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The Blog of Photographer Steven Gray

wedding photography :: portrait photography :: travel photography :: pensacola, fl

Intermittent fasting and the myth of "three squares a day."

Scenario #1 Standard American Life

I wake up in the morning and start my day with a bowl of cereal, toast and a glass of juice.

At noon, I eat a sandwich with chips and a Snickers bar for dessert.

At 3pm, I'm hungry and focusing on work is difficult, so I eat another Snickers and wash it down with a cup of coffee.

For dinner at 6pm, I eat a "real meal" of meat, vegetables and a dinner roll.  A piece of leftover cake follows for dessert.

I go to sleep and repeat the sequence the next day.

Scenario #2

Primal Blueprint

I wake up in the morning and start my day with some eggs and salsa or a leftover piece of meat from the night before.

At noon, I have a salad with grilled chicken strips, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  I eat a few squares of dark chocolate for dessert.

At 3pm, I'm feeling a bit peckish, so I toss back a handful of nuts.

For dinner at 6pm, I eat meat, vegetables and some fruit as a garnish or a dessert.

I go to sleep and repeat the sequence the next day.

Scenario #3

Primal Blueprint + Intermittent Fasting

I wake up in the morning.  I ate a big meal the night before, so I drink a cup of coffee and decide to wait until I'm hungry to eat again.

At noon, I'm hungry for lunch, so I go out to my favorite restaurant for a bunless hamburger with plenty of onions and mushrooms on top, served with a side salad or some mixed vegetables.  A few squares of dark chocolate round out the meal to satisfaction.

At 3pm, the fats and proteins in the burger are satisfying enough so that I am not hungry and can work through the day without loss of focus.

At 6pm, I'm hungry but not ravenous.  Dinner is another arrangement of meat and vegetables, light portions.

I go to sleep and repeat the sequence the next day, with variation in schedule and meals skipped based on hunger.

Which of these makes the most sense?  The latter two are obviously the more healthy choices of food, as well as in which order the meals are consumed, i.e., starting the day with protein and fat instead of simple carbs...but what's all that nonsense about skipping meals?

Question for your Sunday: Why do we eat three meals a day?  Do we eat because we're truly hungry, or because a government-recommended diet high in simple carbohydrates has conditioned us to want three meals a day?

America has an epidemic.  It isn't obesity or diabetes or heart disease; those are symptoms.

The epidemic is herd mentality.  Blind acceptance of a status quo.

A USDA stamp on a box does not make a food nutritious or ideal as an energy source.  It simply means that it has the required amount of certain ingredients or "fortifications" to make it passable to be sold to consumers.  60 Minutes aired a piece several months ago that showed how companies actually engineer processed foods to have the same qualities as addictive or controlled substances.  Pre-made food bought in colorful boxes is created specifically to manipulate you into feeling hungry sooner, desire that taste again, and buy more.  Think about that.

Healthy foods, that is to say, whole foods, meat and produce, raised or grown without additives, are where true nutrition is to be found.  They provide necessary fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals for human life.  And most importantly to the human experience, they provide satiety.

When your food is satisfying and provides your body with what it needs to replenish cells and nourish your muscles and organs, there is no reason to eat, unless you are hungry.  The problem is, food is so easy to procure in our culture that we often forget what hunger actually feels like, resulting in snacking and overeating.  One reason for this is the Western attachment to the idea of three meals a day, and the oft-repeated mantra that breakfast is somehow the most important meal of the day.

However, if your meals are complete and provides actual nutrition, you might not really be hungry first thing in the morning.  If so, don't eat!  Alternatively, if you are hungry in the morning and eat breakfast, and the satisfaction from breakfast stays all the way until the lunch hour, do you really need to eat lunch?

This applies to any meal, or more than one meal.  Modern life often requires a lot of time spent being sedentary, either working behind a desk or, in my case, spending time sitting in a college lecture/regurgitate-lecture-on-paper environment.  The assumption that we need to constantly replenish the very minor caloric expenditure of sitting is just silly.

In a hunter-gatherer society, or at the very least, a society that is not dependent on grain agriculture (something that wasn't necessary until humans started congregating in cities and found it necessary to sustain large populations with cheap, bulk crops), food isn't always readily available.  That is why primitive cultures who still hunt and gather instead of rely on farming for their food sources tend to be incredibly healthy until "heroes from the West" descend to "civilize" them.

If you're not hungry at one of the culturally prescribed 8am/12pm/6pm meal times, do yourself a favor and just wait.  The idea that "one size fits all," that something terrible will happen if you skip a meal, is just silly.  What you put into your body is an individual experience, and should be a conscious choice.  If you're not hungry, no one has the right to make you eat.

Every now and again, I like to go twenty-four hours without consuming food.  I'll drink some black coffee (no sugar) or tea, but I give my body time to reset.  It accelerates fat-burning, it sharpens my mind through consequent ghrelin production and restores insulin sensitivity.  And when I am between meals, I try not to snack; my liver needs a break now and again.  This comes in handy on long flights, where the unapologetically disgusting food served on airplanes actually does more to discourage one from eating.

But, perhaps most importantly, it makes me appreciate food.  You have to eat properly before you can skip meals properly.  When you eat real foods like meat, fowl, fish, vegetables, fruits and nuts, your palate becomes much more sensitive; the act of enjoying a meal when nobly hungry takes on special significance.

When you choose to set your own schedule, you are no longer one of the herd.  Your relationship with food changes.  Instead of mindlessly shoving back lab-engineered, factory-assembled crap every few hours, the food experience becomes just that: an experience.

I am fasting as I write this.  I indulged in a large meal of Indian food yesterday, liberal helpings of chicken and vegetables topped off by an indulgence in the heavenly Indian dessert gajar halwa.  I haven't been hungry since, so I haven't eaten.  It's been almost twenty-four hours now, and I feel fantastic.  I am awake and alert; the words are flowing freely as I write.

Respect yourself.  Respect your food.  Eat when hungry or not at all.

Further reading:

  • Mark Sisson's "Why Fast?" Series [Mark's Daily Apple]
  1. Weight Loss
  2. Cancer
  3. Longevity
  4. Brain Function
  5. Exercise
  6. Methods