Eat Small Meals for Big Benefits
By Ellington Darden, Ph.D.
If you’re looking for an almost pain-free way to shed several pounds, there may be a better strategy than cutting calories. Eating the same foods but spreading the calories more evenly throughout the day might have a surprising impact.
Yes, the answer could be smaller and more frequent dosages of calories that by day’s end total the same amount as you’re now eating. This phenomenon is based on an understanding of metabolism, which is the rate at which our bodies convert food into energy (which it burns) or fat (which it stores).
Metabolism is a sensitive mechanism that speeds up or slows down depending on demand. Just like our highways handling traffic flow, there are only so many calories our bodies can process at one time.
When we starve ourselves – even if only for four or five hours – our metabolic rates slow. Think of an eight-lane freeway contracting into just two lanes, or even one. Then rush hour hits. Boom. Pouring calories onto a metabolic-rate slowdown means that more calories will be stored as fat.
Advice to eat more frequently stems from research done by Dr. Bryant Stamford, head of the Health Promotion and Wellness Center at the University of Louisville. In one study, 80 percent of the obese people surveyed were eating less than people of normal weight, but they were eating it all in one meal.
Dr. Stamford says one massive meal a day is the worst way to care for the body. The second worst way, he says, is only two meals a day. Big meals tend to produce big waistlines, Dr. Stanford contends.
There are at least three reasons why one-meal-a-day dieting is a poor method for shedding fat:
- It tends to turn into gorging.
- The body perceives starvation and thus slows the metabolic rate to compensate.
- The body cannot accommodate a large amount of food at once.
Large meal trigger extra amounts of insulin to break down the food. They also promote the conversion of carbohydrates, which include sugar, into fat.
Two hundred calories every 2-1/2 to 3 hours keeps us on an even keel – never stuffed and never famished. While convenience may be issue, six eating episodes per day are advisable. An eating episode is a meal or a snack. While some episodes will likely result in more calories than others, try to match them as evenly as possible.