Small Multiple Fuelings vs. Gorging and Fasting
The core of the Habits of Health system is built on the science of multiple fuelings. By breaking your total caloric intake into smaller meals, you can boost your metabolism and balance your glucose and insulin levels. Metabolism is connected to weight loss, and your glucose and insulin levels are connected to inflammation, the reduction of which is critical for preventing disease.
In recent years, a number of new approaches to dieting have advocated fasting or minimalized the value of multiple fuelings. The argument tends to boil down some variation of this: fasting is good for you, and it doesn’t matter how or when you take in your calories, as long as you get them.
The lifestyle that results from this approach is one where meals can come after long periods of intense hunger. In this setting, gorging becomes the norm, and the likelihood of overeating goes up. The risk of consuming unnecessary calories aside, this approach to nutrition could have other consequences as well, like increased belly fat and prediabetes.
A recent study published in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry compared the health of mice that gradually consumed their calories throughout the day against mice that gorged their calories all at once. The gorging group gained belly fat and developed prediabetes (the study was not long enough to follow the mice all the way into type 2 diabetes). While this study was small and with mice, the results are consistent with the science of multiple fuelings that we cover in Dr. A’s Habits of Health.
Study author Martha Belury said that “you definitely don’t want to skip meals to save calories because it sets your body up for larger fluctuations in insulin and glucose and could be setting you up for more fat gain instead of fat loss.” She also notes that this research supports the idea of eating small meals through the day to promote weight-loss.
In a typical Western diet of highly processed, high-glycemic foods—soft drinks, candy bars, bagels—blood sugar (or blood glucose) rises dramatically, which in turn makes insulin levels rise. What happens next is interesting. This elevated insulin level actually causes blood sugar to plummet, creating a rapid rise and fall pattern where insulin and glucose spike and then plummet, spike and then plummet, and so on.
As your glucose levels fall below normal, your brain sets off a series of messages that cause cravings, and soon you’re scrambling for something sweet and full of calories, thus continuing the cycle of high and low glucose levels. This pattern reinforces eating patterns that lead to poor health and obesity while also taking you out of an efficient fat-burning state. In short, you become a fat storage machine, which is what the researchers at Ohio University noted in mice in the study cited earlier.
When you eat a series of smaller meals throughout the day, you level-out your glucose and insulin levels, eliminating the dramatic spikes that trigger overeating and a number of other unhealthy consequences while reaping the benefits of putting your body in a naturally fat-burning state.
This has been a core Habit of Health in our program for some time, but in my mind it’s critical to continue returning to the newest science. I’m on the lookout for new developments that could make health more accessible, but I also want to make sure that you have a resource that helps you sift through science and make sense of it all.
Health doesn’t have to be complicated, and don’t forget to plan out your multiple fuelings!