There is nothing more maddening than my experience over the years with all of the gurus out there spouting what to eat, what not to eat, this diet is good, or that diet is dangerous, eat small meals throughout the day, or fast. It was all so bloody confusing. So when I set out to solve my 100 pound problem, (i.e. me, 100 lbs overweight), I didn’t want to latch on to the latest fad, or the uber expensive diet programs. I wanted answers from reliable first hand sources, and I needed to put my science cap on.
So, how many meals should I eat, and are snacks in between meals a good idea? What I discovered in putting together MBL is a whole lot about the hormone leptin. Dr. Robert Lustig is probably the most trusted source when it comes to understanding how flour and sugar can affect the overweight and how, it’s not just a weight problem, it’s quite literally a brain problem caused by hormones not being able to do the job they’re supposed to do. Mind you, leptin was really only discovered relatively recently (about 1993). And there is still more research underway examining how the brain sees or doesn’t see leptin. But one thing is certain…if you want to shed weight, your brain needs to be able to get the leptin signal. And the only way to do that is to end leptin resistance.
Experts agree, in order to help leptin do its job, we can’t keep shoveling snacks and beverages into our systems all day long, nor can we stop eating all together. The answer is three meals a day. The only exception to this rule when it comes to MBL is for those who have had weight loss surgery. In those instances, it is very difficult to have all the food you need to have on MBL in one sitting. They have to split their meals and spread them out. But everyone else? Yep, three meals.
Eating three meals in the allotted amounts does a couple of things. First, it keeps things simple. You eat three meals a day, no more, no less, nothing in between. Period. Simple. Your brain gets trained, and you now have freedom to put your lizard brain to work in other areas of your life, rather than distracting it with when you’ll eat again or whether you should have a snack, or whether you got enough of this or that. It’s simple. You plan, you eat. You’re done. It makes this rule one of the more clear cut rules to adopt, at least in theory. In actuality, the lizard brain may fight you on it at first.
For me, snacking during the day was never an issue. In fact, if anything, it was hard for me to make sure I was actually eating three meals a day. Cut to: After 6pm. After dinner, I would snack. It was the nightly ritual known as “what else can I have?”. It was a tough habit to break because, after a long day, I used the late night snacking as a reward, as a way to, in a sense, medicate me and give me comfort. The day was done, and now it’s time for treats. When I started, it took a few weeks to really break the desire for the late night snack, and at times it remains challenging, especially when I still pine occasionally for dessert. You don’t shed years of habits and reward thinking in a matter of months, but it’s MUCH easier to resist now.
So back to the leptin issue. The ‘why’ for 3 meals a day simply boils down to the fact that our digestive and hormonal systems need a break. Your liver needs a break, your immune system needs a break. By abstaining between meals, we give our gut a much needed rest. We help to level hormones, and allow other bodily functions to happen. We more fully digest food, we cause less digestion issues, and the really big deal? We allow leptin to do its job. We begin to become more sensitive to real hunger versus that lizard brain desire for food, or the fear we’ll go hungry.
There is a reason why fasting is often part of spiritual practices. The ancients discovered that when food wasn’t pre-occupying the mind and body, other things opened up. I don’t advocate fasting except between meals, but I do see how, in the first few weeks, I did start to feel things more, and to feel less stressed about life in general. Something happens when you reset the brain chemistry and you allow the body to move through the day without bombarding it with food. I don’t yet understand all of it, but I do know how it makes me feel, and why it was so worth toughing it out in those first few weeks. When you get to the other side of it, it’s nothing short of amazing.
So, here are a few ways to begin creating new habits around just 3 meals a day:
- Drink More Water. Boring, I know. But very often you’re really craving fluids more than you’re truly hungry. If you’re eating all of the recommended amounts, you shouldn’t need more between meals. Try sparkling water, and jazz it up with a some lemon or lime or sample decaf herbal teas.
- Amp The Protein. In the first week I recommend eating the exact amount. But, if after the first week, you’re still SUPER hungry between meals, consider upping your protein by an ounce or two at a meal.
- Find Something Else to Do With Your Hands. This is the best advice for those of you who, like me, enjoyed snacking in front of the tv. I’m not against tv (because I make tv for a living!), but I do think we often need to be doing something else to stave off the munchies in the evening. Try knitting, or writing, return emails on your laptop, or plan your meals for the next day. Write in your journal, make a vision board, fold the laundry, or get crafty and make something.
- Get More Sleep. Fatigue is very often why we mistake hunger for the body just wanting to replenish its energy stores. And for many, sleep deprivation can wreak havoc with weight loss efforts. Lack of sleep causes a rise in cortisol which can impede weight loss. In this case, you really are helping yourself take off the pounds just by going to bed.
- Deep Breathing. This is one that I do throughout the day, like when I’m tempted to hit the fridge late at night. Sit comfortably and just breathe. Get in touch with what you’re actually feeling. Do you really want to snack or are you just experiencing a stressful moment? The more you get in touch with what’s triggering you sticking your head in the pantry, the more able you’ll be to allow the urge to pass. And it will.
Let’s face it, sometimes it is hard to effect change. We don’t like it. We want to do it the way we’ve always done it. And yet, we want a different result. Be willing to make the shift. And remember that by choosing to do it differently, not only can you expect a different outcome, you will GET a different outcome. For me, that adds up to 60 pounds down and done in less than 7 months!