Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
10 Mar

Why Skipping Meals and Workouts is Healthy

plate 1Conventional wisdom tells us that “grazing” is the optimal way to eat. Constant snacking; more frequent, smaller meals rather than the classic breakfast, lunch, dinner set-up; and an ever-present fear of hunger as the enemy: these are said to line the path to healthy weight loss. If we ever feel hungry, it says, we leave ourselves vulnerable to temptation and metabolic imbalances. There is certainly some validity to this idea. I can imagine Grok roaming the grasslands for nuts, bugs, roots, shoots, and small game. And at times these foods may have been plentiful. More likely though Grok’s eating pattern was much more sporadic. There would have been periods of grazing coupled with stretches of famine and punctuated by instances of all-out feasting. As is so often the case, CW has cherry picked one part of this scenario and turned it into an ironclad, dogmatic proclamation that excludes any alternatives, whatever their potential benefits.

It has become sacrilege to skip a meal. Skipping meals, they say, only slows the metabolism, promotes fat storage, and makes us more likely to gorge on unhealthy foods once we do decide to eat.

The same goes for workouts. Missing a workout – especially in conjunction with a skipped meal – can make a fitness buff feel like a lazy slob. Missing two, or even three? A crisis of monumental proportions! A cascade of guilt and regret!

What are we to do?

Armed with a fresh perspective you can reframe your actions and toss fear and guilt out the window.

Say you aren’t hungry – should you feel compelled to force something down? Or maybe you only have access to a snack machine – should you eat a bag of chips just for the sake of eating?

Or maybe you’re sore from the previous workout session and it’s cold and the gym is a long drive through traffic – should you torture yourself and force the workout?

Sometimes, you should just say no. You’re not gonna starve if you go eight hours without eating. Your body isn’t going to immediately start burning muscle for energy if you don’t get something, anything, into your system (especially junk food). Your muscles won’t deflate if you miss a workout. The gym won’t close, and your weights aren’t going to rust over into obsolescence. You have to say no and be okay with saying it – no guilt involved.

The fact of the matter is that there are real benefits to both. I’m a big proponent of intermittent fasting as a way to promote health and longevity, maintain weight, and build lean muscle. We’ve got the studies that seem to back it up, plus my own success with it, but you can also look at it from Grok’s perspective. Our ancestors didn’t always have ample food. Sure, he undoubtedly preferred to constantly graze, but there were no guarantees. You think Grok felt guilty about missing a meal? No way. Maybe a little peeved, but not guilty. It just made the next meal all the more delicious.

Similarly, Grok wasn’t constantly working. He had plenty of time to relax and rest his muscles. Even (especially) top lifters stress the importance of rest in developing lean mass; if you overwork or overtrain, you’re only doing your muscles a disservice.

So what did I mean by reframing your actions?

With a slight change in perspective and a little “presto chango”!

The “my metabolism is going to shut down” Skipped Meal becomes an experiment in Intermittent Fasting

and

the “I’m a lazy slob” Skipped Workout becomes a “time to give my muscles a chance to rebuild” Recovery Day

In other words:

Skipped Meal = Intermittent Fasting

Skipped Workout = Recovery Day

Luckily, this isn’t just wordplay, and isn’t simply an attempt to see the glass half full. It also isn’t permission to completely slack off. You still need to eat plenty of healthy fat and protein (with a few carbs sprinkled in, if you please), and regular exercise is an important part of staying healthy. But missing a few meals every now and then won’t kill you and it can even be a boon. Nor will taking a couple extra rest days set your fitness goals back by any considerable amount (it might even give you the rest and resolve needed to assail your workouts with renewed vigor). So next time you’re faced with a non-Primal meal you’d rather avoid, or you just can’t muster the energy to drag yourself to the gym for the fifth day in a row don’t beat yourself up for slacking off. Pat yourself on the back for making a perfectly Primal decision and get on with your life.

Further Reading:

Break Through Your Weight Loss Plateau

It’s Time to “Get Real”

How To: Intermittent Fasting

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Thanks Mark! I did the exact re-framing you describe, by telling myself that skipped meals were simply an experiment in Intermittent Fasting. So far, the experiment has been a genuine success: I think it has leaned me up slightly, and at the very least it has given me a huge renewed appreciation for the joy of eating. The first meal after a fast (even after just 12-15 hours) tastes just a little better than usual.

    Next it’s time to work on re-framing to the “recovery day” principle. I totally get this intellectually, but struggle not to judge myself as lazy/weak when I don’t feel up to snuff for a training session. I probably “push through” more often than is ideal. So the reminder is appreciated…

    Mark wrote on March 10th, 2009
  2. The only way that I was able to finally break this barrier was to “close my eyes and jump” per se. I didn’t believe it until I experienced. Go for it… just try it.

    The SoG

    Son of Grok wrote on March 10th, 2009
  3. Great post.

    I’m a big fan of leaving some room for “intuition” in a training plan. I do think it is fine (even good) to listen to your body and skip a session when needed. But I also think that the body does a fair bit of unnecessary whining that needs to be ignored if progress is to be made. The body likes itself just the way it is-you need to push it into its discomfort zone if you want it to change and improve. That discomfort zone can be a great excuse for skipping a session without reason…

    As for Intermittent Fasting, at this point I just don’t see how anyone can argue against the practice of reasonable amounts of fasting. The evidence is pretty conclusive that it is beneficial and has little to no downside.

    Cheers,
    Adam

    Adam Steer - Better Is Better wrote on March 10th, 2009
  4. I’ve found it more practical, and natural, to eat 2 or 3 small meals early in the day, adding up to around 30-40% of total calories, and then have the remaining 60-70% of my calories in a 2-3 hour time frame at night. If I eat nothing all day, my metabolism does definitely slow down as evidenced by an inability to move or think, lol.

    If I eat even meals all day, I feel bad. If I fast, I feel bad. Snack sized meals plus a large meal at night feels natural.

    I think we assume humans “naturally” go long periods of time without eating, when I don’t see any evidence of this. Inuit have invented all sorts of way to preserve meat and fat snacks for long trips, obviously not as calorific as a feast on seafood but it’s not fasting either. I don’t think there is anything natural about consciously starving yourself, but snacking while active (hunting, or in the modern world working) seems most logical.

    The assumption that people fast for long periods during evolutionarily natural conditions comes from the false assumption that people were isolated, the “lone hunter”. Humans are very much social creatures, it is only in our modern world that we are afforded the luxury of isolation. Figuring out a way for people to work together ad prepare and store food for hunting and hard times was the difference between being a human who’s genes perished with him, and being a human who’s genes are part of us today.

    ItsTheWooo wrote on March 10th, 2009
    • did you read this?

      avi wrote on October 4th, 2010
  5. Amen Mark!!! I’ve been talking about taking breaks from training and dieting for years! Our body needs rest to recover and repair and metabolism need the same.

    Victoria wrote on March 10th, 2009
  6. There seems to be some significant dimorphism between the sexes on fasting from what I’ve read. Men seem to get a more significant kick of testosterone and human growth hormone out of it. I certainly feel the opposite of ItsTheWhoo — fasting definitely kicks in my fight response and gets me primed for action.

    Robert M. wrote on March 10th, 2009
  7. I’ve actually just purchased Eat Stop Eat. Haven’t read it yet, but started IF anyways. The first time I brought lunch just in case. I’ve only fasted three times so far but it seems easier when I’m fasting. Less hunger than if I did eat in the morning. Also worked out after fasting for like 17 hours or more and seemed to have no loss of anything. Though I was sore for a lot longer but I’m attributing that to more squats and a higher weight on the dead lifts. Of course I can’t prove that it wasn’t the fasting yet. If it happens a couple more times then maybe.

    So far I like the ease of not having to plan about bringing lunch and not taking time in the morning to eat on fasting days. When I do get hungry it seems to be less painful and I don’t think about it at all because I know won’t be eating for a while.

    Joe Matasic wrote on March 10th, 2009
  8. To respond to Robert M -

    IF is tough for me (as a woman)- tougher than it seems like it is for most dudes, but it gives me great energy during the day if I stick to it, and makes me feel extremely refreshed the next morning. As for speeding up my metabolism, not sure. But I dig it!

    BEE wrote on March 10th, 2009
    • My friend who recommends IF to his clients (he’s a personal trainer of figure competitors) says that women always seem to have more trouble than men when they start out. He’s not sure why. But after 4 or 5 days of consistently skipping breakfast and not eating until 3pm, most women’s bodies stop raging with hunger in the AM, and it becomes just as easy for women as for men.

      It’s all about what the body’s used to, and most women’s bodies (apparently) aren’t willing to give up the regularity they’ve been accustomed to as readily as men’s bodies.

      Knowing this made it much easier for me to adopt IF on a regular basis.

      Naomi Most wrote on November 2nd, 2011
  9. “There would have been periods of grazing coupled with stretches of famine…”

    Mark, this famine hypothesis is one I hear a lot. During the millions of years our gut was evolving, we were brainy hominids living in savannah. As mentioned in Taubes’ GCBC, the anthropological evidence of the hunter/gatherer lifestyle has shown that even in severe drought food was easy to come by.

    I rather like to think we have been and are such a successful species primarily because we knew how to get food in all conditions at all times. True famines did not occur until the post-agricultural era of fully modern humans.

    GeeKay wrote on March 10th, 2009
  10. Now I don’t feel guilty for slacking off my workout for 6 days last week (felt sick…then lazy).

    I also don’t feel guilty for eating very little on Sunday and Monday. I had a “girls” night out on saturday and boy oh boy I ate waaayyy too much. So, I was listening to my body, which said…don’t eat.

    Jennifer wrote on March 10th, 2009
  11. I IF about one 24 hour period every two weeks, however this is just a guess on my part. Mark does this represent a sufficient IF cycle? I’ve heard people do that every other day but to me that seems excessive…

    Marc wrote on March 10th, 2009
  12. Probably early man ate in ways that varied tremendously. A great book for seeing a variety of modern diets (and the human condition in general)is “Hungry Planet, What The World Eats.” Granted we’ve populated the globe on a much larger scale at this point in time, but still, Grok is a symbol that spans a lot of time and geographical regions. There would have to be great variation in diet from tribe to tribe. We have knowledge and resources that Grok didn’t. I don’t think it’s about trying to replicate Grok’s life, only acknowledging that our bodies are operating on a blueprint for an earlier time and then working with that as a basis for why our bodies respond more favorably under certain conditions.

    That said, Grok may have been happy if stuck in his cave for two weeks. Or maybe he would be just wishing he could go out and chase down some game. Either way, I doubt he’d be worried about losing conditioning. Why do I? Goal-oriented western culture, perhaps. Maybe the constant analysis is what makes up (modern) humans.

    Danielle T wrote on March 10th, 2009
  13. i mean makes “us” modern humans

    Danielle T wrote on March 10th, 2009
  14. This was an intriguing post … I think there is a very fine line and it very much depends on where you’re at and the progress you’ve made with your fitness goals.

    For those of us who are very consistent with our workouts and might even obsess about missing one (I know I’ve been there myself), the mindset this post is advocating is great. The same goes if you’re dialed in with your eating – missing a meal or two isn’t going to kill you – it might even be good once in a while (I’m very interesting in learning more about intermittent fasting).

    However, for someone who is still trying to incorporate fitness into their lifestyle, I think you have to be as disciplined as possible in the beginning – having the attitude of ‘just missing one workout won’t hurt’ could very well be what got them there in the first place!

    Bottom line … In my opinion, it all depends on the individual when it comes the mindset we can take in approaching out workouts and eating.

    Forest wrote on March 10th, 2009
  15. I’m not sure ancient man fasted that much, but I am sure he rested when he was tired, something us modern people could learn from. Ancient man didn’t have TVs or computers to make him fat. Play was his pastime.

    And with that I’m getting off this time-sink to go lift!

    Zen Frittata wrote on March 11th, 2009
  16. The lack of strict rules makes this life style so hard to understand and adopt for many. It’s what really appeals to me though.
    People have a hard time seeing the difference between this permanent life style and a temporary diet
    As for replicating Grok I think it’s a fun little exercise, but should not be taken too serious since we know way too little about how exactly he lived. It’s more important to realize that he didn’t live on a fixed schedule and didn’t have the same meals all the time

    WT - Food Ideas wrote on March 11th, 2009
  17. Like Wooo, I feel absolutely LOUSY when I try to impose IF. Although I’ve read a lot of the studies and understand the rationale and science supporting it, I wonder if we wouldn’t all be better off taking a more natural approach to food – eating when we’re hungry, stopping when we’re full, not eating if we’re not hungry – without *forcing* so many rules on it like specific windows when it’s “okay” to eat or not.

    Sarah wrote on March 11th, 2009
  18. IF has helped me to distinguish between actual hunger and psychological hunger. If I’m like most people, then I’d consistently be “hungry” at 8, noon, and 5, as per the pattern that I’ve been trained to eat in. I agree with Sarah; eat when you’re hungry. But make sure that hunger isn’t just your brain saying, “Ummm… we usually eat now. What’s the deal?”

    Evan wrote on March 11th, 2009
  19. Evan,
    I think those pits of hunger (8, 12, 5) represent dips in energy, albeit mild ones. They aren’t “imaginary brain hunger” but simply very mild hunger that you can ignore. It passes as you burn more body fat and make more blood sugar (that is, as insulin drops and stress hormones/catabolism increases).

    The fact that hunger goes away when we stop eating does not mean hunger is imaginary/psychological, all it means is that abstaining from food increases our body’s tendency to break down fat and muscle into food and to reduce the enzymes which promote fat storage and muscle growth.

    ItsTheWooo wrote on March 11th, 2009
  20. IF doesn’t work for me at all, I get Reactive Hypoglycemia which is like Type 2 diabetes’ really annoying cousin, the pancreas and liver stop communicating and will either dump a load of glucose into the blood when I don’t need it, or not dump any when I do.

    I used to graze and snack to keep the BG levels trimmed manually, but curiously (or not curiously actually) by adding more sat fats back into my diet my BG and energy levels seem much more even and I can now do a lot more and go a lot longer without either snacks or BG disasters.

    Without the carbs I no longer get the MUST EAT NOW!!! hungers, just the “oh I probably ought to eat something soon” normal type, and although my BG has dropped into the 60s from time to time I haven’t had a sitting on the ground wondering who I am hypo for a long time.

    I have been overdoing the intermittent exercise a bit though, the “resting day” excuse is wearing a bit thin now. If the sun ever comes out for more than one day running I’ll hopefully be back in the groove.

    Trinkwasser wrote on March 12th, 2009
  21. I find IF easy and don’t feel hungry.

    Sue wrote on March 12th, 2009
  22. Great post! I of course do love the IF lifestyle….and think people still need to remember to eat real foods, not use it as a pass to binge, and keep it “intermittent”.

    I think it’s the mental obsession to eat all day long (or thinking one needs food all the time) that is keeping people from finding success and happiness. If anyone is thinking more meals is speeding up their metabolism….well they are in for a surprise:
    http://lifespotlight.com/health/2008/11/05/eating-more-meals-does-not-speed-up-your-metabolism/

    I have a feeling Grok got lean and strong….without needing Zone bars.

    Mike OD - Life Spotlight wrote on March 13th, 2009
  23. Does Intermittent Fasting (16 hours fast and 8 hours feeding) improves and help to control Reactive Hypoglycemia?

    David wrote on March 27th, 2009
  24. I generally have no problem going 24 hours each day without eating though
    as my culinary skills improve I find
    myself craving certain meals more often.
    Generally I have a small breakfast (1/2 cup of fresh, heavy cream with berries
    mixed in (my “cereal”) and then a decent sized dinner (e.g., 3 eggs over easy with 5 slices of (organic) bacon with
    a fried onion).
    An odd rule I do incorporate into my routine is that I generally won’t eat my next meal until after I have defecated ;)

    McKenna wrote on August 2nd, 2009
  25. I’ve incorporated IF into my weekly routine (one 24 hr fast)and I can always tell a difference both mentally and physically. It’s not “torture” and I don’t spend the whole day complaining about how hungary I am. I also have no problem with a high intensity workout while fasting.

    As Brad Pilon states in Eat Stop Eat, many cultures practice some form of fasting on a regular basis. One of his points is that it’s very difficult for us to consistantly eat well and IF is one tool that allows a person to eat “reasonably” without having to stick to a regimented meal plan. Since working IF into my week, I’ve been able to eat a few more things that I would have stayed away from. Foods that I really enjoy, but typically stayed away from.

    LG wrote on August 12th, 2009
  26. I typically don’t eat during the day until I get home after work. Been doing that for several years now and it works very well for me. The first half of last year I didn’t work out regularly (maybe once a week) and I didn’t gain a pound. IF naturally works for me, and I don’t “impose” it on myself. It doesn’t work for everyone, but I think the psychological hunger can be a factor because it initially was for me.

    I typically workout in varying degrees everyday, and again don’t impose that on myself, especially if I’m not feeling right. A big factor for my success is eliminating anything goal-oriented regarding my lifestyle. It’s just how I live and stay healthy. There’s enough stress in our lives without also having to stress about the way we eat and stay active.

    primalclubber wrote on January 4th, 2010
  27. While I enjoy doing some of Mark’s workouts and advice, some of the stuff he says is starting to bother me. Mark continually refers back to Grok as his ideal. Let me be one of the many to remind you that life expectancy in Grok’s era was dismal at best relative to modern times. Just remember to take what mark writes with a grain of salt. Remember to consult your doctor too! Don’t forget about the atkins craze.

    eric wrote on July 1st, 2010
    • When judging life expectancy don’t forget to consider childhood mortality rates. http://donmatesz.blogspot.com/2010/02/paleo-life-expectancy.html

      Erik wrote on July 21st, 2010
    • Also, don’t forget about the fact that we live in homes, do NOT have to worry about snakes, poisonous spiders, bears, tigers, can get cancers and diseases but have a doctor cure us with pills and other stuff…

      Family and friend are more present. We know what is poisonous and what is not. If we get severely sick then a medical person can save our asses. We don’t have to worry about tornadoes, severe storms, hurricanes AS MUCH – at least most of us are safe while before we were screwed no matter what.

      This is why the average life span was so much lower back then compared to today.

      Primal Toad wrote on August 7th, 2010
  28. I find it amusing that so many people think that going without food for 12 hours is a really difficult thing to do. Some religious people, for example, think a 12-hour fast is a HUGE SACRIFICE. For me? It’s an average day.

    Of course, I’m not addicted to grains and other carbage the way they are, so it’s probably different for them. But if they’d go Primal, they’d probably find that their fasts become a lot less difficult to do. Oh, wait… doesn’t that reduce the “spiritual experience” and “sacrifice” of fasting? My bad.

    Griff wrote on September 23rd, 2010
  29. I love IF. I think that the Romans had a point when they said that you should eat when your body has time to digest – I hate having lunch and then having to run somewhere or work with a brick in my stomach. Ok, not a brick, but you get the drift. When I IF, I get all my work done eficiently in the first part of the day, and then have a delicious dinner (with, perhaps, a chocolate-bacon-coconut bar for dessert) and unwind. So most of the time I either to a full dinner-to-dinner IF, or just breakfast and dinner (I like breakfast. Eggs, eggs, eggs!) with either nothing or just light grazing. I rarely have three ‘squares’ a day. I just hate working on a full stomach. Besides, I’m at university with a canteen that says “base your meals on starches. They are vital” on its wall. Though they do quite good roast salmon.

    Milla wrote on November 8th, 2011
  30. This is great. I had great success with my 21 day start into Primal living. I was down 12 pounds, but I was still using CW weight training and hit a plateau. I stop losing weight and my strength gains had been stalled for over a month. And then I start IF and and HIT regime. Two weeks later and 5 pounds of total body weight lose, with increase in muscle strength and size. IF and working out less frequently has made a big difference.

    Jeffrey wrote on April 17th, 2012

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