Dispelling the myths behind frequent meals and why eating three meals a day with no snacks is the healthiest option.
It’s estimated that 80 per cent of diets fail because people give in to food cravings. Regardless of which weight-loss plan you follow the desire to snack invariably overwhelms even the most ardent and determined dieter and although you may feel these hunger pangs originate in your stomach, the food cravings and desire to snack actually originate in your brain. An imbalance in chemical messengers tricks you into feeling hunger pangs even though your body doesn’t really need more food. And to add insult to injury, this same imbalance results in more of that snack being turned into fat!
Wherever you turn there is someone extolling the virtues of eating five to six small meals per day. From doctors to dieticians, from Cosmopolitan to Women’s Health, there has been an explosion of acceptance that frequent small meals are the key to everything from weight loss to lower cholesterol and longevity. Almost all diet books either base their recommendations on this principal or incorporate aggressive snacking as part of their program. Yet remarkably, despite its presentation as dietary dogma, there is almost no science to support such information. In fact it flies in the face of everything we know about metabolism and the hormonal regulation of our energy supplies.
The myth that frequent small meals were the key to weight loss likely arose from two sources. The first involved dietary studies performed in the late 1990’s that showed how frequent small carbohydrate meals could lead to more stable blood sugar and insulin levels along with lower cholesterol. Aimed primarily at diabetics, the concept spread rapidly to normal and then overweight individuals. The second related to research indicating that metabolic rate increased temporarily after a meal. This led to the concept that more meals would somehow “supercharge” the body and allow it to burn off fat. However, that was the ’90’s. Things have changed and new research is available. In addition, the fact that our population is growing steadily larger and unhealthier is certainly a compelling argument against frequent small meals being a dietary panacea!
In order to dispel the myth of frequent small meal eating, consider some of the theories proposed as to why it works. For example, does it really “supercharge” our metabolism? The answer is “no”. While it is true that there is a temporary increase in the metabolic rate associated with the ingestion, absorption and metabolism of food, it only amounts to about 10% of your calorie intake and is independent of meal size. So, whether you eat 3 meals of 900 calories or 6 meals of 450 calories (both totalling 2700 calories) you will only increase you metabolism by 270 calories per day. Not only is there no benefit to the 6 meal option, frequent small meals reduce your leptin levels and this actually lowers your metabolic rate!
Eating numerous small carbohydrate meals during the day may well lead to more stable blood sugar but at what cost. The persistent secretion of insulin this type of diet causes will actually increase the risk of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. The studies that showed how frequent small meals could reduce cholesterol only compared small carbohydrate meals to large carbohydrate meals rather than to balanced protein-complex carbohydrate intake. This latter type of diet achieves stable blood sugars without overstressing the pancreas and also stops the liver from producing cholesterol.
For those on a diet, frequent small meals are offered as the answer to food cravings and satiety. That is a little like trying to get someone to stop smoking while allowing them to light up every time they have a nicotine yearning! Recent research on the real reasons behind hunger and craving relate to neurochemical changes in the brain, abnormal behaviour patterns that need to be changed not reinforced.
Probably the biggest problem with the whole concept of frequent small meals is that they rapidly become frequent large meals. Research shows us that having a snack between meals does not reduce the size of the next meal. In addition, the availability of fast, unhealthy food means that snacks often become highly calorific themselves. Giving an individual carte blanche to eat whenever they like in a society where food is so readily available may be a popular and painless option, but it is highly unlikely to be successful long-term. It will certainly never address the many health issues associated with overeating and a dysfunctional metabolism.
Normal human physiology is not designed for frequent small meals and remains essentially unchanged from that of our prehistoric ancestors. Neanderthal man was more accustomed to starvation and long gaps between meals than tucking into limitless dinosaur snacks by the fire. As such, humans are hardwired to be hungry and to store food away as fat. The two major hormones, insulin and leptin work together to manage fat stores. After a meal insulin rises for three hours, initially replacing glycogen stores and then shunting any extra calories into fat. As insulin levels fall we become able to access our fat stores as a source of energy. Eating another meal or snack at this point causes a further release of insulin, which not only inhibits our ability to burn fat but also acts as a strain on the pancreas. This secondary rise in insulin is more prolonged and when the cycle is repeated will eventually lead to hyperinsulinaemia and insulin resistance, forerunners of metabolic syndrome. In addition, this pattern leads to leptin resistance resulting in food cravings and a slower metabolism. In addition, this pattern leads to frequent leptin secretions and the eventual cry wolf scenario to the hypothalamus, decreasing leptin’s ability to block NPY, resulting in leptin resistance, intense food cravings and a slower metabolism.
Principles of the NO Crave Diet.
What you eat
- Protein at every meal.
- Unlimited…yes, unlimited salads and most other vegetables.
- Initially, no grains, rice, pasta, sweets or starches.
- Two pieces of fruit per day maximum, no bananas.
- Limited high carbohydrate, low protein foods such as chickpeas and lentils.
- Limited portions of dressings and condiments.
- Initially none or very limited alcohol.
- Increase fluid levels by drinking more water.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners and processed foods.
Changing what you eat removes cravings and retrains your metabolism
One of the most important ways in which THE NO CRAVE DIET reduces cravings is through the stabilization of blood sugar levels. Hypoglycemia is a major factor in the development of food cravings. Stabilizing blood sugar levels eliminates this disruptive influence on your diet.
Over the longer term, the diet reverses insulin resistance, returning the metabolism to its normal, healthy state and allow the insulin released when you eat to adequately signal the brain to shut off your hunger and cravings.
By stabilizing insulin and blood sugar levels, leptin will start to normalize as well. This will prevent cravings and snacking, which then maintains the stables metabolism and fat burning process.
THE NO CRAVE DIET results in slower release of sugar into the blood and slower release of food from the stomach. You subsequently feel full longer and produce less of the potent hunger hormone ghrelin. Ghrelin is a messenger released by cells in the stomach once it is empty and is responsible for some of the hunger pangs and cravings between meals. Reducing the amount and period of time over which this hormone is released will make you less hungry and, subsequently, less prone to snacking.
By stabilizing blood sugars, insulin and leptin, there is much less stress placed upon the body, decreasing the excess release of cortisol. Cortisol, one of the adrenal stress hormones greatly impairs fat breakdown by blocking the release of leptin, attracting three times the amount of sugar from food into the fat cells, and increasing the release of insulin to simple carbohydrates, all of which greatly impair weight loss.
Supplements on the No Crave Diet
Natural supplements are extremely useful on the No Crave Diet. L-carnosine can be used to block NPY secretion during the initial stages while cortisol and leptin are rebalancing. Casein decapeptides can quickly lower cortisol and CRH, quietening down the sympathetic side of the nervous system. L-glutamine put directly on the tongue immediately kicks out cravings for sugars and sweets, while l-tyrosine used daily reduces the desire to consume fatty savoury foods like chips, cheese and nuts.
In 8 easy weeks, these and other supplements in combination with the No Crave Diet will help restore metabolic balance, increase energy, reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cholesterol and even cancer.
Bellisle F, McDevitt R, Prentice AM, Meal frequency and energy balance; BR J Nutr. 1997, Apr. Suppl 1:S57-70.
Verboeket-van de Venne WP et al, Effects of the pattern of food intake on human energy metabolism. Br J Nutr. 1993 Jul;70(1):103-15.
Jeffery Klugger, The science of appetite, Time Magazine May 31 2007.
Radic R et al, Circadian rhythm of blood leptin level in obese and non-obese people. Coll Antropol. 2003 Dec:27(2);555-61