“Scientific studies have shown that eating multiple small meals instead of three large ones results in less unwanted weight gain, and a smoother transition of energy output and use during exercise. When we eat this way we experience fewer valleys and peaks between meals and fewer episodes of hunger to drive us to overeating,” according to Dr. Anthony Goodman, who received his BA from Harvard and MD from Cornell. He teaches “The Myths of Nutrition and Fitness,” a course offered by The Great Courses, which I am currently taking.
Sam Ellyn, writing on the Livestrong site, agrees, “Eating more often doesn’t mean eating more; in fact, you may end up eating less. The less time you have between meals, the less likely you’ll be to overeat. Eating more often also keeps your metabolism up. Eating three meals and two snacks a day is an effective way to stay healthy and manage your weight.”
He points out that Katherine Zeratsky at MayoClinic.com says when our body doesn’t get food for long periods it can lead to a physiologic response that promotes fat storage. Eating every few hours helps keep your blood sugar levels steady, avoiding spikes that can lead to weight gain.
Skipping breakfast might mean that your body hasn’t had food for 12 hours since your dinner the previous night. This can lead to extreme hunger and taking portions far beyond what you need to feel full. Ellyn suggests a mid morning snack to cut down your cravings at lunch. Also a mid-afternoon snack can reduce your chances of overeating at dinner.
The For Dummies site offered some very useful ideas, “Nutritionists recognize that your body feels hungry at regular intervals. Throughout the world, the feeding schedule generally provides four meals a day: breakfast, lunch, tea, and supper. In the United States, a three-meal-a-day culture forces people to fight their natural rhythm by going without food from lunch at noon to supper at 6 p.m. or later.
“The unpleasant result of this delay in nourishment is that when glucose levels decline around 4 p.m., and people in many countries are enjoying afternoon tea, many Americans get really testy and try to satisfy their natural hunger by grabbing the nearest food, usually a high-fat, high-calorie snack.
“If you’re hungry, eat — in reasonable amounts that support a realistic weight. Make one day’s indulgence guilt-free by reducing your calorie intake proportionately over the next few days. A little give here, a little take there, and you’ll stay on target overall.”
I would like to add anecdotally that I typically have four meals along with snacks in my day. I start with my smoothie first thing, then a dog walk and likely a bicycle ride. When I come home after showering I have my watermelon and a nice meal to restore the calories I burned on the ride. Another dog walk, then lunch. So, that is three meals by early afternoon. I have dinner around 5:00 p.m. and then do some snacking till bed time.
The For Dummies site concluded with the statement, “The best way to deal with hunger and appetite is to find out how to recognize and follow your body’s natural cues.”
These are almost the exact same words that Dr. Goodman uses over and over in his course on fitness – that we should learn to listen to our bodies because each of us is different. What works for our neighbor might be useless for us.