Here’s some food for thought 😉 I’m sure you’ve all heard the saying “eat smaller meals every couple hours” right? This would keep our “metabolism firing” and help us burn fat faster.
I may have even told you to do that at one point or another (sorry!). This was actually very popular advice a few years ago. I remember telling clients to eat a mix of protein, carbs and fat every 2-3 hours. I remember reading it in all of the popular magazines, it was what we told our athletes to do when I was a strength coach, and I even practiced it myself with good results while competing in the bikini competitions….but like I always say, what works for one person doesn’t always work for the next. So while this may be great advice – it didn’t work for me.
Anyway, when I was training for the competitions, I would eat every 2.5 – 3 hours, no matter if I was hungry or not. Actually the goal was to never really GET hungry. This worked for me then because I tracked every single morsel of food that entered my mouth (even gum). It was weighed, measured, and prepped on a daily basis and I did my best (especially as the shows got closer) to follow my meal plan to a “t”. The foods I ate kept my hormones balanced, and I was also in a caloric deficit. Two things you absolutely NEED to see your body fat / weight drop. No wonder I got great results!
The only problem was I could never maintain them.
When training ended and the show was over, I would naturally try hard to stay as close to “show” shape as possible. If eating every 2-3 hours worked to get me lean, I should do it to keep me lean as well. Made sense to me.
Except I was no longer tracking, measuring and eating just chicken, broccoli, white fish and asparagus. Even though I was eating “clean” and “healthy”, I was still eating too much. Bye bye caloric deficit, hello extra body fat and the never ending cycle of deprivation and overexercising.
Because I was so conditioned to eating every 2-3 hours, my body would produce hormones that would MAKE me hungry every 2-3 hours! My mind AND body wanted food based on when I would usually feed it, and I had literally become afraid of getting hungry. It sounds so crazy, but it’s true. I had been told for so long that to get leaner I needed to eat protein every 3 hours to keep my metabolism firing and to not burn through the muscle I had, so that’s what I did.
I know I’ve mentioned this before in past blogs, but honestly think I went like a year without feeling true physical hunger. I would eat at the first sign of that feeling of “emptiness” because God forbid I lose muscle or slow my metabolism down! I always had snacks on hand and very rarely let more than 3 hours pass without having something.
Back in 2009, I read “The Beck Diet Solution”. I don’t remember all of the details, but I do remember it being the first book about mindful eating or intuitive eating that actually resonated with me. In the book, Dr. Beck recommends skipping lunch one day (not every day, just one day as a test of sorts). Skip lunch and notice the waves of hunger. Feel them, acknowledge them and realize that it passes. You’re not “starving” and it’s not this huge emergency that at the first sign of hunger you have to shove food in your mouth.
After trying this, and realizing that hunger DOES pass and I wasn’t going to die if I didn’t eat every 3 hours, I really started to pay more attention to my hunger cues. I would sit with my hunger a bit longer before eating (being sure that I didn’t wait so long that I over-ate at my next meal), and would actually eat what I *wanted* instead of what I thought I “should” eat…like egg whites..I don’t think I’ll ever eat egg whites again – BLEH.
I’ll admit it was a little scary at first because I was eating larger meals less frequently which was a huge change for me, but I quickly realized that I was MUCH more satisfied eating 3 larger meals per day, opposed to 6 smaller ones.
Another thing that happened was that for the first time in MONTHS the number on the scale dropped and I was wearing my “skinny” jeans (that I had only been able to wear within 2 weeks or so of my competitions) again.
I had finally created both a caloric deficit AND hormonal balance. Hormonal balance came from the foods that I was choosing to eat at the majority of my meals, and the deficit came from not eating as frequently….I naturally lowered my caloric intake because I wasn’t snacking so much.
Recent studies actually show that increased frequency of meals is associated with higher caloric intake, and this was definitely what was happening with me. Even though I was eating “clean”, I was still eating TOO MUCH to elicit any changes in weight or body fat.
Sure, eating 6 small meals worked when I had the desire to weight and measure everything I was going to eat, but I no longer had the desire to do that, and I still don’t!
But I just want to get one thing straight.
Just because you eat LESS does NOT mean you will burn body FAT. Ok? Just because you eat LESS does NOT mean you will burn body FAT.
Your HORMONES determine whether or not your body will use stored body fat or muscle as it’s fuel when it a caloric deficit. So although calories DO matter, hormones matter too. And just FYI, If you are looking to get leaner, you don’t want your body to burn your muscle, as it’s your most metabolically active tissue….plus you’ll just look like a smaller, probably softer, version of how you already look.
Bottom line – If what you are doing isn’t getting you the results you are looking for, or you can’t see yourself following your plan forever (exercise OR nutrition) it’s time to try something different. Maybe you can skip that afternoon snack and eat a bit more at lunch, or increase the amount of good fat in your breakfast so that you don’t feel like you need a mid-morning snack. Play around with it and see what works for you.
6 meals a day DID work for me, but I was miserable. I didn’t necessarily like weighing, measuring and calculating everything I put in my mouth, but I felt like that was the only way to get results. It wasn’t effortless and when I would “mess” up, I felt like a failure.
Once I started paying more attention to my own biofeedback cues, stopped eating when and what I thought I “should”, and started to enjoy the way I was eating – I got some really great results!
Trust that you have all the answers, you just have to pay attention 🙂
I’d love to know if any of this resonated with you! Please feel free leave a comment under this post on my Facebook page and let me know, or if you have any questions at all, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email!
Also, If you are interested in learning more about the hormonal effects of food and exercise on fat loss, I’ll be running another 15 Day Challenge on April 27th. This isn’t a quick-fix or a strict meal plan. It’s not about eating perfectly for 15 days or killing yourself in the gym – it’s about learning how the foods you eat play a role in your body’s ability to burn or store fat. It’s challenging you to think about what you eat and how you exercise and WHY. It’s a jump-start into learning how to create a fat loss lifestyle that YOU love and that will get you results!
I will be emailing everyone on THIS LIST mid-week with all the info to join, so make sure you sign up, and please be sure confirm your email or you will not get the notification!
Talk to you soon!