You’re late for work, so you decide to scoff down a bowl of cereal before you rush out the door. After a couple of stressful hours at work you’re now starving, so you grab the apple out of your drawer and tuck in.
You’ve got way too much work to do and that deadline won’t meet itself. Lunch time comes, so you heat up a jacket potato in the microwave and rush back to your desk to finish that report. Come 3pm you’re hungry again and you dash to the vending machine for a well deserved bar of chocolate.
You make it home after a gruelling stressful day at work and you can’t be bothered to cook, so you heat up a bowl of soup and make your way to the sofa. Does all of this sound familiar?
Our eating habits have changed dramatically over the last 10 years, and more and more people are snacking throughout the day rather than filling our bellies with larger meals. But is this better for our bodies, and will we retain or burn fat?
Why society has changed its eating habits
Why do more and more people eat smaller portions, rather than consume the usual 3 large meals a day?
Well, a lot has to be said for the amount of variety that’s on offer nowadays. If you walk into town you’ll now see a Starbucks or Subway on every corner, and it’s usually too tempting to pass them by without spending our hard earned cash on a little treat.
Food companies are also making it far too easy to eat on the go, and packaging is often geared towards making it convenient to carry these snacks around with us. Also, with the introduction of social media and the increase in internet advertising, more and more faddy diets are reaching the masses, and healthy snacks like cereal bars are also on the increase.
So does all this snacking mean we are unhealthier?
Not necessarily, according to recent studies carried out. One leading nutritionist Antony Haynes says, ‘Our bodies are designed to graze’. The reason for this is that larger meals can easily burden our digestive system, which can cause bloating. This in turn lowers our energy levels because the body is struggling to digest the large quantities it receives all in one go.
So by eating smaller meals you are making it much easier for your digestive system to work naturally, and your body will function better during the day. When the body consumes a very large meal our blood sugar levels will rise, and after the meal has been digested it will rapidly fall again. This means that our energy and mood levels will drop rapidly with it.
By eating little and often you are keeping your sugar and energy levels stable, which makes it much easier to get through the day. And there’s even more good news. The measure of fatty acids in your blood has been shown to remain more stable, which can help prevent heart disease.
Finally, eating lots of smaller meals can allow you to get more nutrients throughout the day. If you stick to the standard 3 large meals a day, then you would usually only have a few different food types for each meal and not a lot of variety.
Of course, it is possible to have a good variety on your plate with just the 3 meals per day, but studies have shown that most people tend to narrow down their options, and find it harder to include a variety of healthier nutrition.
If you compare that with someone who eats little and often, you will usually find that they have more variety in their diet and eat healthier. When you have 5-6 meals a day you give yourself a much better chance of adding variety. This would mean a snack at about 11am and another one at 3pm to break up the day. When doing this you are more likely to include fruit and veg in your diet, which is much harder to do when you limit yourself to 3 large meals.
The downside to eating little and often
The only way this will benefit you is if you make the snacks healthy. It would be of no benefit to you if you decided to switch your 3 large meals to 5-6 smaller meals if you are going to consume chocolate bars and packets of crisps.
So the snacks or meals must be healthy in order to make the right switch to a healthier diet. It’s also important that when you eat more often that you reduce the portion sizes down accordingly. If you try to eat 5-6 meals a day which are almost the same size as your previous 3 meals, then all you’re doing is eating more and taking in a lot more calories. This is a sure fire way to put on weight very quickly.
So it’s important to realise that eating little and often does mean little. One of the best ways to make sure you are doing this correctly is to count the calories throughout the day, and plan ahead. Let’s say for example you want to eat about 1,800 calories a day in order to lose a pound or two of weight every couple of weeks, then you have to plan ahead and make a list of what you can eat so you don’t go over.
The right way to eat little and often
Prepare fresh food as often as possible, and try to stay away from eating out of packets if you can help it. Cereal bars may be ok now and again, but there is no substitute for an apple, banana, or a bunch of grapes. Vegetables are also a must when it comes to adding in these extra meals.
When you eat 5-6 meals a day you ideally want to still have 3 fairly large sized meals. But don’t make the mistake of going back to your original portions! These larger meals should be at breakfast, lunch and dinner. This then leaves you between 2-3 small snacks at around 11am and 3pm. Your 6th meal could be added around 8-10pm at night, but it’s important to stay away from carbs when eating this late if you can.
Another great way to keep your blood sugar stable during the day is to add protein to your main meals with your carbs. So rather than have just a jacket potato with salad for lunch, try to also add some protein, like chicken for example. As a rule, always include protein with your carbs!
Finally, if you give this a try and you’re finding it hard to prepare the food every day and it’s just too difficult to keep up, then instead you could try splitting up your meals. Let’s say for example you are going to have a sandwich for lunch, then only eat half of it now and the other half an hour or two later. Ideally you want to try and eat every 2-3 hours, so by splitting up the larger meals you are essential spreading them out over the day rather than subjecting your digestive system to a big meal all in one go.
Overall, eating little and often is a great way at burning fat and boosting your metabolism! However, it’s important to recognise that lots of people stick to the standard 3 large meals a day and still lose lots of weight and are fit and healthy. So we are by no means suggesting that this is definitely the right eating plan for you. However, if you are struggling to lose weight and you do find yourself snacking on chocolate throughout the day, then why not give it a go and see how you get on…