Monday, May 19, 2014

Meal frequency

Since the start of the year I have been following an interesting eating pattern, which I fell in to. On most working days I will not eat solid food during until late afternoon, say around 4:30pm. I do drink a bit of milk (1-2 mugs, which is probably around 150kcal), but this is pretty much an intermittent fasting mode of eating. I didn't realise intermittent fasting is a fad that is doing the rounds right now, and I don't do it to lose weight. I do it because I have found that if I have breakfast then I am hungry again at around 10-11 a.m. and again at lunch, and after lunch I would often suffer a slight energy dip. By taking food out of the equation I have more time and I also save money as I don't need to buy lunch. On many days I also feel that I have more energy.

I have no trouble achieving my caloric targets and I can eat with reckless abandon when I get home, which is a nice treat. I do generally end up in a slight caloric deficit over the weekdays but then I will make up for it on non-working days, when I eat more frequently and in larger quantities.

This seems to work pretty well for me but always causes concern when people find out I am backloading my food intake instead of having lots of small meals, and I am missing that 'most important meal of the day' which is breakfast. I have tried to find a decent scientific study that suggests I should change my patterns but there is nothing out there. In fact, this study was recently published comparing a group of people who ate two meals a day to those who ate six meals spread over the day. Lo and behold, the two meal group actually had better health outcomes. The study is small and so can't really be used to make a convincing general statement on the question, but it is interesting. The NHS notes of the study:

"Based on their diet diaries, there was no significant difference in calorie intake with the different patterns, or in physical activity (steps per month).
The researchers found that people lost weight with both meal patterns. They lost significantly more weight when they were on the two meal pattern (3.7 kg lost on average) than with the six meal pattern (2.3 kg lost on average). The two meal pattern was associated with better fasting blood glucose levels."

"Researchers are not certain why eating the same amount of calories, but in different patterns through the day, might have differing effects. They made various suggestions, including differing effects on resting energy expenditure or on the nervous system and hormones affecting hunger, or an impact on our bodies’ daily rhythms.
This is a complex area and is likely to be studied in further research."

In this age of rationality, we like to think that much of what we do is evidence based and that the remaining legacy patterns of behaviour that are based on custom or age old wisdom are well grounded, but this isn't always the case. Always ask, "where's the evidence?" and acknowledge that what works for others may not work for you. Experiment, play around, and question, question, question. 

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