Weight loss strategies: Counting Calories or Time Restricted Eating
There’s no denying that calories matter when it comes to weight – they just aren’t the ONLY things that matter. It’s very difficult (and often mentally and emotionally unhealthy) to track what goes in your body with 100% accuracy (1-4), and it’s even more difficult to know with 100% accuracy what is being used as energy (burned) (5,6); there are just too many contributing factors that still can’t be conveniently measured. Tracking is an important tool to establish baseline, and I use it frequently, but it is not a long-term strategy.
When I’m working with clients, we first solidify the fundamentals by establishing a healthy routine, and we determine what macro ratio YOUR body thrives at. This will help us ensure each meal satisfies you for as long as possible (think maximum nutrition and satisfaction, minimum caloric load.)
Of course, like everything else, snacking is individual – some people will always need more snacks than others, but as a culture we definitely snack too much, and if your macros are optimized for YOUR body, you will probably need to snack less.
Why does that matter?
Snacking all day long taxes the pancreas and overall digestion, which means we can’t absorb all the nutrients we have worked so hard to get in.
It’s also causes us to have chronically elevated insulin levels, and insulin is a fat storage hormone; every time you eat something (especially processed carbohydrates, but also to a lesser extent fats and proteins), your pancreas secretes insulin which signals glucose to enter the cells to be stored for use. Once the storage (primarily in the liver and muscles) is full, the rest will be stored as fat. If you are constantly snacking (even healthy snacks), your insulin is constantly elevated so you will regularly be using glucose as energy instead of fat.
So, after we have solidified the fundamentals, I may also incorporate some form of fasting (usually time restricted eating).
The more time (within reason) we can give your body with reduced insulin levels (restricted eating), the more opportunity it will have to access its fat stores. Whereas when insulin is constantly high, you will constantly have glucose available for energy, so your body doesn’t have to access the fat storage for energy. Chronically elevated insulin levels also often mean more oxidative stress and inflammation, which makes many health problems worse.
How do you know if this is happening in your body?
Sometimes (not always), you may notice some of these other signs besides difficulty losing weight:
· frequent hunger
· feeling irritable or “hangry” when hungry
· brain fog
· frequent peaks and valleys in energy levels
· poor sleep quality.
Whether or not time-restricted eating will work for you depends on many things such as your goals, your bio-profile, and your relationship with food. But it can be a useful tool to experiment with; beyond the impact on insulin sensitivity and weight loss goals, giving your gut time away from digestion can supercharge detoxification, reduce blood pressure and the risk of heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s, improve cholesterol profile, and possibly most importantly – strengthen the microbiome which is one of the most impactful things you can do for your overall health.
How to start?
1. GO SLOWLY
Like any good experimentation, it should be done gradually and systematically. If you go too far too fast, it won’t be sustainable, and you can have negative side effects.
2. EVALUATE CURRENT PATTERNS
Before you can begin to structure your ideal eating window, you have to know your CURRENT eating window, which means you have to have already established some sort of eating routine. Track eating times for a week or so to see what your average eating window is.
3. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
If you eat mindfully, you’ll begin to notice that your body has a rhythm, a space and time where it naturally wants to eat to support optimal energy utilization. Once you know what your average eating window is, you can shorten it in small increments until you reach your ideal. And like with every other new habit, this will require intentionality, prioritization, and planning.
4. STICK WITH IT – Do this for at least 30 – 60 days before deciding if you feel better and the results are worth it.
When breaking the fast, food quality matters
WHAT you eat when you break the fast (or anytime really), will be equally important to WHEN you eat. If you’re working with me, we will have already nailed this part down, but here are a few tips.
1. SKIP THE SUGAR
Starting your day with a bunch of refined sugar foods low in fiber can set you up for cravings and distorted hunger cues, possibly for several days. Sugar may give you a quick rush of energy when it hits your bloodstream, but soon after the insulin gets the glucose into your cells that energy spike is followed by an energy crash and hunger/cravings will come back with a vengeance.
2. INCLUDE ALL THE MACRONUTRIENTS
Instead of having only carbohydrates, include fat and protein. Fats (and the mouthfeel they provide) will help you feel happy and satisfied.
Adding extra protein at breakfast can often help increase the duration of your satiety. Food motivation and reward areas of the brain are less activated when we include protein so this can help reduce reward-driven eating behavior (7) For many clients, simply adding in more protein and more veggies eliminates most of their cravings.
Of course, we need carbohydrates too, but they should be fruits, veggies, and WHOLE grains (not cereal, pasta, bread, etc.) and they should be balanced with the other macros.
When you focus on clean protein and fiber from fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts and seeds you will help slow digestion, lengthen satiety, and have sustained energy without the spike and crash. No more roller coaster, and way less sugar cravings for the win!
3. WATCH THE ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS
This might rub a lot of people the wrong way but notice I didn’t say skip them. Believe me, I use stevia, honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, monk fruit, and more! And I don’t have a problem. But for SOME people, artificial sweeteners can perpetuate sugar cravings just like regular sugar, and studies show they can stoke appetite and increase the amount of food eaten at the next meal. (8) So just pay attention. Rate your cravings on a scale of 1-10 for a week with them and a week without and see if you notice a difference.