How long should you wait between meals
By Thomas DeLauer
The time you wait in between meals can maximize fat loss. HYLETE Community Captain, Thomas DeLauer debunks some common practices and explains the process of digestion.
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Insulin- the absorptive hormone.
Glucagon- a hormone that promotes the breakdown of glycogen to glucose in the liver.
Hepatic fat content (HFC)- the indicator of a fatty liver.
Bioenergetics- how your body actually utilizes energy.
Mitochondria- the energy powerhouse inside of a cell which processes nutrients.
About Thomas DeLauer
From 280 lbs. to the magazine covers... All by living a lifestyle that is honest and real. Thomas DeLauer brings nutrition expertise along with a unique perspective on health and wellness that is everything HYLETE.
The following is a transcription of the above video:
How long should you wait between meals for the maximum fat loss effect? This isn't a video to just tout the benefits of intermittent fasting. This is a video to help you truly grasp what is happening inside the body when you wait a specific length of time between meals.
You see, we have been conditioned to believe that we constantly need to be eating. We've been told for years that eating six or seven meals per day is the way to boost our metabolism. And beyond that, we just have it ingrained in our minds that we should be eating three square meals per day with the occasional snack.
Well, the reality is, a lot of this came to be just from the advent of artificial light. Honestly, it's changed how we look at things over the last couple of hundred years. It's changed how we eat. It's changed our eating patterns and it's changed how frequently we have access to food. Anyhow, I'll explain all of that when I go into detail in the physiology of how much time you need between meals.
So, in this video I want to break it down into three parts. I'm going to break it down into how long it actually takes to digest food, so we have a mechanical understanding of things. Then I'm going to talk about the insulin and the glucagon process within the body. So, I'm going to talk about it from a hormonal standpoint.
Then I'm going to talk about it from the adaptive stress and the bioenergetic component. What actually happens when you condition your body to be used to going just a little bit longer without food? Again, not even necessarily fasting, just extending the periods of time between your actual meals.
So, let's start with how long it actually takes to digest. So, we have to look at the six phases of digestion, okay? The first phase is the simple one. The chewing process. Okay, then we move into the swallowing and the esophagus portion. Then we move into the stomach and the churning and the stomach acid, hydrochloric acid portion. Then from there we move into the small intestine where further absorption occurs. Then we move into the large intestine where a little bit more absorption occurs and basically, the process of elimination begins. And then, finally and lastly, elimination.
Okay, this mechanical process, believe it or not, doesn't have too much to do with how long we should wait in between meals. It has more to do with the hormonal response and the adaptive stress response, more than anything. But if we know how long it takes to digest food, it does give us a little bit of an indicator of what we should be watching for.
Here's the thing. When it comes down to the absorption, when it comes down to the digestion, everyone varies quite a bit. It all depends on a number of different things: what you're eating, how much plant food you're eating, how much fiber you're eating, how much fat you're eating. So, it's not easy to say that it takes X amount of time for you to metabolize a certain amount of food. But we do know, generally speaking, it takes about two hours before actual absorption starts.
Now, that doesn't necessarily constitute how long it takes to get the glucose and the energy, but it does constitute how long it takes to start absorbing actual nutrients and getting true nutritional value from the food.
So, what does this have to do with how long you should wait? Well, it leads into the next portion, which is where I want to talk about insulin and glucagon. So, when we look at insulin, insulin is a hormone that is secreted by the pancreas that is a response to any kind of food that we're consuming, okay? Whether it's proteins, whether it's fats, whether it's carbs, we still have an insulin response.
Insulin is the absorptive hormone and it flips the absorptive switch in your body. So, it makes it so your body can absorb nutrients. It's making it so that you absorb amino acids from protein. It's making it so that you absorb sugar, or glucose, from carbohydrates. And it's making it so that you utilize free fatty acids from the fats that you consume. So, it does have an effect on more than just carbohydrates. People think insulin is only an elicited response when they have a high glycemic carb. Not the case. It's always present whenever we're eating.
So, the short answer is, if we're constantly eating, we're constantly in absorptive phase, which isn't necessarily what we want, right? We want our body to be able to tap into fuel sources that we already have stored so that it burns them so we ultimately burn fat and look better and feel better. But if we're constantly eating, we're constantly spiking our insulin and this is causing quite an issue.
So, to understand this further, we have to look at insulin's counterparty, okay? Its counterpart is going to be glucagon. Glucagon is, in essence, the opposite of insulin. You see, whenever we eat food and we have this spike in insulin, it starts about 15 minutes after we consume and it ends up peaking around an hour, hour and 15 minutes after we consume some food. But once it starts to fall, we have a subsequent increase in glucagon.
And glucagon, since it's the opposite of insulin, is the opposite of absorptive. It tells the body to release the glycogen from the muscles to release glucose into the bloodstream for energy. It tells the fat cells to turn into free fatty acids to be used for energy. If you're on a keto diet or a low-carb diet, this is exceptionally important. We really want glucagon, because it's going to trigger the fat cells to turn into free fatty acids, which turn into ketones. But that's a story for another day.
So, what we do want is we want the proper ratio of insulin to glucagon. And if we're constantly eating ... We're eating three square meals and we're snacking, we're never giving glucagon a chance to actually elevate. Therefore, we're never getting a chance to tap into what we have stored. So, in essence, it's less about insulin constantly being on and more about the absence of glucagon.
And this is where we can probably insert all the stuff from all the haters and all the people that are going to say that it's all about calories in, calories out and insulin doesn't matter. The fact is, calories in, calories out do matter. And, simply put, if your calories out are more than the calories in, you're going to lose weight. But are you going to lose fat weight or are you just going to lose weight?
You see, that's where things get a little bit tricky and that's where hormones ultimately end up the tie breaker. So, that's where I like to use a little bit of science to be a true, legitimate tie breaker here. So, this study was published in the Journal Diabetologica, okay? And this study took a look at two groups. Each group was on a restricted calorie diet, okay? Each group consumed the same amount of calories and the same amount of macros, the same amount of proteins, fats, and carbs.
One group consumed six meals per day. Traditional, ""healthy"" eating. The other group consumed only breakfast and lunch. But again, their macro nutrients were the same and their overall calories were the same. Both groups were in a caloric deficit. So, we wanted to rule out the fact that, yes, of course they're going to lose weight. They're in a caloric deficit. So, they're both losing weight, but which one is going to lose more in the way of fat and which one's going to have more of an added health benefit?
So, what they found is that the group that was eating two meals per day ended up having a lot more success overall. In fact, that group ended up losing 8.1 pounds overall, whereas the six meal a day group ended up only losing 5.7 pounds. Again, they both lost weight, but one group lost more weight.
So, here's where things get interesting. When it came down to HFC, hepatic fat content, basically the indicator of a fatty liver, the results were pretty cool. They found that the group that was only eating two meals per day had a reduction in fatty liver of 0.04, whereas the group that was consuming six meals per day still had a reduction, but only at 0.03.
That doesn't sound like much, because it's small numbers, but that's a 25% delta, a 25% difference. Pretty darn cool. Okay, then we look at fasting glucose. Of course that down regulated, so that's something that we could have expected, but still, pretty cool. And then additionally, insulin sensitivity increased. When insulin sensitivity increases, it means that when you do spike your insulin, you're going to absorb more nutrients, meaning you're going to have more control over the effect of the food when you eat it.
So, now that we know that spacing your meals out a little bit is great for body composition, let's look at it from a different perspective in terms of how it can affect you long-term, too. You see, this is called bioenergetics. Bioenergetics is how your body actually utilizes energy. And again, you can insert all the people and all the testimonials that are saying that calories in, calories out matter, but if you change your bioenergetics and you allow your body to utilize fat more, obviously that's better.
So, what happens when we space our meals out, even if we're not fasting, is we have changes in the mitochondria. We have changes in how the mitochondria actually utilizes energy. The mitochondria is the energy powerhouse inside of a cell and it processes nutrients. And if we can convince the mitochondria to utilize fat more frequently through going through periods of fasting, or even just time restricted eating at all, we can put ourselves in a long-term positive situation where our bodies preferentially utilize fats for fuel even in the presence of carbohydrates, proteins and fats altogether.
Additionally, we have the transition of white fat into brown fat as well. Brown fat is metabolically active. We have white fat and we have brown fat in our bodies. Brown fat good, white fat bad. Brown fat actually increases thermogenesis. So, if we have these changes that occur from just spacing our meals apart, you can see that even then, when we don't space our meals apart, we have a long-lasting effect from the time period in which we did space our meals apart.
So, even if it's not a permanent change, if you go through a period of time where you can train yourself to even just have breakfast and lunch, or just breakfast and dinner. Or heck, even breakfast lunch and dinner, but without the constant grazing and the constant snacking that we have ingrained in our minds, you can see a big, powerful benefit.
So, you're probably wondering, exactly how long should you wait? I would honestly say, five to six hours between meals. No more of this three hour stuff. Forget about breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Forget about your clients. Forget about all the professionalism that we have to worry about constantly. Trust me, I've been there. I've been in the private equity world. I've been in that world and people don't care if you stand your ground on what you want to do with your life.
So, eat breakfast, eat dinner. Eat dinner at 3:00 PM. Who cares? It's your body and it's your chance to take control of it.