A cold house on a cold winter day. Your only option for heat is the fire in the fireplace. Think about how you would sustain that fire. Would you keep adding kindling, small twigs and branches every few minutes, would you put a few medium sized logs on every hour or so, or would you throw a big log on there every couple hours and let it burn slow and steady for a while?

Pretty easy choice, right. The fire’s already burning so why be a slave to maintaining it every few minutes? Get some medium logs and a big log on there and let it burn for a while, keeping that house warm. Walk away and enjoy your day until the fire starts to die down, then repeat. Simple and easy fire/heat maintenance.

Same rules apply to your fire/metabolism. Eating food that keeps the fire burning steady and long is the goal. Being a slave to the fire, tending it, watching it and constantly adding fuel to prevent the major ups and downs is a bad idea.

So what are the big logs? Fat. Medium logs? Protein. Small branches? Complex carbohydrates with fiber. Twigs and kindling? Refined carbohydrates. And just for kicks… lighter fluid? Alcohol.

When you wake up, you’re fire is burning the equivalent of a big log as your metabolism is running primarily on fat oxidation from the overnight fast. If you’re not hungry upon waking this tells you that your body has thrown a couple big logs (bodyfat) on the fire overnight and you’re cruising along nice and well. If you wake up hungry (or cold) then you know your fire is running low, usually due to the lack of “self provided” big logs and an over reliance on stored carbohydrate for fuel (people who don’t train their body to run on fat have a harder time upon waking or fasting as their bodies are less adept at using body fat as a fuel source).

What seems like the most sensible way to start your fire tending day? A meal of cereal/oatmeal and low fat milk, toast and orange juice? Or something more akin to eggs, nuts and fruit? Chances are the former will get the fire raging for an hour or two and then burn out quickly while the latter will help that fire settle in nicely and keep burning steady for a good while.

The recipe for a long lasting and easily sustainable fire: fat and protein. Carbohydrates can be used in similar ways to tending a fire, on a specific need basis. If you want to heat up the fire quickly and briefly, this is the perfect time for some carbs. Small branches would be some of the more complex carbs: fruits, whole grains, beans, potatoes, etc., while refined grains would be considered twigs and sugars are metabolic kindling. Be aware that 1) if you add too much the fire may get out of control, particularly when you’re adding the small stuff (refined flour, sugar) and 2) the hotter you get it burning the more you need to be cautious of burning out the fuel quickly and the flame dying down almost immediately. You also run the risk of charring the big and medium logs in the raging fire, making them almost useless and forcing yourself to throw more kindling on the fire just to keep it going. This works against you two fold as you become a slave to your fire and you lose the ability to burn the big logs, which for most of us isn’t ideal as body fat is the ultimate big log.

I was once a slave to the fire, planning my day for and around my 5-7 meals. No longer. Some days I tend the fire, some days I let it burn. Typically, the days I workout are when I’ll tend the fire, particularly the meal or two pre/post exercise. Most days however, I use fat and protein as my long burning logs and let those logs burn. Fasting in the morning has also become a nice way for me to keep running off the overnight fire and let my body go on metabolic cruise control for a while. As a general rule, I eat when I’m hungry, don’t eat when I’m not and use food as a way to fuel my fire however I need it to burn that day.

Just something to think about next time you eat (or don’t eat), particularly if you’re running into problems with meal timing, convenience or being hungry all the time.

Like the analogy but afraid of fat? Check out my page on saturated fat.

Still believe that we need to “rev up the metabolism every few hours”? Check out the Lean Gains post on fasting myths, particularly the first myth.

Now go let those big logs burn and be free from the slavery of tending your fire!

P.S. I certainly did not create the fire analogy, but adapted my version from hearing it a few times, first from Nora Gedgaudas author of Primal Body-Primal Mind.