There is an increasingly loud, increasingly powerful minority within the nutrition world that can now count me as one of it’s own: those who argue that the high meal frequency, eating-every-three-hours-or-your-muscles-will-literally-just-fall-right-off-the-bone-like-smoked-pork approach to nutrition is absolutely unnecessary and in no way provides any benefit to our body composition goals. Yes, John Kiefer, Martin Berkhan, Lyle McDonald, and Alan Aragon, you guys along with my own personal experience, have allowed me to put away the Tupperware and not worry about “going catabolic.”
So how did this happen? How did my 5+ years of 6 or more meals per day (I think there was a period there, and I am maybe a little ashamed to admit this, where I was eating 9-10 meals on some days!) suddenly change to a the current state of things: three large meals plus a snack before bed (AKA breakfast-lunch-dinner-dessert to the average person). Well, life changed and my diet followed.
The only optimal diet for each of us is one that works within the context of our lives and what we are willing to put forth. In my own case, in my office job, I enjoyed eating every few hours because it offered a great way to break up the monotony of slaving away at my desk all day. I looked forward to the little breaks I could take to eat one of my meals. In my case, eating often was preferred and ideal.
However, when I left my office job this past winter and found myself with the flexibility to work in smaller blocks and move through my day with more freedom, I found that I didn’t really want to be stuck thinking about frequent feedings or bringing food with me when I was out and about. It’s a release to have a meal needed in the middle of a four-hour date with an Excel spreadsheet. It’s a hassle, an inconvenience, and a major buzz kill to have that same meal come in the middle of a four-hour surf session under the warm Hawaiian sun. Thus, as I settled into the office-less life I had established for myself in Hawaii, I dove into learning the real deal on meal frequency.
It didn’t take me long to find enough evidence to dive right into changing my diet almost immediately. In my opinion, the evidence in support of eating less frequently is overwhelming and convincing. Any evidence that has been provided in support of eating frequently is scant and poorly interpreted. It’s hard to believe these myths have been perpetuated for so long but I supposed they have reached a Gladwell-esque “Tipping Point” at which they will basically be taken as truth by the vast majority of the population.
This topic has been covered extensively by the geniuses I mentioned above, so rather than reiterate, check out the following, and if desired, the associated citations:
Logic Does Not Apply Part I: Meal Frequency by John Kiefer
Meal Frequency and Energy Balance by Lyle McDonald
As you can see, the foundation of frequent eatings rests upon some poorly designed studies and observational research. It’s not exactly the hard fact we’ve all been lead to believe.
So I’ve showed you a few of the arguments and that’s all well and good. But I know that you, my esteemed FF readers generally only care about whether or not something is going to help you pick up ever increasing amounts of heavy shit and look increasingly better whenever the clothes come off. So what have my results been like since moving to a more traditional eating schedule? It has been nearly three months and I am pleased to report that none, not a single one, of my muscles has fallen off. Shocking.
On a serious note, my body composition has improved. I’m up a few pounds and I am as lean, if not leaner, than I was when I started. That’s pretty good. I plan to gain a few more pounds and then cut the small amount of fat that I am carrying right now and I expect that after that I will look, far and away, the best I ever have. On the strength front, my lifts initially suffered and my gym performance was down as I adjusted to the new setup but after a couple of weeks everything bounced back in a very good way and I am now gaining strength at a nice, steady pace. Now this is not to say that had I followed my old approach that my results would have been any different as having finally worked out a training and nutrition system that worked for me, I had been making good gains in my physique and strength for the last year. But this is to say that at the very least, my results have not been any worse and my life has been MUCH, MUCH easier. In my book, that’s a huge win.
The foundations of my philosophy towards nutrition is that the Adherence Principle is of the utmost importance. It’s precisely the reason that I do an extensive interview and questionnaire process with every client: I need to know what their lifestyle is, how much they are willing to invest, and where their priorities lie in order for me to generate a diet for them that they will stick to. A 80% effective setup that is adhered to 95% of the time is better than a 100% effective setup that is adhered to 50% of the time. And believe me, adherence goes way up with this setup. I thoroughly believe that although there are some issues with intermittent fasting from a body comp standpoint, it is generally very successful because it has a high rate of adherence.
Let’s be honest, eating 6 meals a day is hard. It’s a hassle. It requires a shit-ton of planning and preparation and causes a load of stress and anxiety. It breaks up the meals to the point where they are often not satisfying (what a new experience: eating large, satiating meals). And many times it’s not very practical. We all have places to be and things to do any many times, those obligations will take us away from our perfectly planned meals every three hours. All of these things lead to many people simply refusing to change their habits or giving a shot and quickly failing as a result of the commitment required to eat several small meals per day. Or they become obsessed and anxious about keeping a precisely timed diet. That’s no way to live. Food is meant to be enjoyed and savored and this brings me to my next point.
Eating is often a social event. Along with sex, music, and art, its a piece of our humanity and culture that is best when shared with others. I think being able to share a meal with other people is one of the best ways to relax and form strong relationships. I’m happy I don’t have to deprive myself of that any longer. Being on a schedule that most of the rest of the world follows when it comes to eating allows one the most opportunities to share the joy of food with others.
So please, FFers, put down that shaker bottle and trash the Tupperwares! Eating right is always going to require some effort, you will have to make smart food choices and eat in the proper amounts, but you shouldn’t have to count the seconds until your next meal for fear of slowing your metabolism or sacrificing you hard-earned muscle and hopefully this little post will convince you of that.
So how do you convert?
Well, first and foremost, you don’t have to convert if eating at a high frequency is working for you, you are happy with it, and you find it to be a way to eat that compliments your lifestyle. If you do want to reduce how many times you are eating, the possibilities are pretty wide. You could try an intermittent fasting setup. You could do what I’ve done and simply combine the smaller meals into larger, more traditional breakfast-lunch-dinner arrangements. You could even eat just twice per day. The point is just that: it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day. Pay some attention to your peri-workout nutrition and for the rest, just eat in a way that fits your life and sets you up for success. There are many reasons that my “No-Hassle Diet” setups have been so successful for me and those that I have used them with and now, I have one more weapon of practicality to arm my clients with. Later this year, I will be releasing my first product, which will be an extensive diet manual based around my No Hassle philosophies. It will detail how to set up a meal plan that adheres to this low-frequency approach.