When You Eat Matters

When You Eat Matters
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You’ve probably heard a lot of conflicting advice out there about when you should eat. I’ve heard everything from eating five small meals a day to eating one large meal to fasting for days. The key is understanding how the body works, and using that information to your advantage. The good news is–this is fairly simple.

Getting out of storage mode

When you eat, your insulin levels rise. Certain foods make your insulin levels rise more than others, but all food causes some increase in insulin levels.

Snacking, or eating small frequent meals all day, causes your insulin levels to stay high constantly–keeping your body in storage mode all day long. This is not the place we want to be for optimum health. If you keep a food journal, see how your eating patterns compare. How often are you in storage mode?

Does your food journal show something like this?

Certain foods cause a larger insulin spike than others. Carbohydrates cause a high insulin spike, protein a moderate spike, and fat causes only a minimal rise in insulin levels.

Effect of carbohydrates, protein, and fat on insulin levels

Armed with this knowledge, we can start to think differently about how we eat. FI is all about thinking differently than most other people, and doing things just a little bit smarter. I am going to offer you an alternative way of looking at food and health that is different than most of the advice you hear. In the same way that the FIRE is spreading, this concept has been so successful that it is quickly spreading as well.

When you eat is likely the most important factor in weight loss

Looking at the table above, you can see that you need to minimize the amount of time your body is in storage mode. For optimal body health and weight maintenance, you want to have a balance between being in storage mode, and being in fat burning mode. If you are always storing your calories, you will end up gaining weight. Therefore, the first step in optimizing your eating plan is to drop down to eating only three meals per day.

This will give your body time between meals for your insulin level to lower and will decrease how many calories you are storing throughout the day. You want your insulin levels to look like the following:

Notice that eating only 3 meals per day gets you out of storage mode more often

This means do not snack at all between your meals. This includes any drinks besides water, tea, black coffee, or unsweetened carbonated water. Don’t drink diet sodas between meals either.

Some of you may be thinking this is crazy, and you will never make it to lunch time without a snack. The trick is to make sure you’re eating enough fat with your meal to keep you full until the next meal. After years of being told fat was the enemy, this was the biggest hurdle for me.

Here’s how you do it: Whatever you currently eat for breakfast, add some healthy fat to it. Some of the most common ways to do this is by adding a handful of nuts, nut butter, avocado, or bacon. If you currently eat only egg whites, start eating the whole egg. Remember that fat does not make you fat–high levels of insulin telling your body to store glucose as fat is what adds on the pounds.

Looking at the chart above, eating fat is actually the least fattening food for your body. Fat will also make you feel full. It sends a powerful message to the brain that you’re sufficiently nourished. You will have a nice full feeling in your stomach that you cannot get with traditional low fat foods, and this should carry you through until lunch time.

Changing your breakfast so you don’t get hungry

Add some nuts to your breakfast

The first day I tried this, I started by eating my traditional oatmeal, but added macadamia nuts and some unsweetened flaked coconut to it. I was slightly horrified by the number of calories on the packages of the nuts and coconut, but I decided I would believe in the model and just go for it.

My oatmeal had never tasted so good! That day I had no hunger pains, and was almost surprised when I realized it was 1 pm and I hadn’t eaten lunch. 

Try to eat more avocados – they fill you up!

Lunch tastes good again

After getting some confidence with breakfast, I moved on to tackling my lunch. I used to eat a salad with veggies, egg whites, and low fat dressing. It wasn’t at all satisfying, but I thought it was healthy. This pretty much explains why I was starving by 3 pm.

I started adding to my salad an avocado (1/2 – 1 depending on the size), a whole hard boiled egg, and full fat dressing. My salad was completely transformed. It was satisfying and I wasn’t hungry again until early evening.

I actually looked forward to eating lunch now rather than trying to make do with rabbit food.

Build your confidence

Add some healthy fats to your meals and skip the snacks and sodas and your overall calorie consumption won’t change much. Your meals will be far tastier, and you’ll feel better throughout the day.

Remember though, calorie counting is not necessary. Not all calories have the same effect on your body. Focus on increasing your fat intake, and slowly decreasing your sugar intake.

I did this slowly. Even though I believed in the science–it had been ingrained into every fiber of my being that fat was the enemy. Taking baby steps to make sure I wouldn’t immediately gain 5 lbs, I was pleasantly surprised to find just the opposite.

Within one month I had lost 8 lbs–doing nothing more than adding in fat and cutting out snacking. It was the easiest weight I had ever lost, and I did not feel deprived at all. My energy started improving, and I spent far less money on food (packaged snacks and sodas can be expensive!)

Give this a try for yourself. Start with small changes and work your way up from there. Continue your simple food journal, and notice how decreasing the frequency of your eating changes your weight.

When You Eat Matters

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4 thoughts on “When You Eat Matters”

  1. I always knew bacon was the answer!
    But seriously, my concern is less about losing weight in general and more about turning what I have into more muscle and less fat, while making strength gains. Powerlifters are known for eating everything in sight while not necessarily looking like they work out, but they are arguably some of the strongest people.
    What is the best way to factor in your eating advice when focusing on making strength gains? I want to make sure I am giving my body enough fuel!

  2. This fascinating! I have done the whole calorie counting thing and loathed it. I am so glad to know that is not really the key to weight loss.

    This seems to good to be true but the science backs it.

    I can easily add more good fats to my meals and stop snacking. I love all nuts and nut butters! Thank you for your good information, HealthyFI MD!

  3. While I agree with the premise I think a little caution is needed here. It comes across like “when you eat is the only thing that matters” and I get the feeling like you are saying calories don’t matter at all. I think we all eat too many carbs and the lower we can keep this the better. And the science does point to higher protein/fat in meals leading to more weight loss. I am a believer in a simple approach of some meat, lots of fruits/veg and minimizing carbs, processed foods and portion size/calories do matter. According to your graphs it’s more the what then when if the protein/fats don’t start the insulin spike. I just don’t see the harm in snacking on high protein/fat snacks. Just some thoughts.

    • You are correct in that too much of anything is not good. You should eat to satiety, not too excess. You monitor this by when you feel full. Then you stop eating, and do not snack. If you are snacking between meals, your insulin will spike and you will be in storage mode for more time during the day. Fat causes the least insulin spike, and there are whole books devoted to “fat bombs” to help get you through when you feel you really need to eat something . In general, if you are eating enough fat with your meal, you will not need to snack. I did not believe this myself until I really tried it.

      Be careful of high protein. If you eat too much protein, your body actually converts the excess to sugar. That is why the current recommendations are High fat, moderate protein, low carb. You really don’t need more than 20% of your calories coming from protein, except in extreme situations.

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