Inverted eating pyramid assists in weight management


Illustration by Eric Fields/Iowa State Daily. Images courtesy of Thinkstock.

Eating larger portions of food earlier in the day helps keep metabolism fired up throughout the remainder of the day, studies show. By eating more food during breakfast and lunch meals, it may help people feel less hungry later at night and avoid excess calorie consumption. The typical American diet is the reverse: most people eat the largest meal of the day at night, which can lead to unwanted weight gain. 

Devin Wilmott

The average American ate more than 6,000 calories on Super Bowl Sunday. To burn that many calories, a person would have to run a marathon, or 26.2 miles.

The Super Bowl kicked off at 5 p.m., along with the alcohol and never-ending binge on wings and tortilla chips. Not including the calories already eaten before 5 p.m., the munching hours did not end until the Patriots took the win.

The United States Department of Agriculture found that the average American consumes around 3,800 calories per day, while the USDA caloric recommendations focus on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Dietary models like MyPlate provide information about what to consume to achieve optimal balance of food groups and dietary health. However, what the initiative does not show is how to properly balance those required foods.

The disconnect lies between when food should be consumed and knowing how much food one’s metabolism is able to process at one sitting. 

“Even though we have an abundance of food in the United States, that’s not the problem,” said Claudia Peterson, senior in diet and exercise. “The problem is consumers not being aware of what, how much and when they are eating on a daily basis.” 

The sad truth may be that food consumed Feb. 1 between 5 and 9 p.m. went straight to the gut and thighs. Had the Super Bowl started earlier in the day, the body may have had more time to burn some of those calories before bed. 

Regardless of what time food is consumed during the day, weight loss and gain are due to caloric intake and expenditure. But Super Bowl Sunday can be used as an extreme example of the average American eating pattern. It is also an example of the typical college student diet, but with twice the calories. 

“Anything you eat [within] two hours before you go to bed most likely turns straight to fat,” said Hollee Mohni, graduate student in food science and human nutrition. “A lot of people wake up not hungry or feel skinny in the morning, so they don’t eat anything without realizing that you stop burning calories at night because you’re about to go to sleep.” 

Knowing what the body is doing while asleep can help detour from excessive night eating. During the first few stages of sleep, the body is mostly in an anabolic or muscle-building stage, and then turns catabolic and burns glycogen, muscle and fat.

The goal is to keep the body in an anabolic state as much as possible by eating meals that are lower in carbohydrates at night and high in protein. This method helps the body focus on using fat for energy during sleep versus muscle protein or glycogen.

After the morning alarm has gone off, the body has gone through a fasted-stage, where glycogen or sugar energies are low and muscles have turned to a slight catabolic state. Therefore, consuming a heavier meal that consists of “good” or complex carbohydrates, protein and essential fats in the morning will not only stop muscle wasting, but jump start the metabolism for daily energy and cause less urge for night binging.

A three-month study done by researches from Tel Aviv University in 2012 divided 93 overweight participants into two groups: the breakfast group and dinner group. Both groups were given the same amount of daily calories to consume.

The breakfast group participants allotted 50 percent of their daily calories at breakfast, 36 percent at lunch, and 14 percent at dinner. The dinner group did the opposite eating 14 percent of their allotted calories for breakfast, 36 percent at lunch, and 50 percent at dinner.

After the 12-week period, the breakfast group lost more weight, had a more significant decrease in body fat percentage, increased HDL cholesterol levels and maintained stable insulin levels. This was due to a bigger breakfast and inverted pyramid style of eating, with most calories being consumed in the morning.

“It is better to eat more in the morning because you didn’t eat the entire time you were sleeping, so by the time you go to bed, you aren’t as hungry and won’t eat as much,” Mohni said.

A 2012 USDA study found that 14.5 percent of American households were not able to eat nutritious foods consistently. College student inaccessibility is four times that rate. Research published by the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior also found that 59 percent of college students claim to have too much unhealthy food available on an everyday basis.

The question of whether unpredictability is the leading cause of food problems for college students is on the table. However, the freshman 15 and other avenues of weight gain may be able to be prevented from eating habit changes and regular exercise. 

“So they claim that exercise doesn’t do as much as diet does, I disagree with that a little bit. I think diet is slightly more important but I’d say they’re pretty equal and rather than focusing only on one, do both,” Mohni said.

Even though eating in an inverted pyramid style can be rewarding to weight maintenance, weight loss or weight gain, it is easier said than done. 

“Starting with a little baby step and then progressing will give better results in time that last longer,” said Nora Hudson, program coordinator for recreation services.