Have you ever started a diet, made amazing progress, then caved in to hunger and binged your way back to square one or worse? It’s a common problem and one of the main causes is not giving enough consideration to natural appetite patterns.
After years of experimenting with diet plans, I found a simple way to work with hunger that makes dieting infinitely easier: calorie banking. It’s a way to eat large meals and treats when you’re most hungry, and it makes dietary adherence and fat loss goals much more likely.
The Importance of Sustainability and Adherence
You must control how much you eat if you want to control your body fat. There are many ways to do this (see here for how to set up a diet), which is great because it gives us options. Not so great are the statistics showing that most weight control efforts eventually lead to failure and fat regain.
Why? Because of a lack of sustainability.
Long term livability and enjoyment are critical parts of sustainable body fat management, and one of the most important considerations is matching your eating to your appetite.
People vary, but a growing appetite over the course of the day is a common pattern. You wake up feeling strong with low levels of hunger, then life happens. The day wears on, willpower erodes, problems occur, and by nighttime the small meal you had planned turns into a high-calorie feast of comforting treats.
The issue here is that the diet and appetite are at odds.
The Strategy to Match Diet and Appetite
The specific problem we’re looking to overcome is the tendency to break diet when appetite is high and willpower is low. It’s common for this to be at the end of the day, but the fix is the same even if your own pattern is different.
This strategy is extremely simple, but deceptively powerful:
You eat less when you’re strongest with high willpower, and save calories for the time you’re most likely to have problems sticking to your diet.
It allows a lot of flexibility. Even with a low daily energy intake, it’s still possible to work it so that you have enough calories banked up for going out to a restaurant with friends or workmates, a normal evening meal with your family, dessert, a drink or two, or some combination thereof.
You can accomplish your fat loss goals while simultaneously enjoying plenty of “non-diet” food, leading to a fun lifestyle not normally associated with someone who’s dieting to lose body fat.
It Works Across the Board
This strategy can be used with any diet because it only manipulates the energy content of meals, not macronutrient ratios or specific foods. Therefore it doesn’t matter if your chosen protocol is ketogenic, low-carb, low-fat, or whether you eat only the latest fad super-berry harvested from the remotest region of the Amazon rainforest. It’s a generally applicable concept, not a specific diet.
Low Calorie Magic
No one is going to need any tips on how to choose high-caloric-density treat food, but the smaller meals are a different story. You could just eat tiny amounts of anything, but you’ll have a much easier time eating larger quantities of high-volume, low-caloric-density food (meaning low energy content for a given portion or weight).
As such, there are two magic food groups: lean protein and certain types of vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, asparagus, etc. If you comprise your meals of these things, you might be surprised by just how large and filling even your low energy meals can be.
Incidentally, the protein part of these low-energy meals is important because of its satiating effects (in other words, protein makes you feel full and satisfied). Even though you’re positioning these meals at points when you feel strong, it’s still a good idea to make them as satisfying as possible.
Maximizing the Pattern With Fasting
Fasting isn’t necessary for this strategy to work, but fewer meals does happen to allow even greater flexibility. By not eating at certain times, you save even more calories for when you need them.
In my case, I typically fast in the Leangains 16/8 fashion espoused by Martin Berkhan (which can be read about on his site)—ie, a 16 hour fast followed by an 8 hour eating window of 3 meals. At least roughly. I sometimes fast longer and eat just two meals per day—especially in a fat loss phase when my energy intake has to be very low to accomplish my current goal.
A Typical Day
To help illustrate the calorie-banking concept, here’s a typical day of my own for example.
Let’s take a three-meal day. The first meal is around 1 PM, the second at 5 PM, and the last at 9 PM. (note: meal timing is largely immaterial for the purpose of fat loss. This is just what works for me, and you should customize the timing of your meals to suit your own preferences and lifestyle.)
The first meals are low in calories, being in the ballpark of 250-500 Calories. They’re made of up lots of vegetables and a source of protein such as chicken breast. Even though these meals are low in energy, they’re still quite large and filling because I choose such high-volume, low caloric-density foods and always include protein.
The last meal of the day is anything from 1000-2000 Calories (goal and overall calorie-intake dependent—ie, whether I’m looking to cut fat or gain muscle), and this is the one including dessert and any other high energy food I might be craving, or perhaps go out to eat.
But a Large Meal Before Sleep Turns Straight to Fat!
Of course you should tailor your diet to your own hunger and appetite, but if like me you’re most hungry at night and choose to have a large meal before bed, don’t worry, it won’t make you fat.
Whether you gain or lose body fat is determined by overall energy intake, and meal timing (and even the food you choose to eat) has little effect. The idea that food eaten at night is shuttled straight into extra fat gain because of a slowed metabolism is a myth.
Calorie Banking for Sustainable Dieting
Achieving body composition goals utterly hinges on remaining within caloric boundaries, and doing so is dependent on whether you can live with a diet over the long term.
One of the most important parts of the sustainability of a diet is matching it to your natural hunger patterns, and calorie banking is a way to do this to the greatest extent. In my own experience with fat loss, it’s made for the most livable and enjoyable diets, to the point of feeling like I was cheating the process somehow and not dieting at all.
Feedback, questions, and comments very welcome, I’d love to hear about your experiences. Just use the comment form below, or send me an email.
Related: a trick I use for mindset on a diet.
Thanks so much for reading.
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