Three Meals and Three Snacks a Day?
Should we eat three main meals a day along with two to three healthy snacks so that we are eating over a 12 to 16 hour time period? Or, can we become healthy and maybe even more healthy eating fewer times a day as with the 8 hour eating plan?
We have advocated the 3 meal, 2-3 healthy snack plan on this website. The thinking behind the plan is that by eating at regular periods throughout the day (two to four hours) that you keep your energy levels stable and by focusing on low glycemic meals with adequate healthy fats and protein you keep insulin from spiking. Spikes in insulin trigger fat storage.
But, eating 5-6 healthy meals a day is challenging. For such an eating plan to work you have to eat what we call “clean.” If your insulin levels spike because of just one “bad” meal for the day then you have sabotaged yourself as you will store calories as fat. The more frequently you eat the more likely you will slip up and eat something unhealthy.
The more times you eat the harder it becomes to make healthy eating choices in today’s environment where we are bombarded by unhealthy food selections throughout the day. Our paleo ancestors did not face the challenges we do today. They had no choice but to eat clean. They did not have heavily processed foods like we have today. And, they did not have 24/7 access to food. They ate in spurts.
Diets are easy in contemplation, difficult in execution. Intermittent fasting is just the opposite. It’s difficult in the contemplation, but easy in the execution. Dr. Michael Eades
The 8 Hour Eating Program: The Concept of Intermittent Fasting
The 8 hour eating program is a form of intermittent fasting and minimizes the number of times a day you eat, thus reducing the number of times you make healthy choices for your meals. It is a simple plan to follow which means it is simple not to follow.
It is not a diet in the sense that it changes what you eat. It changes when you eat. And, you get to pick when when is. You are only going to eat within an 8 hour window of time for a day and you pick the most convenient 8 hour window for a given day. And, that 8 hours may change from one day to the next which makes this intermittent fasting program flexible and portable. You can still adhere to it on vacation (though you may not want to.)
And, you don’t necessarily need to do it everyday, but the more days of week you follow the 8 hour eating plan the quicker you will see results and the more dramatic they will be. I have been following this intermittent fasting program the past three months and it is very simple to follow.
Here is how I follow the 8 hour eating plan. I will eat between noon and 8 PM Monday thru Friday. I increase my window of eating to 10-12 hours on Saturdays and then on Sundays I try eat between 9 AM and 5 PM (not always successful). Depending on my schedule or other circumstances I will skip a day of intermittent fasting. every now and again.
During the fasting period you can consume black coffee and as much water as you want. For the first two weeks I found drinking sparkling water helpful at curbing hunger pangs which were not as intense as I anticipated. The hunger pangs largely diminish with time or are rather mild that you can resist eating.
Coffee actually helps mobilize fats during the fasting period so don’t shy away from it if you are a coffee drinker. Also, drinking 8 glasses of water will help mobilize fat and curb cravings.
Plus, when you do eat, your stomach gets full more quickly, and I have noticed with myself eating less.
Health Benefit of the 8 Hour Eating Plan
- Increases growth hormone and testosterone production. See this study. Growth hormone is a repair hormone and helps to maintain lean body mass.
- Can cause a 3% to 8% loss in body weight in 3 to 24 weeks.
- It increases glucogan levels and hormone sensitive lipase which break down fats.
- It increases epinephrine and norepinephrine levels which stimulates fat metabolism.
- It stimulates energy production of the cells.
- Leads to a 4% to 7% loss in waist circumference.
- Increases BDNF (brain derived neurotropic factor). BDNF is a growth factor for the brain and stimulates neural connectivity. Low BDNF is assoicated with depression.
Understanding How the 8 Hour Eating Plan Works
To understand how the 8 hour eating plan works we are going to discuss the differences between:
- the fed state
- the post absorptive state
- the fasted state
The fed state last 3 to 5 hours after eating a meal. This is when the body is digesting and absorbing food. During this insulin levels will rise. How much it rises depends on the content of the meal. If you eat a low glycemic meal the rise in insulin will be modest but if you eat a high glycemic meal insulin levels will be high.
Insulin is a fattening hormone. It is very difficult to burn calories from your fat stores when insulin levels are above a certain point which likely varies from person to person.
Post absorptive state
The post absorptive state begins at the end of the fed state and last for 8 to 12 hours after the last meal. In the post absorptive state the body is no longer processing a meal. It is a quiet time so to speak. Insulin levels begin to drop in the post absorptive state making it easier to burn calories from fat stores. How fast insulin drops depends on the content of your last meal. The insulin drop will be faster if your previous meal was low glycemic.
You enter the fasted state 12 hours after your least meal. You now enter a fat burning state regardless of what you ate for your last meal. So even if you do not change the content of your diet, it is still possible to burn excess body fat and lose weight. If you fast for 16 hours you are burning largely fat for the last four hours of the fast.
I heard that if you fast your body’s metabolism slows down. Is that true?
You have to fast for 60 hours (2 and 1/2 days) before your body’s metabolism slows down. So intermittent fasting has no ill effect on metabolism.
Also, to obtain health benefits especially in the area of weight loss you should follow the 8 hour eating plan at least three to four days a week.
At the bare minimum you want to fast 14 hours to see the physiologic changes that come from intermittent fasting.
How Do I Break the Fast?
This is a very important question. Once you have been fasting your body is sensitive to that first meal. You want to avoid a massive insulin spike. So do not consume too many carbs immediately upon breaking the fast. Instead eat a smaller meal that contains protein and fat and then an hour later have a more traditional size meal with all three macronutrients – carbohydrates, healthy fats, and protein.
That first small meal can include things like protein shake plus or minus almond butter, or 2-3 eggs, 4 ounces of lean turkey or chicken plus or minus some avocado as examples. Then an hour later plan on a regular size meal. That first small protein/fat based meal will blunt an exaggerated insulin spike that will occur if you eat carbs right off the start.
Summary of the 8 Hour Eating Plan
- It is a form of intermittent fasting for which many studies show many health benefits.
- It is not a diet. It is a pattern of eating.
- It is flexible. You pick the 8 hours you eat.
- It is flexible. You pick the number of days you follow the plan.
- It is simple. You do not necessarily have to change what you eat, but healthier food choices lead to better health results.
- It is simple. It cuts down on the number of food selections you make each day.
- It will likely save you money on food.
Ok, I am following the 8 Hour Eating Plan. Do I need to modify my exercise?
Great question. We will go over that in an upcoming article.