Mini-Meals Versus Three Squares a Day
Eating small, frequent meals can take the edge off your appetite. But which is better for controlling your waistline - eating three squares a day or grazing?
Amy was trying to lose weight, but she found herself in the employee break room every day at 4 p.m. Pretzels, chips and candy bars called to her from the vending machine, and she was usually too hungry to resist. Though she had a nutritious lunch around noon, it never seemed to carry her through until dinner.
Sure, your mom used to tell you to quit nibbling or you'd spoil your appetite. But which is better for controlling your waistline - eating three squares a day or having smaller, more frequent meals?
Actually, it depends. Many people eat three nutritious meals a day and have no trouble maintaining their weight. But studies have suggested that grazing (eating smaller amounts of food more frequently) can make it easier to maintain or lose weight.
Eating four to six small meals each day can take the edge off your appetite. This makes it less likely you'll binge on fast food or empty calories. And some research has shown that more frequent, smaller meals may help increase your metabolism.
Mini-meals may have health benefits, along with making it possible to fit into your blue jeans. Research has shown that this eating pattern may contribute to lower cholesterol levels and better blood sugar control. That means added protection from heart disease and type 2 diabetes - two conditions also linked to obesity.
Smart grazing tips
That being said, your mini-meal choices still have to be nutritious to count. If you are not careful, more meals can easily turn into more calories per day. In the end, total calories are going to count, no matter how many meals you eat.
If you decide to try eating mini-meals for weight control, keep the following tips in mind:
- Keep a food diary so you can keep track of your calories. Eating more meals is not permission to overeat. After all, calories from even small snacks and meals can add up quickly.
- Use mypyramid.com guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help guide you on reasonable serving sizes.
- Eat whole foods instead of processed foods. A mini-meal is just that - a smaller version of a larger meal, not an excuse to eat junk food. Go for things like a bowl of soup, a large rice cake with natural peanut butter, half a sandwich, yogurt and fruit, a hard-boiled egg and raw veggies, or whole-grain crackers and low-fat cheese.
- Plan ahead. Don't get caught at the vending machine. Keep your kitchen or work place stocked with nutritious options.
- Make sure your mini-meals balance out. Choose from the various food groups (meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts, grains, fruits, vegetables and dairy) to get protein, carbohydrates and a little fat.
Almost all nutritionists agree that the most successful formula for maintaining a healthy weight includes:
- Portion control
- Balance of calories consumed versus calories burned off
- Daily breakfast
- Regular eating pattern (whether that means three or six times/day)
- A healthy balance of complex carbs, lean protein and healthy fat
- A good night's sleep
In the end, do what you feel works best for you. A good eating plan is only as successful as the person who is able to stick with it.