Three square meals a day? Six small meals a day? Food pyramids? Snacks or no snacks? High protein? Good carbs vs. bad carbs? So many questions and every day it seems we are being told to eat a different way. With the extreme problem of obesity in the United States, it’s no wonder that many people don’t even know where to begin when it comes to losing weight. However, that’s no excuse to dive to the bottom of a bag of chips or run to the nearest drive through, but I understand people’s confusion and even frustration when it comes to figuring out what to eat, how much, and how often.
Today we’ll discuss the debate on whether it’s better to eat three balanced meals a day or split it up into six smaller meals. Some experts have been touting the benefits of eating more frequently, especially when it comes weight loss. You may have heard of the 3 Hour Diet, which is based on this principle. The theory is that if you split up your daily allotment of calories into five to six smaller meals, you will be eating every couple of hours, which is crucial for raising your metabolic rate. More research needs to be done on this theory, but it has been shown to work for many people. Your body uses energy and burns calories to digest foods. Also, certain foods take more energy to process than others. Proteins and complex carbohydrates take more energy than processed, refined carbs and fats. Therefore the theory of eating smaller meals more frequently also suggests you eat a combination of quality protein and complex carbs at each of the meals, while staying away from refined (white) carbs, sugars, and unhealthy fats which won’t raise your metabolic rate enough to make it beneficial. To be perfectly honest, I try to go by this principle most days of the week. Weekends are more difficult since my days are much less structured than during the week, but I find that this style of eating works for me. However, it may not work for you.
Whether you agree with the five to six meal (women should aim for 5, while men should try to incorporate 6) principle or like having your three square meals, it’s completely up to you. The most important thing is to find an eating style that works for you. One that keeps you healthy, energized, and strong. I happen to love snacking and find that even if I stick with three meals a day, I still end up snacking throughout the day. So, therefore, eating five smaller meals more frequently plays into my snacking habit and I now do it in a healthier, more structured manner. Snacking with a purpose, if you will. Things I’ve noticed since I have changed my eating habits are:
*Increase in energy
*Rarely feeling hungry
*I more easily stay within my daily calorie needs due to everything being portioned out
*Snacking has become much healthier
*Takes a lot of planning ahead
*Can be more difficult to fit in snacks and meals on busier days
Like I said, this isn’t for everyone, but I have noticed it to be easier for me to maintain my weight, and my energy levels are consistent throughout the day. By eating every couple of hours I am maintaining my blood sugar levels instead of getting highs and lows due to not eating and then eating a larger amount. I also never feel hungry, or rarely. I’m usually eating before I actually feel the hunger, which keeps me a happy camper. I tend to get hangry (hungry + angry) when I go too long without eating. So, I have noticed a change in my mood, which I’m sure is appreciated by many 😉
I want to note that this way of eating can be used as a weight loss technique if you portion everything out and keep to your calorie limit. Eating every two to three hours keeps your metabolism revved up and burning calories at a higher rate. Just make sure you are eating “with a purpose”. Snacking on candy, cookies, chips, or other unhealthy options every couple of hours will not provide the same results or benefits. Think clean eating when it comes to your meals. On the other side of things, those with emotional eating problems or people who have trouble stopping once they start eating may not benefit from this pattern. Also, those with other forms of eating disorders should abstain from this type of patterned eating as it can become obsessive and unhealthy. Again, find what works for you and helps you maintain or lose weight in a healthy, positive way.
Ok, so I’m sure you are wondering how to structure your small meals and what’s the right portion to be eating. Take your total daily calories and divide that number by five (for women) or six (for men). For example: A woman who consumes 1,600 calories per day would need to eat five meals, each totaling around 320 calories. Those calories should be consumed in the form of lean protein and complex carbs for maximum benefit.
Examples of snacks and meals:
*Oatmeal with nuts
*Whole grain toast with nut butter
*Small, or half, turkey sandwich
*Salad, topped with veggies and lean meats, nuts, or beans
*Protein or healthy nutrition bar (these are great for a getting in a quick snack on the go, just make sure they aren’t loaded with unnecessary fats and sugars)
*Brown rice, or other grain, with veggies and a protein
*Cheese stick and a handful of nuts
*Cottage cheese and fruit
*Eggs and whole grain toast
Get the idea? Just limit the processed foods. A great way to make it easy to plan meals is to take a meal and split it (sandwich, stir fry, etc) into two.
Has anyone else tried the five meal method? What are your thoughts on this?