If you have ever struggled with weight loss you have probably tried or at least heard of the many variations of dieting…..the lists goes on and on. Certainly when it comes to dropping a few kilos the most common recommendation is we should eat small frequent meals a few hours apart. But could this be the problem? Are we eating too often?
Most of us eat three main-sized meals, snack in between and regularly graze. It seems the moment we feel the early effects of hunger, panic stations kick in. “Quick I’m hungry, I need to eat!”. You should consider that it might be time to reprogram your mind and learn the difference between real hunger and habit. It’s not that bad to feel a little hungry.
Do we actually need to eat as often as we do? The answer is quite simply, no. There are many exceptions, such as those suffering with blood sugar disorders, pregnancy, athletes, body builders and people wishing to gain weight. These groups of people have physiological needs for frequent calorie intake, but for the average person there is no need for constant feeding throughout the day.
There is buzz in the world of weight loss around a concept called intermittent fasting, which is going for periods of time without food. Now before you freak out, consider the following: we actually fast everyday while we sleep. If you consumed dinner at 8pm and breakfast the next day at 7am this means you have fasted for 11 hours. See, not so scary is it?
There are many variations to intermittent fasting, however all variations have one common theme: consume your calories within a certain time frame within the day (a feeding window) and do not eat anything else outside of those hours. This gives your body a break from digestion and time to use stored body fat as energy. By having a smaller feeding window in the day you are less likely to snack. You can focus on completely balanced main meals that are going to be more satisfying than constant grazing.
How to introduce intermittent fasting into your diet
Have a later breakfast and an earlier dinner than your current routine and do not eat until the following morning. You may wish to start by giving your body 12-14 hours between breakfast and dinner every day. Here is how you may wish to introduce a 14 hour fast:
- Breakfast between 9-10am
- Lunch between 1-2pm
- Dinner between 6-7pm
This is a 10-hour feeding window and a 14-hour fast each day. Will you get hungry between meals? Possibly. Will it harm you? No. Have a cup of green tea or a glass of water. You may be shocked to realise your hunger pains naturally subside. Besides, being a little hungry between meals is normal especially if you’re trying to lose weight. Once you establish a new fasting pattern, you may wish to extend the fast to 16 hours a day.
What to eat in your feeding window
Don’t skimp on a nutritionally balanced meal. All healthy diet plans require mixed vegetables, fruit, quality protein, good fats and whole grains. If you’re only eating three times a day, make the meals nutritious and satisfying. A typical day could consist of the following:
- Breakfast: sliced banana, ricotta and coconut oil on seeded rye toast plus a tea or coffee
- Lunch: mixed vegetable and quinoa salad with a fresh lemon juice and olive oil dressing
- Dinner: grilled salmon on cannellini bean mash a and salad of mango slices and mixed greens
The key to remember is you’re NOT starving yourself; you’re fasting for a period of the day. Make sure your meals are balanced and healthy and don’t graze outside of your balanced meals.
When trialling this method you will likely discover you don’t need to eat as often as you currently do, and you will become aware of how much you over eat. Listening to your body and understanding its actual needs is the first step to long-term weight loss and optimum health.
Benefits beyond weight loss
Intermittent fasting can provide health benefits beyond weight loss. Fasting can boost immunity, enhance tissue repair, lower unhealthy cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation, a known risk factor for chronic illness such as diabetes and cardio vascular disease.
Research from the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute found that fasting was associated with reducing cardiac risk factors, such as blood triglycerides levels, weight, and blood sugar levels.
This research also showed men, who had fasted for 24 hours, had a 2000% increase in circulating Human Growth Hormone (HGH). Women who were tested had a 1300% increase in HGH. Why is this important? HGH has beneficial effects on metabolism and anti-ageing, it promotes fat burning, works to protect lean muscle, improves skin appearance, reduces wrinkles and enables the body to heal at a faster rate.