The Ratio That Can Make You Fat

Read time: 90 seconds

The metabolism exists in one of two states: Absorptive or post-absorptive.

The absorptive state is a fed state, when there’s food in your stomach and small intestine. During the fed state, the body draws fuel from mostly ingested calories. Excess is stored as glycogen, glucose, and fat.

The post-absorptive state is a fasted state, when there’s no food in your stomach and small intestine. During the fasted state, the body catalyzes and mobilizes stored glucose and fat for fuel.

Time Spent in Each State

The fed state lasts for about 4 hours after feeding. So if we eat, say, 3 meals spread through the day, then our body spends 12 hours in the absorptive state — or half the time in a 24-hour period we are in the fed state.

But the typical person spends much more time in the fed state. If this person eats by the typical North American meal pattern, then he begins eating breakfast about 7 am. Then a morning snack comes around 10:30 am. Then lunch around 12:30 or 1 pm. Then an afternoon snack comes around 3 pm. Then dinner around 7 pm. Maybe a late snack at 9:30 pm.

This means the absorptive state is continuous and extends to 18 hours. The post-absorptive state — when the stomach is empty — exists for only 6 hours.

A Messed-up Ratio

You can see what’s wrong with this picture: The stomach and small intestine contain food content for 18 hours, but are empty for only 6. This ratio offers the body very little opportunity to draw its fuel from stored calories. The result is a metabolism that favors calorie storage and encourage an imbalanced energy metabolism.

Balance the Ratio in Favor of Fat Loss

The repair is simple: change the ratio of the fed state and fasted state. Eat less by eating less frequently.

The way I do this successfully (and without any apparent negative effect or eating obsession) is to begin eating my first meal around 4 or 5 pm. I usually stop by 11 pm. This means, in a 24-hour period, my stomach and small intestine are empty more than half of the time, during which time my body catalyzes stored fat for usable energy.

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17 Responses to The Ratio That Can Make You Fat

  1. Jordan says:

    So this is essentially a 6-7 hour feeding window. I typically stop eating around 8-8:30 pm, so I could actually start eating anywhere from 1-2:30 pm. Very doable. 🙂

    • Johnny says:

      Hi Jordan,

      The important thing is to give your digestive system a chance to rest and thus the metabolism a chance to function in its full capacity (balanced energy regulation — storage and usage).

      In the end and in my opinion, one can spread meals out at any interval, as long as the body is given a balance between the absorptive state and the post-absorptive state.

      I prefer to group my meals together into a shorter eating window and place this feeding window toward the end of the day, or toward the evening. Food has been shown to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, thus enhancing relaxation and may prepare the body for higher quality sleep. (Makes sense, too, that peripheral blood is shuttled to the stomach for digestion, while the extremities tend to be more at rest in the evening.)

      Also, the longer single fasting state (from the previous evening meal to the first meal of the following evening) may increase certain things: fat metabolizing hormones (catecholamines) and wakefulness for daytime activities, through the stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system.

      As such, the best feed window for me is between 4 pm and the time I go to bed.


  2. Cindy Woodrow says:

    I wanted to reply and let you know that I’ve followed your blog since your first post, and since then (about 5 or 6 months?) I have lost over 30 pounds as a DIRECT result. It’s been the easiest effort in over two decades of various dieting. The best thing is that I do not feel like I’m “dieting” anymore.

    I’ve heard of intermittent fasting before discovering Lean Saloon, but never really got into it until you started posting about it. You have a great way of keeping things simple. Case in point is this post’s perspective on “the ratio” of the fed state and the fasted state. Such a significant physiological process has been made so clear.

    In a complicated and unfriendly world of weight loss, thank you so much for such a simple and friendly blog.


    • Johnny says:


      That is awesome to hear, and congratulations on your weight loss.

      When I started this blog, it was really just a random idea someone told me to do.

      But through the months, traffic kept coming, comments were posted, and emails were received to tell me how much the blog has helped them.

      This blog receives an increasing amount of daily traffic — all this from an initially random idea. This motivates me.

  3. Jordan says:

    I understand what you’re saying. I was just thinking out loud about when I would start eating if I wanted a similar eating window to what you’re doing. I rarely eat after 8 or 8:30 pm, so it seemed logical to adjust an eating window to that “stop time.”

    • Johnny says:

      Hi Jordan, my eating window used to be around the same time you’re considering. It worked well, too.

      Let me know how it goes with regular updates.


  4. Louis says:

    I start eating around 4 or 5pm too, and it’s not for dietary reasons…more because it’s hard to fit in a time to eat during the school day. But it’s nice to know I’m involuntarily doing the “fasted state” for its benefits. By the way, awesome entry!

  5. Mike says:

    Hey Johnny how’s it going. First of all thanks for continually posting new content!

    I have been utilizing IF throughout the day and then eating at night. I really enjoy the flexibility it provides and going to sleep feeling full. What are your feelings on post workout nutrition? What do you typically eat after working out?

    • Johnny says:

      Post-workout nutrition is an interesting topic.

      Martin Berkhan of Lean Gains believe in post-workout nutrition… even suggests pre-workout amino acids. I believe if you’re living the IF lifestyle and are in a “muscle gaining phase,” then you can experiment with taking amino acid pre-workout and eating a post-workout meal.

      Brad Pilon, however, does not believe that protein/food circa workout times make a difference to muscle growth. While eating protein pre-, during, and post-workout appears to increase protein synthesis, this protein synthesis does not mean end-point muscle mass. Muscle mass is determined by gene expressions as dictated by your exercise program, not by how much or WHEN you eat protein or food.

      Brad also presented a study recently that shows protein synthesis at the 9th hour is no different whether you consume protein right after the workout or several hours later. And even still, we have to keep in mind that protein synthesis does not equal end-point muscle mass.

      I tend to skip pre- and post-workout meals, if I’m in the middle of a fast. If there’s any end-point anabolism effect to eating protein or a meal post-workout, it’s small. If any at all. I prefer the benefit of increased fat metabolism of working out in a fasted state, and its continued effect after the workout.

      Hope this helps,

      • Yannick Messaoud says:

        Brad Pilon is the best and he as some very strong scientific evidence that PWO is not necessary, i have read both is books, ESE and How much protein you really need, and they are eye openers, still you realize how big the martketing indutry as become.

        I train fasted most of the time, and i never ever take anything before or after a workout.

  6. Jordan says:

    I agree. Keep it simple. Why worry over minutiae? Makes things so much easier and simpler. I workout in the afternoon, and I probably eat dinner 90 minutes later or so. That’s good enough for me.

  7. Mike says:

    Definitely helps a lot. Thanks Johnny!

    I’m glad to hear skipping pre and post workout meals shouldn’t interfere with my goal of adding some muscle. I think I prefer working out in a fasted state as weird as it may seem!

    Is drinking coffee/tea while fasting okay?

    • Johnny says:

      Drinking coffee/tea while fasting is OK. Anything with no calories is fine.

      If you’re new to IF, however, I suggest avoiding flavored liquid for a while, even if it has no calories.

      Flavored liquid may trigger cravings, which makes the fasting a little challenging.

      Once your body’s used to IF, then flavored liquid probably won’t trigger cravings to the same extent.


  8. Peter X. says:

    Hi – interesting! My question is: isn’t it all about calories? If I eat 1,200 calories, does it matter if I take them spread out over the day, or in a short period?

    • Johnny says:

      Hi Peter,

      Overall calorie intake is critical, but energy metabolism isn’t simple.

      The pure unfed state has metabolic, physiological, hormonal, and psychological benefits that, in summary, contribute greatly to sustainable weight loss.

      Having said that, yes you are correct that eating 1200 calories in two meals or 6 meals still yeilds almost the same weight loss, and they both work — so long as calories are controlled.

      The problem with frequent small meals for many people is that they eventually turn into frequent larger meals.

      Also, the habit frequent, small meals throughout the day may induce an appetite pattern that makes it uncomfortable when a meal is missed. Hunger, which is an adaptable phenomenon, appears more frequently.

      This meal pattern in some people produces eating obsession — constantly thinking about the next meal.

      Frequent eating throughout the day also may produce a psychological dependency on the act of eating.

      Also, frequent small meals may diminish the “importance” of food, as many people may get into the habit of eating mindlessly.

      Finally, breaking 1200 calories into 5 or 6 small meals means that you’re reduced to eating very little food at any feeding time, which diminishes satiety and satisfaction for many people… at least in the long term.


      But, you’re absolutely right, if all things are equal, the same calories in 3 meals or 6 meals produce almost the same result. You have to find a way that makes it sustainable. Most people I work with have found eating fewer times (or using intermittent fasting) easy to sustain.

  9. Pingback: Intermittent Fasting and Exercising: Fat Burn, but Not Necessarily Fat Loss | The Lean Saloon

  10. While I was browsing Bing for my research paper, I came across your blog. I cant believe, this is going to help me out soooooooo much. I must say that it was very beneficial towards my paper. I really appreciate the time you took to write up this post. This is one of the best blogs Ive ever read.

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