I would say nine out of ten times that I work with a client to improve their diet, or to help them lose weight (usually hand in hand), the topic of calories comes up multiple times. It’s true that if you eat too much, you will gain weight. I think we can all bank on that one. But if you eat too little…well, you might gain weight as well – even (or especially) if calories are too low. Eating healthy, balanced meals and snacks at regular times throughout the day absolutely positively keeps your metabolism moving.
When you delay meals, skip meals, eat too little, eat foods with very few calories, or eat dead foods (most packaged/refined foods), it’s very likely that your body will store fat. Some people store fat and gain weight faster than others – but eventually it will probably happen.
Delaying Meals, Skipping Meals, Eating Too Little
Skipping breakfast (or any meal) because you want to save calories so you can eat a little more later, or simply cut calories to shed a few pounds is not a clever weight loss strategy. Your body perceives meal skipping – which leads to hunger, fluctuating blood sugar levels and myriad of other hormonal fallout – as stress. You may not feel stressed, but that doesn’t matter to your body. Your body has a mind of its own. The only thing that it cares about is keeping your body alive. As dramatic as it may sound, when you stress your body out by skipping meals, or going too long in between meals, your body stores fat. This fat usually gets stored through the midsection. Since most of our vital organs are situated in this area, it makes sense that the most “protection” (aka: fat) gets put there.
This is really important to understand, so take note. Your body makes no real distinction between any type of stress. Emotional, physical and physiological stress…they’re all translated the same. Skipping meals and feeling hungry leads to a hormonal chain of events that do nothing but stress our body out. Essentially, our body goes on autopilot and right into a primal “fight or flight” mode.
Our body likes rhythms and consistency. Eating at roughly the same times throughout the day, at regular intervals will keep your body moving along. Generally speaking, most people should eat breakfast within about 90 minutes of waking up. After a good night of sleep, our liver – which acts as our body’s blood sugar gas tank – is running low. Eating a healthy breakfast shortly after waking will fill that tank back up. For some people, the “tank” may take three hours to empty, for others it may take five – but somewhere in between three to five hours is time for another meal or snack.
On a side note, I just worked with a client who was extremely hungry by lunchtime – a few hours after eating a really healthy breakfast. This had an effect on the rest of her day and what she ate as well. I had her completely change her breakfast and it resolved her problem with hunger by lunchtime. This had a positive effect on the rest of her day, too! The point is, even though she was eating a healthy breakfast to begin with, the amount of protein, carbohydrate and fat she was taking in was off for her body. Everybody is different.
What About Fasting?
If you choose to fast, you need to know what you’re doing. It’s a bad idea to wake up one morning and start fasting because you feel bloated or because your jeans are too tight. It is not uncommon for people to fast anywhere from 24 hours to upwards of a month. Short fasts are believed to be very healing and recuperative for the body’s organs. Personally, the only fasts I’ve done have been three day juice fasts. I can’t say that I love them. I don’t hate them either. I’d just rather eat clean.
My advice: understand WHY you want to fast. Is it because you feel a lack of energy, or run down? Maybe you need to clean up your diet first. Go three days without eating food from a package, without drinking alcohol and without eating any sugar. Just 72 hours! You’d be amazed at how fast your body will respond to that!
What You Can Do To Help Your Body Lose Fat
- Eat breakfast: even if its small, make it nutritious. A cereal bar and a latte is not ideal. Neither is a diet soda and a bagel. If you have questions, contact me. Some of you might do better with a couple hard boiled eggs and a sprouted grain muffin, and some of you might do better with oatmeal loaded with blueberries and some walnuts. Listen to your body.
- Eat every 3 to 5 hours: This is just a guideline. But it’s an hour after breakfast and you’re ready to eat cardboard, something went wrong. Get on it. That’s stress. Similarly, you shouldn’t go much more than five hours in between meals, particularly if you haven’t had a snack. It’s GOOD to feel that just-about-hungry-but-not-famished feeling.
- Drink lots of water: I always tell people to drink a *big* glass of water first thing in the morning, and a cup or two of water before EVERY meal and snack. This doesn’t include water you drink if you workout, etc.
- Eat protein and fat at every meal: Regardless of the type of diet you follow, a good amount of protein and some fat with every meal is good. It will help level off hunger and energize you. How much protein and fat? Depends. Don’t be afraid to alter your macronutrients (protein, carbs, fat) until you get it right. This might be as subtle as adding a tablespoon of almond nut butter to toast, or replacing fat free yogurt with low fat.
- Ease off sugar: I can’t overstate this enough. Even though sugar is fat free, it will probably get stored as fat. Cut out sugar. Your belly doesn’t want it anymore.
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Traci is a nationally recognized health and fitness expert who has been featured on The TODAY Show and Dr. Oz. Traci is available for corporate speaking events and wellness coaching, as well as private training. Contact Traci here.