This started out as a comment to my friend Helen from Jimmy Moore's LLVLC discussion board over at my personal blog. Here's the post: When to Eat . That post was mostly thinking out loud about strategies for weight maintenance.
I see an Eating Timing/Quantity Spectrum: ad libitum (eat when hungry, stop when satisfied) - to - strictly structured/controlled. I postulate that in the middle of this spectrum, which is where many in our modern world "live", is where weight maintenance issues arise due to overeating.
I had another discussion about a different middle ground with Peter of Hyperlipid fame in the comments on this thread: VLC and Insulin Resistance. I posited that "Humans seem to do better at the "moderate end of the extremes" if that makes any sense but not so much in the middle. Our appetite signalling and metabolic controls seem ill equipped to handle any significant carb + fat load simultaneously."
I blogged some thoughts on Fats & Carbs in a companion post. Basically I envision an Energy Macronutrient Spectrum ranging from VLC/VHF - to - VHC/VLF, and our body's ineffectual processing of mixed fuels and inefficient signalling resulting in overeating of the CF foods in the middle.
I would like to marry these two "Middle Ground = Danger Will Robinson" theories in this post.
How do these two middle ground theories relate? Firstly, I'm going to leave protein out of the discussion here except to say that IMO, the vast majority of us cannot sustain a proper ad libitum diet without sufficient protein. It is probably protein insufficiency rather than fat "deprivation" that precipitates LF diet failure. But I digress ...
On the macronutrient spectrum -- especially if one stays away from the LC or LF equivalents to CF foods -- at either end of the spectrum we can probably happily exist on ad libitum "lite". By that I mean there will probably be occasions when we eat for reasons other than genuine hunger, but it is pretty difficult to overeat (calorically speaking) either extreme. This bears out in studying various cultures. IMHO, it is the moderate end of these extremes that works best. Too stringently low fat and health suffers because we need fats ... too stringently low carb is just unsustainable for many people, and I have reservations as to the long term healthfulness of a VLC/ketogenic diet. There's something about your body thinking it is starving while awash in dietary fat for the long haul that doesn't square fully with me. Again, I digress...
If one wants to exist somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, they probably have to go to the structured/controlled end of the timing/consumption spectrum. I believe this is why Zone and similar plans tend to measure up rather poorly in diet comparisons. Lots of calculating involved -- and I'm not so sure Zone prescription for the mix at each meal is best, rather overall mix for the day may be better. One must go "extreme" on one spectrum in order to balance the "middle" of the other.
But regardless of the plan, if lifestyle forces some eating when you are not hungry on any sort of regular basis, you will likely have to shift to the "structured" side of the intake spectrum. This is an especially difficult thing for many low carbers to swallow because LC plans tend to be ad libitum. Consider if you make the same breakfast every day (as many do), you are moving to the middle ... perhaps without even realizing it. Eating at any time other than when your body tells you to will require at least mindful compensation at other times. You're in the middle ground on this spectrum and so the advantages of living on the edge of the carb/fat spectrum diminish. Now the "naturally thin" seem to have better compensation mechanisms. If they eat a big lunch, they'll spontaneously compensate by eating a small dinner or none at all. Most of us don't seem to be able to do that without a degree of mindfulness. FWIW, I think this is why many successful LC'ers tend to plateau out at higher weights than originally desired. Ad libitum in a modern world is difficult to be true to.
Trying to "live" in the middle of both spectra, which I contend to be most Western diets complete with convenience/prepared foods and liquid calories, is a recipe for disaster ... and we are seeing the results. CF foods are bad enough if we try to listen to our appetite/satiety signaling because they are weak on a satiety:calorie ratio. But throw in that these foods are frequently consumed when we are "told" to eat (never skip breakfast! never skip a meal! it's break time!) and often in portions larger than we would self-select, and we're totally mucking it up in the middle.