It’s May already and summer is right around the corner along with swimsuits and revealing summer clothes. If you’re like many of my patients, you may be scrambling to get rid of that winter belly. You probably want to know which of the diets out there will help you get rid of your extra pounds and belly the fastest.
It’s been my experience, that the most effective diets are those that use a kind of “old school” method of fighting fat. Now, new research out of The Netherlands has proven why. Let me tell you what they’ve learned.
“3-Squares” – The Best Way To Lose That Belly
All the diet information out there can be confusing – and contradictory – when you’re trying to lose weight, especially that stubborn belly. Some promise you can “eat all the foods you love” – even sugary desserts – and still lose all your excess fat. Others say it’s best to stick to only certain groups of foods. Still others say food “intolerances”, or eating “modern” foods are what’s creating your excess weight and belly.
But out of all the diet methods, I’ve always felt that there’s one in particular that may be doing your belly – and your general health – more harm than good. And now, a recent study out of The Netherlands agree. That is the idea of eating frequent smaller meals throughout the day.
In “grazing” dieting you’re recommended to eat smaller meals frequently throughout the day in order to keep blood sugar levels from falling too low and creating hunger. These meals are recommended to contain higher protein foods balanced with a little fruit, a few crackers, a cup of rice, etc.
Yet, favorite grazing food choices are often also higher in fat like peanut butter, cheese, beef, salmon, etc. After all, who wants to graze on low-fat cottage cheese several times a day? In addition the fruit and starches (crackers, rice, potatoes) are all just sugar in disguise. They can negatively impact your blood sugar levels – and fat storage ability – the same as eating a candy bar or drinking a 12 oz sugary soft drink.
In fact, combining fat with sugar in meals actually causes you to store excess body fat, says Canadian weight loss researcher Dr. Gregory Gordon as far back as 1993 in his book, Dr. Gregory Gordon’s Method. It’s why cake, pie, cookies, donuts, are so hazardous to your weight – they combine fat with sugar. But even the sugar from fruits and starches is enough to “turn the key” on your body’s fat storing mechanism. It first raises your blood sugar level then releases insulin in an attempt to normalize it. How well your body balances this depends a lot on your age and activity level.
In older, post 40-age people, there is a tendency to be “insulin resistant” to some degree. This means, each time you eat, your blood sugar levels go up but you don’t secret enough insulin to bring them back down completely. As a result, you don’t use all your food as energy and your blood sugar levels remain higher than normal after each meal.
Further, the easy to use sugars get used first leaving the remaining fatty acids to be stored for future energy needs. Do this several times a day with frequent meals and you may wind up with more belly and body fat than when you started.
But holding onto fat is not the only health problem frequent eating can cause. It may also be setting you up for dangerous liver disease as well.
That was the result of a study from The Netherlands’Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam, Snacking Contributes to Fatty Liver, Abdominal Obesity, Science Daily, May 2014. These researchers say that too frequent higher fat/sugar containing meals can create hepatic steatosis, or “fatty liver”. This is a condition that occurs in people with too much “visceral fat” – fat around their internal organs, namely the liver.
In their study, the researchers set out to know if smaller, frequent, if even higher calorie meals, were more beneficial to abdominal fat and liver health than larger, less frequent, higher calorie meals. The results were surprising. The higher number of calories in either meal didn’t affect anything – but the amount of meals did. Frequent meals caused a decrease in insulin sensitivity as well as a rise in liver triglycerides – a recipe for both abdominal fat storage and liver disease.
The researchers concluded that it’s better for both your liver – and losing your belly fat – to eat a larger, higher calorie meal less frequently than eating several smaller fat/sugar containing meals throughout the day.
What’s The Solution?
First, true low blood sugar that causes dizziness, weakness, shortness of breath, heart palpitations and/or fainting, generally only occurs to diabetics when too much sugar lowering medications have been taken. For these people, a small snack between their 3 regular meals may be needed to keep blood sugar levels from dropping too low.
For everyone else, with relatively, normal blood sugar levels, eating 3 regular meals a day, maybe a small snack later, should be all that’s needed to keep blood sugars stable. Here are 4 more tips that can help:
1. Eat 3 balanced meals a day. Combine a protein/fat with a “slow carb” like green vegetables which are typically lower in sugar than red or yellow vegetables (sweet potatoes, yams, red and yellow peppers, onions, etc). You can eat a good portion at these meals, but not enough for 3 people.
2. Don’t pair sugars with fats. Fruits and vegetables are necessary to your diet for good health. But, they do contain a certain amount of sugar – some more than others. Eat fruit separately, or paired with a low-no fat protein like low-fat cottage cheese, whey protein/almond milk shake. Forget combo meals like peanut butter with a banana or an apple, baked peaches with chicken or salmon, or pineapples with beef, or honey-sauce covered ribs.
3. Up Your Fiber Content. Your best bet for fiber comes from vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Fiber helps slow down sugar moving into your blood stream. Pair a grain with a low-fat protein, or a vegetable and eat fruits on their own – start to think of them as dessert.
4. Exercise after you eat. Get in the habit of doing a 20-30 minute walk, jump on your rebounder, do your regular gym workout, take a bicycle ride, swim, etc, after you eat. This helps your body optimize your insulin and normalize blood sugar levels to a normal range faster.
In 2014, researchers know a lot more about how your body stores fat and how to help you lose it. But returning to the old, common sense idea of eating a balanced “3-squares” a day may be the real answer to help you both lose belly fat as well as protect your liver. From the results I’ve seen with my own patients, I’d have to agree.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.