What is the best way to eat to lose weight? Grazing, that is snacking throughout the day, eating 6-8 micromeals everyday, having one big meal at breakfast and nothing else? Well, latest studies suggest that all of these options may be less than ideal.
The best meal plan to lose weight is to eat 3 main meals each day. One at breakfast, one at lunch and one at dinner time. Surely that is too simple?
This is the way most people eat but people are still getting more overweight. So how can this be best?
Researchers at Indiana’s Purdue University (Bill Cosby’s Uni) have found the the good old fashioned method of eating 3 meals a day is actually best for weight loss, so long as those meals are healthy and your plate is not piled high.
Dr. Heather Leidy explains that from her studies eating many small meals a day is not actually as beneficial as people claim. Eating 3 larger meals is actually better at helping to control your appetite, and this is vital when dieting as most people want to eat when hungry.
The Balance of Protein and Carbohydrate
However, the content of the meals is vital. The study examined the effect of varying the amount of protein in each meal given to a group of adult males that were trying to lose belly fat. All men were provided meals which resulted in a daily 750 calorie deficit. One group of men ate meals that had 25% of its energy from protein and the other group ate 14% protein, which is about the average protein consumption.
The group of men eating more protein felt full for longer, had less thoughts about food and a smaller appetite in the evening than the men eating less. Also, it was found that 3 meals a day was slightly better at reducing appetite when extra protein was eaten, but for those on the normal protein diet 3 meals did not reduce appetite.
Micro-meals for Bodybuilders and Athletes
Micro-meals may work well for bodybuilders and athletes as it means that you can digest the food quicker and receive a more continuous supply of proteins and carbohydrates to help fuel athletic and sports training. However if you are just exercising once a day for 30-60 minutes then this way of eating is not going to be the best way for you to strip off your fat.
Dr Leidy finished by explaining that this is not an Atkins style low carbohydrate diet.
“We very clearly want people to know that this is not an Atkins-style diet. You’re still getting an adequate amount of fibre and fruits and vegetables with these diets.” Dr Leidy, Purdue University.
She was doing so well until that last point. An Atkins diet is only very low carbohydrate in the induction phase that lasts just 2 weeks. In the maintenance phase much more carbohydrate is eaten and 25% protein is about the norm.
Low Gi Carbohydrate as Important as More Protein
The key to losing weight on Atkins is finding your ideal levels of carbohydrates, eating low GI carbohydrates and eating more protein than normal to suppress appetite and reduce blood sugar levels.
Studies have also shown that most people who try to graze to lose weight fail to do so properly and end up eating too much food.
That aside, this study helps to drive home the issue that we are still getting too much of our daily energy needs from carbohydrates, often refined energy dense sources, which are low in nutritional value and leave us feeling hungry.
How To Avoid Food Cravings
The only way to really successfully prevent food cravings is to take control of your sugar addiction. A majority of people that are overweight are addicted to sugar. However few people realize that this is even possible.
When you eat food that is sugary and high in refined carbohydrates your body releases a hormones that make you feel good. These hormones are called endorphines and when sugar is consumed the endorphines released into the bloodstream are serotonin and norepiniephrine.
The release of these feel good endorphines is caused by high levels of insulin in the blood stream, which is triggered by the sugar.
The insulin breaks this sugar down quickly leading to a rapid drop in endorphiones, which leaves you feeling tired and lethargic and generally a little sad. The solution is to eat more sugar to feel good again. It does not take long to set up a vicious cycle of consuming sugar, getting a buzz from the endorphines, suffering a sugar crash, and repeating the process.
Whenever you reach for a cake, biscuit, chocolate or bread it is because your body is craving the sugar that they contain. This is the major cause of weight gain, fatigue and mood swings in most people.
Sugar is the main reason why you become overweight, not over consumption of fat or protein. Although fat contains a lot of energy, it is when their is excess sugar and the liver’s supply of glycogen is full that the body starts to store energy in fat cells.
The only way to overcome these sugar cravings is to reduce the amount of sugar that you eat. Stop eating sugar, cakes, biscuits, candy, ice cream and foods made from refined flours such as white bread and pasta. One of the reasons why low carbohydrate diets are effective in the early stages is that they dramatically reduce sugar consumption.
To overcome your food cravings give up sugar for four weeks. Consume nutritious salads, vegetables and fruits instead – but avoid dried fruits and concentrated fruit juices, as these contain a lot of sugar too. Learn more about healthy eating and consider following a professional diet plan for better health.
Wholegrains and fresh vegetables help to control sugar cravings. One trick is to take a teaspoon of L-Glutamine powder before meals as this helps to control appetite. Also eat lots of tomatoes, as recent research has shown that these also help to suppress appetite.
One popular way to reduce total sugar intake is to follow a low GI carbohydrate diet plan. Low GI foods are those which have more complex sugar structures which means that it takes longer to digest all the sugar present. This slows down the rate at which glucose is released into the blood which means that your blood sugar levels remain more stable. This can help manage appetite and reduce fat accumulation. Our Low GI Diet Plan (ebook) goes into more detail.
Snacking and Grazing Can Be Bad for Health and Cause Weight Gain
Often the advice from health professionals is to eat small portions of food more frequently. Athletes and bodybuilders take this approach by eating “micromeals” to ensure that they maintain a healthy supply of protein to their muscles and to keep their metabolism high. The metabolism effect is the reason why many people advise us to eat little and often. However, recent research has shown that the opposite may actually be true. Many people who are grazing throughout the day are lowering their metabolism and developing more fat.
Snacking and Grazing Diet
What makes the current situation worse is that many people are only taking half the advice given, that is to snack often, or to graze, rather than eat a few larger meals each day. The other half of the advice that is ignored is to eat only healthy foods and keep portions small. It seems that the grazing culture has led to even more people becoming overweight as people are grazing on junk food instead of fruits and still having their usual large lunch and dinner.
So often good advice is twisted and manipulated in such a way that it becomes very bad advice. Snacking on junk food and sugary snacks throughout the day and also having 3 large meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner will cause you to pile on the pounds in a very short time.
3 Meals a Day for Weight Loss
Obviously these 3 meals should be healthy and not high in calories. The key reason for this U turn is because this advice is easier for people to follow. For some people being told not to eat is more effective than being told to eat often, as the advice to eat often is usually poorly executed.
Snacking is not bad just because of all the additional calories though. When we eat we start to use sugar for energy instead of fat. It takes around 3 hours before the sugar supplies from the food we eat is used up before fat burning can recommence. If you eat again before the 3 hours is up you never give your body the time to switch from sugar burning to fat burning. As soon as the carbohydrate levels fall, fat is then burned. This is the reason why the Atkins diet and other low carbohydrate diets help to increase fat burning.
Sugar Snacks Make You Hungry
Also, to makes things even worse, snacking on sugary foods can actually cause problems with your blood sugar levels and make you feel hungrier than normal.
Other health problems associated with snacking include tooth decay. As grazers spend so much time eating they are exposing their teeth and gums to a near constant flow of sugar.
Snacking or grazing is not a bad thing if it is done properly and with care. If you ensure that the total calories you eat each day remains low and that your snacks are healthy then you should be OK. The problems arise when the snacks are high in calories and sugar causing the total calories you eat each day to increase.
Thoughtless Snacking Increases Daily Calories
Another problem with snacking is that many people snack while doing something else. Studies have shown that if you think about your food while eating you naturally eat less. If you are immersed in work, watching television or deep in conversation you can end up eating a lot more than you normally would. Remember that we have already told you that going to the the movies make your fat.
Research from the Netherlands has shown that responsible snacking does not cause weight gain in all cases though:
“Body weight after 8 weeks of snack consumption was not affected by moment of consumption and energy density of snacks. This finding suggests that consuming snacks that are high or low in energy density does not necessarily contribute to weight gain. Healthy, nonobese young adults may be able to maintain a normal body weight through an accurate compensation for the consumption of snacks.” Van Dongen, International Journal of Obesity.
The only way to really lose weight or maintain your weight is to ensure that the total calorie intake of any day is equal or less than your total calorie expenditure. This is obviously hard to calculate although there are calorie counters that help. Really you should aim to eat 3 medium meals a day plus a few small and healthy snacks. You should never feel full after a meal and you should only snack after you start to feel hungry.
- “Snacking patterns in obese French women.” by Basdevant A, Craplet C, Guy-Grand B. Department of Internal Medicine and Nutrition, Hôtel-Dieu, Paris, France. Appetite. 1993 Aug;21(1):17-23.
- “Effects of snack consumption for 8 weeks on energy intake and body weight” by VAN DONGEN M. Viskaal ; KOK F. J.; DE GRAAF C.; Division of Human Nutrition, Wageningen University, Wageningen, PAYS-BAS. International Journal of Obesity, 2010, vol. 34, no2, pp. 319-326.