What are some weight-loss tips you’ve heard before that don’t specifically involve changing your food choices? Some that come to mind may be “don’t eat two hours before bed!” or “eat all of your carbs before noon!” Maybe you’ve heard that it’s healthier to have five or six small meals every few hours than it is to eat three square meals per day. The truth is, the healthiest way to eat is the way that keeps you feeling consistently full and energetic throughout the day. For some people, eating five to six small meals is the way to achieve this, but for some people-it’s just not. But one thing is for sure: if you’re starving all day, your diet is going to fail.
How often should I eat?
Eating five or six small meals everyday may be a beneficial weight loss technique for a few reasons. For one, if you’re eating portion-controlled mini meals throughout the day, you’re less likely to be famished at a major meal time. Consistent, healthy snacking prevents you from gorging yourself at meal times by preventing low blood sugar and that “hangry” feeling; you know the one where everyone is way too annoying because you just haven’t eaten in a while…yeah that one.
Blood sugar spikes after a meal is consumed, so in response, insulin is produced by the pancreas to make the cells take up the glucose, thus lowering serum blood sugar. If you eat a super high-sugar meal or snack, your blood sugar is going to spike really high, really quickly and then come down really low really quickly.
By choosing high-protein and high-fiber snacks, you can prevent a blood sugar surge. Now when you haven’t eaten in a while, your pancreas will instead produce glucagon: a hormone that causes your body’s stored sugars to break down and provide short-term energy.
In addition to glucagon, the hormones cortisol and epinephrine will also be released by the body in attempt to increase blood sugar levels. This counteraction process to hunger explains why you may get the hangry feeling after not having eaten for an extended period of time, and also why you may be more inclined to reach for something high carb when you do finally get your hands on some food.
Picture this scenario: it’s 12:00pm and all you’ve had all day is a cup of coffee. You walk into the breakroom and there are platters of delicious food leftover from a previous meeting. You walk around and see chicken parmesan, spaghetti…and there’s even cookies! After not eating all day, your blood sugar is low, you may be dehydrated, and you are certainly hangry. You load your plate with three pieces of chicken, a huge ladle full of spaghetti, and a cookie…maybe two for good measure. You scarf down this massive, fruit-and-vegetable-free meal, likely totaling around 1,000 calories, just because you were so hungry when lunch time finally came around.
Now picture this scenario: it’s 12:00pm, but you had an apple on your way to work and a piece of toast with peanut butter at your desk. You walk into the breakroom and see the delicious platters of food. You’re definitely hungry, but you’re also definitely not starving and your blood sugar is relatively stable. Instead of gorging yourself, you’re more likely to choose to take one piece of chicken, a smaller amount of spaghetti, and just one cookie. By having balanced snacks earlier in the day, you’ve set yourself up to control your portion sizes more effectively without really even having to think about it.
The approach to eating multiple small meals throughout the day aids in general portion control by keeping blood sugar consistent throughout the day. It is a powerful way to gain control over how much is eaten at a period of hunger or at a meal time. The key to weight management is keeping blood sugar consistent to avoid bingeing on less-healthy food options during times of starvation. If three square meals per day works for your body – don’t fix what isn’t broken! But for some, it may be beneficial to try the multiple small meals approach and see how it feels.