Those who are overweight can be especially self-conscious about eating frequent meals. When I see them during a consultation, they almost applaud themselves for skipping meals or not having breakfast, maybe skipping lunch again or having something light like a half a sandwich or whole grain muffin with a juice, latte or chai, and then having a regular dinner. But the question is, “what are they eating for dinner?”
Think about how children eat. Their parents make sure they have a little breakfast, they run around and play, then have a little snack before lunch. They eat a little of whatever is on their plate, run around some more and probably have a snack later. Then they have a little dinner and usually leave the table before finishing. Before bed they may have a small piece of something sweet and that’s it. Children don’t tend to gorge themselves at any meal because their parents are on top of them having something satisfying and nutritious every few hours. Although we may not have the metabolism of a 10 year old, the way in which they eat and move is keeping them like skinny string beans.
Example of someone who Snacks on healthy foods
So let’s do the math here. This is an example of someone who grazes on healthy foods throughout the day instead of skipping meals:
Breakfast Two scrambled eggs with spinach and mushrooms. Side of sliced tomato (240 calories)
One individual serving Low-Fat Greek yogurt (150 calories)
Lunch Grilled chicken salad with cooked yellow and green squash, beets, and red peppers. Side of quinoa (500 calories)
Mid- Afternoon Snack 12 raw almonds and an apple (170 calories)
Dinner Baked salmon with side of grilled asparagus and small salad of lettuce, cucumbers, avocado and tomato. Olive oil dressing (550 calories)
One glass of wine or two vodka/club sodas (110 calories)
Evening Snack One small piece of hard cheese with two organic dark chocolate squares (170 calories)
For the whole day, the total calories for these meal suggestions is 1780.
What this means
By grazing throughout the day instead of skipping meals, your metabolism stays revved, keeps you burning calories, and stabilizes your blood sugar. You also know another meal is coming in a few hours so you don’t need to chow all in one serving. This is the worst at dinnertime when you have a heavy meal at night and then go to sleep. If you eat late and don’t have a chance to burn those calories off, (especially all those carbohydrates), they will turn into sugar and get stored as fat. This is the main reason why I don’t recommend exercising late at night, since you will go home hungry and typically overeat at the wrong hour.
Example of trying to lose weight while skipping meals
The following example is of someone who doesn’t really eat during the day but saves it up for later:
Large “Skinny” latte with skim milk and Splenda™. (180 calories)
There is no lunch – only a small snack based on the rationale it’s better to skip the meal
4 p.m. Break
Coffee with a muffin or “natural” snack like pretzels and a small container of hummus (500-700 calories) Even if you consumed less calories, this type of meal is not nutrient dense, high in carbohydrates and will still leave you feeling hungry.
Dinner = Starvation
You have a roll because you are starving. Then you may have another and this one has a little butter or olive oil. Trying to eat healthy, you start off with a plate of salad. This is followed by grilled chicken with vegetables and rice. After finishing your meal, you still don’t feel satisfied so you go back to get seconds. Now you’ve just had a double portion of food and carb loaded on rice right before bed. Trying to practice portion control if you are starving doesn’t work very well! (1900 calories)
If you are not conscious of drinking, it’s easy to have two glasses of wine without a second thought (220 calories)
Evening Snack Bowl of fruit (grapes, cantaloupe, watermelon or whatever is in season). You would assume fruit is healthy – right? (200-300 calories)
In a full day, even though you feel like you are not eating as much, using this method, you can still consume 3000 or more calories.
Quality versus Quantity
Now some people may need to have this amount of calories in their diet if they are physically active. What you need to know, however, is that a day of eating is not based on the total number of calories consumed but, rather, the quality and nutritional breakdown.
Someone who eats 1,500-3,000 calories (coming from nutrient dense foods) distributed over a 14-hour period will have a faster metabolism than a person who eats the same amount all in one meal plus a snack that holds no nutritional value. Ideally, you want to train your body to burn calories faster. The way you do this is by exercising (but not solely) as well as eating frequent meals. Everyone has heard at one time or another that if you wait long periods between meals, the body is unsure when it will eat again so it holds on to the calories in the last meal it consumed. So before you pat yourself on the back for going an entire day with barely eating aside from your one meal, I guarantee that you are doing yourself a huge disservice.
Other Consequences such as Blood Sugar Imbalances
This pattern of eating also leads to blood sugar imbalances. When your sugar gets too low, you crave starchy foods or sugar to bring yourself back to equilibrium – which is only temporary. Someone who eats every few hours may be fine eating a diet lower in starchy carbohydrates and excess grains (which contribute to weight gain) because their sugar levels are balanced and they are not depleted. On the other hand, those who wait until they are ravenous will end up not having self-control by dinnertime. They will likely need to eat double or triple the amount of food compared to the person who didn’t skip meals. Additionally, they are more likely to want a more filling and caloric evening snack.
While fruit seems healthy as a snack choice, too much of it can be high in sugar and carbohydrates to have in the evening. Although a small piece of cheese and square of chocolate contains more fat, it’s actually more satisfying and you can stop there without overdoing it. Unfortunately, if you are feeling hungry following dinner, this kind of light snack or a single pear or apple won’t satiate you. Only a giant bowl of fruit will!
Even if you are busy at work, have children to take care of, or just don’t feel hungry during the day, don’t make the mistake of skipping meals and blowing all your calories in a single meal… For more information on finding out how to eat better see the blog Finding a Healthy Balance.