I’m a big believer that if individuals want to eat healthily easily, it makes sense not to let the appetite run out of control. Once we get ravenously hungry the desire to eat rubbish can be overwhelming. One of the strategies I have generally advocated to achieve good appetite control is to eat the right food. I favour relatively protein-rich, carb-controlled/primal eating here. This sort of diet does seem to have inherent ability to sate the appetite more effectively that carb-based fare. The other strategy I recommend is to eat this sort of diet regularly.
Historically, I have recommended that individuals generally eat three meals a day. Possibly, they may have a snack of something healthy and satisfying (e.g. nuts) between their lunch and dinner.
I’ve seen a lot of individuals (myself included) do very well on this sort of regime in terms of fat loss, improved vitality and improvements in blood chemistry. However, like anything, this dietary approach is no panacea, and does need some tailoring according to individual circumstances.
I do quite a lot of work in the corporate sector, and I’ve in recent months been meeting quite a few individuals who are highly productive and energised in the morning, but who don’t eat breakfast. I’m not a hardliner on the breakfast thing as long as someone doesn’t get too hungry before lunch. Many of these individuals don’t eat breakfast because, well, they really are not hungry in the morning, and seem to do just fine on little or nothing before lunch.
In their own way, individuals who eschew breakfast are engaging in a version of what is sometimes referred to as ‘intermittent fasting’. Basically, this means going without food for extended periods of time. There’s a myriad of ways this can be done, but here are some examples:
- Consuming food in a contracted e.g. 8-hours period every day. For example, if eating starts at 10.00 am, it needs to be finished at 6.00 pm.
- Going without food for a whole 24-hour period every so often (e.g. once a week).
- Skipping dinner from time to time.
- Skipping breakfast regularly or occasionally.
There is some thought that intermittent fasting (IF) ‘forces’ the body to dig into its fuel stores (including fat). IF can improve functioning of the hormone insulin. A quite-recent study did provide some support for this notion . Improved ‘insulin sensitivity’ is a good thing, as it would likely mean lower insulin levels, and lower body fatness, in time. It would also possibly reduce the risk of chronic disease such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease too.
My interest in IF was piqued recently through some interaction with someone who had lost a lot of weight (about 90 lbs/40 kg) and about 20 inches (that’s not a typo, twenty inches) off her waist following the advice in my last book Waist Disposal. However, she had plateaued at a weight above what she was comfortable with, and so we were looking to see what we could do to push things on a bit. We discussed IF, and she went for it. Her approach was to skip dinner 2-3 times a week. And it worked. Down through the plateau she went. And comfortably and happily too.
Around this time I listened to a podcast in which American low-carb advocate Jimmy Moore interviewed blogger Todd Becker. Todd expressed his scepticism for the need for breakfast, and talked about how extending the time between eating can lower insulin levels. You can listen to this podcast here. This was perhaps a ‘tipping point’ for me, in that I resolved to try this approach myself.
I actually started slowly. About a month ago I starting simply delaying breakfast until I felt quite hungry (but not so hungry that I was starving). Within a few days I found myself getting through to lunch with, really, no appreciable hunger at all. I’ve had abundant energy, and my brain seems to have functioned just as well as before – possibly better. No mood issues either (well, no more than normal!)
The week before last I had my parents around for brunch. I did a big fry-up. We sat down at 11.30 am and I can honestly say I really couldn’t face the food at all. That’s how unhungry I was. And yet I had not eaten for 16 hours.
What’s going on here? I don’t know for sure. But going back to insulin again, there’s a good chance levels of this hormone are lower than before. Insulin encourages fat storage. Put another way, lower insulin means for efficient release of fat, which can be used to fuel the body. The reason that I’m not hungry is possibly because the body is ‘feeding’ off my fat. That might also explain how I’ve lost about 5 lbs and an inch has gone from my waist.
One of things I like about nutrition is that there’s always something new to learn (and try). One thing flirting with IF has done is really get me in tune with eating when I’m genuinely hungry and not ‘by the clock’. I’m starting to realise that perhaps I was previously eating a lot of food because it was ‘time to eat’. Not sure where my IF experiment will take me, but sense it’s a strategy that is here to stay in one form or another.
1. Harvie MN, et al. The effects of intermittent or continuous energy restriction on weight loss and metabolic disease risk markers: a randomized trial in young overweight women. Int J Obes (Lond). 2010 Oct 5. [Epub ahead of print]