Which of these 3 choices best describes your fitness goals?
A. Get super big and ripped to compete in the Arnold Classic.
B. Shave 2 seconds off your time and win the gold medal.
C. Lean out and look like a million bucks walking down the beach.
If you picked C, you can get there by eating 3 meals a day, and maybe a snack if you really want one. You don't need to drive yourself crazy trying to squeeze 6 meals into your day. Frequent meals aren't necessary for getting lean; in fact, they'll only get in the way. Why do so many trainers and nutritionists tell their clients eat every 3 hours? The main reasons are:
Okay, so it's understandable why eating six meals a day is an easy sell. But considering you can do all of the above by eating Paleo, frequent meals aren't necessary and are actually counterproductive.
The "Eat to Live, Not Live to Eat" mindset kicks in full force and food becomes nothing but a collection of nutrients that have to be consumed at regular intervals. From my experience, trying to eat every 3 hours creates a sense of "not this again," instead of a genuine enjoyment of one of life's greatest pleasures: food. If you've ever stuffed down a chicken breast just because it was 4 o'clock, you know what I'm talking about.
If you have anything less than a 100% healthy relationship with food and diets, you might find yourself thinking, planning, recording, thinking, planning, recording, thinking, and so on.
I have seen this first hand and it's not pretty. Fine-tuning macronutrient consumption and fiddling with calorie counts can become a full-fledged addiction. Limit yourself to one visit to FitDay every day.
The hunger that frequent eating is supposed to prevent, actually encourages it. Frequent eating, especially the ever-popular high-carbohydrate / low-fat variety, stimulates the appetite and creates a vicious cycle of hunger and eating all day long. Also, when you break your daily calorie allotment into 6 meals instead of 3, your meals become nothing more than perfunctory eating sessions aimed at taking the edge off your hunger while creating a desired physiological response. What a drag!
From personal experience, I can tell you that eating Paleo regulates the appetite. By eating meals based on whole foods that contain sufficient protein, fat and a small amount of carbohydrate, hunger isn't even an issue for 5-6 hours, sometimes longer. There's no overwhelming, sudden feeling of impending starvation, just a slight nudge that's it's time to eat soon. When you do get around to eating your next meal, it will be incredibly satisfying. When you're full, you'll know it's time to stop eating and move on to something else.
Food does have a thermogenic effect on the body and eating frequently can help you burn a few more calories. But a much more efficient way to get your motor revved up is to build lean muscle. Muscle is hungry and gobbles up calories all day, even when you're napping. If you rely on cardio and light weights to get lean, you probably feel like you need every trick in the book just to burn off breakfast. You don't. Build some real muscle instead.
I'm surprised more people don't do this. One of the easiest ways to increase metabolism is by adding coconut to your diet. Coconut creates a major thermogenic effect. You might even notice a temporary increase in body temperature. Coconut oil is great for cooking because it doesn't break down from the heat. Use coconut milk the way you would use regular milk. You can also take a spoonful or two of coconut oil straight up as a supplement.
The Zone by Dr. Barry Sears is one of the most influential nutrition/diet books I have ever read. Dr. Sears' personal quest to outsmart his genes by enhancing his own biochemistry through dietary means is brilliant. The Zone combines science, philosophy and good old common sense. Reading it completely changed how I felt about diet and in particular, dietary fat. At the time, I was a vegetarian and still eating a lot of low-fat foods. After reading The Zone, I increased my fat, lowered my carbs and started zoning my meals (weighing and measuring 3 meals & 2 snacks, day after day). What I discovered was that the magical Zone I so longed to experience was always out of reach. Instead, I was hungry, even though I was eating all day long. To make matters worse, I felt like a slave to my food scale. I liked The Zone in theory, but not in practice. I've since learned that my experience was not unique.
When I attended the Albany CrossFit Nutrition seminar, I learned the Zone diet can work very well for athletes, especially when done in conjunction with Paleo foods. But the much-hyped Zone percentages (30% fat, 30% protein, 40% carbohydrates) have to be adjusted to the individual, based on a variety of factors. Many athletes discover major improvements in their performance by increasing fat and lowering carbs (with protein holding at 30%). Finding the perfect individual Zone requires experimentation and vigilant adjustments. In other words, your Zone this month might not be your Zone next month. That means back to weighing and measuring everything. All that work is worth it for elite athletes in search of every advantage. When I first heard about Michael Phelps' diet, I thought, "Why isn't he Zoning?" I would love to see what Michael Phelps could do on a Paleo/Zone diet.
For the person interested in dropping body fat, building muscle, feeling great mentally and living a comfortable life (and don't forget looking hot on the beach), weighing and measuring meals isn't necessary. I believe The Zone exists, I just don't think we have to work so hard to get there. Eating a Paleo meal almost always results in a trip to The Zone. I'm in it right now, and I didn't even have to measure anything.
Eating frequent meals may have some benefits, but they're negligible for anyone trying to lead a normal life and develop a healthy relationship with food. Our bodies are smart. Millions of years of evolution have resulted in finely-tuned machinery that responds and adjusts to the changes in our environments. If you stop eating, your body will downshift to preserve its energy stores, but that doesn't happen in a day. While each of us is different, you can feel confident that eating at normal meal times, even missing a meal, will not cause your metabolism to shut down. Today, some athletes are taking a cue from our ancestors and using intermittent fasting with great success.
Eating should not require you to become rigid. Eating well will bring joy to your life. I spend much of my day immersed in food activities; writing about food, talking about food, shopping for food, cooking food, and photographing food. That doesn't mean I want to eat all the time, especially if those meals are uninspired. Part of my paleo lifestyle means sitting down to dinner every night. There's candlelight, music, and good conversation every night, even for take-out.
Instead of treating meals like part of your "To Do" list, try embracing all that food has to offer in addition to nutrients. your metabolism won't suffer just because you enjoyed yourself.
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