Calorie banking is a simple way to make dieting easier by matching food intake with hunger. Based on years of experimentation, I’ve found it makes dietary adherence and fat loss much more likely.
Statistics show most weight control efforts eventually lead to fat regain. This is mostly due to a lack of diet sustainability. Ongoing regulation of how much you eat is unavoidable if you want to control your body fat.
Livability and enjoyment are critical parts of long term body fat management, and one of the most important considerations is matching your eating to your appetite.
People vary, but a growing appetite over the course of the day is a common pattern. You wake up feeling strong with low levels of hunger, then life happens. The day wears on, willpower erodes, and hunger builds. Sticking to the small meal you intended for dinner is a white-knuckle exercise or impossible.
The problem is the mismatch between meal size and the time your appetite is highest.
The strategy to match diet and appetite
The fix is easy but powerful. You simply save calories for the time of day you’re most hungry.
It allows a lot of flexibility. Even with a low daily energy intake, it’s possible to bank enough calories for going out to a restaurant with friends or workmates, a normal evening meal with your family, dessert, a drink or two, or some combination thereof.
One of the things I most like about calorie banking is being able to lose fat while enjoying plenty of “non-diet” food. (The idea that some foods are inherently fattening is a misconception.)
It works across the board
Calorie banking can be used with any diet because it only manipulates the energy content of meals, not macronutrient ratios or specific foods.
It doesn’t matter if you’re ketogenic, low-carb, low-fat, or whether you only eat the latest super-berry harvested from the Amazon rainforest. It’s a concept, not a specific diet.
Low calorie magic
You probably don’t need tips on how to eat a large meal or choose high-calorie treat food, but the smaller meals are a different story.
You could eat tiny amounts of anything, but you’ll have a much easier time eating larger quantities of high-volume, low-caloric-density food (meaning low energy content for a given portion or weight).
As such, there are two magic food groups: lean protein and non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, asparagus, etc. If you comprise your meals of these things, it’s surprising how large and filling even your low energy meals can be.
Incidentally, the protein part of these low-energy meals is important because of its satiating effects (in other words, protein makes you feel full and satisfied). Even though you’re positioning these meals at points when you feel least hungry, it’s still a good idea to make them as satisfying as possible.
Maximizing the pattern with fasting
Fasting isn’t necessary for this strategy to work, but fewer meals allows even greater flexibility. By not eating at certain times, you save even more calories for when you need them.
In my case, I typically skip breakfast and have the first of three meals midday-ish. Though sometimes I fast longer and eat just two meals per day—especially in a fat loss phase when my energy intake has to be very low to accomplish a specific goal.
More on fasting here.
A typical day
To help illustrate the calorie-banking concept, here’s an example.
Let’s take a three-meal day. The first meal is around 1 PM, the second at 5 PM, and the last at 9 PM. (Note: meal timing doesn’t matter much for fat loss. This is just what works for me, and you should customize the timing of your meals to suit your own preferences and lifestyle.)
The first meals are low in energy, being about 250-500 calories. They’re made of up lots of vegetables and a source of lean protein such as chicken breast.
The last meal of the day is anything from 1000-2000 calories (depending on goal and overall calorie-intake). I’ll have dessert or some other high energy food I might be craving, or perhaps go out to eat.