Earlier this month I covered the important subject of fasting in relation to fat loss and long-term health. But it got me thinking about one of my favorite movies:
Unbreakable movie poster
What’s not to love about the movie? It has quality actors, it’s about comic books and it brought up a very unique idea about how each extreme most likely has another polar-opposite extreme somewhere out in the world.
So, that said, there must be something as supposedly extreme as fasting is to most people….indeed there is and it’s called:
Before I even continue, I’m going to say this: refeeding is an intentional and purposeful choice to put a great deal of food into your body in a very short period of time. Don’t just call your unplanned pizza and beer night a refeed. You’re kidding yourself.
Have you ever been really hungry? I mean really hungry! The sorta, hmm I could pretty much eat this entire animal RIGHT NOW!!!
I’m talking the whole farm, world-ending hunger, the crazy neuropeptide-Y is making me insane asylum crazy hungry!!!
Okay, so if you know what that sorta hunger level is than let’s talk about a reason, solution and possible benefit to stuffing your face.
Your body is this pretty boring machine that really loves balance, equilibrium and status quo. Go messing with that for too long it starts messing with you. While I’m not a science guy (go here, buy and read this guy’s books for that; they’re good, I own them all) I do understand that being a caloric deficit, which is required for fat loss, for too long (generally speaking every 10-14 days if at max appropriate caloric deficit; not psycho Dr. Bernsteindeath) will result in a bunch of physiological responses by your body to make you want to eat more (usually fat, sugar and salt). Neuropepide Y is just one of those signals as is it’s counterpart leptin. Ghrelin is also an important part of the hunger equation. There’s also a group of signalling molecules called eicosanoids which act in the body to reduce or increase inflammation depending on their increase or suppression based on the food choices we make. It’s all very fascinating stuff if you’re a dork like I can be sometimes (and Lyle McDonald definitely is).
The point is, you leave your body wanting too long as it’s going to turn on some systems you are not going to win against long-term. And if you keep fighting the supposed good fight you actually risk losing muscle which in turn results in decreased metabolic rates (the amount of calories your body burns in a day). This side effect of long-term dieting MUST be avoided at all costs!!
Refeeding is tricky. The purpose of a refeed is a short-term slam of calories into the body that reverse all the hunger and brain crazy signals we get when we think we’re starving. Done right it can work wonders in terms of shutting off those signals, satiating the brain and boosting our energy to continue on with a diet plan and hard exercise.
Done incorrectly, it serves to let your inner-fat kid loose which can turn you into a binge eater, leaving you groggy and possibly with a ton of gastrointestinal distress (a.k.a. farting your significant other out of the house).
The worst part about this refeeding topic is that there really is no exact science behind it. What amount, what type, how long, how often, etc are all very tough variables to work out. In the end, you’ll have to experiment to learn what works best for you.
The following guidelines are from personal experience and from a few of the tips of recall from Lyle McDonald’s books (especially the first half of Bromocriptine which quite possibly had the greatest explanation I’ve ever read of how hunger and fat loss truly happen and work, to the Rapid Fat Loss Handbook which has the element of refeeding built-in for some people and finally, where refeeding was best explained: A Guide to Flexible Dieting which may be the best book you read on the subject of dieting).
#1. You must learn the difference between normal hunger and I’m going to eat the village hunger. Don’t kid yourself, you would know the difference if you’ve ever experienced the latter version. Generally speaking, at max efficiency of your diet and hard exercise program this signal will appear every 10-14 days on average. If it’s happening more frequently, you’re not eating enough period. If it’s happening only every 30 days, you could probably get stricter with your diet or workout more/harder. The 10-14 days coincidence is, in my experience, where I also see the fastest fat loss/body composition changes happening.
#2. Decide how to refeed. Some people just use the old “cheat meal” version. You know, the I’m out with friends and so I’m going to eat the bread, drink the wine and have that twice baked potato this evening with an order of apple crumble for dessert. That’s not a bad way to go. It’s short, it’s mixed calorie type (carbs, fats, proteins and yes, even some alcohol) and most likely you won’t eat anything more after that meal and will/should get up the next morning and go on with a normal, clean diet. I personally found that when being really strict with my diet for the entire week, I required (meaning I saw the best results and felt the best energy/GI balance) with a 5 hour refeeding period. That’s about two meals and a snack worth of time.
#3. Plan the time. Don’t just say whoops, I didn’t mean to eat that double Whopper with bacon and cheese and call it a refeed. Sorry, my friend, but you just failed your diet plan momentarily. Plan the time frame (3-5hours), type of food (home cooked, dine-out, etc) as well as what you will eat the next morning to get right back on track.
#4. Have some foods that fall outside your normal clean eating routine. Just know that Skittles, Lucky Charms and Doritos are a very bad idea and will result in poor results versus choosing a potato with gravy, a juicy steak, some alcohol if you please and a sweet dessert to wrap it up. The better the food choices, the better the results and the less risk of the inner fat kid comeback.
#5. The inner fat kid comeback. You need to experiment and discover if refeeding is just a bad idea. There is a population that once they have the taste of their drug of choice (sugar, high fat, salt, etc) that it sends them into a 4 day tailspin of poor eating habits. If you’re that person the idea of refeeding is not for you. You’ll do far better with the clean as much as possible and everything in moderation so long as you’re truly busting your ass in the gym routine.
#6. I very highly suggest you perform refeeds in the meal(s) prior to bed. Trying to refeed first thing in the day or mid-day can often lead to energy super-highs followed by energy super-lows which leads to very poor choices on what’s for dinner. Which again, leads to inner-fat-kid comeback syndrome. By performing the refeed in the evening meal(s), you’re more likely to go to bed without further eating, then waking up (most likely with a slight food hangover) with the best chance of going back to your normal, planned nutrition program.
#7. Don’t worry about weight gain from a refeed. It’s something like 3g of water we use/store for every 1g of carbs we take in. Take in 500g of carbs and you’re looking at 1500g (3lbs) of water that’s going to collect with it. Don’t worry about your puffier looking face and soft looking belly. If you do this right, going right back to your normal eating, within 2 days you will drop the water and because of your normal dieting/eating/nutrition strategy you should be continuing on with your fat loss. If this doesn’t happen, you went too far (in quantity or didn’t jump right back to your proper eating) and need to adjust for next time.
#8. Lyle McDonald, in his books mentioned above, covers the exact amount of carbs each person in which situation should take in during a refeed so I suggest you buy the books for that. But in general, 200-300g of carbs for women in 3-5hours and 300-500g of carbs for guys in 3-5 hours.
Again, I MUST STRESS that a refeed should only ever be performed when you reach the I’m going to eat the llama right here, right now type of hunger. Don’t kid yourself on eating junk and trying to reference me to say I said it was okay to eat that junk, because I’m not saying that and you should just accept the fact you messed up and move on with a better plan next time. Got it!?
Oh, last tip: the BEST damn way to refeed is here (order the Memphis Feast for 2 people but only take the left over meat home if there is any, haha):