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Uniform Eating Goes Mainstream

In my first book, Ripped, published in 1980, I wrote that I eat basically the same meals every day, and suggested that readers consider doing the same. I called it “uniform eating,” explaining that it is a convenient way to control calories without constantly counting. It also eliminates the need to plan meals every day. The key is to eat foods that you enjoy and fill you up without too many calories. I knew that might not appeal to many readers. Nevertheless, I have continued to recommend—and practice—uniform eating.

I thought I was a voice in the wilderness, until Carol and I discovered that Drs. Michael Roizen and Mehmet Oz recommend the same thing in YOU on a Diet (Free Press, 2006), their New Your Times bestseller. They call it “automatic eating,” and make it a cornerstone of their “waist management” program.

The YOU program guides you to make the right food choices automatically, without having to stop and think. The first step, say the doctors, is to eat “good-for-YOU foods,” such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, chicken, and fish. On a balanced diet of those foods there is usually no need to count calories or grams of fat, carbohydrates, and protein.  

Eating a “good-for-YOU” diet of bulky and satisfying foods, Roizen and Oz explain, allows your appetite control mechanism to work by balancing the production of the hunger (ghrelin) and satiety (leptin) hormones. In a properly functioning system these hormones complement each other, telling you to eat when you need food and to stop when you’ve had enough. This works automatically; you don’t have to think. When you’re full you stop eating. The trick is to work with the system, not override it.

It’s pretty straightforward. Ghrelin, the hunger hormone, makes you want to eat when your stomach is empty. Going a long time without eating, however, throws the system into overdrive. The doctors explain, “When you diet through deprivation, the increased ghrelin secretion sends even more signals to eat, overriding your willpower and causing chemical reactions that give you little choice but to [eat].” They add, “That’s why deprivation dieting can never work.” You’ve got to put food in your stomach on a regular basis.

When you eat and fill your stomach, ghrelin levels go down and you lose your appetite. “[And] if you can reprogram your body so that you keep those ghrelin gremlins from making too much noise,” Roizen and Oz write, “then you’ve got a chance to keep your tank feeling like it’s always topped off.” That’s where the “good-for-YOU foods” and leptin, the satiety hormone, come into play.

“Eat the right foods [mostly whole, unprocessed foods], and your hormones will keep you feeling satisfied,” the doctors explain. “But eat the wrong foods [like sugar and other refined foods], and you’ll cause your body to go haywire hormonally,” and you’re hungry all the time. “When you eat calories from healthy sources,” Roizen and Oz write, “they turn off the desire to eat” by producing less ghrelin and more leptin.

Plan Your Meals

“Start every day knowing when and what you’re going to eat,” say the doctors. Automate your eating.

Spend a week or two planning satisfying meals and snacks that you enjoy. Roizen and Oz say it’s a lot like driving to a new job. The first day you take the freeway, but find the frequent traffic jams unacceptable. So you experiment with back roads and shortcuts until you eventually find the best and most efficient way to get to work. After that you don’t need to think about it any more; you make the turns automatically. When I was in law school, driving to class became so mechanical that I would find myself headed to law school even on weekends and holidays when there was no class. That’s the way your approach to eating should be most of the time—automatic. 

Roizen and Oz say pick one meal a day to alter “and have the same foods every day for all other meals.” That’s essentially what I do. I have the same thing for breakfast and lunch every day and alternate between eggs, chicken, and fish for my main course in the evening.

They also suggest eating throughout the day so that you are constantly satisfied. “The less you eat, the more you are likely to sink into starvation mode” and let the ghrelin hunger hormone take over. I eat three snacks a day (mid-morning, mid-afternoon and bedtime) to stay satisfied and in control at main meals. The doctors recommend that you gauge hunger on a scale of one to seven (one being famished and seven being gorged). “Try to stay in the three to four range at all times by eating moderate amounts of food throughout the day,” they advise.

Our friend Jürgen Reis, the very lean Austrian sport climber included in Great Expectations, tells us he reached 3.2% body fat twice in the last few months. His secret: “I normally eat several snacks during the day and always about the same amount at the same time. BEFORE I GET HUNGRY!” Eric Lujan, a local professional triathlete and food coach, agrees that eating nutritious food regularly throughout the day is the best way to avoid hunger and stay in control. “By continually drip-feeding your body you will maintain adequate blood sugar levels,” he wrote in the Albuquerque Journal. “We’ve all experienced a long bout without food followed by a frantic consumption of anything eatable,” Lujan continued. That, of course, is eating driven by the ghrelin hunger hormone, the kind that adds fat.

Here’s the take home message from the YOU doctors: “Reboot your body by stripping away the thinking and debating about eating. Eat essentially the same meals for breakfast, lunch, and snacks, and change up options for dinner. By decreasing the variety of foods eaten throughout the day, you’ll decrease the chance for the hedonistic rampages that can be so dangerous.” Amen.

For suggestions on planning meals and snacks, see article 153 “Simple Diet Patterns for Good Health” in the Diet & Nutrition category on this website.  

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Copyright © 2008 Clarence and Carol Bass.  All rights reserved.