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Old 03-17-2009, 09:16 PM   #1  
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Default What if it's not true? (re: eating several small meals)

I was recently reading a book that made me question some of the stuff that we are currently being taught about weight loss and healthy eating. Namely, the concept that we should be eating 5-6 small meals per day.

The author actually said that two meals (large one in the morning and average one in the afternoon) with a small snack in the evening was sufficient and most beneficial. His argument for having no more than three meals per day is that each time we eat, our bodies must go to work releasing insulin, digesting, etc. I'm not a bio major so can't describe the whole process involved when the body has to handle food intake (and outtake) but this guy did describe it in detail and it's certainly an involved process.

He said that there's a lot of wear-and-tear that takes place on the body when we eat too frequently and how that can cause our systems to go haywire. He also discussed humans from an evolutionary perspective, agreeing that our bodies aim to hold onto energy sources, since not long ago food wasn't as plentiful. However, he disagreed that the best way to handle that was to eat frequently to prevent "starvation mode", because while that may alleviate the "starvation" problem, it doesn't completely solve it and, in turns, causes other and more grave issues.

He also argued that 5-6 meals per day result in overeating in most people, as our bodies are not naturally trained to be satisfied with small portions in the long run (even if they are more frequent). Our ancestors, when they ate, feasted (and then had the longer periods of "famine"). By no means was he recommending starvation or going days without a meal ... he merely suggested that the more old-fashioned three meals per day is healthiest (and that, for weight-loss, two meals and small evening snack would be even better).

It was all discussed in much more technical terms and it was a reputable author. He acknowledged that his thinking goes against modern suggestions.

Anyway, it made sense to me. The 5-6 meals per day make sense too philosophical.

I have found it an interesting topic to ponder in my head (though I just go around in circles) and am curious to hear others' thoughts on this theory (try to not to be too biased based on what eating method/ diet you're currently subscribing to).

ETA: right now I'm off all dieting wagons, so I'm not following anything in particular myself ... well, other than the eating too much and too frequently method *blush*

Last edited by Itstime; 03-17-2009 at 09:17 PM.
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Old 03-17-2009, 09:22 PM   #2  
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I don't like the 5-6 meal a day philosophy, for just those reasons. I don't feel full, and I can't keep it up in the long run.
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Old 03-17-2009, 09:30 PM   #3  
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Ultimately, I really believe that weight loss success comes down to calories in vs. calories out. Eating 2-3 meals a day, for me, results in binging at those meals, which raises my calorie intake higher...meaning I gain weight. Eating more regularly, in smaller portions (or more commonly, in large portions with lots of low calorie veggies to make the portion bigger but the calories lower) keeps me from overeating, and thus works for me as a strategy for keeping calories low.

Weight loss is a lot of trial and error - if eating less frequently works best for you, then that's how it is. I am a firm believer that there is no one "right" way for everyone to lose weight (some people can't control their calories if they eat refined carbs, others can't control their calories with too much fat, some can't control their calories if they eat processed foods or HFCS), and that a big part of the weight loss journey is figuring out what it takes YOU to be satisfied while eating fewer calories.
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Old 03-17-2009, 09:52 PM   #4  
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Im with Mandalinn, you have to find out what works for you and what you can live with in the long run.
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Old 03-17-2009, 10:14 PM   #5  
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I have never liked the idea of snacking and have naturally felt what the author is saying. I count calories and I eat 3 times a day.
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Old 03-17-2009, 10:37 PM   #6  
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I eat 4-5 times a day. Usually 200-300 calories for breakfast, then 300-400 calories for lunch. A larger dinner (400-500 calories) and then a snack after dinner (200-300 calories more).

I think it's what works for you that is best- obviously there are people out there who prefer 5-6 meals a day and then others who would rather eat three large ones.
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Old 03-17-2009, 11:43 PM   #7  
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I do better with five or more mini-meals (no meals, just snacks, really). If I go too long without eating, my appetite tends to overwhelm actual hunger. I feel "starved," and end up eating alot more than I want to.

Today was a perfect example. I only had two meals, breakfast and dinner, and I definitely ate too much at dinner because I'd waited too long to eat, and felt starved. I use a food exchange program, so the times and amounts aren't written in stone, but if I distribute my calories throughout the day, I can control my hunger and appetite better. I've been able to shrink my stomach by choosing to eat a cup of food or less in a sitting. Today when a friend wanted us to go with him to Golden Corral (a mega-buffet), I realized how much the shrinking has worked. My first plate I filled with vegetables and about an ounce of chicken. I did go back for more proteins, but I felt absolutely stuffed (too stuffed) on a lot less food than I used to at such buffets. It's actually rather remarkable.

I truly believe there is no "one-size-fits-all," advice when it comes to weight loss. Techniques that work for one person can be the worst advice for someone else. Trial and error, is really the only option in finding what works for best for you, but in all of the books I've read on the subject (hundreds if not thousands) in the four decades I've been trying to lose weight - I'm the most skeptical of those that have persuasive scientific-sounding theories.

For example the theory described in the OP sounds reasonable, but so does the exact opposite theory that I've read in other books - that is that because digestion is an involved process that is a lot of work for the body (and therefore burns extra calories), the more grazing and small meals, the more calories burned.

I've read a lot of research on the topic, and in my estimation, the results really support the position that it doesn't matter all that much, more than any obvious support for either position.. There don't seem to be any obvious advantages or disadvantages from a psychological or physiological perspective how calories are distributed. Some people may have better luck with one approach than the other, but the difference is not so dramatic that the existing research clearly supports one theory over the other.

Personally, I think it makes a lot more sense to eat when you're hungry, and only until you're not (noticeably) hungry anymore. My hunger cues aren't really very easy to detect (hubby usually notices before I do, because irritability is my first symptom) and my satiety cues are even muddier (I can feel "hungry" even when my stomach is full), but I'm learning with tiny meals, it's getting a bit easier for me to identify true hunger. The little snacklette meals also help me recognize satiety, because I give myself permission to get another snack if I'm still hungry 15 minutes after eating my planned small snack - that it's usually at least 90 minutes before I feel I need another snack - is starting to show me what "enough" feels like in my stomach - and it's not at all what I thought it was. It isn't exactly a feeling in my stomach - if my stomach feels even slightly full, I've probably eaten too much. It's more the absence of the hungry feeling in my stomach and the fading of the hunger headache. It's a "normal" feeling, neither hungry, nor full. Which for me means I have to stop eating before I think I am ready to.
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Old 03-17-2009, 11:57 PM   #8  
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If eating small meals worked for me and allowed me to lose weight, isn't living at a slim and healthy weight better for me than living a life of obesity? How does the wear and tear on the body caused by digesting 6 small meals a day stack up to the effects on my health as a 200 lb woman who lived on venti caramel lattes with whip and scones?

I really get hungry between meals. A bad kind of dizzy, shaky hungry that leads me to make some really poor choices with food (basically MUST EAT NOW WHATEVER IS CLOSEST). I much prefer to have a healthy snack on hand.

How did prehistoric men and women eat? Did they eat 3 big meals a day, or did they kind of roam around and pick berries and nibble all day?

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Old 03-18-2009, 12:19 AM   #9  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Glory87 View Post
If eating small meals worked for me and allowed me to lose weight, isn't living at a slim and healthy weight better for me than living a life of obesity? How does the wear and tear on the body caused by digesting 6 small meals a day stack up to the effects on my health as a 200 lb woman who lived on venti caramel lattes with whip and scones? I really get hungry between meals. A bad kind of dizzy, shaky hungry that leads me to make some really poor choices with food (basically MUST EAT NOW WHATEVER IS CLOSEST). I much prefer to have a healthy snack on hand.

How did prehistoric men and women eat? Did they eat 3 big meals a day, or did they kind of roam around and pick berries and nibble all day?


LOL--good to know I wasn't the only one!
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Old 03-18-2009, 04:37 AM   #10  
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Calories in, calories out.

That said, I'm always amazed that Americans, the biggest people on the face of the earth, feel like they can't make it from breakfast to lunch without topping themselves off in between.
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Old 03-18-2009, 11:15 AM   #11  
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Its seems to me that if you eat a substantial breakfast, that includes fiber and protein, then it will last you till lunch. I am sure that depends on when your lunch and breakfast times are. Like if you are eating at 5am then by 12, you would be starving so I can see a snack there. then if you cant get dinner till 7 then can see another snack in there. I am a stay at home wife and mom, I eat breakfast between 8 and 9, lunch between 12 and 1, some times 2 then dinner between 5 and 7. I am never hungry between meals or after dinner.
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Old 03-18-2009, 12:00 PM   #12  
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I tend to eat at noon, and again around 6, with a banana in the morning after exercise, and something salty (usually popcorn with sea salt 'cause it's the yummiest) somewhere else during the day.

This works for me simply because it's when I'm hungry.

I also don't follow any particular diet - I'm working on eating if I'm hungry, and not if I'm not, and eating "normal" serving sizes - or something approximating what my research tells me is pretty normal anyway.
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Old 03-18-2009, 12:56 PM   #13  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MariaMaria View Post
Calories in, calories out.

That said, I'm always amazed that Americans, the biggest people on the face of the earth, feel like they can't make it from breakfast to lunch without topping themselves off in between.
I don't know what Americans you're talking about, because I've not seen many folks who've eaten a substantial breakfast, reaching for a mid-morning snack. Rather it's the folks who skipped breakfast, or are dieting so breakfast was very small.

Now, in my current life-style, I do need a mid-morning snack because breakfast is generally only one piece of fruit. This isn't about eating large meals, with substantial snacks in between, or the eating habits of those who aren't trying to lose weight.

It certainly has not been my experience that most Americans have a mid-morning snack. Rather, they're either starving because they skipped breakfast and overeat at lunch because of it, or they're not yet hungry but eat lunch anyway because it's lunch time. The latter aren't hungry yet because they ate a too large breakfast, (there are a lot of people several generations removed from the farm, who are still eating like they're preparing for a day of heavy labor - and then go and sit at a desk, but it's the breakfasts they were raised with). The mid-morning snack is not a common American tradition (at least not in the Midwest), the only people I've ever noticed not being able to make it to lunchtime are those that skipped breakfast or are dieting, eating so few calories at each meal that they are hungry every few hours.

When I wasn't dieting, I never had a snack between breakfast or lunch, or between lunch and dinner (late night time snacking was a problem, though). But, if I wasn't hungry yet at lunch time, I still ate because it was "mealtime,
especially when I worked jobs with a "use it or lose it," lunch hour in which you ate at your assigned breaks or didn't eat at all.


Now that I generally don't have "meal times," because I generally don't eat full meals, the cue to eat isn't the time, it's when I'm hungry, and I try to eat just enough to no longer feel like I'm hungry.

If you're overweight, snacking on top of large meals is not a terribly bright idea, however just because you "only" eat three meals doesn't guarantee that you won't have eaten too much. My MIL keeps telling my husband and I that we should eat like she does - one extremely large meal (and then she snacks on cookies all night). She is overweight, though not as overweight as we are, and doesn't see her diet as a problem. Since we switched to mostly "no meals," and only snacks, hubby has lost 50 lbs, and I've lost 64.

If you're a grazer, you can take in as many or more calories as anyone eating meals (no matter how few or many). Even "only" one meal a day can include more calories than you need, if it's too large a meal.

Do what helps you control hunger the most.

Last edited by kaplods; 03-18-2009 at 01:46 PM.
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Old 03-18-2009, 01:34 PM   #14  
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Interesting. When I was heavy, my standard breakfast was a huge cranberry walnut muffin and a venti caramel latte with whipped cream and extra caramel. I didn't eat a snack before lunch.

While I was actively losing weight, my breakfast used to be a scrambled egg beater wrapped in a warm whole wheat tortilla with spinach leaves and tons of salsa. I always had a snack of berries mid morning.

I still think I'll go with Option B
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Old 03-18-2009, 01:42 PM   #15  
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I've tried eating mini-meals often (5 or 6 times a day or so) but I didn't like it. I never ate much food (only a few hundred calories per mini-meal) so I was always left feeling not very satisfied and then being hungry again in an hour or so.

Now I eat usually only twice a day and sometimes include a snack (usually a protein shake). I have large satisfying meals and I'm full for hours. It's just what works for me and what works for my very strange schedule (work, school, social, all that good stuff).

Last edited by Fox; 03-18-2009 at 01:44 PM.
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