Meal Patterning and Frequency Part 2 – Book Excerpt

Last week, I excerpted part of the forthcoming women’s book (I swear, I’m getting there) about meal frequency and meal patterning and I want to go ahead and put up the second half of that chapter.  This is really about more than just meal frequency and I go off on a bit of a tangent about weekly dieting schedules as well.  So be it.


Intermittent Fasting (IF) Variations

At the most extreme of the above uneven distribution patterns is a relatively new approach called Intermittent Fasting or IF which basically refers to going longer without eating anything prior to breaking the fast. Once again, this doesn’t slow metabolism or cause starvation mode and one of the earliest studies that gave the day’s calories in a single meal actually showed a slight fat loss. There is a emerging evidence that this type of approach, or the use of occasionally longer fasting periods may have a number of health benefits as the light stress that this causes stimulates the body to improve various aspects of health (15).  IF actually spans a number of different interpretations and I’ll look at them below.

Related to the idea of IF’ing, which typically refers to a single day, there is a related idea called Alternate Day Fasting (ADF). This described a situation alternating an entire day of fasting (strictly speaking this is usually 25% of maintenance calories but it’s still called fasting) with the in-between days at maintenance or above. Generally folks end up eating about 10% more than normal but the overall effect is still a lowered weekly caloric intake.

As I mentioned in a previous chapter, the body doesn’t really respond that quickly to lowered calories and alternating in this fashion might represent a superior away to generate a large weekly deficit (for fat loss) while avoiding some of the hormonal problems. And it might very well help the normally cycling woman to avoid the problems inherent to extended periods of low energy availability on menstrual cycle and hormonal function; this has not yet been studied but I don’t see why it wouldn’t have that effect.


Meal Frequency and Meal Patterning Part 1 – Book Excerpt

As editing grinds on (I’m past the 2/3rds mark so be patient) on the woman’s book, and since I can’t think of anything to write this week, I’m going to run another excerpt.  Since it’s long I’ll run half of it today and half of it next week; that way I don’t have to write anything for two weeks.  This is the first half of the chapter on meal frequency and patterning.


Chapter 13: Meal Frequency and Meal Patterning

In the last chapter, I looked in a great deal of detail at concepts related to setting up what I consider an optimal diet. This included a look at general dieting concepts along with information about setting protein, fat, carbohydrate and sodium/potassium intake. I also looked at fluid intake and artificial sweeteners.

Having set up a diet, there are additional issues that need to be addressed such as meal frequency and overall meal patterning (on a given day) and calorie distribution (over the course of the week). I’ll look at each in some detail including some relatively “new” approaches that may be superior under some conditions. Finally I’ll end this chapter by looking at a question that most may have never considered.

Meal Frequency: Myths and Misconceptions

The first topic I want to discuss in this chapter is meal frequency, how many times someone eats in a day. This is yet another area where there is a number of myths and misconceptions and where many old ideas about what must be done for health or fat loss turn out to be generally incorrect. The general idea is that a high meal frequency (typically 6 times per day depending on where you look) has enormous metabolic and other benefits and that you must eat this frequently for optimal health and fat loss.


The 3500 Calorie Rule

While I have written previously about how many of people’s ideas about energy balance are incorrect, this may be a little bit tidier look at it.  More to the point, this is the version that I have written for the still being edited book on women’s physiology, training and fat loss.  It could honestly go in any one of my books (and will be seen again in at least one more project to be sure).   Basically, there’s a lot of nonsense floating around about this particular topic.  And that topic is one of the oldest “rules” of weight/fat loss in existence.


The 3500 Calorie Rule

I’m fairly certain that almost all readers of this book are familiar with the old rule that 3,500 calories equals one pound of bodyweight. Which leads to very simple mathematical approaches to weight loss via the energy balance equation. Presumably the simple act of decreasing food intake by 500 calories/day, or increasing energy expenditure by 500 calories/day, should result in exactly one pound of weight loss/week.

And whenever people do that, it never works out. Or almost never in any case. There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is a lack of adherence to the diet with a major portion of the less than predicted weight and fat loss being due to this (13). But even when that isn’t the case, when those seeking fat or weight loss strictly adhere to their diet, the predicted and real-world changes are different.

And for that reason many have incorrectly assumed that the energy balance equation is incorrect, or doesn’t hold for humans, or any other number of humorous misinterpretations. But the only real misinterpretation is what the original rule actually represented and why it often doesn’t hold as expected. Because, generally speaking the creation of a 3,500 calorie deficit or surplus does not result in the hoped for 1 pound per week weight loss or gain (14).


DEXA Versus Calipers for Body Fat Estimation

This is going to be another fairly short piece since I’m still entrenched in editing the book and can’t think of anything much more useful to write about at the moment.  In it, I want to look at some issues/comments/etc. that have come up regarding body fat percentages (BF%) and estimates.

There is a common occurrence online (my support forum has an entire thread) for people to ask for visual estimates on BF%.  No, it’s not a perfect method but folks who have done this for a while can give at least a ballpark estimate.  You can also find some neato graphics people have put together for men and women online.

Now, for a lot of years, methods such as calipers, bioelectrical impedance (BIA, crap IMO), underwater weighing, etc. were used to estimate BF% and I wrote a long series about body composition, numbers, problems, recommendations, etc.  James Krieger also did a really good series on the topic.

Now first realize that all body fat estimates are only estimates, which are only estimates.  The only truly accurate method to get body fat percentage is to dissect someone and measure it out and you can’t do that very often (it’s also messy).  All BF% estimates have some built-in assumptions and some amount of error so it’s always just an estimate.

But here’s where the recent problem has come in.

DEXA versus Calipers, etc.

One of the more recent approaches to measuring body composition is DEXA (Dual-Energy X-ray Absorbitometry) which does a full-body scan and can measure things like bone density (critical for women) and other tissues.  And it gives what is proposed to be a more accurate estimate of BF% than older methods.  It can even do something where it gives you one value for upper body and one for lower body. I suppose folks could use this to look at regional changes in BF% but I think whole body BF% is more valuable.