It may sound counterintuitive that eating more frequently could actually help you stay slim, but according to Dr. Melina Jampolis, author of The Doctor On Demand Diet: Your Prescription For Lasting Weight Loss, eating frequently -- but only when you're hungry -- makes sense for these three reasons:
1. Frequent eating helps keep blood sugar stable. When you eat several smaller meals throughout the day rather than two or three large meals, your blood sugar level remains more stable, because you are not taking in large quantities of food followed by long periods without food. Stabilizing blood sugar keeps your energy more constant throughout the day and minimizes sugar cravings. Eating more frequently seems to be particularly important for women, who often report feeling less hungry and less moody when they eat throughout the day.
2. Frequent eating helps maintain muscle mass and metabolism. When we cut back on calories, our bodies sometimes react by slowing down our metabolism and using lean muscle mass for fuel. However, when people following a lower-calorie diet eat frequently -- five or six times a day rather than two or three -- they experience less of a drop in metabolism and muscle mass, especially if they are consuming protein throughout the day. The main reason for this is likely due to the fact that eating actually boosts metabolism slightly, because the digestion of food burns calories. Plus, the digestion of protein boosts metabolism the most. (Another great reason to eat protein throughout the day!) Maintaining muscle mass and optimizing your metabolism are important both for weight loss and overall health.
3. Frequent eating helps prevent hunger. Spacing meals and snacks just a few hours apart allows you to feel less hungry than if you eat infrequently. This is important because it is much harder to make smart choices at meals and snacks when you are famished, as anyone who has scarfed down an entire restaurant bread basket in seconds flat can attest. You simply feel more in control when you're not fighting off huge hunger pangs.
Dr. Jampolis recommends eating three meals and two snacks (one mini and one full) per day. You can personalize your own meal/snack schedule, planning snacks for the times of day that you feel most hungry - in the morning, mid-afternoon, or evening.
There's one caveat here: don't eat if you are not hungry. Some people may not get as hungry during certain times of the day or after certain meals, so never force yourself to eat -- but don't let yourself get too hungry, either.
Modified excerpt from The Doctor On Demand Diet: Your Prescription For Lasting Weight Loss by Melina Jampolis, M.D. with Alice Lesch Kelly (Ghost Mountain Books). Ghost Mountain Books, Inc., along with Doctor on Demand, is owned, in part, by Dr. Phillip C. McGraw and Jay McGraw.
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