The Truth About Eating Little And Often
Updated: Jan 13, 2020
It's been long drummed into us that eating 'little and often' is best because it will keep our blood sugar levels stable and keep your metabolism revving. But, whilst eating little and often might be best for some people, such as people with adrenal issues, eating little and often can be an unhelpful approach for our overall health and wellbeing, as well as for our waistlines.
In this blog I will explain why that is.
Have you heard the term ‘leaky gut’? It’s also referred to as ‘intestinal permeability’ and it basically means when the lining of the gut becomes thin and weak and therefore develops holes and gaps where undigested food particles, toxins and other things can pass through the gut barrier and ‘leak’ into the body and cause a bit of havoc in the bloodstream.
We all ‘leaky guts’ to a certain extent, but it’s when our intestines become too leaky that we have a problem. For example, the gut is supposed to be slightly ‘leaky’ after meals in order for nutrients from our food to pass through into the body for use, but we just don’t want the gut to remain leaky all the time.
Your lifestyle habits and nutrition choice can influence a leaky gut.
Let’s first take a look at inflammation and the immune system in your gut.
The gut lining acts as a barrier between your gut and the rest of your body, keeping unwanted substances (toxins, unwanted bacteria, food compounds, and viruses) inside the gut environment from seeping into the bloodstream whilst allowing nutrients to pass through the lining into the body. This is a really key function of your delicate gut lining for your health & wellbeing.
Your gut is actually the main area in your body where immune responses take place and keeping it healthy is absolutely key for health both now and in the future. If the gut lining becomes ‘leaky’ all the time then those particles mentioned above that we DON’T want passing through into the bloodstream are allowed to do exactly that. Once these substances are detected in the bloodstream the immune system responds to these foreign invaders by releasing inflammatory cytokines (chemical messengers). If the gut lining is perpetually leaky then this immune response is happening all the time (chronically) at a low grade level, and this is what we refer to in the functional medicine world as ‘chronic low grade inflammation’.
Why eating little and often is unhelpful
Eating a meal naturally triggers a ‘leaky’ gut lining for about 4 hours after eating. This allows the gut to send nutrients (vitamins and positive bacteria and short-chain fatty acids) from your meal out into the bloodstream where those nutrients can act on various body cells and systems and get taken in. Once this has taken place the gut now needs to work on other things such as repairing the gut lining and closing the holes and gaps down after the meal you’ve eaten. Some meals will impact the gut lining more than others for example spicy foods, mouthfuls that you didn’t chew well enough before swallowing, alcohol, sugar, heavily processed gluten, and some types of dairy.
So, eating too often will require this delicate and amazing intestinal barrier to open it’s holes way too often, and leave less time for the body to act on repairing and restoring it, which over time may result in a chronically leaky gut lining, and therefore a chronic inflammatory response.
Symptoms of chronic low grade inflammation:
Low energy & fatigue
Digestive issues e.g. bloating, gas, flatulence
Rarely wake up feeling refreshed.
Stubborn belly fat and trouble losing weight,
Muscle aches and pains
Slow to recover after exercise
Low grade nausea
Why we should eat less often!
Snacking from morning till night is the norm for some people and their way of keeping themselves going throughout the day. But, if we can adopt the habit of eating 2-3 square balanced meals per day and leaving longer gaps between each of the meals (no snacking) we can really help out gut lining out a LOT. Your gut isn’t actually designed to graze all day long and it might be one of the factors involved in the rise and rise of disease in the Western world seeing as chronic inflammation underpins so many of the more common diseases we face today.
We could also refer to this as intermittent fasting or time restricted feeding, and this is seriously low hanging fruit for so many of us! I adopted this style of eating years ago now and haven’t looked back.
Spending longer periods without food, for example 12-16 hours per day (much of which will be whilst we’re sleeping) can have significant benefits on our health, including weight management, and help prevent chronic diseases (a Professor named Sachin Panda has done some amazing research in this field in case you want to look deeper into it).
Your gut needs ample opportunity to prepare your body to take in food, digest and process it, and then go about repairing the gut lining and the cells involved in this process.
When you don’t allow enough time for this to happen e.g. you eat too often and don’t leave a nice long gap between dinner and your first meal the next day, your body has to put these essential processes on hold to help you process the frequent food and meals coming in, but this has a knock on negative impact on not only your gut, but your pancreas and liver too, as these two organs are also majorly involved in the digestion process.
Here are some top tips for healing your gut lining:
All the colours (for fibre & ‘phyto’ nutrients)
Eating a diversity of colours and types of plant foods is key for a healthy gut microbiome. Your beneficial strains of bacteria thrive on it, and having a good population of good bacteria provides protection for your delicate gut lining and digestion as a whole.
So, this includes all and any colourful vegetables and berries with all their bright, deep and dark rich colourings. Fruits and vegetables from the different colour categories contain various ‘phyto (plant) chemicals/compounds that can exert various positive health benefits. Also includes the different nuts, seeds, beans, and pulses too.
Up the good fats
So the only fats we want to be avoiding are trans fats found in shortening, margarine, fried foods, vegetable and rapeseed oil, and some/over-reliance on dairy. The ‘good’ fats should be embraced! Good fats such as omega 3 fats can provide healing and anti-inflammatory effects for the intestinal barrier, the other kinds of fats are also beneficial. So shoot for oily fish, flaxseed, chia and the other seeds, nuts, extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocado and coconut.
Consider the timing of your food
Eating too late into the evening can place a fair bit of pressure on your gut and digestive system. Your amazing gut is regulated by the circadian rhythm which basically means it likes to go to stop working on breaking down and digesting food once the evening starts to kick in and instead work on cleaning, repairing and healing. There’s no hard and fast particular time we should stop eating but let’s just say earlier in the evening the better. I personally try to have my evening meal finished by 7.30pm, 8pm on my longer working days. Ideally you want to leave 3-4 hours between eating dinner and going to bed. That gives the food time to be digested before your gastrointestinal tract closes for the night to repair. Then ideally, leave 12 hours between your dinner (the last mouthful) and starting to eat your breakfast.
If our meals are well balanced and rounded for quality protein, good fats, quality nutrient-dense carbs, and lots of plants, then we shouldn't need to snack in between our meals. The trouble is most people are simply not eating enough food at meal times and also the ratio of protein:fats:carbs is off balance. This leaves you hungry and craving sugar and carbs in between meals. You can definitely wipe this issues out by ensuring 2-3 (depending on your individual circumstances) balanced meals that provide you with ENOUGH calories/energy to keep you going for 4-5 hours at a time.
Lay off sugar and processed foods
Your delicate overworked gut lining can be weakened by sugar and processed foods. Today’s highly processed gluten and also over reliance on dairy can also hit the lining pretty hard. Also, the not so friendly bacteria feeds off of sugar, and that includes processed carbohydrates (white flour products, cakes, biscuits etc) that break down into sugar and heavily contain processed gluten), so try your best not to give them too much fuel to thrive on.
I really hope this has been helpful for you and has inspired you to start taking steps to heal and support your gut! Small and gradual changes = BIG wins, so go for it!
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Lots of love