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4 reasons why you should eat

I feel ridiculous writing this post.

It should be excruciatingly obvious.

But it's not.

Everywhere I look I am seeing messages about not-eating.

"don't eat these things"
"don't eat very much"
"don't eat at this time"

And frankly, it's not very healthy. Physically or mentally.

So what I'm going to talk about today is why it is important to focus on eating, rather than not-eating, when working towards your health-improving goals. And yes, even, no, especially, when one of those goals is fat loss.

Fuel for your activities

So food is fuel for your body. It provides the energy you need to function. Your body uses carbohydrates and fat as fuel. It can use protein, but only when under quite a lot of pressure. Your brain can only fuel itself on glucose (carbohydrate) and you can only metabolise fat in the presence of carbohydrate ("fat burns in a carbohydrate flame").

When your body runs low on fuel, you feel tired, sluggish, and can't think straight. So eat. Regularly. 

And eat some carbs.  Not handfuls of jellybeans, but complex carbohydrates, with fibre, like whole grains, which help you to maintain steady levels of blood sugar to fuel your activities.

"Activity" is the key. If you are interested in losing some fat mass, you need to be active. Firstly because you will use more energy through activity than you can save by cutting your diet (and I am deliberately saying "activity" rather than exercise, because it's really all about keeping steadily on the move all the time, not spending 20 minutes doing some cardio then sitting down the rest of the day) and also because being thin is no fun if you are too hungry and weak to leave the house.

Move more, eat mindfully. But do eat.

There is one thing I need to mention here, which is the understanding that we burn fat less efficiently when blood insulin levels are high. This is the reasoning behind a practice known as "fasted cardio".

I'm not going to recommend fasted cardio, it's a contentious subject and there is not enough evidence that a) it works and b) it doesn't cause more harm than good. I'm going to give you a link for information and a couple of key warnings: Firstly, your performance will be impaired, this is a given, it will make your workout physically and psychologically harder - you won't work so hard, you won't burn so many calories, you won't get as strong an afterburn. Secondly, some people work out after a very long fast. Sensible people leave no more than 3 hours after a meal. That is plenty enough for anyone.

If you want to avoid high insulin levels during your workout, eat a balanced meal, with complex carbs (low GI) a couple of hours before you train. You get the fuel you need to perform, but without raising your insulin levels. That's not a fancy "trick" that's the standard advice for everyone.

Boost your metabolism

Do you know how your basal metabolic rate is calculated? You don't have to, all you need to know is that one of those components is the energy expended in processing the stuff you smash in your face.

So if you eat, actual real food, your body expends energy processing it. If you eat dust with added water you might get adequate nutrition (note I say adequate, not optimal) and you might get the same number of calories, but your body will expend very little absorbing it. This is why meal replacement shakes, soups etc originated for sick and elderly people - for people who needed easy nutrition to support their weakened systems. Not for healthy people who want to lose a bit of fat sustainably.

It's also well understood that cutting too many calories from your diet is not good for your health and should only be done temporarily and under the advice and supervision of a qualified dietitian. There's a lot of factors interplaying that affect how your body receives and processes calories, this is an excellent breakdown for the geeks amongst us, but what it boils down to is that the recommendation for sustainable weight loss is a daily deficit of around 500 calories, half of which should come from increased activity. For reasons stated in the Precision Nutrition article, you might not get the 1lb a week weight loss you might expect, not every week, some will be faster and sometimes it will grind to a halt, but stick with it and you will see results that stick with you. For some light hearted advice about this, check out this post, and this album on my Facebook feed.

Regulating your mood

Admit it. You are miserable when you are hungry. No one like it. Get over it and eat something.

Feed your willpower

Did you know that it's actually really hard to make good choices when your blood sugar is low? Of course you did, because everyone knows that you shouldn't do your grocery shopping on an empty stomach. When your brain isn't fuelled right you find it harder to get off your resistant butt and work out, you find it harder to resist another chocolate biscuit, or a cheeky portion of chips on our way home. This is why people who eat breakfast eat better, it sets them up for a morning of clear headedness and positive choices. Don't go making decisions on an empty stomach.

So instead of focusing about not-eating, let's concentrate on eating. Let's eat to fuel our bodies properly for activity, growth and healing. Let's eat good stuff that feels good to chew and sits comfortably in our bellies. Let's eat things that make us happy and keep our minds in good order, and let's stop trying to convince ourselves that there is anything wrong with that.

If you want more personalised advice about improving your health and wellbeing, head on over to Fire Lotus Fitness, where I offer a load of accessible options for in-person and online personal training.


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