Christmas is just around the corner, which inevitably means banquets of delightful foods. It is a season to be enjoyed but, for the health-conscious individual, represents a formidable threat to one’s discipline and concomitant fat loss efforts.
While the suggestions I will outline in this article are by no means revelatory, they deserve consideration if you want to exercise your innate hedonism this social season, without derailing your fat loss progress. Let’s go into the New Year in a position that is propitious to attaining our fitness ‘resolutions’.
1. Sparkling Water Is Your Friend
Not only is carbonated water more palatable and satiating than still water, its use as a mixer can dramatically reduce our total caloric intake for the day.
Unless you have ever inspected the nutritional panel of foods and beverages you commonly consume, it is likely that you underestimate the calories within them. Similarly, for those with a basic understanding of nutritional composition, high-calorie drinks lend themselves to excessive energy intake and weight gain. I believe what and how much we drink at this time of the year is more culpable than our food indulgences, from a fat gain perspective.
As we would expect, carbonated water has demonstrated prolonged gastric emptying and feelings of fullness.
Add some lemon juice to a glass of soda water before a meal. Dilute your favourite juice or spirits with it. Keep a bottle of San Pellegrino on hand wherever you go. Use it in your salad dressing recipe. Wot?
2. ‘Hara Hachi Bu’, and Eating Mindfully
It is widely accepted that the Okinawan people of Japan perpetually claim the world’s greatest longevity, per capita; but few people are aware of the key custom that underlies their supreme leanness.
‘Hara Hachi Bu’ translates from Japanese as ‘eat until 80% full’, and has been employed by Japanese people for generations. This inherently simple, yet tremendously effective principle, necessitates that the individual eats both intuitively and mindfully.
In today’s obese climate, however, most people find eating intuitively a piece of cake (to their heart’s content, without any accountability), but the mindful component of ‘Hara Hachi Bu’ undoubtedly evades most of us. Particularly with our smartphones and various gadgets at hands reach, 24/7. It is only when both intuition and mindfulness are employed concurrently that this strategy works; they depend upon each other.
What I like most about this concept is that it embodies a way in which we can consume a calorie deficit, and thus lose fat, without counting calories or being neurotic. Rather, we can listen to internal cues of hunger.
So, I understand this concept is easier said than done (as with most behavioural interventions), but there are a few sub-strategies we can use to successfully implement it:
- Quarantine your phone, and turn off the T.V, at meal times
- Chew your food. You might find this suggestion comical, but the amount of people that inhale their food like my dog Slater, is very real
- Have a cup of tea after a your first serve (or plateful). Anecdotally, I find a cup of green tea after or with my meal allows my internal hunger cues to ease, and digestion improves
- Replete a smaller plate with food
3. Reduce Meal Frequency, and Skip Breakfast
Yes, many of the papers examining the effect of meal frequency on body composition almost invariably favour the higher frequency group (albeit marginally), but these findings are correlational and causation shouldn’t be assumed. What I mean by this is that, generally, the type of person that usually eats irregularly, is the same person that skips breakfast and subsequently proceeds to eating donuts (or similar junk) at work; and then binges at night after a sedentary work-day. Generally.
Further, seldom do these papers incorporate intentional, intermittent fasts in the lower frequency meal groups. The myth of ‘eating around the clock to stoke one’s metabolic fire’ has been propagated by ripped gym-junkies for years, but it is scientifically unfounded. This systematic review headed by nutrition pioneer, Alan Aragon, found that body composition changes were almost identical when comparing isoenergetic (same amount of calories) diets in high frequency (HFM) VS. low frequency (LFM) meal groups.
Insulin sensitivity, or our glycemic control, is also improved in the LFM, when 3 meals/day was compared with 14 a day. This effect is augmented by fasting, which can easily be achieved by pushing breakfast back a few hours.
Rarely does the morning call for social gatherings during this time of year, so I suggest strategically fasting for the first 2-6 hours of the day. Wake up, have some coffee, and use this time to be productive. Run errands, smash an early gym session before the day gets too busy. Don’t brood over food.
Fasting during the first half of the day will give you a nice energy buffer, and allow you to get away with feasting at night, when we are most social. I am not currently fasting every day, purely because I am gaining weight and find breakfast more conducive to this goal; but I understand the general population usually desires weight loss, and this is where strategic fasting is very handy (not to mention the whole host of other benefits associated with it).
I believe it is advantageous, and much more enjoyable, to consume 3 large meals a day as opposed to grazing constantly. Who actually enjoys teasing themselves with tiny servings, and thinking about food all day?
That’s it, guys and gals. Feel free to message me with questions, or if you are interested in my coaching services.
Cavanagh, K., Vartanian, L. R., Herman, C. P., & Polivy, J. (2014). The effect of portion size on food intake is robust to brief education and mindfulness exercises. J Health Psychol, 19(6), 730-739. doi: 10.1177/1359105313478645
Fukkoshi, Y., Akamatsu, R., & Shimpo, M. (2015). The relationship of eating until 80% full with types and energy values of food consumed. Eating behaviors, 17, 153-156.
Katterman, S. N., Kleinman, B. M., Hood, M. M., Nackers, L. M., & Corsica, J. A. (2014). Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: A systematic review. Eating behaviors, 15(2), 197-204.
Munsters, M. J., & Saris, W. H. (2012). Effects of meal frequency on metabolic profiles and substrate partitioning in lean healthy males. PLoS One, 7(6), e38632.
Schoenfeld, B. J., Aragon, A. A., Wilborn, C. D., Krieger, J. W., & Sonmez, G. T. (2014). Body composition changes associated with fasted versus non-fasted aerobic exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1), 1.
Tate, D. F., Turner-McGrievy, G., Lyons, E., Stevens, J., Erickson, K., Polzien, K., . . . Popkin, B. (2012). Replacing caloric beverages with water or diet beverages for weight loss in adults: main results of the Choose Healthy Options Consciously Everyday (CHOICE)
Zhu, Y., & Hollis, J. H. (2015). Relationship between chewing behavior and body weight status in fully dentate healthy adults. International journal of food sciences and nutrition, 66(2), 135-139.