A Solution For "I Eat Well... Until I Don't"

Apr 23, 2018

Several times a day, I listen to someone describe what and how they eat. One of the benefits of having a coach is that someone outside of your head can, in many ways, have a clearer view of what’s actually going on.

Almost nobody says “I need to eat a bigger breakfast”. Or even “I need to eat a bigger lunch”.

What they do say is, “I eat well, but lose it on the weekends.” Or, “I do great all day, and damn it at night I snack, and can’t stop!” The words vary, but it’s a very common theme: “I eat well, until I don’t.”

What they see is a problem that starts at 7 pm, or starts on Saturday, or just before the kids get home from school...whatever time their particular hot button is. And that may well be the case. If we talk about that place and time and find there is an emotion, fatigue or stressor that happens at that time of day, we’re onto something and can work on changing behavior directly. We modify thoughts, routines, emotions, and behaviors and soon those extra calories are a thing of the past.

But the problem isn’t always originating when it appears to be. Sometimes, it doesn’t seem like it’s an emotional issue as much as a physical one. A lot of midnight snack attacks, afternoon munchies, and dinners that end with second portions actually had nothing to do with cognitive distortions or emotions, and aren’t maladaptive coping strategies. These “derailments” often began as a cascade of events that started closer to 8:00 AM, at the beginning of the day. And that chain of events can continue to gain momentum midday with a too-light lunch. I see it all the time. Not eating much in the first 2 meals leads to eating lots later.

Research backs this up. Being in a calorie deficit increases brain activity related to food, and food captivates your attention more, especially sweets and fatty foods (1). That’s not a good state to be in when you enter a 5:00 pm meeting with cookies on the table. You also don’t want a brain with a heightened sense of food reward when you’re going out to dinner and spy the breadbasket.

Starting the day well-fed, with a hearty breakfast, and satisfying lunch isn’t the type of thing that makes people fatter, because it doesn’t necessarily lead to higher calorie intake overall. Having a high protein meal soon after waking up has been shown to be a helpful weight loss strategy (2,3). People with excess weight tend to skip or eat very little for breakfast and consume most of their calories at night, often in an attempt to “save calories for later”. Skipping breakfast has been linked to higher BMI and waist circumference (4).

Eating More Than 33% Of Total Calories In The Evening Has Been Linked To A Two-fold Risk Of Overweight/Obesity (5)

Instead of trying to reduce the damage caused during the “witching hour” by creating a larger calorie deficit at other times of day, try the opposite. You could eat more abundantly in the first half of the day and discover how differently you feel. Maybe the witching hour gets less witchy. Maybe you have an easier time not grabbing snacks before bed. Maybe you feel more relaxed, cared-for, and happy as you go about your workday. Maybe you feel more energetic and less stress. I can’t guarantee it, but my clients tell me these things all the time.

Yes, it will take some getting used to if you currently don’t make time to eat in the morning. It will mean putting in a few minutes, but you’ll also save those minutes if you don’t need to snack in the afternoon or evening, so you might be making the time already either way. You can eat what you like, there’s no magical combination that is the only way to have a good breakfast. But if you haven’t tried it before, I’d recommend trying the Big Beautiful Breakfast strategy.

Like my partner Josh Hillis points out in his book Fat Loss Happens on Monday, food prep at the beginning of the week can prevent derailing near the tail end of the week. And on a smaller time scale, feeding yourself well in the morning and midday can set you up to stop struggling in the late afternoon and evening. Perhaps we’ll have to write that book next, Fat Loss Happens Before Noon?

I’d love to see your Big Beautiful Breakfasts, so if tag me on Facebook or Instagram so I can see what you’re eating! If you want to focus more on getting well-fed midday, lust-worthy lunches might help you hit your goals for the evening. The big picture is that if you have a trouble time that doesn’t seem to be emotionally rooted: you might be struggling needlessly because you simply didn’t eat enough earlier.

If you want to learn more about how to structure your meals for maximal appetite satisfaction, check out our free courses or pick up a copy of my book Lean Habits For Lifelong Weight Loss.


1. Stice, E., Burger, K., & Yokum, S. (2013). Caloric deprivation increases responsivity of attention and reward brain regions to intake, anticipated intake, and images of palatable foods. NeuroImage, 67, 322–30. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.11.028

2. Fallaize, R., Wilson, L., Gray, J., Morgan, L. M., & Griffin, B. A. (2013). Variation in the effects of three different breakfast meals on subjective satiety and subsequent intake of energy at lunch and evening meal. European Journal of Nutrition, 52(4), 1353e1359. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22948783

3. Ratliff, J., Leite, J. O., de Ogburn, R., Puglisi, M. J., VanHeest, J., & Fernandez, M. L. (2010). Consuming eggs for breakfast influences plasma glucose and ghrelin, while reducing energy intake during the next 24 hours in adult men. Nutrition Research, 30(2), 96e103. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20226994

4. Watanabe, Y., Saito, I., Henmi, I., Yoshimura, K., Maruyama, K., Yamauchi, K., … Asada, Y. (2014). Skipping Breakfast is Correlated with Obesity. Journal of Rural Medicine : JRM / Japanese Association of Rural Medicine, 9(2), 51–8. http://doi.org/10.2185/jrm.2887

5. Wang, J. B., Patterson, R. E., Ang, A., Emond, J. A., Shetty, N., & Arab, L. (2014). Timing of energy intake during the day is associated with the risk of obesity in adults. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics : The Official Journal of the British Dietetic Association, 27 Suppl 2, 255–62. http://doi.org/10.1111/jhn.12141

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