are aligned with their goal(s) whether that’s losing or gaining weight, they are on track. So, if you are still following this way of eating that’s cool. As long as you know there is another way that is more practical to daily living and work life, yet allows for you to be the boss and set rules. There is no right or wrong in this instant, so don’t ask nor search for one. You will be wasting your time, which can be spent making progress. Go with what you prefer doing that reduces stress and see yourself following in the next year. You and I are different. I might find your ideal situation not suited to me and vice versa. As I got told recently by a friend - 'Just do you and you are winning!'.
Are You A YO-YOER?
What is your first thought when you hear the word 'Diet'?
The words that people relate diets to are: suffering, restriction and the association with weight lost. Another thought that we immediately relate to is extremism, with food groups being restricted or even worse removed. Normally diets are designed to get you to your ideal fitness goal and typically end when reached. On a daily basis, we all tend to think 'When will it end?!', if you say you don't then you are lying to yourself. We usually plan to go on a diet for a special occasion, maybe you've planned to get ready for your summer holiday to look beach lean, or you want to look your best on your big day.
Once you have lost weight and you feel happy with the results that you see in the mirror, what comes next - let me explain! You jump ship because you can't cope anymore, you need to reward yourself with copious amounts food, that you would never normally eat. You've stayed the course of the diet, you were strict and fought the urges to go crazy. However, now you've reached your goal you feel you deserve and are owed the right to eat whatever you want. It's weird when you think of it really. Why would we do this to ourselves after spending all that time churning away week after week losing the weight to feel and look our absolute best, when in a matter of weeks we regain the weight plus more.
Who's to blame?
We put our trust in these mega companies to get results. We have stopped using common sense and we are asking questions as to why we do not lose weight. Instead, we jump on the best diet that's advertised and often connected to a celebrity throwing social media posts about how this diet has produced amazing results and strips pounds off in a matter of weeks. Take a moment to think about that. You are throwing your hard earned cash at these diets that claim to produce outstanding results. You follow it for as long as you can until you can't cope anymore because the temptation to have what you can't has increased by the day. We fail the diet and end up becoming frustrated with having not finished it and use food to comfort ourselves. After a while we decide it's time to give it another go. Now can you see the pattern that's happening? The diets are set up to fail, they aren't sustainable and the company's know this, however they know people will keep coming back because they don't know any other way to go about it. Now you're in this yo - yo dieting situation. You keep repeating the same cycle every couple of weeks, never getting the desired body that you envision.
Does it need to be this way?
What comes to mind is the psychological aspect that you battle with when following these food banned diets which I briefly spoke about above. Food is here to be enjoyed and is part of life, not forgetting survival purposes. We socialise with food; we eat out, cook delicious meals for the family to sit together and catch up. As a consequence of being on these diets, you end up turning down invites out from friends and family. You also start to stress out on the smaller things like lunch at work, incase you can't find something that fits your diet.
Is there another way?
The answer is "YES". There certainly is a different approach which won't leave you hungry, craving foods you can't have and or have you cancelling on social invites. The idea is to be flexible, which is unheard of in dieting terms. Typical diets always have rigid plans and the more hardcore the better, however it doesn't need to be this way.
What are the side effects of yo-yo dieting?
Dieting this way for prolonged phases will slow down your metabolism, which can lead to lower energy levels that affect such things as brain function and training performance, resulting in tiredness, fatigue and irritability.
When on diets, people tend to start looking at foods as ‘good' & ‘bad’, which causes an overall poor relationship with food.
Diets promote restriction and binge cycles.
They have a habit of discouraging people from ever dieting again and people start to get frustrated and convince themselves that it's impossible to lose weight, people start to think ‘I must be different’ when they do not get desired results.
As a result of most diets, people end up regaining more weight than when they began.
Eating a low calorie diet leads to muscle loss and people are left with the ‘skinny fat’ look as opposed to strong, lean and healthy.
How to fix the yo-yo dieting mentality?
I want you to reintroduce whichever food group that you had eliminated from your daily meals back into your diet. However, start by adding little amounts spread across your daily meals. This will give you and your body time to register the food group and allow the body to digest and process it like it once did. If you introduce the food too quickly and in large amounts, it will most likely cause you bloating, cause digestive issues and it will add body fat fast. Depending on how your body responds, increase the amount you have every week, until finally you feel that your body can handle it.
So now you have balance back in your diet and eating foods you never once would dare to consume - well done. Next you need to start eating more lean protein sources in every meal. If you don't have protein in your meal when it's time to eat, then I suggest that you find some! There are a lot of different protein sources that you can buy. It is important you do this because it will help you get leaner and retain more muscle tone, and keep you fuller throughout the day between meals.
You need to be getting lots of different types of vegetables that you enjoy eating. Vegetables are simple and highly effective in keeping you full and stopping you from over eating the other foods that tend to be much more calorie dense. The fibre will help to fill your stomach and by doing so will stop you feeling hungry. It will also make sure that you get your micro nutrients to keep you healthy. You do not need to stick with broccoli that seems to be the go-to vegetable when dieting. Make sure that you add lots of colour and variety. What comes next might surprise you. Start eating something you enjoy daily as a snack. It could be a chocolate bar or a muffin from your local Starbucks or a packet of crisps - as I mentioned above nothing is off limits. It is very important that you don't let it turn into a meal. Eating a treat that you see as unhealthy, will stop you from craving more treats and mentally refresh and sustain you.
The importance of staying full is crucial when in the path to losing weight. The best way is liquid (H2o) water. Water helps with more than just keeping you feeling full. It helps your body to run more efficiently. The body will be happier holding less subcutaneous water under the skin which will help you to look leaner and feel better in your skin. When dehydrated, your training performance can suffer and it will impact on the intensity of your session leading to less amount of weight being lifted and less calories burned. You need to be on top form when training to get the most out of it. Ideally start drinking 2-3 litres of water a day, which can also includes coffee and tea. The next stage is to start exercising. Firstly start cutting back the cardio to once a week max and make it an high intensity interval session (HIIT). It doesn't need to be fancy and you do not need to use any special kit. Pick what you enjoy and can keep consistent. If you don't already include weight training into your weekly workouts, then I would highly recommend that you start to do so. Why start lifting weights? Pulling, pushing and hinging with weights will do many things to promote the results that you want and you will see yourself looking leaner within weeks, granted that you follow the diet advice I have given you. You will become stronger and build extra muscle. The more lean muscle that you have, the more calories you will burn daily and this in return will spike your metabolism to burn calories faster for the next 12 hours. When you are a newcomer to weight lifting, you will have an exceptional change happen in your body which is your body loosing fat and replacing it with muscle. So find 3-4 full body workouts you can do weekly with weights or body weight and finish the week with one HIIT session (ideally on your rest day from weights). If you are unsure about certain exercises then speak to your gym trainer for advise and ask them to show you how to perform each exercise safely and correctly.
Start listening to your body and the way it feels. Don't feel obligated to finish eating something just because it's on your plate.
Eating intuitively teaches you to become an expert of your own body. It isn't the simplest of ways, but it can work long term to maintain the shape that you are training hard to get. Learn to listen to your inner body cues to hunger, recognise the emotional feelings and get to know your body well. Take notes when hungry, write down how you were feeling at the time so you can look back over them to learn if it was hunger or boredom. Look at any patterns occurring.
Stuck in a rut?
When you stall and your weight plateaus - make sure that you change something! Do not carry on doing the same thing. For example, look at getting better quality sleep and heading to bed earlier. Managing sleep will keep stress levels balanced, which is crucial when following a new eating plan. Another factor to consider is to do more - get moving more. You could start adding an extra cardio HIIT session per week or add a few extra intervals to the HIIT that you are already doing. Lastly reduce portion sizes and/or remove that snack you have in between meals, as it is surprising how those snacks add up over the weeks, months, and years. I don't recommend changing everything at once, just one thing at a time, keeping consistent and monitoring progress. Weight management is a lot less complicated then it's sold!
Stop yo-yoing today!
As you can see there is no need to follow fad diets and to keep yo yo-ing back and forth, making it impossible to achieve your fat loss goal on a long term basis. Many people dismiss certain concepts because they don't understand the way they work - don’t be one of them! It is possible to eat the foods that you enjoy and to loose fat. Make your approach to weight loss and fitness work for you by keeping personal preferences and what is practical in mind.
Start following my tips above and you will be on the path to achieving your fitness goals with sustainable change and flexibility - fad diets are bad diet.