This is an athlete’s way of eating—frequent small meals. Think of it like this: imagine heating your home with a wood stove. You start out the morning by stoking the stove with wood and lighting the fire. This creates a bed of hot coals that produces heat. This is breakfast, the most important meal of the day. A breakfast of whole-grain cereal gets that fire going. Throughout the day, you must put more wood in the stove to keep the fire going. If you don’t, the fire goes out and the house becomes cold. Our bodies are the same way. By eating frequent small meals, the stomach produces energy from digesting the food. This energy speeds up the metabolism, causing fat burning. If we go a long time without eating, the metabolism slows down and fat burning stops. People who skip breakfast and lunch—and then eat junk throughout the afternoon and a huge dinner at night—are setting a course for disaster with their weight.
As a species, we once lived in caves and endured long, cold winters. Your body was created to store fat and hold it for energy for those times when there would be little or no food. Your body does not like to burn fat. It works very hard to preserve fat. When you go long periods without eating, you are signaling your body that it’s a long, cold winter and to hold onto your fat reserves for survival. But in the 21st century, most of us have our kitchen cupboards loaded with food; our neighbors’ cupboards are loaded with food; there are restaurants and grocery stores within five minutes of our homes. It might be a long, cold winter, but we are not going to run out of food. Snacking on cookies, chips and soda pop at work, then coming home to wine, cheese and crackers, is like filling the wood stove with rocks. Pretty soon, it becomes difficult to keep burning the fire that heats the house.
However, it is important to eat when you’re hungry. When the gas tank is empty in your car, you fill it. When your stomach is empty, it’s time to eat. Just as it’s time to stop pumping gas when the gas pump shuts off, it is time to stop eating when your stomach signals your brain that it has enough fuel. You don’t stop at each gas station you drive by to put gas in your car. So if you aren’t hungry, don’t eat.
Vegetables, fruits and whole grains are rich in carbohydrates and are the most efficient forms of energy we can consume. Eating these carbohydrates will fill you up and keep you from becoming hungry. Eating fat causes you to feel hungry and requires you to eat a great deal more food to feel satisfied.
Carbohydrates are the most fundamental and cleanest-burning fuel the body can obtain. Your body is designed to enjoy and efficiently use carbohydrates. Even your tongue and taste buds were designed to select carbohydrates. Your teeth are designed for carbohydrates. The front teeth are shaped with cutting edges to break off pieces of starches, vegetables and fruits, which are then ground by the flat molar teeth at the sides and back of the mouth.
Potatoes are at the top of the carbohydrate list with about 90 percent of their calories deriving from appetite-satisfying carbohydrates. Contrary to popular myth, potatoes can provide complete nutrition for children and adults. Many populations, for example, people in rural populations of Poland and Russia at the turn of the 19th century, have lived in very good health doing extremely hard work with the white potato serving as their primary source of nutrition.
There is no cholesterol or insignificant amounts of cholesterol-raising saturated fats in a potato. People in New Guinea living on diets consisting almost entirely of leaves and sweet potato tubers (with an even greater percentage of carbohydrate calories than white potatoes) have cholesterol levels on the average of 108 mg/dl. (Cholesterol levels below 150 mg/dl are associated with immunity from heart disease.) Heart disease is unknown in these people on their sweet potato diet. In animal experiments, potatoes have been shown to have a particularly potent cholesterol-lowering effect. The potato is such a great source of nutrition that it can supply all of the essential protein and amino acids for young children in times of food shortage. Of the calories from potatoes, only one percent comes from fat, and these few fats are mostly the kind that we need, called essential fats.
The only carbs you really need to restrict are the refined ones—foods made with white sugar and flour, ranging from sodas to sugary breakfast cereals.
These processed foods fail to fill you up until you’ve eaten way too many calories. They contain little to no nutritional value. And they’re absorbed quickly into your bloodstream, prompting your body to unleash a surge of insulin that accelerates the conversion of calories into fat.
By contrast, fruits, vegetables and whole grains are densely packed with life-sustaining compounds. They’re absorbed gradually enough to prevent sudden insulin spikes. And they satisfy better, thanks to their high fiber and fluid content. Eat an apple, and you have a filling, healthful snack for 80 calories. Chow down on cookies, and you can consume600 empty calories before you know it. Okinawa has the highest percentage of centenarians in the world, and yet Okinawans have no genetic predisposition to longevity. Their secret is locally grown vegetables, seaweed and tofu, rigorous exercise and a low-stress lifestyle.
According to a 2003 article in Newsweek, if Americans lived more like Okinawans, “80 percent of the nation’s coronary care units, one-third of the cancer units, and a lot of the nursing homes would be shut down.”
To lose weight, you must burn more calories and eat fewer calories. You can burn more calories by exercising. You can eat fewer calories by consuming less food. That’s why you can lose weight on any diet, but it’s hard to keep it off because you feel hungry and deprived. An easier way to consume fewer calories is to eat less fat, because fat has nine calories per gram, whereas protein and carbohydrates have only four. So when you eat less fat, you consume fewer calories without having to eat less food.