Most of us have been raised to eat three meals a day, progressively increasing the amount of food as the day goes on. The typical American has a small breakfast (if at all), a medium-sized lunch, and a large dinner, which usually includes dessert. Many of us still have the idea that snacking is bad -- we were taught it would ruin our appetite. Unfortunately, these eating patterns make it very difficult to manage our weight.
The frequency of how often we eat per day has been shown to greatly affect
how fat we are. Many studies have concluded that those who eat four to six
smaller meals per day have less body fat than those eating two or three
meals a day, despite the fact that both groups eat about the same amount
of calories. In addition, eating patterns of three or more meals a day may
also have a positive effect on blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels,
which are usually lower than levels from one or two meals a day. A calorie
is not the same calorie at different times of the day; calories consumed at
dinner and later are more likely to be stored than those consumed in the
morning or mid-day, simply because we are less active at night.
Eating only three times a day requires us to go too long without eating.
By the time lunch or dinner rolls around, we are so famished we eat
anything easily available. Eating small, healthy snacks in between meals
not only prevents you from gorging; it increases your metabolism and
helps you feel energized and satisfied throughout the day.
It is also important not to eat too much at each of these snacks and meals
but rather just enough to feel satisfied and energized. However, if you do
eat too much (beyond being pleasantly full), don't feel guilty; focus on
the present moment rather than the past. And certainly don't eat again
just because it is dinner time--eat only when you feel the need to eat. If
you are not as hungry at dinner time, eat a smaller portion than you are
used to--eat according to your level of hunger--not just because "it is
time" or "that is how much I usually eat at dinner." Likewise, it is
important not to eat snacks if you are not physically hungry. Always pay
attention to your internal signals of hunger. It is crucial that you
experience comfortable hunger. If you are constantly eating just to eat,
you will never experience true hunger and not learn to respond to your
internal hunger signals. If you have been dieting, you are probably out of
touch with what true hunger is.
Food high in fat can mask physiological hunger signals because the
emptying of the stomach is delayed due to the high fat content. Making
small changes and decreasing the amount of fat you eat in foods will help
you attend to physiological hunger. In time, your food choices will
reflect new preferences that are lower in fat, allowing you to acknowledge
more accurate hunger signals.
Eating a large meal increases the opportunity for fat cells to extract fat
from the blood and, therefore, grow bigger. Fat cells can actually adapt
to a pattern of large, infrequent meals by becoming more efficient at
In addition, a two-to-three-meal a day pattern causes the body to face long
stretches without food. This eating pattern actually tricks the body into
thinking it's in a starvation state, initiating physiological changes that
actually slow down your body's resting metabolic rate, the number of
calories "burned" at rest. This occurs because your body is trying to
conserve energy for fear of starvation. A reduction in metabolic rate
slows fat loss. This is another reason why diets do not work. Our body
responds to the reduction in calories as if it were starving and your
metabolism slows down.
Once again, if you are trying to lose fat by decreasing your caloric
intake, it is best to eat small meals and snacks four to six times a day
so your metabolic rate will stay "revved" up throughout the day, making
fat loss and/or maintenance a much easier and healthier task. Of course,
be sure that the meals are nutritious, well-balanced, and low in fats and
simple sugars. If you eat four to six meals a day and don't eat healthy,
low-fat foods, you are missing the big picture.
In addition to eating smaller meals more frequently, try to plan so that
you don't eat your largest meal of the day late at night. The body's
metabolic rate has a natural cycle of highs and lows, peaking late in the
day and dropping to its lowest level during sleep. It makes sense to avoid
putting a large meal into your system after 8:00 at night when your
metabolic rate is beginning to slow down. If you do feel hungry after this
time, you don't need to go to bed hungry, just try to eat something
especially healthy and in small portions. If it is not possible to avoid a
later dinner, eat a snack around 6:00 p.m. so you won't be so hungry later.
I hope this helps and you have the opportunity to enjoy all the wonderful
benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle.