How many times do you and I have to read that we should eat five to six small meals a day to lose body fat? We see it ad nauseam – to the point where I'm losing my appetite for frequent meals. By now, not only does every fat loss "expert" know about this piece of advice, but most neophytes as well.
What about the advice that says we should eat smaller portions? I think I knew this intuitively when I was ten years old. However, that didn't stop me from being a big fat guy a mere eighteen years later. Somewhere in the interim, my intuitive and gained knowledge became irrelevant in the face of my desire to stuff double cheeseburgers and oversized servings of fries into my stomach. And it's doubtful that anyone derives more pleasure from piling down those empty calories than I did. To this day, I've a proclivity for eating large quantities at mealtime. Maybe it stems from a greater-than-average feeling of discomfort with the symptoms of hunger – maybe I just like to feel satiated. I now keep the calories from being empty to prevent my stomach from feeling that way.
But what has really kept me lean? I've been lean and rock solid with never more than 10 % body fat for seven years now and not the slightest bit of "struggle" to stay that way. This is from a guy who used to carry a nearly 40-inch waistline. Sure, sometimes a day passes in which I haven't eaten six total meals. Sometimes it's only four. Also, I don't always eat small quantities. In fact, just four days prior to this writing, I ate an entire large pizza by myself. That pizza wasn't something out of the diet section of the grocery store either; it had some calorie-packed toppings and was dripping with extra cheese. That's the only way to eat pizza in my book.
I ate that calorie-dense meal on my "cheat day". You've probably heard of the concept; you eat clean and healthy for six days or so and then, bam – turn your body into a one-day starch pump that also gets big doses of dietary lard just to grease up the joints. The cheat day concept is believed by some to actually speed up the metabolism once stricter eating habits are resumed in the days that follow. Personally, I haven't seen evidence of this. I think its value just lies in the fact that it alleviates feelings of deprivation.
But my cheat day doesn't threaten me with the prospect of a relapse into old habits and regained body fat. The reason is one shared by many people who lose substantial unwanted pounds and manage to keep it off. Long-term success boils down to the way one sees himself or herself at a subconscious level. It comes from a change in self image.
In psychology circles, they refer to it as the self concept. I prefer the term used by Dr. Maxwell Maltz in his groundbreaking book, Psycho-Cybernetics.(1) Dr. Maltz said our self image is like a subconscious blueprint of the "kind of person we think we are", right down to the finest detail. It's formed for most of us through a haphazard process of having emotionally digested the experiences and words (both positive and negative) that came barreling at us mostly in childhood. If we formed our self-beliefs through mainly the positive words and experiences, we're usually in pretty good shape (self image-wise). If the negatives took too big of a hold, we can end up with erroneous self beliefs that contribute to a potential-stymieing self image.
This subconscious self blueprint can't help but have an enormous effect on one's tendency to experience either ongoing success or disappointing recidivism when undergoing a fat loss program. But our respective self images are our own responsibility once we're older. That's why we can read about eating five to six meals a day or cutting down on high glycemic carbs until the cows come home and it's not enough. It's our refusal to relinquish the will power game and realize the biggest lessons to learn pertain to that gray matter between our ears, not just the macro-nutrient matter in a protein bar.
So the natural question becomes: What change occurred in my self image that makes keeping the fat off so easy? Well, I used to think of myself as a big guy who loved to eat. Now I see myself as a high-performance person who loves eating to fuel his body. A high-performance individual is not someone who doesn't enjoy his or her food; just someone who sees eating as mostly a means of fueling high performance and not as a constantly sought pleasure in and of itself. As a person with a self image of high performance, I savor all the benefits (direct and indirect) of being lean and full of energy and vitality. At a subconscious level, these benefits far outweigh those of fleshly and immediate gratification that pervaded my inner desires prior to my self image becoming that of a high performer.
Notice that I said direct and "indirect" benefits. In order for you to successfully change your self image, it's important to internalize every kind of benefit you will get by doing so. This can build a mountain of reasons that can make the immediate gratification benefits into molehills by comparison. Example: Losing body fat and maintaining leanness can create higher daily energy levels for your body. This can surely lead to more productivity in whatever else you do; whether you're a professional or a homemaker. Being more productive can lead to higher success levels within those other life contexts. This can lead to a higher quality and happier life.
How about this: Being lean and attractive can draw someone desirable into your life, or it can spice up your relationship with your spouse or significant other. That can lead to more contentment, which can support you in all your other endeavors.
Another key to aligning your self image for long-term leanness is to go at the fat loss slowly, but not too slowly. This is where things can get tricky. We need to lose body fat slowly enough as let our subconscious minds develop a lean self image, but not so slowly that the fat loss seems imperceptible. Many people adopt the latest diet craze and lose fat so fast that their subconscious self image figuratively "snaps" them back to where they started. Conversely, losing fat too slowly can be so dull as to cause you to forget you were ever doing it in the first place. In that situation, a big piece of cheese cake staring at you from the food counter at a party can look like the perfect salve for the hurt you felt when none of the attendees noticed the five pounds you've lost.
The best way to lose body fat slowly enough for your self image to change, yet not so slowly as to lose momentum, is to utilize multi-step gradualism. This is especially effective if you begin this technique with tactics that cause the greatest amount of fat loss with the least amount of effort and discomfort. Example: Most people can lose substantial fat pounds by merely reducing their carbohydrate intake as the day wears on. No pain, no drastic deprivation; just a simple macro-nutrient intake shift that can melt cellulite off for the first couple months.
Think about that for a moment. If all you did was shift most of your carbohydrate intake to the morning hours and stop eating carbs entirely during the six hours before bedtime, you'd probably lose ten or twenty pounds of fat. When that fat has been removed, you can then implement an additional tactical step, and so on.
When we focus our minds on the powerful life benefits (both direct and indirect) of being lean and shed off the fat pounds with scheduled, incremental tactics, our subconscious self image has a chance to make its vital shift. When one masters for himself or herself how to do this, the big "secret" to long-term leanness is discovered. Then all those books and articles saying you "should eat five or six small meals a day" and "cut down on your portions" can be seen for what they are; the repeating of terrific tactics but not everything you'll need for long-term success.
References (1)Maltz, Maxwell. The New Psycho-Cybernetics. Prentice Hall Press. Paramus, NJ (2002) pages 1-6