“This time I am going to stick to my diet,” you tell yourself. You make every effort to follow a healthful eating plan, but in a moment of weakness, hunger strikes and you find yourself indulging in a feeding frenzy.
Is there any way to break this vicious cycle and lose weight for good? It might be time to consider not only looking at what you eat, but also when you eat.
Skip Meals Now, Overeat Later
If you are trying to lose weight, you probably know the importance of keeping an eye on the number of calories you’re consuming. But you may not know that how many calories you eat at each sitting can make a difference in your weight-loss efforts, too.
There is evidence that people who skip breakfast and eat fewer, larger meals during the day tend to weigh more than people who eat a healthy breakfast and four or five smaller meals. This may be because they end up feeling hungrier, which makes it easy to give into temptation. “When you skip meals you will [eventually] overeat,” says Pete McCall, MS, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise.
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When you go for hours without eating, your blood sugar levels dip, which can leave you feeling hungry and shaky. A drop in blood sugar can also trigger people to lose their willpower and reach for a calorie-laden treat.
Smaller Meals, More Often
If you eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day, your appetite may be better controlled, helping you adhere to your weight-loss plan. By consistently fueling your body with calories — even limited calories — you avoid the feeling of starvation that derails so many diets.
“The idea is that if you have three meals and a couple of snacks throughout the day, you are regulating your blood sugar and maintaining your body chemistry,” notes McCall.
When you are consuming fewer calories every day as part of a weight-loss plan, it’s even more important to eat consistently throughout the day to reassure your body that you are not starving. According to Kimberly Lummus, MS, RD, when you eat too few calories, your body goes into starvation mode and actually holds onto calories, which can sabotage weight loss.
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Managing Your Calorie Intake
Switching from two or three large meals to five or six “mini-meals” may help keep both your blood sugar and metabolism steady. McCall recommends restructuring the day’s intake into smaller meals plus more substantial snacks. For someone who plans to eat about 2,000 calories per day, for example, he suggests eating three meals of 500 to 600 calories each and two 100- to 200-calorie snacks.
If eating larger meals is working for you and you’re meeting your weight-loss goals, there is no reason to switch to smaller meals. Spreading your calories out may simply help you better control your appetite and perhaps increase your diet success, especially if you reach a weight-loss plateau.
Remember that the bottom line for weight loss remains the same: “Monitor your caloric consumption,” advises McCall. “Do not over-consume.”