Thursday, September 20, 2012

How many meals should we be eating a day?

I get asked this question from time to time so I thought I would explain my views on how messed up America's eating habits are.

When I was a kid, we ate 3 meals. Breakfast, lunch, and an early dinner (by 6 pm). If we were hungry at 8pm we had a choice of fruit or to wait until breakfast. Somehow since then it has become fashionable to eat 6 smaller meals a day. Where this came from I am not really sure, but it is definitely an American-made concept.

I have tried this at least a few times and have stopped almost immediately because I felt like the only thing I was doing was eating- all day long! It was like I spent so much time managing when I was going to eat that it was annoying and I felt like I couldn't get anything else done because I was always eating.

Since attending nutrition school, I have come to think that not only is eating 6 times a day a little ridiculous, it is completely unnecessary, and actually detrimental to losing weight (which is the argument that trainers use when they tell you to eat smaller meals more frequently).

In a nutshell, your body will not burn fat if it is constantly getting fed. Fat is stored to be used as energy, but it only burns it if there is no food in sight. So if you can train your body to go longer between meals you actually have a shot at burning your fat stores for energy.

This brings up another aspect of eating 6 meals a day: night eating. Inevitably if you are eating 6 meals a day, you are more than likely eating later than you normally would to get that last meal in. Night eating is the worst thing you can do if you are trying to lose weight. It's ideal to go to bed on an empty stomach (slightly hungry but not starving) because then your body burns it's fat stores all night long. Everyone is different, but the ideal time for me to stop eating is 6pm, and I usually eat a large lunch and smaller dinner. When I do not eat a large lunch I go into the late afternoon starving, ravenous, and capable of eating everything. This is what I have been working on...eating my big meal during the day.

I have been chipping away at this over the past few months, and have seen tremendous results (along with all the juice I drink). I gave up the idea that I need to kill myself at the gym everyday and little by little have changed my eating habits. I have seen more weight loss from changing my eating habits than I ever did from spending hours at the gym. Now, a few times a week I go for a six mile walk (more like stroll most days) and an occasional run if I do not have the time to walk.

Changing one's eating habits is tough stuff, especially if you are addicted to sugar, caffeine, etc., but I promise if you just start where you are and make little baby steps you can see lasting weight loss without killing yourself at the gym.

And the most important thing to remember is: IF YOU ARE NOT HUNGRY DON'T EAT! (regardless of what you think you have to don't have to do are an ONLY when you are hungry!)

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