I almost named this post: MIKE’S SECRET TO BEING THIN THAT HE ISN’T EVEN AWARE OF AND WHY WE ALL HATE HIM!
But then I didn’t want to hurt Mike’s feelings. We don’t really hate you, Mike. But we still need to expose some truths:
If you are trying to lose weight, and even if you haven’t, you have probably heard it said that breakfast is the “most important meal of the day” and that eating breakfast has been correlated with lower, healthier weight than breakfast skippers. The explanation for this is often given that this is because eating breakfast “jump starts” your metabolism and keeps you burning calories at a higher rate throughout the day. The teaching that eating “stokes the metabolic fire” is also used as “science” that backs up the advice to eat small, frequent meals throughout the day as apposed to a few larger ones to escalate weight loss.
So why is it that your friend Mike doesn’t eat all day, comes home, drinks 2 beers and eats 3 greasy pizza slices, passes out and is still thin as a rail while you are busy meticulously meal prepping 6 tiny meals that consist of salads, egg whites, chicken breast, grapefruit etc and struggling to see the scale go down?
Well I’ll tell you why: losing weight is frustratingly simple and infuriatingly difficult, because it really IS a matter of calories consumed being less than the calories burned. All the other advice surrounding this is to help you achieve this goal, because there are many depressing reasons as to why our bodies, our lifestyles, and the food industry has set us up to never achieve this goal.
Let’s talk about fed vs fasted metabolism strategies.
Your body in a fed state when it has eaten (more than 100 calories) within the last 12 hours, and during this time it uses carbohydrates as it’s primary fuel source. When the carbs in your belly run low, it sends hunger signals to your brain and makes you get up off the couch and open the fridge. However, if you haven’t eaten in 12 hours your body goes into a “fasted” state, which burns fat (either fat from food or fat on your body) at a higher rate than before. Your body prefers to use carbs as energy as they are a faster and easier fuel source, and will give you quick energy, whereas fat provides a more slow and steady trickle of energy. The fasted state naturally happens overnight when we are sleeping and not eating, and eating in the morning breaks this fast (break-fast) and puts us back in carb-favoring, fed state.
Whatever you eat, if you don’t use it right away, it gets stored as fat for later use.
OK, with those 2 things being said, let’s go back to these weight loss strategies being proposed:
The strategy of eating earlier and more often to supposedly increase your metabolism has been debunked, (although it isn’t an entirely worthless strategy which I’ll get to in a moment.) Here is the truth of it: every time you eat your metabolism does spike, especially in the morning when you are going from a fasted state (in which the body runs primarily off fat) to a feeding state (in which the body runs primarily off carbs–which is an easier, quicker energy form to consume, resulting in breakfast eaters having more energy in the morning). But here is the overlooked fact: your metabolism spikes in relation to the amount of calories you ate, meaning, eat a plum, get a small spike, eat a 1,000 calorie meal, get a much bigger spike. So eating more often doesn’t result in a higher overall metabolism, it results in smaller, more frequent metabolism spikes, which is equal. In fact, each time you get this spike your body produces insulin, and frequent insulin responses can lead to insulin resistance, which leads to diabetes, so arguably this isn’t even the healthiest way to eat. Furthermore, in light of lesson 2, if you eat more food than you need right then it will get stored as fat for later, but if you continue to stay in a fed state, your body never gets a chance for “later”. When you are in a feeding state, your body prefers to use the snack you just had as fuel, not your fat stores. But if the snack isn’t enough to cover the amount of energy you are expending, it will dig into the fat stores all the same. Once again, calories in, calories out holds true. That is why you may have eaten twice and are faint with hunger by lunchtime, while Bob hasn’t eaten all day and declares he isn’t that hungry while you look at him mixed with shock and hate: you are feeding off carbs; Bob is feeding off fat.
Now before we get jealous of Bob and start skipping breakfast, remember that Bob ate about 2,000 calories of Chinese take-out last night and that’s what he is feeding off of right now, in the form of fat. You ate a light salad last night, which wasn’t enough to even last you through the night. You weren’t that hungry cause you had been eating throughout the day and didn’t need more food. Energy balance.
Bob was craving Chinese take out because his carbohydrate stores (which he still needs, just burns at a lower rate during a fasted state) were starting to run super low by now, making him crave quick energy (which is generally junk food), and once he started eating it, his body immediately entered into a feeding state and made him want to consume all the food in sight, because his body is trying to replenish the calorie deficit he had that day. Bob won’t be able to use up all that Chinese take out before he nods off, so it will be stored as fat while he sleeps and he will probably skip breakfast and maybe lunch tomorrow again because hunger signals are repressed during a fasted state and Bob was “too busy with work to bother with food.” Energy balance.
That is why you stare wide-eyed as your skinny friend demolishes more food than you could imagine, and remark at their amazing metabolism.
I used to eat breakfast because I knew it was what I was supposed to do, and then it would make me hungry (ever noticed that you get more hungry when you eat? Cause your body is switching to a fed state and cranks up the hunger signals to get more carbs). I would eat what I needed for the day and come home not needing any more food. But I make dinner for my husband, who probably hasn’t eaten all day, and I’m not going to cook and then not eat with him, so I would eat dinner too, leading to excess in calories. So here I was, eating healthier and gaining weight. At that point in my life I started skipping breakfast and lost 10 pounds (this was in 2013). My schedule made it easy at the time (not so now).
Take this idea too far, staying in the fasted state to try and burn off fat for too long, and then when you do decide to eat it can turn into a binge, on all the wrong foods that lend themselves to quick fat storage. This is certainly not balanced or healthy and can lead to binge eating disorder, anorexia, or general anxiety as well as nutritional deficiencies. Eating breakfast can keep this manic-eating from happening so that you can make healthy choices and use your sleep time for your body to heal itself and stay young and rejuvenate your organs instead of working to store junk food in an overloaded, stressed out intestinal tract into body fat. Nowadays I eat breakfast but I make sure I’m not getting too full, and then have a smaller portion of dinner than I used to.
Eating breakfast and eating smaller meals keeps from overloading your digestive system, sets you up to make healthier choices and gives you a more productive sleep time. This can ultimately lead to weight loss. In an ideal world you would eat breakfast and lunch and have only a light dinner, so that your body burns fat during the night and you wake up refreshed and light, but this doesn’t fit everyone’s schedules well.
My hope here is to enlighten you on what is actually behind all this timing and meal size advice. Ultimately, if you are trying to lose weight you must create a calorie deficit, and what works for your you and your lifestyle may differ from what works for someone else, so try not to get too hung up on “diet rules” that are meant to make things easier and may end up just making you more stressed out.
Because stress eating (GROAN)…
What if we all looked like that when we ate fruit? LOL