You are probably familiar with the story of three meals and two snacks and how the diet should be organized that way. Whoever succeeds, all credit to him. I mean, in the long run. And if it really suits you and everything works well, then nothing. This text is not for you. But if something persistently doesn’t suit you, and you don’t know what, or if you think it’s quite ok, only you don’t know how to organize yourself, then pay attention to the following lines.
You may find something valuable for yourself.
If we are not completely sure how to look at a phenomenon, it is always wise to call on history for help and see how some things have worked over long periods of time. And we don’t have to be great connoisseurs of opportunities to know that food was not always available. Moreover, it happened more often than people were hungry than they were full. Precisely because of that, very powerful adaptive mechanisms were developed that protected people from the uncertainty brought by hunger, so that humanity survived despite numerous hungry years.
Then came a new era, when food became ultra-affordable. However, the mechanisms that allow the body to cope with excess food have not developed, which could mean that our body copes better with food shortages in emergencies than with excess. Which no longer looks like an emergency, but a regular one.
And it seems to me that this is exactly the case. It is quite possible that many health challenges and the growing problem of obesity come from too much food that we constantly bury, not giving space to the body to bring the process of digestion, assimilation and elimination to its natural end, but constantly interrupting it by adding new amounts of food. When we add to that the (in) quality of what we eat and toxins from the environment, we come to too much metabolic waste that the body does not have the capacity to deal with, more precisely – it does not achieve.
And how often do we really eat during the day?
This is an interesting question if we consider everything we put into the digestive system as food, and if we count every bite, and it counts. Recently, a study was done with the help of a smartphone application in which people entered how many times they ate during the day and in what time period. 10% of people who ate the least often ate 3.3 times a day, and 10% ate 10 times a day. So 90% of people ate more than 3 times a day. The average time period during the day when people ate was 14.75 hours. So, if you start eating at 8 am in the morning, the last meal will be at 10:45 pm. The only time you don’t eat is when you sleep.
When people who ate for almost 15 hours a day were suggested to tear down the period of time when they ate at 10-11 o’clock, they lost weight, felt better, had more energy, although, in essence, it did not change WHAT they eat, but only WHEN they eat. This brings us to the question:
Is 1500 calories really 1500 calories?
In the lab, researchers know. If they want to prolong the lifespan of rats and mice, they introduce a calorie restriction and prolong their life by 30-40%. At the same time, their life is not only longer, but also healthier. Does this apply to humans as well? Let’s see.
It is no wisdom that calorie restriction will lead to weight loss. However, 1500 calories (where the number itself does not matter, I cite it only as an example) divided into 5 meals or placed in two, three meals is not the same. And it is not the same whether those two or three meals will be eaten in the first or second part of the day.
We will be reminded of physiology, very simply. When we eat, insulin is secreted to convert the carbohydrates ingested into energy. Excess is stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles, and since storage is limited there, the rest, if any, goes into fat cells (and that storage is unlimited). Different foods will lead to different insulin spikes. Fats will almost not lead to growth, proteins will to some extent, but carbohydrates without fiber will make it sky under the clouds because all that sugar that was suddenly in the blood should be stored in cells, which is one of the main functions. insulin.
4-6 hours after a meal, the blood glucose level dropped, and as the stability of blood sugar should be maintained, if no new food is ingested, glucagon begins to be secreted, which acts in the completely opposite direction from insulin, breaking down the deposited glycogen into glucose. And while insulin does not allow energy to be released from fat cells, glucagon does the opposite, making the trapped energy available to the body for use, and restoring glucose levels to balance.
On the other hand, if there is an excess of insulin in the bloodstream, and there is no new glucose that is taken in, energy is not available to the body, because – we have not taken in the food, and glycogen and fat reserves are locked. And that elevated insulin then generates hunger, because only in that way can the body reach new energy. And if you eat constantly, insulin is constantly secreted, hunger reappears and everything turns in a circle. That is why they get hungry so easily and quickly after meals that are rich in processed carbohydrates.
However, if you allow at least 4 hours to pass between meals, glucagon will be activated to help open up glycogen reserves. Prolonging the period without food will consume glycogen reserves, and energy will be provided from fats by creating ketone bodies and glucose through the process of gluconeogenesis, from fats and proteins. Therefore, in theory, we can do without carbohydrates. In practice, this is done with ketogenic diets, which can really be excellent therapeutic diets but can have counter effects if they are applied for a longer period of time. There are two important reasons for this⁵. Since insulin suppresses the production of glucose in the liver, if insulin is chronically low for a long period of time, the liver begins to compensate for this deficiency by producing glucose, whereby blood sugar rises without the intake of carbohydrates. In that situation, the intake of carbohydrates will actually lower the blood sugar level, because insulin will be activated, which will prevent the production of glucose in the liver. Long-term suppression of insulin secretion has a negative metabolic effect, so a cyclic entry into ketosis is recommended, with periods that include carbohydrates, and their quality should always be taken into account. This is another reason why diabetics should be under professional supervision if they decide on a fast or ketogenic diet.
Another reason is that many metabolic benefits of nutritional ketosis are manifested only when you start eating again. During the fasting period, the damaged cells are cleaned. However, only when the intake of food, including carbohydrates, is started again, cells and tissues are renewed and returned to the optimal state. Therefore, in ketogenic diets, it is still recommended to occasionally get out of ketosis by including quality carbohydrates.
Let us now return to the break between meals and the elimination of snacks, which means that glucagon is included in the story. The first question that usually follows is how to endure so long without food. For someone, 4 hours will be a lot, and three meals a little, which is a product of the habit of eating often. The very idea that food is not available for a certain period of time causes discomfort. However, reducing the number of meals during the day and placing them in a narrower time frame has proven to be an extremely good strategy for insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, although it is completely contrary to what is usually done and advised in such cases. To this is added a fast that can last for days. You will see what it looks like in other people’s practice if you join the Facebook group The Obesity Code Network: Fasting Support with Megan Ramos & Dr. Jason Fung who serves as a support during the planned abstinence from food. There are many success stories of people who reduced the doses of diabetes drugs, some completely abandoned them, and lost a huge number of kilograms. So it is possible, you just need to agree with that, first in your head, and then make adequate preparation, with the necessary professional help. At the same time, these people have experienced much longer starvations, and we will dwell here on meals that are less frequent and on the periods between them that are longer. Because if we know that people don’t eat very successfully for days, then it means that nothing terrible will happen in a few hours. It only takes a period of getting used to it.
And now let’s see how our organism works in general when it comes to hunger.
That terrible hunger
There is an idea that the feeling of hunger grows in proportion to the amount of time spent without food. We presume that hunger comes in waves and usually passes quickly (I also know this from my own experience). And there are variations whether it is a matter of fasting for several days or just occasional abstinence from food during the day we are talking about now. Although the presence of glucagon and ketone bodies also has an effect on reduced hunger, which is directly related to (non) food intake, it is interesting that some completely different mechanisms regulate the secretion of ghrelin, which we know as the hunger hormone. Namely, there was not much research on what happens to ghrelin during work. In one study, ghrelin was measured during 24 hours of fasting, every 20 minutes. It was concluded that hormone levels were highest at those times of the day when participants usually ate in their daily lives. You probably know this: if you eat at a certain time every day, and sometimes skip that meal, exactly at the time when you are used to eating, there will be hunger. The body is simply used to eating at that time, so it sends a signal. Thus, ghrelin secretion is not directly related to food intake. In addition, there is an important link between insulin and leptin, the satiety hormone. When we eat, leptin rises and signals when we are full. However, when there is too much insulin in the blood, then the brain does not capture well the signal that this hormone sends and over time, resistance to leptin is created. In situations where insulin is kept under control, sensitivity to leptin increases and the satiety signal is better registered, which automatically leads to lower food intake and a greater feeling of satiety.
It’s all in the timing
When I talk about the organization of meals during the day, then I usually tell people to design them so that the highest caloric intake is during the first part of the day, until 14-16h. After just something light. The reason is that our metabolism is connected with cycles in nature and that it is strongest when the sun is highest in the sky and then it metabolizes food best. Well, that looks a little like a newcomer. And it’s not. The best proof of that is sumo wrestlers who do not eat in the morning, have hard training, so they start eating their specially prepared, plentiful meals only in the second part of the day, and after eating they lie down. And it is not our goal to look like them.
That all this makes sense is shown by another interesting study that was recently done on the topic of intermittent fasting (IF) around which this whole story of ours revolves. We will talk about the type of IF in which one eats in one part of the day, in a certain range, for example, 8 hours, and then one does not eat for the next 16 hours. Although IF has become a very popular way to deal with excess weight and bring diabetes under control (among other things), not so much attention was paid to the part of the day when eating. However, it turned out to be very important, because insulin sensitivity, the response of pancreatic beta cells, and the thermal effect of food are greater in the morning than in the afternoon and evening. Quite simply, hormonal activity is strongly associated with circadian rhythm and insulin works best in the first part of the day. It is very interesting that one and the same food taken earlier in the day and taken in the afternoon and evening has a different effect on insulin secretion because the jump in insulin is greater in the evening. A study on this topic showed that respondents who ate food in the first part of the day in the range of 8 hours, with the last meal ending before 3 pm, there were significant benefits. Although no weight loss was observed in this study, significant results were achieved: insulin levels were lowered, insulin resistance showed a decrease, blood pressure was lowered and oxidative stress was reduced. The subjects were men with prediabetes.
And how many times a day to eat?
Experiment. Get to know your body and how you react to different strategies. Like I said at the beginning, if you like three meals and two snacks or smaller meals during the day, just keep going. But if it doesn’t suit you, throw out snacks. One of the challenges with regular snacks is to easily get more food than you need, and that can bring excess fat in the long run. Make dinner light. If you want to try a little more restrictive methods, study the matter well. See if this is for you, the possibilities are many. Make friends with the feeling of hunger and notice how different it is when you have a lot of processed carbohydrates in your diet and how it is completely more tolerable when there are fewer carbohydrates in your diet, which are whole. Therefore, IF is most compatible with the LCHF diet, but it is not the rule and everyone can find their winning combination. I would like there to be more professional support from doctors on this topic. Because more serious posts should not be undertaken without professional supervision. Of course, like any other strategy, this one does not apply to everyone. There will always be health conditions that will exclude abstinence from food, and it is certainly not for children, pregnant women, nursing mothers, people who are malnourished and people who have some of the eating disorders in their history.