Remember when we were told we needed to eat 6 small meals a day instead of 3 big ones? It was a thing about 10 years ago. Maybe you heard about it and tried it and maybe this is the first time you heard about it. I tried it back then and it didn’t work. I only tried it for a couple weeks and then stopped because I was gaining weight instead of losing weight and it was hard to comply with.
the theory behind meal frequency
The theory behind 6 meals a day made total sense; let me explain. The idea was to keep your blood glucose level the same through the day instead of eating a big meal, then having your blood glucose level max out, jacking insulin output which stores fat, then having blood glucose drop off due to the high insulin level, leaving you fat and tired.
This theory sounds reasonable and it was the standard in the health industry 10 years ago. It didn't work for me. If I ate a small breakfast, I didn’t have enough energy to workout and I was hungry very quickly. I needed a good-sized meal about 2 hours before a workout. Then I needed another good-sized meal after the workout.
If I played a sport that day I needed another good-sized meal 2 hours before that and another one after. I couldn’t get by on small meals. If it was a rest day I could do 6 small meals a day, but it was a total pain to have to eat that many times a day.
The idea behind high frequency meals is based on a carbohydrate diet; getting your energy from carbs. This is because we were also told for the last 60 years that fat was bad for us. I always ask people this question; “Do you know what fat does to your insulin?”
a better way to keep your insulin low
First of all, insulin is a hormone that stores energy in cells. The energy will be stored in the muscles and in fat cells. Therefore, for weight loss, it is important to keep insulin levels as low as possible.
The answer to the above question about fat is “Nothing”. Fat does absolutely nothing to insulin levels. You can eat as much fat as you want, and your insulin will not go up. Read that last sentence again.
the skinny on metabolism
Your body has 2 energy systems; the sugar burning system and the fat burning system. Your body will burn sugar and store fat until the sugar/carbs are gone and then it will burn fat and muscle for energy. You will feel hungry. Also, muscle burns in the sugar burning system.
In the absence of carbohydrates your body must burn fat and muscle for energy. If your body isn’t very good at burning fat you will burn more muscle. As we get older our metabolism slows down. When an expert is talking about “metabolism” they are usually talking about mitochondria. Mitochondria are the organelles in our cells that convert fat and sugar to energy.
As we get older, our mitochondria get less and less efficient at burning carbs. It is likely since we over use carbs for energy. Our bodies were built to use fat for our primary energy source. However, if you were anything like me, pasta was the most abundant and a lot of times the only thing I ate. With this high carb/low fat diet, many cells lose the ability to burn fat.
the term "fat adapted" is getting popular
So how do we get our bodies fat adapted after so much carbohydrate abuse? There are a couple ways. The first way is less extreme; it’s not as painful of a process. It’s by sticking to a ketogenic diet for at least 2 weeks straight. Get 75-80% of your calories from fat.
Each meal starts with one of these 6 vegetables; spinach, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, or Brussels sprouts. Each one of these vegetables is packed with nearly all the nutrients your body needs and lots of fibre. Fibre subtracts from total carbs to get your net carbs. Your net carbs are what you want to track. So 10 grams of carbs minus 8 grams of fibre give you a net of 2 grams of carbs.
Then your meal should contain sufficient and only sufficient protein. This means about 0.35 grams of protein per pound of body weight. This amount of protein goes up for people over 65 by about 10-20% and for people that lift weights by 25% on workout days. That works out to an extra meal after a workout that consists of 30-40 grams of protein. You always want to have 2 meals after a workout for that day. Don't workout just before bed.
The rest of your meal should be made up of healthy fat. You calculate the calories you have taken in with your vegetables and protein, then get enough fat so that you have 75-80% calories in fat. 4 calories per gram of carbs minus your 4 calories per gram of fibre plus 4 calories per gram of protein. 9 calories per gram of fat. You don't need a lot of fat to get the calories needed. Your meal should look like a lot of vegetables.
The tough part of eating like this may come in as soon as around day 10 but may take up to 2 months. A ketogenic diet will put you in starvation mode and you will produce cortisol which is the stress hormone. Around day 10-2 months of very low carbs your body goes through autophagy.
Autophagy is where cells that can’t use fat for energy will have to die off and be replaced with new cells that can burn fat. Autophagy is a normal process of the body that occurs all the time but gets kicked into high gear with a ketogenic diet. At day 10-2 months you will crave carbs worse than kid throwing a tantrum in a candy store. If you hold out and allow your body to go through this autophagy stage, you will become fat adapted.
Another way to become fat adapted is from fasting. Ketosis is the process of your body burning fat for energy. This happens in the absence of carbs; it’s not because you eat a lot of fat. If you do a water fast (drinking only water) it only takes a matter of a few days up to a couple weeks to get into full ketosis. If you want more on fasting, read my last article on fasting.
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