So we have talked about eating low calories. But what if I eat all those calories at once? Or a few in the morning, and a few at lunch, and most of them at dinner?
It is, unfortunately, the American way. (Unless it’s skipping breakfast or lunch, and eating a lot at night to make up for it, which seems to be more common in my case.) Unfortunately, this leads to excess calories at night when we are not active much, or at all, and so they do not get burned. Which then become… FAT! Again! Not only that, but the “calorie crash” from low to no calories throughout the day has probably put our body in starvation mode, meaning we will save even MORE calories to fat, and burn some muscle while we sleep to keep the body going. (As a note: Metabolic rates are determined by healthy muscles – better muscles and more muscle mass will allow us to burn more calories when even at rest; which means burning muscle mass for energy rather than fat or un-stored calories from recently digested food will reduce the body’s metabolic levels and reduce our ability to burn fat.)
So, what is the best way to overcome this? It is found in not just simply watching what our caloric intake is, but also in watching WHEN that caloric intake takes pace. For a standard 2000 calorie diet, we should eat approximately the following amounts and times:
- Breakfast: ~800 Calories
- Mid-morning snack: ~100-200 calories
- Lunch: 200-300 calories
- Afternoon snack: 100-200 calories
- Dinner – 300-400 calories
- Bedtime snack: 50-100 calories
<GASP> What!? Small dinner, and a big breakfast!? And. . . wait, did you just say that we should eat SIX meals??
Yeah, it’s fun, isn’t it? Right out of the class text book, right from Coach Anderson’s mouth, and I have stumbled across these rules a few times online. Six meals a day, and the majority of the calorie intake should be in the morning. Of course, on a larger calorie diet, the balances should still be kept much the same.
Why is this? Put simply, because we want to refuel for the day at the beginning of the day, but have very little active fuel left at the end of the night. If we are doing this, the body will have the energy it needs throughout the day as it needs it, preventing it from going into starvation mode. Then, at night, when we have nothing left to store as fat, and the body feels safe and is not in starvation mode, it will begin to convert fat (unneeded storage) into energy to burn at night as we rest and the body replenishes itself for another day.
Eating six meals a day also makes sense. The human is a grazing animal. Look at our children. Even as babies they want to eat often, in smaller portions than we think they should. Little kids will want several snacks throughout the day, and then eat small portions at dinner. We, as parents, tend to get mad, and make them eat everything on their plate, and/or stop them from eating when they are hungry earlier between meals. We train them to eat like us – unhealthily.
But if we eat smaller portions, more often, we provide energy as the body needs it, rather than a bunch at once, then nothing, then more nothing, and the body starts to panic, and then a huge influx again, then nothing, then nothing, etc. It’s like budgeting: if you do not budget well and you get a lot of money available, you may just spend it all quickly, or put it into long term savings where you cannot get at it easily. But if you budget well, you will have just the amount you need to pay each bill, and to provide for your needs. You will start to feel confident in your ability to have what you need, when you need it. You will begin to be able to save what you need, spend what you need, and move on without stress or anxiety. The body is like this with calories. It doesn’t know how to budget or plan ahead. If it gets a large deposit of cash (calories), it has to spend it one way or another, right away. It will either burn it for immediate use, or store it as fat. But if you do the budgeting for the body, providing it only what it needs, when it needs it, it will begin to feel confident that it will be safely taken care of, and begin to withdraw from saving (burn fat), because it knows that its rich (if somewhat demented) Uncle Michael will take care of its needs all its life.
A note on where those calories come from. There are three main sources: Fat, Carbohydrates, and Protein. In the past, all the diets were “Low Fat.” This makes sense, since one gram of fat is 9 calories, where one gram of carbs or protein are only 4 calories. But, of course, you can cut out any or all of these sources of calories to reduce caloric intake. The big fad the last several years has been all about Low Carb, No Carb, etc. Here is my take:
Fats: 20-25% of our calories should come from fat. Fat intake is necessary for the body, it provides brain matter, helps absorb some types of vitamins, protects and insulates the body, helps keep the skin healthy, and helps form a healthy myelin sheath. There are three types of fats: unsaturated fat, saturated fat, and trans fat. Unsaturated fat comes 90% from plants, and is a liquid at room temperature. Focusing on this type of fat is best – ultimately staying away from trans fat as much as possible is best. Otherwise, keep fat to a minimum, but I personally will not be TOO Nazi-ish about it.
Protein: only 10-20% of your calories should be from protein. And, like the fats, the protein that comes from plants will be better for you, although meats do occasionally both enhance a meal, and provide some extra vitamins in a different way than the plants will. Meat in moderation (a mantra many many follow, but I have never done well with.)
Carbs: Most of our calories should come from carbs. There are two types of carbs: Simple and Complex. Simple carbs come from sugars, white flour/white bread, etc. Some simple carbs may also be found without simple sugars, but often not. Complex carbs come from whole grain items: oatmeal, brown rice, maize, etc. Only 10% of our carbs should come from simple carbs, while the rest should be complex. This is difficult for me to track. I like better what a friend of mine found elsewhere while researching his dieting preferences: No simple carbs after about 1pm. The reason is this: Simple carbs are fast energy. Quick come, quick go. Complex carbs are healthier, and actually contain MORE energy, but are less likely to be stored as fat. Simple carbs eaten in the morning are likely to be burned off throughout the day. Simple carbs eaten in the afternoon/evening are likely to be stored as fat because they are still in the system – while the body will make better use of the complex carbs properly and generally burn them off even in rest, as long as there are not too many calories there to burn.
So, to sum up: More calories in the morning than later in the day, simple carbs limited to the morning, and six (healthy) meals per day, rather than three (or one or two which is more common to me.)