We all know there’s a lot of misinformation out there regarding nutrition. A big one is avoiding carbs before bed (or food entirely) because our metabolism “slows down”. Another is eating small meals frequently throughout the day to “boost” metabolism. Both are completely false, and manipulating meal timing or frequency should only be done if it suits your lifestyle or preferences, and can be maintained long term.
Metabolism Can’t Be Tricked
Take your standard 2,000-calorie diet. If person A and person B are completely equal in age, height, weight, hormones, activity level, genetics, etc—and person A eats 5 meals a day (400 cals per meal) while person B eats 2 meals a day (1,000 cals per meal), each person at the end of the day will expend the same amount of energy to metabolize the 2,000 calories consumed no matter how you break it down. This is called the thermic effect of food (TEF).
Weight loss and weight gain is really as simple as calories in and calories out. Energy consumption is mainly through food and beverages other than water. Energy expenditure on the other hand, can be measured through numerous avenues such as the aforementioned TEF, and basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the energy our bodies need for basic physiological functions such as respiration and digestion (everything the body needs to do in order to function while at rest).
You can’t trick your metabolism into being more efficient by manipulating when or how often you eat. If you’re weight training regularly, you’ll generally need 1 gram protein per lb. body weight. Carbs supply immediate energy needed to perform physical activity, while fats play a role in hormones like testosterone/estrogen as well as supply energy while you’re at rest. Protein assists in muscle repair/growth/maintenance. Furthermore, the more lean body mass (LBM) you have, the more efficient your body will be at utilizing the amount of food you eat (and weight training helps to increase LBM when supplemented with proper nutrition).
No Magic to It – Eat Less or Work Out More
Cardio is unnecessary (although still good for heart health) when it comes to steady and predictable weight loss. It can add to creating a caloric deficit, but the same caloric deficit can be achieved by simply eating less.
A good rule I’ve found when it comes to eating is moderation. Everything in moderation, including moderation itself. I used to be on the far end of the spectrum, eating super clean without sodium in the names of becoming “healthier” despite being completely miserable. I’ve found that no food is essentially “good” or “bad” for you. There are only bad quantities. As far as vitamins/minerals and fiber go, there are recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) for particular age/gender groups. In other words, there are government guidelines on recommendations for the daily amounts we should be getting for these. After you hit these targets, you don’t get any “extra credit” for getting MORE. So you can have your pizza, or chocolate, or ice cream. The list goes on.
Everyone Is Different
Hope this helps! Feel free to let me know if you have any questions. There’s no one style that’ll work for everyone when it comes to making healthy eating decisions, but I think being mindful of portions while still eating what you love every now and then is a simple way to ensure long term adherence to dietary changes while still making the most out of life (i.e. participating in special occasions like birthdays/holidays guilt-free).