I WANT TO KNOW: What are your experiences with small, frequent meals? If they have helped you, how do you think so? If not, what situations are you facing that is preventing you from having small, frequent meals or how have small, frequent meals not been beneficial to you? @JMachowskyRDFit, Facebook.com/JMWellness
Since losing 35 pounds in 2005 by eating more and eating more often, the idea of restriction and “having willpower” has always fascinated me.
Before getting into the nutrition and fitness field (I used to be an IT engineer), I used to only have about 2 meals a day of calorie-dense (versus nutrient-dense) foods, frequently overeating at dinner. And of course wine/beer too. Despite being relatively active (working out about 3 days per week), my body stayed the same and over time I actually gained some weight. And when I added up the number of calories I was eating, it was surprisingly low for a 6 foot tall, then 200 pound guy: about 1600-1800 calories per day. The numbers didn’t add up. So as an engineer, I did some research:
1) A calorie is a calorie, but not all calories are created equal: If you need 2000 calories a day to maintain your weight, you will gain calories if you eat 2500 calories of cheesecake or 2500 calories of salads and fruit. But I can bet that it will be easier for you to eat 2500 calories of cheesecake. You can probably wolf 500 calories of cheesecake down and not blink (or still be hungry for more). Try eating 500 calories of salad (without high-cal dressings, cheese or croutons) and fruit and not feel full! High-nutrient foods like fruits, veggies, whole grains, etc. are rich in two big things that help us feel full faster: water and fiber. Pair this with a source of lean protein and you will feel satisfied for hours…rather than minutes.
Practical Tip: Add a salad or serving of veggies to lunch and dinner and eat it first. Or have the veggies as part of a snack an hour before mealtime (think celery/carrot/cucumber and some light dressing or a spoonful of peanut butter/hummus) Then continue on with your meal as you normally do. Your body will start to get full from the fiber and water from the lower calorie veggies so you will have a lower chance of overeating higher calorie foods during mealtime.
2) Eat smaller meals more often: There has been recent debate about the validity of eating small, frequent meals (including breakfast) for weight loss, however I still believe that (and many other studies show) that frequency of meals does have an impact on metabolism and weight loss, especially when combined with regular physical activity. The possible mechanisms for why this works include: increased metabolism, fueling your body when it needs it, making better food choices, prevention of overeating, hormonal effects, etc. Honestly, there is a lot of conflicting evidence and debate in the research field. In the end, it’s what works that matters, not what is written in a paper.
Frankly, it could just be that we are establishing a better relationship with the food that we eat. If we are nervous about food and its impacts on us, we may tend to avoid it (restrict) and then “over indulge” when we don’t care anymore. Also, this kind of relationship tends to lead us to make poorer food choices (less healthy, more calories, etc.). While eating unhealthy foods more frequently will probably not make us lose weight, those people who are willing to have small, frequent meals may just be making healthier, more nutrient dense (i.e. more filling, less calories) food choices at those meals.
Practical Tip: MyPlate + Three for Three (a great motto published in the NSCA Strength & Conditioning Journal, developed by Amanda Carlson from Athlete’s Performance): Eat a small, balanced meal with a lean source of protein, complex carbs and healthy fats every three hours. Make sure half of your plate is veggies, 1/4 whole grain and 1/4 lean protein. Healthy fats include walnuts, flax, almonds, olive oil (a spoonful or two), avocado, salmon (fat + protein), etc. The two key words are: SMALL and FREQUENT.
Practical Tip 2: If the first tip does not interest you, simply split your 3 meals in half and eat half of breakfast at 7 AM, the other half at 10 AM (or a small snack), eat half of lunch at 12:30-1 PM and the other half around 3:30-4 PM, eat dinner at 6:30-7 PM and a small evening snack about 2 hours before bed time.
As for me, I started eating small, frequent meals, about 2400 calories a day (more than when I started) and increased my physical activity to about 4 to 5 hours a week. I went from over 200 pounds to 170 in about 10 months. The weight lost wasn’t fast, but it’s permanent.