Nutritional Compliance, HAHAHA! But, Seriously Folks…

Justin Thacker MS, RD, LD, ACSM-HFS, CES, USAW, CSCS
Belly Laugh

Ahhhhh, nutritional compliance…perhaps two words that couldn’t be more ironic when paired together. I work with so many smart folks that typically understand what it means to eat healthy. More times than not, people really do understand WHAT constitutes a healthy diet, it is the stick to-it-ed-ness that usually unravels than plan. We have 4 guiding principles in our nutrition philosophy that have withstood the test of time and transcend all scenarios and diet plans.

There are 4 things to consider: Quantity, Quality, Frequency, and Timing.  All important; all required. Once people understand what is an appropriate food to be consumed on their plan the REAL missing link are the frequency and timing issues. People simply fail to eat when they should.  Hunger increases, will power drops…the plan is compromised.This is THE MOST common trend I see in nutritional compliance failures. You may have all the best intentions and the most perfect plan quads up, but you only make it one week simply because you did something as little as miss that early morning or late afternoon snack. Yes, they are that important. They are what keep you in check. They keep your stomach small, your eyes and cravings under control. Let me put it this way, if you go as far as 4 hours without eating something, you are in big, big, trouble.

This is why you will never see me endorsing things (for practical real world people) such as intermittent fasting and warrior diet type approaches with consuming only one large major meal per day (nor simple calorie counting for that matter). It simply won’t pan out for most folks nor will results be optimal. Why? Again, back to ‘nutritional compliance’, and ‘will power’.

What we need to do here when it comes to the small frequent meals approach (every 2-3 hours, 5-6ish times per day) is defensive eating. Each feeding is meant to keep you under control, not bottoming out and running to the nearest vending machine. However, it is vital that these small snacks between meals are non-insulin impacting low-glycemic type foods. Preferably proteins, healthy fats, vegetables, and lastly fruits can sometimes fit in here (any leftover or convenient meats, hard boiled eggs, nuts, raw veggies, etc). Another important point: you don’t have to love these foods nor should they take much time to consume. They are simply means to an end and if they take too long to prepare and eat they are way more likely to be skipped and you’re back to being vulnerable (preferably no protein shakes or bars, real food). So, the least preparation required and something you can eat in a few minutes or even seconds. Let the rest of your feedings be more of a sit down event as one major barrier is time. And if you are making an event out of 5 meals/snacks or more it will eventually prove itself a burden and you will find ways to sabotage it. We can’t risk that if we are after a goal.

Ghrelin increases after periods of not eating and stimulate the appetite.  Keep that bastard in check!  The longer you go between meals the more it will work against you.  Above, see the peaks just before breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

In the past, the research in this area has been a bit vague with not enough substantial evidence to support it.  As I have mentioned so many times in the past, the real world and research are at a disconnect and some things although not currently black and white proven or explained, still work perfectly fine.  Allirot and colleagues from several French research labs decided to do a controlled experiment. They invited 20 men to take part. The men were on average 27 years old, and of normal weight. The researchers gave the men a breakfast of 674.8 calories consisting of a slice of white bread, a croissant, some strawberry jam, a pat of unsalted butter, 4 ounces of orange juice, a spoonful of sugar and black coffee or tea. Uh, yes, junk food not under our ‘Quality’ umbrella.

On some days they were given the entire 674.8 calories at once, on other days they got a quarter of the calories (168.7) once every hour for four hours. The researchers found that the men who had the four mini-breakfasts were less hungry at lunchtime. This was corroborated by changes in two food-related hormones in the men, ghrelin and GLP-1, that are consistent with decreased appetite.

So, would they still eat less when faced with a free and tempting meal? Yes indeed, the researchers found. The subjects were offered a buffet lunch after their experimental breakfast(s) consisting of grated carrots, pâté de campagne, rice, French beans, fried potatoes, sausages, chicken breast, cottage cheese, cheese, stewed fruit, chocolate cake, white bread and sugar. The men consumed less of the buffet on the days when they had eaten the multi-mini-breakfasts.

So eating small meals, but often, help prevent overindulging (1, 2). But, do not lose site of an important point. The QULAITY of these foods cannot be overlooked and can make the difference between success and failure. If the foods taken from the study are used for small frequent pulses of food, you would ultimately be left spiking your blood sugar and insulin levels all day turning this into a carb craving chase all day looking for your next hit every 30 minutes attacking the M&M jar. These snacks would ideally be real food, non-insulin/blood sugar stimulating foods (many people like to use protein bars and shakes here-I do NOT recommend this as it can provoke the same responses as the above foods. It’s fast digesting, sweet, and lacks the real food substance to fill you up. With these simple tactics, I have helped take many people off insulin, diabetic medications, lose well in excess of 100 lbs, and even dropped body fat % to as low as 3%. With these simple straightforward tactics anyone can do it.

So, have you tried a diet plan and failed? Lost motivation? Will power? Felt deprived? Do just about everything right, but kept falling for silly snacks or foods that derail your plan? Or, were you too addicted to certain foods and couldn’t hold on? Trust me when I tell you this little principle may be all that you are missing. You have to eat before your brain and body get their typical signals for you to go fall into your same old habits. Then, will power and control will be at their highest when it may be time to have some freedom and flexibility with your food choices at meals like lunch or dinner. Think of your snacks as just quick things you have to do to hold it all together. And, with these foods, you don’t have to love them, but merely tolerate them. They are a crucial action step that again SHOULD only take a short amount of time to get so much more out of your plan.  And at the end of the day may be the one single most important factor to you succeeding or failing.

Want to know more about our 4 principles of Quantity, Quality, Frequency, and Timing (QQFT) and how they can be individualized for you?  Set up your nutritional counseling appointment today!
Or, want a guaranteed success track with made for you meals that are all QQFT friendly?  Check out

  • An isocaloric increase of eating episodes in the morning contributes to decrease energy intake at lunch in lean men.  Xavier Allirot, Et Al.  Physiology & Behavior, January 2013
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