One of the biggest dietary myths floating around out there is that you should eat as soon as you wake up, and consume most of your calories in the morning and early afternoon.
Anyone that has ever tried this, however, will tell you that about an hour after eating their chicken breast and steamed broccoli for dinner, they soon find themselves raiding the freezer for that half pint of Ben and Jerry’s Half Baked that they were supposedly saving for “Game of Thrones” on Sunday. #CheatDay
Eating most of our calories early in the day goes against our evolutionary history and instincts.
That’s why it’s so damn hard to do!
Think about it.
Humans have been evolving for roughly 2 million years.
We spent about 90% of that time as hunter-gathers – nomadic societies foraging off the land.
It wasn’t until the agricultural revolution, 12,000 years ago, that we started domesticating plants and animals.
That’s just a blink of an eye in the context of 2 million years!
Our DNA, as well as our psychological, hormonal, and social patterns, have not changed very much in such a short amount of time.
This is why if you pay close attention to your body, you’ll find that you are most hungry at night, and least hungry in the morning.
It’s precisely because of the way we lived for so long.
There were no refrigerators filled with low fat milk, or pantries stocked with Honey Nut Cheerios and Special K bars.
We spent the majority of the day in a semi fasted state while we searched for food.
We ate our main meal in the evening, after we had caught, gathered, and prepared the fare.
Now, I know what you’re thinking :
“But abuelita says breakfast is the most important meal of the day!”
“My doctor says I should have a big bowl of oatmeal in the morning as soon as I wake up!”
“My trainer says my body is in starvation mode in the morning and I need to eat ASAP!”
If you are a generally healthy individual just trying to lose some weight, this is bad advice.
After sleeping for 8 or more hours, your body is in prime “fat burning” mode first thing in the morning.
Insulin is very low at this time, and when insulin is low, you burn fat at a higher rate than when it is elevated.
When you eat food, particularly carbs, insulin elevates and the fat burning stops.
Growth hormone is also pretty high in the am.
This powerful hormone is responsible for building muscle and burning fat.
It will stay high as long as you keep your insulin low.
Therefore, if your main goal is fat loss, the last thing you’d want to do is have a big breakfast – especially one filled with carbs like oatmeal or cereal.
Another side effect of not eating right away in the morning is an increase in energy.
Without getting too technical, our Central Nervous System operates primarily in two modes: Sympathetic and Parasympathetic.
Sympathetic, or “fight or flight” mode, is what your body operates on in a fasted, or semi fasted state.
In this state, we are more alert, focused, and our cognitive abilities are greatly enhanced.
I don’t know about you, but during the day I like to make sh*t happen; I want to be as alert and focused as possible.
Parasympathetic is our “rest and recovery” mode.
Your body goes into this state after eating a big meal heavy in calories and carbohydrates – it’s why you feel groggy and tired afterwards, and is precisely why you go into a “food coma” after Thanksgiving dinner.
Carbohydrates help your brain produce serotonin, a chemical that allows for calm and pleasant moods, while making tryptophan, the chemical responsible for sleepiness, more available to your brain.
Now, wouldn’t the evening usually be the perfect time for a calm, pleasant mood, and sleepiness?
This is yet another reason to eat light throughout the day and get most of your calories in the evening.
Here you go, again:
“But the magazines say I can’t eat after 7!”
“Anything eaten after this magical hour will automatically turn into fat!”
Before you jump the gun, let’s remember that we need to look at our eating habits as a whole, and not just in isolated parts.
For instance, if you are eating oatmeal in the morning, rice at lunch, and pasta in the evening, you will most likely store some of that excess carbohydrate as fat if you are not exercising intensely.
This is because your glycogen stores are probably already topped off.
If you skip breakfast, however, or just keep it light like scrambled eggs with veggies and a salad and chicken breast for lunch, you now have afforded yourself some wiggle room for dinner.
The likelihood of any carbohydrate eaten at dinner being stored as fat, especially if you are exercising, is now very unlikely.
These carbs will now just go to filling your depleted glycogen stores from the day’s activities.
It’s all in the context of calories, people!
Your body is like your car.
If you drive around all day on an almost empty tank, and then fill it up in the evening before you get home, all that you’re going to have is a full tank of gas for use the next day.
Unless you put in more gas than your tank can hold, none will spill over the side of your car. (Think of the spilling over as body fat.)
If your body is running on “E” by the time dinner rolls around, because you haven’t consumed a whole lot of carbohydrates throughout the day, you’re not going to store any of those “night time” carbs as fat.
As a matter of fact, you’ll burn fat, because for most of the day, you’d have kept your insulin low and remained in “fat burning” mode. #Winning
People ask me all the time what the “best” diet is.
The simple answer is it’s the one you can comply with.
The name of the game is sustainability.
I personally don’t like to go to bed hungry.
I also don’t like stressing about when I need to eat throughout the day, or feeling like I need to take a nap after every meal.
I like having a lot of energy, and being able to focus in on the day’s tasks.
Eating in line with my evolutionary programming allows me to do all of the above.
Here is a simple game plan if you’d like to give it a try:
1. Don’t eat anything for 12-16 hours AFTER having dinner the night before. Stick to just water, tea, or black coffee during this time. So if you finish dinner at 8 pm, you wouldn’t eat again until between 8 am and 12 pm the next day.
2. Break your fast with 20-30 grams of protein and some veggies. If carbs are needed have a serving of fruit.
3. If you are eating 3 meals per day, repeat what you had the first meal for the second. If not, go straight to step four.
4. FEAST FOR DINNER. Have the majority of your calories for the day at this time. If your body fat levels are in check, and you are exercising regularly, have some starch with this meal. Try to eat this meal 2-3 hours before bedtime, so as to allow adequate time for digestion.
Remember that like anything else, the body will take some time to adjust.
Stick to it for a couple of weeks and I guarantee you will experience more energy, more focus, you’ll sleep better at night, lose weight, and you just might be able to actually hold off on the Ben and Jerry’s until Sunday.