Your Ultimate Travel Food Guide

Are you going on a road trip this summer?

Camping with your family?

Or maybe you travel a lot for work and have difficulty figuring out what to eat beyond a baked potato and salad?

With the help of the Meal Mentor member community, we’ve compiled a list of pre-packaged food items that will help you stay on track on your next vacation or work trip.

Click here to download Meal Mentor’s ULTIMATE Travel Food list.

Speaking of the MM community, there are dozens of threads dedicated to travel food and what to pack for your next camping trip in our private forums.

And don’t forget to follow Meal Mentor on Instagram! We’ll also be sharing tips and travel hacks throughout the summer!

https://dmi4pvc5gbhhd.cloudfront.net/2016/06/meal-mentor-instagram-banh-mi-pasta.jpg

And what about dining out? See my picks for the healthiest choices at fast food chains here.

P.S. If you’re a member, you also have our exclusive Travel Guide featuring tips for staying on track, what to order at restaurants, recipes, and more! (Download it from your dashboard when logged in.)

Enjoyed this post? Get our blog posts sent to your email

Have We Evolved/Adapted to Obesity (+ the Effects of Alcohol and Exercise on Weight-Loss)

(This post is also a podcast episode! Listen here.)

For the Season 1 finale I’ll be answering the big question that’s been looming all season:

Are we obese by design? That is, have we evolved or adapted to obesity?

But before we get into that question, I want to talk about alcohol.

HOW alcohol affects weight-loss has been a highly requested topic all season and I didn’t want to leave you hanging…

Alcohol

Here’s the deal with alcohol.

When alcohol is consumed, it’s the first fuel to burn.

That means anything else you eat WITH alcohol is probably going to be stored as fat, even if it normally wouldn’t be. (The fresh strawberries on the counter may end up in the pantry as jam, for example, right next to all your cans of chickpeas.)

To be clear: Alcohol does not turn into fat. Instead, by drinking alcohol, everything else you’re eating does.

You don’t have a “beer belly” you have a pizza-and-chicken wings belly (or whatever “food” you were eating before or with your booze).

And here’s the double whammy (you knew one was coming) consuming alcohol also effectively puts a lock on the pantry door, keeping you from being able to clean it out... even if you aren’t eating while drinking.

Booze basically presses the pause button on your metabolism because as long as there’s alcohol, you’re literally unable to burn the stores of fat in your belly, butt, or anywhere you can pinch.

Then too, alcohol reduces self-control and your inhibitions by temporarily impairing the prefrontal cortex. (That’s the basecamp that keeps you from acting on every impulse.)

AND a lot of the mixers are simple sugar-loaded, so they send your blood sugar on a rollercoaster ride that leaves you just dizzy enough that you bootycall your ex-boyfriends, and by ex-boyfriends I mean potato chips, and french fries, and mas margaritas – all the things you broke up with, but now start thinking, “I miss you! We’re soul mates! Let’s get married in VEGAS!

OK, maybe I went a little too far there with my analogy… but you get the point.

Alcohol isn’t just calorically bad news, either. It’s metabolic bad news too and it’s also going to set you up for some serious self-sabotage.

Actually, let’s back up and talk about the calorie part. Alcohol is its own calorie bomb at 7 calories per gram, just below pure fat (a.k.a. oil) which has 9 calories per gram – so yes, booze is a lot like drinking oil. And also like oil, alcohol is totally devoid of nutrition (“empty calories”) and not satiating at all. Carbohydrates and protein, by comparison, are 4 calories per gram, so less than half... Booze is a lot like taking seconds without the seconds.

AND if a hangover isn’t enough of a punishment, most people have surges in cravings, particularly for fatty and greasy foods the day after drinking, because the body needs to repair all the damage you caused and it knows fat is the most calorically-dense, and like you, it wants the quick fix…

PLUS if you’re dehydrated, which, of course you are, since alcohol is a diuretic, you’re even more likely to feel twinges of hunger, or what you think is a hunger pain but is probably your body saying WE NEED FLUIDS.

BUT I get it. Booze is fun and a huge part of our social lives.

So how can one have a cocktail and still lose weight?

First, you’ll need to budget for it calorically, which doesn’t mean skipping meals to save calories, but rather limit all other splurges that day and probably that week too. What I mean by that is, if you’re going to participate in the champagne toast at a wedding, pass on the cake. Or pass on the pizza and chicken wings and eat a salad with your beer. Hey, I never said you could have your cake and drink your beer too!

More importantly: Drink simply. The least amount of ingredients, the better. Have whiskey or bourbon on the rocks. Mix flavored vodkas with water or seltzer or mix hard liquor with a zero-calorie beverage. Rum and Diet Coke, gin and diet Ginger ale, vodka and Sprite Zero...

This next part is anecdotal. There haven’t been a lot of studies comparing the different kinds of alcohol (the studies we do have tend to compare total consumption with no deference given to exact drink) so I can’t science this too much (yet) BUT over the years, both with my personal weight-loss journey as well as helping hundreds of others through meal mentor and the meal plans, it seems that wine and beer are the most inhibitive when it comes to weight-loss. That is, if you drink wine or beer you’ll gain or lose less than someone who has a shot of tequila.

I’m not sure if it’s because beer is basically liquid bread and wine is basically spiked juice, or because people tend to eat when they drink beer or wine, or because people tend to drink more volume of beer and wine, or drink beer or wine longer (meaning for more hours), but it’s something I’ve definitely witnessed first-hand even if I can’t work out the science part yet.

What about the studies that say alcohol consumption is healthy? Quoting Dr. McDougall here, “We love to hear good news about our bad habits.”

If you maintain even somewhat of a healthy diet, as I presume you are – it takes a healthy-minded person to listen to a research podcast focusing on health and nutrition – then drinking isn’t going to make you healthier, but if you’re the average American on the SAD diet, then maybe.

Bottom line: I think we can all agree alcohol isn’t a bowl of fruit and kale. And that alcohol is high in calories and likely to make you overeat more calories or at least prevent you from burning calories, which is doing you no favors in the battle against the bulge because the one and only beautifully simple thing about weight-loss is what? That’s right, you have to have a caloric deficit and not drinking definitely makes that easier.

Now for the big kahuna of the episode…

Are we obese by design? Have we evolved or adapted to obesity?

Here’s what we know from this season:

We are adapted to eating cooked foods.

All animals (including fish and insects) grow best on cooked foods, but unlike all other animals, we humans are actually adapted to cooked foods, meaning we can't eat or thrive optimally on an all raw wild diet.

This is proven by looking at our anatomy and evolutionary history. For example, humans have small mouths, small teeth, weak jaws, and tiny lips, all of which are adapted to finely mashing softer, cooked foods NOT chewing tough, raw material.

We also have small stomachs and a short intestinal tract which limits our effectiveness at digesting raw materials, but all the small things enable us to process cooked foods with exceptional proficiency. From an evolutionary standpoint, this was like winning the Powerball, especially when food was so scarce.

Without cooking, we would have to eat approximately twice our weight in raw materials every day (like apes do) meaning our entire job would be to eat while simultaneously looking for more food all day long.

Anyone who has ever been in debt can attest it's difficult, if not impossible, to advance when you're living paycheck to paycheck, which is what we would essentially be doing.

But by cooking our food? We increase energy gains with much added effort. That's like getting a big fat raise and Christmas bonus. (The Energy Theory of Cooking is the basis of Richard Wrangham's book, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made us Human, which I highly recommend it for a deeper exploration.)

There is a massive downside to our exceptional proficiency at digesting cooked food in this modern world though.

The more tender, soft, or finely divided a food is, the more easily and completely it is digested, which brings us back to the Oreo vs. orange example – that you're probably not going to digest or store every calorie or nutrient of bioavailability in an orange, but you can bet your bottom dollar that you’re probably going to digest and absorb every calorie in an Oreo.

Then too, the softer a food is, the easier it is to digest, and the easier it is to digest, the less metabolic effort is required, and less metabolic effort means you're saving energy.

In other words, highly processed foods make you more efficient at digesting and storing. You become more like a Prius and less like a Hummer, and if you're burning less gas... well you know what that means. More storage, no caloric deficit = fat fat fat.

So modern foods definitely tilt the scale towards being obese by design.

For example, most processed foods have been stripped of any fiber so they literally “melt in your mouth” and their ingredients have been blended, pounded, pulverized, or otherwise altered to send you straight to the “bliss point.”

For example, scientists at big manufacturers have fiddled with the distribution of fat globules to affect their absorption rate (or “mouth feel” as it's known in the industry). The physical shape of salt has also been manipulated so it hits the tastes harder and faster, improving the “flavor burst.”

This makes processed foods more alluring, pleasuring, and irresistible (so you eat more of them), but it also makes them much easier to digest, reducing you metabolic efforts.

Unfortunately, super absorption isn’t the only consequence to modern foods. These foods also are nutritionally inadequate, not satiating, and consuming them can also affect how you experience the catabolic phase of digestion, which can lead you to still more eating, which is an even bigger problem...

But before I can get into all that, let me clarify one point quickly: Humans are adapted to cooked foods. A strict raw food diet cannot guarantee adequate energy supply. While processing and cooking gives calories, there’s a wide spectrum there. Dieters please don’t start fearing chopped tomatoes, chunky stews, hummus, or applesauce. Their calories are not the same as the super absorbent calories in pretzels, Twinkies, and Big Macs.

Eating too frequently also makes us fat. (OR at least, it isn’t doing us any favors.)

Humans are evolved to eating only a few hours per day.

For example, Dr. Panda’s work (from episode 6) tells us that our use of artificial light at night leads to an artificial extension of our feeding times which interferes with our circadian rhythms. That in turn reduces our fasting time between meals, which throws off our digestive system plus the hormones and enzymes that manage it, so then you don’t process and use the consumed energy as efficiently, which means more storage, which contributes to obesity.

(If you are looking for another reason to batch cook the meal plans, this is a good one. The sooner you can eat, the sooner you can start your fast and/or live more in-tune with your circadian rhythm.)

And speaking of fasting, Dr. Panda’s theory lines up with intermittent fasting (the science of cellular metabolism) from episodes 5 and 6 and Fuhrman’s anabolic and catabolic hunger from episode 9 perfectly. I’ve talked intermittent fasting to death this season, but the basis is that by eating all day, your mitochondria (the engines in all my Prius vs Hummer metaphors) never get a break from processing calories and that’s problematic because like all engines, mitochondria work better when they’re properly maintained.

The other problem has to do with overfilling. Your body stockpiles calories in two ways: in glycogen (quick-burning fuel) which is in your muscles and liver, and as body fat, the slow-saved-for-a-rainy-day fuel.

Using your groceries as an example: Your glycogen is a bowl of fresh strawberries – instant food, while your fat is a can of dusty chickpeas in the back of your pantry. By fasting and not eating so much all the time, your body gets to the chickpeas sooner.

Let me explain: When you wake up, your body starts looking for energy to burn to power up your arms and legs, so it goes straight to all the quick-energy ready and waiting in your glycogen. But then you eat breakfast – oatmeal, a bagel, smoothie, whatever. And now your body has a NEW source of glycogen to burn – breakfast!

Your body is thinking, “Why would I eat this dusty can of old chickpeas if there’s fresh fruit available now? That fruit’s going to go bad sooner too so let’s eat the strawberries and stick these chickpeas back in the pantry. What’s another few days or months? It can wait.

By eating, you basically ran out to the store to buy new groceries, rather than suck it up and eat what was in your cupboard. And if you don’t completely zero out your pantry before you go shopping, or take care to only buy EXACTLY what you need down to the last tablespoon of tomato paste, that’s exactly how you end up with an overflowing pantry, or excess body fat.

Your pantry and belly are the same here: it’s all food you took in and didn’t use yet.

To lose weight you have to stop the overbuying and duplicate purchasing.

Day after day you do this with eating all the time.

And a big reason why we do this is because we’re all addicted to the anabolic phase (probably thanks to that horrible “eat 6 small meals to lose weight” advice we were given. For the record, that is really, really bad advice).

What do I mean we’re all addicted to the anabolic phase?

We like to feel full and satiated.

Most of us all-out fear hunger (which is another issue for another episode) and we loathe the withdrawal symptoms that happen a few hours after we’ve eaten when we enter the catabolic stage.

So we eat again because eating provides relief from those symptoms (and indulging the addiction is pleasurable). But this also makes becoming overweight inevitable because we have to keep eating, or we have eat heavy meals that require long periods of digestion, in order to keep the pleasureful digestive stage going. But this delays the catabolic phase where we can actually use up the very foods we’ve taken in, so we effectively stockpile (store fat) instead.

Choosing poor quality foods also makes you want to eat MORE poor quality foods AND eat more food overall because of the “toxic hunger” – those unpleasant feelings during the catabolic phase that we interpret as hunger, when it’s not actual biological hunger but a hunger for relief from detoxification symptoms of a poor diet.

Wrangham said something about eating too frequently and hunger too, and how going without food was a normal part of the human condition. He wrote, “Until the development of agriculture, it was the human fate to suffer regular periods of hunger. Typically it seems for several weeks.”

Bottom line: the one and only beautifully simple part to weight-loss is that you must have a caloric deficit – and being overfed, in any way shape or form, is not doing you a favor.

FYI, it’s not all our fault we are obese and overeat.

Wansink’s research on environmental stimulus from episode 8 sparked my question, “Are we obese by design?”

His research tells us that we are not all gluttons and food addicts on an eating frenzy spree 24/7. Food is addictive, true, but our very environments have a million triggers, nudges, and scripts that influence us to eat eat EAT and overeat. (Plus all the misinformation floating around doesn't help.)

Brian says, and I completely agree, that we can’t rely solely on willpower. Instead, we have to change our environments, our thoughts, and modify our behavior (which, surprise! Is the focus of SEASON 2!!!!)

This is why it's critical you have a meal plan in place, follow it, and pre-portion to lose weight.

You just can't rely on intuition or guesses and estimations or willpower. And you definately, definitely can’t rely on labels or fitness apps because they’re off by 20% or more (more on that soon).

What you need to know: the food you choose to eat matters most.

Not only that a calorie is not 'a calorie' – you’ll remember from episode 2 that not all calories are nutritionally equivalent (i.e. carrots vs. carrot cake), that not all calories satiate the same way (i.e. potatoes vs. potato chips), and that some calories are more easily absorbed or stored than others and/or affect how you might absorb and store future calories.

For example, predigested foods (like smoothies or hummus) or highly processed foods (like Oreos and Doritos) are absorbed much more easily than whole foods.

Likewise, sometimes the metabolic cost is too high to store the excess calories you took in. It all depends on the source of that calorie. For example, dietary fat is very easily stored as fat, but calories from carbohydrates are not so easily stored (a process known as facultative dietary thermogenesis) because humans are very inefficient at de novo lipogenesis (the process of turning sugars into fats).

Remember too that there’s also no such thing as “slow metabolism” or “starvation mode” and that you can’t break or screw-up your metabolism, but that extreme, unhealthy, and herculean efforts to lose weight may have temporary or permanent physiological and psychological consequences.

I talked a lot about this in episode 7 when I discussed the Biggest Loser article.

One point I’ve been trying to make all season is this: we can’t cheat or out math nature and anytime we try to, we pay a consequence.

I think the Biggest Loser episode really exemplifies this. It’s also a testament that when you do anything radical, or just anything in the body period, too many variables come into play to predict or pinpoint causes or effects with specificity.

And since I brought up the Biggest Loser article and herculean exercise, let me touch on that topic quickly since exercise is another topic that comes up all the time with our members.

Why exercise won’t help you lose weight

A lot of people assume I’m anti-exercise because I discourage it during weight-loss. For the record, I’m not against physical movement in and of itself. I simply recognize that it’s a lot easier to control caloric input for weight-loss than it is to create deficiency with caloric output via exercise.

Brian Wansink and David Zinczenko from this season are both in agreement with me.

David noted, “It would would take a 155-pound man 15 minutes of jogging to burn off a Twinkie. Which is a lot of time to burn off something you ate in less than a minute.”

And Brian’s pudding study was what shifted my mindset OFF exercise for weight-loss altogether.

In the pudding study, Brian + team broke conference attendees into three groups. The “control” group left the lecture and went straight to lunch. The rest were divided into 2 groups, one being told they were being taken on a scenic walk before lunch and the other group was being taken on an exercise walk. It was the same walk, same loop, same pace. The only difference was the exercise group walked with a trainer who told them how far they went, while the other group was told about plants or birds they saw.

Guess what happened:

The exercise group took less salad and more chocolate pudding – 35% MORE chocolate pudding.

Brian tried this with another group a few days later. Instead of pudding at lunch, they brought M&M’s out a few hours later during an afternoon break. The exercise group took more than twice as many M&Ms.

Brian says, “when we believe we have sacrificed, we compensate by rewarding ourselves later.” (This really makes me wonder about the psychological effect on the Biggest Loser contestants…)

Anyway, here’s one other point Brian made from his studies: A new gym membership comes with three added pounds of fat. Join a gym, gain weight (sorry, it’s not muscle).

Fitness apps like MFP and cardio machines screw you over too because they’re so hideously inaccurate and overgenerous. There was a rash of articles earlier this year attesting to this and that you can’t lose weight from exercise. See the shownotes for links.

Here’s also a testament from a meal plan user:

https://dmi4pvc5gbhhd.cloudfront.net/2016/05/carmen-exercise.jpg

Carmen’s referencing another point I make often to members but haven’t had a chance to talk about on the podcast yet: Exercise creates too many variables and if you’re exercising all the time your body is getting mixed messages about what you want it to do. Do you want it to burn off fat or get busy doing tons of repair work. Stop making the chore list so long and confusing!

But ultimately, I think the main point about exercising and the unconscious eating, is that there is a suffering component there. We reward ourselves when we feel we have suffered. So people who are forcing themselves to go to the gym or play a workout DVD, and are doing all these things "to lose weight" or "get fit" are suffering and they’ll reward themselves consciously or unconsciously, or both.

For example, if I drag Carly on a 6-mile walk with me (Carly is allergic to exercise – she gets no joy out of it) even if she ends up enjoying the time we spend together, or the scenery, or even feels "I'm glad I did that" afterward, because hiking is not something she normally does on her own, because it was something I made her do, she will reward herself consciously or unconsciously or both because she suffered... HOWEVER, if Carly & I went shopping all day at the mall on Saturday, trying on clothes and stuff, we would probably also walk 6 miles, but that suffering mental component is not there, so Carly is at no risk for rewarding herself consciously or unconsciously or both.

I see this “compensation” all the time with my husband too. He LOVES baseball. Loves everything about it, even playing it. He will play baseball hard for several hours and eat a little granola bar in the middle of the game. But if I take him hiking with me, which I know he does not enjoy, but he comes because he knows I love it and want him to, he always ALWAYS eats a ton more food that day. Realistically, the hike did not burn more calories than an afternoon of baseball, but it's that mental suffering component.

The biggest problem is how dishonest people are. They say they like working out but they don't really. They might like the results it gets them, they might like the status they get from saying they workout on Facebook, but most people don't actually like to exercise, and don't think they can admit that either.

If someone genuinely likes exercising, then they won't sabotage themselves. How do you know you genuinely like exercise? You’ll pay $15 to do it every time. (Test this by donating $15 to charity every time you exercise). You’d gladly pay $15 to see a movie or buy a new top (two things you enjoy) and you’d pay that for a manicure and probably a nice lunch or two drinks with friends. These are all things you enjoy, but aren’t necessities, and you easily pay $15 or more to do them. So if you “like” exercise, you’ll pay $15 to do it.

To summarize, I’m only “anti-exercise” as a weight-loss strategy. For four reasons:

1. You can’t out-exercise your mouth.

2. Most of us have no time and no interest. (Let’s be real.)

If you still need convincing think of it this way: It’s a far better investment the time you would spend going to the gym on shopping and batch cooking your meal or even just doing some household chores, most of which burn a lot of calories but do not have that same mental trick.

3. Exercising tends to be more self-sabotaging than self-supporting.

4. When I was a personal trainer, clients used to get upset that they weren’t improving and wanted to blame me. I’d get real with them and say, “Look I’m only with you 2 hours per week, you’re with you, 166 hours per week.”

Final thoughts: Here’s a quote I came across recently that I really liked:

“If your efforts can be summarized as cyclical, episodic, concentrated bouts of suffering, during which your aim isn’t the healthiest life that you can enjoy but rather you can tolerate, well, go figure you’re not likely to stick to it.”

This echoes what I say over and over with Meal Mentor and the Slim Team Training Program. Nothing you do with your diet and lifestyle is temporarily, unless you only want your results to be temporary. Marathoners don’t get to cross a finish line and stay there forever. They have to keep training. You have to take it one maintainable step at a time.

The best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on and the one you’re not always thinking about.

Liking the life you're living while you're losing weight is the big secret along with having a plan in place and a support system in person or online.

Finally, I’ve spent this whole episode trying to find a 1-liner that beautifully sums all this up. Like Michael Pollan’s famous, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Maybe I can work off that and say, “Eat mostly plants. Not too much, too often, too early or too late.”

Thank you for listening to Season 1 of the Shortcut to Slim podcast. If you have enjoyed these episodes, please leave a review on iTunes and share this podcast with your friends.

Download your free research-based 7-day meal plan at getmealplans.com and leave the guesswork and science to me.

Enjoyed this post? Get our blog posts sent to your email

Making It Work in a Mixed Diet Household Podcast

A new Meal Mentor Co-Pilot Podcast is now available on iTunes and Simplecast!

On this episode of the Meal Mentor Co-Pilot Podcast, member Adrienne describes her experience being an ethical vegan living with an omnivorous family. Adrienne shares how the meal plans fit her family’s needs, plus what she’s learned about self-care from the Meal Mentor forums.

https://dmi4pvc5gbhhd.cloudfront.net/2016/05/Adrienne.jpg

Don't miss this episode for more about leading by example and the link between nutrition and mental health!

P.S. Do you love listening to the podcast? Show your support by leaving a review on iTunes.

P.P.S. Join the Meal Mentor newsletter (it's FREE!) Click here to signup!

Enjoyed this post? Get our blog posts sent to your email

Your Summer BBQ Survival Guide

Summer is about to officially kick off with Memorial Day Weekend!

These next 3 months are an action-packed time of year, so even if you aren’t firing up the grill over the long 3-day weekend…

You’re bound to find yourself at a barbecue, potluck, or outdoor party at some point this sunny summer.

So here are 12 tips for surviving (aka staying on track!)...

#1 Have a drink or dessert, not both (and not two!).

#2 Survey the buffet and all the options BEFORE plating. Choose only what you really want, rather than taking a spoonful of everything you don't dislike.

#3 Bring a healthy dish you and everyone else can enjoy and use it as your main portion.

#4 Always start with a plate of veggies or a big salad first.

#5 If there is a grill, bring lots of vegetables!

#6 Use the smallest plate possible or eat off a napkin. If you have a big plate, you'll fill the big plate…and if you try to be good and "portion control," a little bit of food on a big plate will make you feel deprived. Feel like a king (or queen!) with an overflowing amount of food on a small plate.

#7 Converse far away from the food. Don't stand by it, talk by it, man it, or sit facing it. Sit as far away as possible, preferably with your back turned.

#8 Do your best to ignore all peer pressure-y comments made by family and friends telling you to “Just live a little!” or “Treat yourself!” Remember that they're trying to pressure you so they can feel better about their own consumption.

#9 Don't peer pressure yourself. You're not missing out. You're not missing out. (Do I need to say it again?) And "just this once" is the abracadabra to open Pandora's box…DON'T OPEN PANDORA'S BOX.

(I like to ask myself…is feeding myself things that aren’t good for me…is maintaining or reactivating a food addiction really how I can treat myself well?)

#10 Have a plan in place. Visualize your successful endeavor and you're halfway there.

#11 Walk walk walk. Don't sit and socialize, buzz like a bee!

MOST IMPORTANTLY if you do slip up or indulge…don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater! (#12)

I'm guilty of this too – when I "screw up" I go on and dig the hole deeper. I have to tell myself, "Stop friggin' digging Lindsay. Climb out of the hole while you still can!" Don't succumb to the ahscrewit moment.

Because BELIEVE ME, you’ll be 1000x happier if you stay on track.

I know that I beat myself up for DAYS – 100x longer than the 10 minutes of junk food tasted in my mouth. (And my body pays for it too.)

Hold on to the perspective! BIG picture folks!

My own personal summer barbecue mantra: “I am not here for the food. I am not here for the food.”

You’re there for the FUN and socializing!

Food is not fun or entertainment…it is fuel to HAVE FUN.

Happy summer!

P.S. If you’re a member, you also have 35+ recipes in our exclusive Potluck Cookbook (download it from your dashboard when logged in).

Enjoyed this post? Get our blog posts sent to your email

The Best Time to Eat, Anabolic/Catabolic Hunger and the Lentil Effect

(This post is also a podcast episode! Listen here.)

In episode 6, I discussed Dr. Panda’s theory that artificial light led to an artificial extension of our feeding times, which, for a number of compounding reasons, he believes is a contributing cause to obesity and diabetes.

Dr. Panda was basically saying don’t eat at night, or too late, which seemed to confirm a piece of diet advice I’ve been hearing a lot lately: This idea that you should “eat like a king at breakfast, a prince at lunch, and a pauper at dinner.”

But then all of the intermittent fasting research says the exact opposite, sort-of.

I suppose you could start your feeding window to start at breakfast, but with all the reading and researching I did around IF, I definitely got the impression that breakfast was the meal you wanted to skip, or at least delay.

In fact, Zinczenko, author of The 8-Hour Diet left no room for interpretation on this point. He wrote, “Let me apologize on behalf of an entire country full of fitness gurus, diet-book authors, trendy nutritionists, weight-loss clinic, unemployed actors working in gyms, and people who scream at chunky people on TV for a living. Almost all of us have been feeding you a line of bull. And we’ve been been feeding it to you for breakfast.”

So how can we rectify this?

OR, perhaps the real question is, if humans are evolved to eat only a few hours per day, as the last few podcast episodes have heavily suggested, what hours should we be eating?

That’s the basis to part 1 of episode 6.

SPOILER ALERT: although these findings seem completely competing right now, they actually line up quite beautifully.

Should you eat like a king at breakfast?

Remember in episode 6, when I was talking about eating less frequently and that the habit of snacking can probably be traced back to marketing endeavors? That definitely seems true for “breakfast foods.”

I’ll definitely explore marketing and its effect on obesity and our tablescape and foodscape in another episode but for now, here’s a quick history of breakfast that basically answers this King question.

Abigail Carroll, author of Three Squares: The History of the American Meal notes that in the 1600s, Americans didn’t really have “breakfast.” They ate in the morning, sure, but they mostly ate leftovers. What they ate for “breakfast” was similar to what they ate at all other meals. There wasn’t this notion that some item was a “breakfast food” the way we think of waffles or muffins or cereal like we do here in America. In fact, they didn’t even have waffles, or muffins, or cereal, but they had toast.

By the 18th century, lots of meat entered the picture, often multiple kinds of meat were added to the breakfast landscape. Carroll notes this was in addition to, not a replacement. So basically, they were just eating a lot more food and rich foods at that… very King-like.

Breakfast then changed drastically mid-to-late 19th century because of the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution changed our lifestyle on so many levels, one notable change being Americans got a whole lot more sedentary. This caused a national case of indigestion -- everyone had terrible indigestion which they called dyspepsia.

Magazines and newspapers overflowed with rhetoric about dyspepsia -- how to avoid it, what to do if you have it, and so on.

This is when and how breakfast cereal was invented. In 1863, James Caleb Jackson invented granula as a food treatment option for his patients with chronic indigestion.

His granula was basically wheat flour mixed with water and baked. That hard sheet was then broken up into clusters. These clusters were so hard and rock-like, that they had to be served with water or milk.

John Harvey Kellogg developed his own version, also called it granula, which he was sued for so he changed the name to granola. John Harvey Kellogg later invented corn flakes, and then marketers like John’s brother Will Keith Kellogg, got their hands on it and the rest is history.

They basically said hey you have this problem, eat this instead. Since it worked (not because cereal flakes were magical but because people stopped eating like a King at breakfast) and it was really convenient, it caught on.

Should you eat like a king at dinner?

That’s definitely what humans did pre-marketing.

Richard Wrangham (who you remember from episodes 2 & 3) wrote, “like every culture the main meal of the day was taken in the evening, and it was cooked... the typical pattern for hunter-gatherers [is] a light breakfast and snacks during the day, followed by an evening meal.”

To elaborate this point, Wrangham referenced several accounts written by anthropologists in the late 1800s that attest to this practice. Here’s one of those accounts, written by anthropologist Jiro Tanaka, who was observing the !Kung of the Kalahari, “as the sun begins to set, each woman builds a large cooking fire near her hut and commences cooking… the hungers return to camp in the semidarkness and each family eats supper after the darkness has fallen… only in the evening does the whole family gather to eat a solid meal and indeed people consume the greater part of their daily food then. The only exception is after a big kill, when a large quantity of meat has been brought back to camp: then people eat any number of times during the day, keeping their stomachs full to bursting, until all the meat is gone.

I found this account fascinating, particularly the feasting part which describes our modern day Thanksgiving practices, at least here in the United States...

And too as an overeater, I must confess that I enjoy the feeling of an overfull stomach. In fact, part of my problem was that I thought I had to get to that uncomfortable point to be truly satisfied or think I’d had enough to eat thanks to all that magic calorie brainwashing I discussed in episode 1.

This also made me wonder… is the preference or desire for stomach fullness evolutionary or biological?

Anabolic / Catabolic Hunger Phases

If you read Eat to Live or have seen Dr. Fuhrman’s PBS specials, this next part will be familiar.

Fuhrman says there is a difference between true hunger and what he calls “toxic hunger” which is a set of detox or withdrawal symptoms most of us experience a few hours after eating. He adds that eating processed foods creates this “toxic hunger” and the desire to overconsume calories.

Although I tend to squirm around buzzwords words like “toxic” I’m willing to roll with Fuhrman here. It’s no secret that Americans are chronically malnourished despite their overconsumption of calories because the calories they are consuming (largely from processed foods) are devoid of actual, substantial nutrition.

In fact, this has been one explanation for obesity. That although people are eating thousands of calories, because those calories offer only fragments of nutrition, the body keeps sending out hunger signals, telling you to eat more because it’s still looking for the nutrients it needs and hasn’t gotten yet… another reminder that a calorie is not a calorie as discussed in episodes 2 & 3.

Before we can dive into true hunger or toxic hunger, let’s back up and talk about digestion.

Fuhrman says there are two stages of digestion, the Anabolic stage which occurs when you are eating and then digesting, and the Catabolic stage which begins when you stop eating and your body begins to repair and heal any damage.

Using the car example, the anabolic stage is when you fill the gas tank up and the catabolic stage is when you’re actually driving the car and burning the gas.

This lines up quite perfectly with the science behind Intermittent Fasting in episode 6.

Zinczenko had a great analogy comparing the human body to an office. If you want the exact quote, I read it at the very end of episode 6, but briefly: most people go into the office, they work hard for 8 hours and then clock out while the cleaning crew cleans up the trash and repairs any damage. Z says the human body operates most efficiently on that same schedule, but if we’re eating (working) all day, the body never gets a chance to let the maintenance and cleaning crew come in to do their work. Work 8 hours. Eat 8 hours.

The anabolic/catabolic digestion process or cycle also enhances our understanding of a key point from Wrangham’s Energy Theory of Cooking--the summation that cooked food is easier to digest than raw food, and by cooking our food, we are better able to absorb the nutrients and calories in our food, which helped us grow better and evolve into the badass humans we are today. It’s all about more efficient use of internal resources.

The underlying theme or takeaway is this: eating, or specifically, DIGESTING, takes a lot of effort. It’s a big damn laborious deal, so if your body is busy breaking down food, it’s not doing anything else. And that’s a problem because our bodies have a long chore list beyond breaking down food.

This is one reason why sleep is so important. We basically need a break from ourselves and outside stimulus.

All kinds of important things happen when we sleep, like memory consolidation, but we also have to regenerate a new stomach lining once a day, and happens in the middle of the night… which is also when we are in the catabolic stage.

Quick reminder: the anabolic stage is when the body is busy digesting and the catabolic stage is when the body is repairing, detoxifying, and healing.

Here’s the problem: Most of us are addicted to the anabolic phase of digestion.

We like to feel full and satiated. We also don’t like to feel the symptoms that can happen during the catabolic phase. Symptoms like irritability, fatigue, weakness, and stomach cramping.

Now I know what you’re thinking---didn’t she just describe typical hunger symptoms or low blood sugar? I’ll get to that in a second.

Point is, when we have these catabolic phase symptoms, eating again makes us feel better because it stops the catabolic stage. But eating again also stops the healing process because it sends us right back into the anabolic stage.

AND --here’s the double whammy-- by doing that, we keep reinforcing this belief that the symptoms we felt, all that unpleasantness, were symptoms of hunger. But we weren’t actually hungry. We’re effectively rewiring our brains in the worst way.

Let me back up and talk about these catabolic phase symptoms: headaches, fatigue, nausea, weakness, mental confusion and irritability, abdominal and esophageal spasms, fluttering and cramping in the stomach are all signs of what Fuhrman calls “toxic hunger” which appear during the catabolic phase.

The more processed foods you eat, the more severe these symptoms will be. The catabolic stage isn’t supposed to be unpleasant, and if you eat appropriately and/or intermittent fast, these hunger sensations will definitely decrease.

You might remember in episode 5, when I shared my experiences with IF, that I used to suffer from terrible bouts of “hanger” and that I would frequently wake up ravenous, sometimes in the middle of the night. This all went away with IF, and my best explanation was that eating all day long created a lot of shifts and ranges in my blood sugar, which led to those unpleasant feelings. And by eating larger meals less frequently, I stayed more level. I still think that is true and a part of it, but I also think this whole “toxic hunger” from catabolic phase explains it too. Specifically, by fasting, I was having more complete cycles which led to decreased symptoms--I’ll talk more about this in a minute.

This idea of “toxic hunger” from the catabolic phase also helps explain why if you eat jelly doughnuts, you have a massive crash after, and then you feel hungry too, or why when I eat Twizzlers at the movies, I always feel “hungover” afterwards even though I didn’t consume any alcohol.

According to Fuhrman, this is straight-up withdrawal and our drug is food.

There are huge libraries of research saying that yes, food is addictive -- some more physically addictive than others. Cheese, sugar, and caffeine for example, but Fuhrman says this happens with pretty much all foods, it’s just that the more processed the “food” is, the more drug-like it is.

Meaning when we eat processed foods, our bodies become acclimated to them. Indulging the addiction is pleasurable, withdrawal is not, and that happens when the digestive tract is empty -- when we’ve sobered up, so to speak. As detoxification begins, you’ll feel uncomfortable and if you eat, you get relief. It’s kinda like “hair of the dog” with food.

This is that “toxic hunger” Fuhrman’s referring to. He says, “the confusion is compounded because when we eat the same heavy or unhealthy foods that are causing the problems to begin with, we feel better while the detoxification process is halted or delayed. This makes becoming overweight inevitable, because if we stop digesting food, even for a short time, our bodies will begin to experience symptoms of detoxification or withdrawal from our unhealthful diet. To counter this, we eat heavy meals that require a long period of digestion, or we eat too often and keep our digestive track busy and overfed almost all of the time to lessen the discomfort from our stressful diet style.”

In case I lost you back there, Catabolism isn’t supposed to be painful, but eating processed foods creates dramatic detoxification symptoms which starts this nasty cycle of eating more because we think we are hungry, but we’re not actually biologically hungry, we’re just hungry for some relief.

So how do we stop this cycle?

Fuhrman’s advice is the obvious: eat more wholesome foods. Stop eating food that’s toxic.

But intermittent fasting, or shortening your eating window, or not eating too frequently, can help too. Your mitochondria (remember from episode 6?) those organelle clusters are your personal power plants, your engine in the Prius vs Hummer example. Like all other engines, mitochondria generate waste--smog so to speak--and their smog is free radicals.

I’ll have to podcast on free radicals some other time, but very briefly: a free radical is any atom or molecule that has a single unpaired electron in an outer shell. If that just flew over your head, no big deal, here’s all you need to know right now: The free radical theory of aging states that organisms age because cells accumulate free radical damage over time. I can throw a lot of fancy terms your way like “oxidative damage” and “mitochondrial production of reactive oxygen,” but all this really means is free radicals impede the function of your mitochondria.

{Sidebar: Antioxidants (one of those oh-so-popular “buzzwords”) are reducing agents to free radicals, meaning they limit oxidative damage from free radicals. Vitamins like A, C, and E, can slow the process of aging by fighting the free radicals directly or by reducing the formation of free radicals, but there’s a limit to their power. Popping vitamins or eating fruits and vegetables naturally rich in these antioxidants is helpful, but it’s far superior to just not have the free radicals at all. Think prevention rather than treatment.}

Fuhrman says that by eating more wholesome foods--that is, by not having a toxic diet, we won’t experience toxic hunger symptoms which are basically withdrawal.

This makes sense to me, if you are eating a whole food diet, there will be less free radicals and less damage to repair and thus, less “side effects.”

Bottom line here: Like all other engines, mitochondria are more efficient, both in producing more energy (resulting in less fat storage) and less waste (creating free radicals), when they are properly maintained, which you accomplish by eating whole foods from your meal plan and also eating less frequently--keep your head out of the troph!

Here’s where catabolic and anabolic phases meets intermittent fasting:

During the catabolic stage, we have a chance to burn the glycogen stored in our muscles and liver from the anabolic phase (digestion-assimilation) since we’re not eating. Meaning, there’s no fresh strawberries so you’re finally having that pantry challenge I talked about! Yay! But if you bring strawberries into the house and eat them, the pantry stops being cleaned out and the catabolic phase abruptly ends. Boo!

And here’s another double whammy -- your body must complete the catabolic phase before you can experience “true hunger” which is why the 8-16 fasting works. It’s guaranteeing you finish your catabolic cycle. (Symptoms for true hunger are enhanced taste sensation, increased salivation, and a gnawing throat sensation.)

For a triple whammy, when we are breaking down our body fats (which is the goal for weight-loss), those detoxification symptoms can get even more unpleasant. Cleaning out that pantry is very much a chore, one we want to abandon mid-way through.

And for a quadruple whammy--the more overweight you are, the more awful the detoxification symptoms will be. That is, an obese person is going to feel a lot worse going into the catabolic stage after eating donuts than a normal weight person would feel. And the more withdrawal symptoms you have, the more you’ll be directed to overconsume. It’s a vicious cycle.

I think this explains why intermittent fasting can be so unpleasant for people, especially in the beginning, and why dieting and weight-loss seems so much harder the more weight you have to lose. It isn’t just that you have a long road ahead, but that your road has a lot more potholes and fallen trees getting in the way.

The Second Meal Effect (formerly the Lentil Effect)

In episodes 2 and 3 we learned that a calorie is not always a calorie because we absorb some calories better than others. My big example was oranges versus Oreos and how you probably won’t take in every calorie of bioavailability in an orange, but you’re probably going to assimilate every calorie in an Oreo.

Turns out there is even more to that -- that eating certain foods also creates a lasting effect in your body that can dictate how much you will or will not absorb or store in the next meal.

The Lentil Effect is this: the consumption of lentils blunts the sugar spike of foods consumed hours later at a subsequent meal. This happens because lentils are so rich in prebiotics that they create a feast for your friendly flora (those gut bugs I keep foreshadowing) which then feeds YOU with beneficial compounds such as propionate, that relaxes your stomach and slows the rate at which sugars are absorbed in your system.

Later research revealed chickpeas and other legumes have a similar influence like the lentils, so now scientists call this the “second-meal effect.”

I also think it’s pretty reasonable to assume it’s not just beans and lentils that are magic… that any sort of low-glycemic meal can have a positive effect on your blood sugar at that meal, and then again at the subsequent.

Citing one study from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, “breakfast carbohydrate tolerance is improved when low-GI foods are eaten the previous evening.”

What action can we take from this? if you’re going to eat some high glycemic food like white rice, potatoes, or pasta, consider having some beans or lentils with it.

You’ll see we do this a lot with dinners on the meal plans such as fan favorite Big Mac Potatoes, Cheezeburger Casserole and Spanish Rice. Even some of our breakfast foods, like smashing beans on toast with avocado, or the very British baked beans on toast, are great examples. Breakfast burritos -- vegan ones with refried beans or tofu scramble, or vegetarian ones with eggs and beans -- are incredibly popular because they are so filling and I think this might explain why. It doesn’t just taste good to us, we feel good from the boost of carbohydrates, but the legumes keep it all more stabilized.

Download your free research-based 7-day meal plan at getmealplans.com and leave the guesswork and science to me.

For next week's final post I'll be back answering the question, “Are some of us meant to be fat? Is there obesity by design? Have we evolved or adapted to obesity?”. To get notified when we post it join our email list.

Enjoyed this post? Get our blog posts sent to your email

Managing Multiple Sclerosis on a Plant-Based Diet Podcast

A new Meal Mentor Co-Pilot Podcast is now available on iTunes and Simplecast!

On this episode of the Meal Mentor Co-Pilot Podcast, Gary shares his experience coping with Multiple Sclerosis and how he’s taking the initiative to be stronger than his diagnosis.

https://dmi4pvc5gbhhd.cloudfront.net/2016/05/garycollage.jpg

Gary explains how the meal plans and exercise have improved his health, what it’s like to be a plant-based man, and he gets honest about how he finally stopped weight cycling.

Don't miss this episode!

P.S. Do you love listening to the podcast? Show your support by leaving a review on iTunes.

P.P.S. Join the Meal Mentor newsletter (it's FREE!) Click here to signup!

Enjoyed this post? Get our blog posts sent to your email