Think about how you would like to eat for the rest of your life, now think about what is actually healthy and sustainable for you. Do you tend to jump from one diet trend to one diet trend, that focuses and puts one macro-nutrient on a pedestal? That’s the thing about any diet, in order for it to be successful, it needs to 1. Serve the body in a healthy way and 2. Be sustainable long term with no negative metabolic consequences. How does your current diet stack up against that?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; any diet shouldn’t be a grind or difficult to adhere to when it’s structured properly and you have healthy “diet awareness”. Diet awareness is essentially understanding that we live in a world of food abundance and are surrounded by food of all kinds constantly and your brain has been hardwired to love everything about food and eating, but in order for you to reach your diet and fitness goals and keep your body in good health, you really can’t eat whatever you want, whenever you want and as much as you want, every day. It’s a modern dilemma but if you’re at all interested in health and fitness and having few to no health problems as you age, it’s a very important aspect to understand.
Most people need to adopt a “system of eating” rather than a rigidly structured diet. Yes, you need to control calories through the amount you eat but also how you eat as well. Calories are best balanced throughout the day, you never want to be full or stuffed, but never starving either. Expert coach Scott Abel, coined the phrase “tolerable hunger” and that’s basically how you want to feel; you could eat more but you’re also not obsessed with thoughts of food and eating. Part of a system of eating is to avoid indiscriminate or unconscious eating, which is basically just munching on food for the fun of it, your body is like a computer, so every time you eat something, you’re telling your body what or what not to do. When you pick at food and have a couple bites of this here and a handful of stuff there and open up a bag of something in front of the tv or computer and stuff your face, you’re essentially telling your body to store anything I give you as body fat, and depending on one’s individual genetics, this can spiral out of control in no time. However, this also doesn’t mean you can’t eat after a certain time of day or have to fast for so many hours each day either, people need to get back to a simple common sense approach and quit trying to complicate something that doesn’t need to be complicated!
Let me explain a bit…
This is one question I frequently receive at the gym and in emails. There seems to be a phobia generated by the mass media that you shouldn’t eat after a certain time of the day if you’re interested in losing body fat or staying lean. In reality nothing could be further from the truth and this whole notion is based on faulty diet application.
Typical western diet practices have most people rising in the morning and skipping breakfast altogether maybe grabbing something quick for lunch on the fly or wolfing something down standing up or at their desk and then getting home at 6p.m. and stuffing their face with anything and everything in front of the t.v. because they are so hungry by this point and this continues all the way until bed time. Their calories aren’t balanced throughout the day and they’re all loaded to one tiny window so it’s essentially programming your body to store fat not burn it as it now feels it needs to start hoarding this influx of calories it’s getting all of a sudden.
Now this certainly wouldn’t be an effective diet protocol for anyone interested in health and fitness but this mentality of not eating at night has made its way into diet and nutrition culture despite not even being applicable to people who eat in a calorie deficit over frequent balanced feedings throughout the day. our body is like a computer so every time you eat something or don’t eat something you’re telling it and programming it what and what not to do in regards to metabolism. Eating frequent meals throughout the day based around a relative calorie deficit to your BMR is the best way to program your body to burn fat.
If you’re interested in burning body fat for fuel you need to create a calorie deficit through diet and it is much better to balance your daily calorie allowance over 5-6 meals so that you’re eating when you get up in the morning and having your last meal shortly before bed. If your calories are balanced throughout the day it doesn’t matter what time you eat at, you’re in a calorie deficit!
Your body doesn’t run on a man-made 24-hour clock and won’t suddenly store anything you eat after 6 pm or whatever as body fat, your metabolism doesn’t reset at midnight every day! I eat before I go to bed every night and always have and guess what? that meal always contains carbs too! They help release serotonin which will actually help you sleep better and more soundly, this is a big reason why dieters that deprive themselves after a certain time of day thinking they are optimizing their results end up with insomnia because they are so hungry.
It’s really all about balancing them throughout the day and regulating your blood sugar and if you’re eating in a relative calorie deficit which you need to be doing to lose body fat to begin with then spacing your meals out and eating your last meal before bed is the best strategy to practice.
Remember a diet must fit 2 important criteria: 1. It must serve the body in a healthy way and 2. It must be sustainable long term, or it’s not a real diet or lifestyle and it’s not going to work. Do you really want to live out the rest of your life not trying to eat after a certain time of the day? Of course not, you want to live a real life and eat in a manner that is livable! Who wouldn’t?
You need to understand that diets are marketing and advertising driven by the same people who advertise and market the food. Anyone who has payed any attention to diet trends the past 30 years, will realize that there is always a new “villain” ingredient to make the enemy of your dieting efforts, so that different products can be marketed and sold as alternatives around this. The reality is; there is no such thing as a bad or fattening food, it’s how its applied in the way you eat that will determine what your body wants to do with it.
I eat foods on the “forbidden list” every week, but I also adopted a system of eating over a decade ago that allows me to indulge in all my favorite foods indiscriminately and actually optimize my metabolism at the same time, I would also emphasize that this also shows the way I eat fits into being sustainable and serving the body, otherwise there is no way I could still be following it and maintaining great shape and health after 10 years of application.
What to expect on a fat loss diet…
When anyone undertakes a fat loss diet you need to understand that you will feel hungry at times, but this is not a problem with the diet! And no matter what any marketing campaign tells you, when you’re in a calories controlled environment, you will get hungry and cravings. As a survival mechanism, when your body begins to burn stored body fat in abundance for fuel, a message is sent to your brain that you are hungry and need to eat. This is where the dilemma begins for most, we don’t live in a world anymore where acquiring food is a difficult, energy consuming undertaking. We’re surrounded by food all the time, it’s never been easier to get whatever you want to eat, whenever you want it and as stated earlier, your brain has also been hardwired to want food and enjoy everything about the eating process. Just look on any social media platform and you will see postings everywhere of “food porn”, this is because people simply enjoy even looking at pictures of food, it’s been embedded into you! Taste, smell, texture, appearance, you’re supposed to love it all.
So you can see this is why many people have issues adhering to a diet plan, but it’s not the diet, it’s how you think about “dieting” that is the problem. This is what healthy diet awareness and maturity is about, realizing that you are undertaking a fat loss diet by choice and you will get cravings that come and go, but embrace that as a sign that your body is doing what you want it to do, burning stored body fat! If a diet is structured properly, you should never have uncontrollable hunger but operating with “tolerable hunger”. So many people have taken for granted that they can eat whatever, whenever and as much as they want, but its these lifestyle habits that have created the health issues with being overweight to begin with, so adopting a new perspective on diet and lifestyle is essential for success. Instead of looking at it as a diet, view it as; “how I choose to eat” and be thankful that you even get a choice!
Another thing worth mentioning as well, would be the amount of processed, hyper palatable foods that people consume. Fast food, snack foods and the like, light up the reward center in your brain, much like alcohol and drugs do for some people, so instead of eating when you are hungry and physically need food, you essentially eat these foods to get that “feel good feeling or high” from there consumption. This is another big reason why western culture has such an abundance of “diseases of abundance”, hyper palatable foods are cheap and easy to access anytime, anywhere. Basing a diet off real, whole foods is the way to go. They have a much better satiety index, meaning you will actually feel satisfied and be better connected with your actual hunger cues. For example, it’s nothing for most people to open up a bag of chips and wipe the whole bag out in no time, but when the last time you opened up a bag of apples and ate the whole bag in one sitting? That’s the difference between eating for fun and to light up the reward center of the brain and just eating because you physically need it. This is why I’m not a big fan of “if it fits your macros” style of dieting, I’m not saying it can’t work, but it can be a very slippery slope for some people and like giving a case of beer to an alcoholic and telling them they are only allowed to have one. Plus, real, whole foods are much more nutrient dense and have beneficial things in them that scientists don’t even know about yet, they are going to make your body function better and also make you better in tune with it and how you feel on a day to day basis.
A diet doesn’t need to be complicated or extreme, in fact, if it is, then that is a big red flag! It needs to be simple, balanced and sustainable. It shouldn’t have emphasis on one macro nutrient over another or create fear of any macro nutrient either. To be a fully functioning human being, diet should be very automatic, it’s something that, when you get up in the morning, you should know how you’re going to go about your day and just do it, without having to plan your whole day around eating or think about it anymore than preparing, chewing and swallowing it when it comes time to eat, I’m sure you have many more important and pressing issues and obligations in your life that need your full attention.
Being obsessed with diet and trying to control everything about it at all times for how it might affect your body image is not the answer and will only lead to anxiety and fear surrounding food. Again think about how you want to live your life and how eating, that will optimize your health and wellbeing, not only physically but mentally as well, fits into that.
I’m reminded of Leo Tolstoy’s short story; The death of Ivan Ilych, where at the end and he is on his death bed, he ponders this question to himself; “what if my whole life has been wrong?”, basically asking himself if he has lived his entire life to other people’s standards and expectations.
You’re never going to get to the end of your life and wish you would had have spent more time obsessed with diet and tried to control all aspects of it at the expense of actually living and enjoying life.
Know what and how you want to eat and just fit it into your day, your body will know what to do with it! You don’t have to think about it anymore than that.
Yours in Fitness