Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Frequent Small Meals Better Than Three Calorie-Restricted Meals For Weight Loss

Out of the mouths of babes come some of the most profound questions you'll ever hear uttered.

And this Binghamton, New York-based Press & Sun-Bulletin story features one such question from a sixth grader on the subject of dieting that I thought was very much on topic with what I discuss here at my blog.

Here was that student's question:

"Why do people get fat by not eating too much but by eating junk all day?"

The newspaper called upon a Ph.D. candidate scheduled to graduate in 2008 named Lina Begdache, who is currently attending Binghamton University studying Biological Sciences and is considered enough of an expert on the subject of the question that the student asked that they requested she provide assistance with an educated answer.

How did the soon-to-be Dr. Begdache do with this perceptive question? Well, let's see.

The crux of the student's question was a bit difficult to understand, so Begdache rephrased it to ask:

"Why do people get fatter by not eating much rather than by eating more?"

Now THAT is an excellent question because it goes to the very heart of basic metabolic science and is an important concept to understand when you are livin' la vida low-carb. To paraphrase the question even further, I would ask, "Why do people who eat MORE food and calories more often lose weight while some people who eat LESS food and calories in meals all at one time gain weight?" This is the $100 million dollar question, isn't it?

Looking at each of the three macronutrients in our diets, Begdache said it is "the metabolic rate" which determines the amount of energy that is used for energy and whether or not that food you eat gets stored into fat.

"The way we consume our diet dictates the fate of the nutrients. The sugar in the food (known as carbohydrates) is a major constituent of blood and fuels muscles with glycogen, a storage form of carbohydrates that provide fast energy. Excess sugar is converted into fat and stored in the adipose tissue (the fat cells)."

Indeed, overconsuming carbohydrates and providing too much energy that the body cannot possibly burn away will result in stored fat and weight gain. That is why limiting carbohydrate intake is so important to controlling your weight. The body produces enough carbs on its own in a process called gluconeogenesis that it is really unnecessary to stuff your mouth full of extra carbs unless you are working out 10 hours a day! Do you know anyone doing THAT?! Didn't think so.

On the subject of protein, Begdache reminded the student that these are the "building blocks of body tissues, including muscles" and that protein must be consumed in the foods we eat to keep our bodies in tip-top condition.

"People who work out regularly require higher amount of protein in their diet to help with muscle building. Like sugars, excessive intake of protein ends up as fat in the adipose tissue."

Now that's something I did not know. Eating too much protein can end up as fat? While I certainly eat more protein (because of its effect on satiety) than I do carbohydrates such as sugar, I don't think it has led me to getting fatter. Do any of my "expert" low-carb people want to explain this phenomena of storing fat in the body from extra protein consumed in the diet? I'm sure my readers would love to know the answer. So would I! :)

Looking at fat, Begdache accurately notes that it plays a "prominent" role in energy storage and can be the key factor in determining weight gain or weight loss depending on the amount and frequency of consumption.

"Many small portions of a balanced diet would be primarily used for the above-mentioned physiological processes. Few large portions of the same diet would do the same except that the excessive unused calories will end up in your fat cells. In essence, it is wise to spread out the caloric intake throughout the day to keep the body using the nutrients rather than storing them as fat."

This is EXACTLY what I do with my food intake as part of my low-carb lifestyle. I basically eat SOMETHING every 2-3 hours regardless so that my metabolism is always functioning. If I break out of this routine, then I leave myself susceptible to getting ravenously hungry and allowing temptation to creep in where it doesn't belong. But I NEVER allow that to happen with my eating schedule (8:00am (breakfast), 10:30am, 1:00pm (lunch), 3:00pm (after my workout), 5:30pm (supper), 7:30pm).

Interestingly, Begdache made some outstanding observations regarding people who are on the so-called calorie-restriction diet where they decrease their caloric intake to obscenely low amounts that will supposedly help them live longer. Riiiiiiiight!

Check out what Begdache says this is doing to the body:

"When people go on a calorie-restricted diet, the body feels that the nutrients are scarce and it assumes a 'starvation' response. It shifts its efficient state of energy production to a super-efficient energy-conservation state. Although people might experience weight loss in the first couple of days, it is no more than water lost from broken-down glycogen. After few days, the dieter, out of shape and energy, resumes eating (and mostly overeats), with the body's energy-conservation ability at its maximum. The dieter ends up regaining the lost pounds plus some more because of the reduced metabolic rate. If the extra pounds are not lost within days, the body shifts to a new set point - the higher body weight - and the metabolic rate is adjusted accordingly. This is the basis of the yo-yo dieting and this explains why people who diet often end up in the long run gaining weight rather than losing it."

Holy mackeral, give that Ph.D. student a Nobel Prize for such a brilliant, slam-dunk analysis of why low-fat, low-calorie diets fail so many of the people who try them! She is dead-on regarding what they do to the body when you cut back on calories and why that way of eating is very dangerous.

Plus, when people get frustrated and try themselves crazy with hunger by these diets, they not only gain back the nominal weight they may have lost while cutting back on their calories, but they also have a net GAIN in their weight because their metabolism gets shot to you know where. Yikes! Now there's a good reason to avoid calorie restriction!

WOO HOO! I think Begdache is WELL on her way to completely understanding nutritional science and could become an invaluable asset in the metabolic science debate in support of livin' la vida low-carb for many years to come with fact-based comments like this one! Low-carbers should stand up and cheer this future superstar in the field of low-carb science.

Here was her conclusion to the student's question:

"People who do not eat enough to maintain an optimal metabolic rate will end up gaining weight and efficiently keeping it, more so than those who consume more calories that are widely spread throughout the day."

THANK YOU to the future Dr. Lina Begdash for getting it right on this one. This is a concept I share with people all the time about how I am able to keep my 180-pound weight loss maintained as part of my low-carb program.

If you are not already eating often throughout the day, then give it a try to see what happens to your feelings of hunger as well as with your weight loss. Don't be surprised to find that you'll NEVER be hungry and your weight loss enters a new dimension with this methodical and effective way of eating.

Send a congratulatory note of gratitude to Lina Begdash by e-mailing her at It is people in the scientific community like this that give me hope that someday soon the principles that Dr. Atkins talked about for decades will finally become mainstream enough in our culture to make a powerful and lasting impact on health for many years to come. Let Begdash know you support her as she embarks on her career as a medical researcher after she finishes school.

4-6-06 UPDATE: Leave it to low-carb blogging research wonder Regina Wilshire to explain how protein can be stored as fat.

"Any macronutrient in excess can be stored as fat....dietary protein can be converted to glucose - how when you're on low-carb you get some glucose for your brain on an as-needed basis....but eat too much, more than you need for amino acids, gluconeogenesis and energy - yup, it'll convert to glucose and then travel that path to fat storage just like carbs! Hope this answers the question!"

THANKS, Regina! It makes sense and stands to reason that consuming too much of ANYTHING will indeed lead to weight gain. Thank you for adding your expertise to the discussion.


Blogger Paul said...

Wow! What a wake up call. Jimmy I am sorry I got sidetracked I thought I could lose weight cutting calories and carbs. I even started my own blog about it. I now know what I am doing is wrong. I got part of it right by eating every few hours. By restricting calories I found I was gravitating toward low calorie foods in order to eat more. This in turn caused higher carb intake which made me feel lousy. I am going back to Atkins and follow the book. I learned buy the book before you start the diet not the other way around. even though I lost weight I feel a stall. I am consuming too many carbs in low calorie form. Your blog is a Godsend to us that get sidetracked. I truly thought calorie restriction made us healthy but this article opened a door for me. If calorie restriction was healthy anorexics would be. Youre The Man!

12/06/2007 3:13 AM  

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