I listened to a nutritionist on CNN this weekend talk about the myth that six small meals a day will help you lose weight. She said that the six meal a day plan isn’t the way to weight loss. Just ask any endocrinologist and they will tell you that eating six meals a day will put you at higher risk for type 2 diabetes. Her advice was to eat breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner. That’s it.
I found that interesting considering that, for several years, we have been hearing about the benefits of ‘grazing’ and the 3 hour diet that tells us that eating more often throughout the day will boost metabolism, keep our energy up, and prevent the risk of overeating.
The nutritionist on CNN isn’t the only person that thinks the six meal a day plan is unhealthy. Dr. John Douillard, at his web site LifeSpa, also says that the 3 hour diet can increase the risk of diabetes.
The Six Meals A Day Plan
In Dr. Douillard’s article Dangers of Frequent Eating, he says “The risk increases when insulin spikes after eating foods that have high glycemic values. If you eat only three meals a day, (even high-glycemic ones), your insulin levels have time to even out, [according to ] Victor Zammit, head of cell biochemistry at Hannah Research Institute in Ayr, Scotland. Conversely, if you eat high glycemic foods between meals, your insulin levels stay dangerously high.” Translation: If you eat all day your glycemic values stay high all day.
Even if the six meals a day doesn’t contribute to an increased risk of diabetes – and no doubt it would not have that effect on everyone – studies have not been able to prove any real connection between eating every three hours and increased metabolism, long-term weight loss, or more controlled eating patterns.
Now that the six meals a day plan is considered another weight loss myth, a strategy for more efficient calorie burning and a speedier metabolism is trending: Intermittent Fasting (IF). Quite the opposite of grazing where you never go more than three hours without eating, intermittent fasting supporters will tell you it’s okay to let yourself go hungry.
Intermittent fasting doesn’t mean you have to go for long periods of time without food, although you can if you choose to. IF means that you skip breakfast or dinner, or fast for a full day every week or so. Fasting means to abstain from solid foods. Water, tea, coffee and low-calories beverages are permitted.
The argument for the benefits of IF is based on our evolutionary history. We have not always had a steady food supply at our fingertips. We’ve had to go for long periods of time without food while we look for our next meal.
In an article by Dr. Andrew Weil, Intermittent Fasting: A Healthy Choice, he cites a review done by the University of California, Berkeley, where researchers concluded that alternate-day fasting may decrease cardiovascular disease, decrease cancer risk, lower diabetes risk, improve cognitive function, and protect against some effects of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Should You Stop Grazing And Start Fasting?
There are a number of web sites and studies that support IF as a way to live longer and reduce the risk of chronic disease. There are just as many that endorse the 3 hour diet approach. But, a shift from grazing to fasting does seem to be taking place.
This doesn’t mean everyone should stop grazing and start fasting. If eating six small meals a day works for you, you should continue to do that. But when something happens that you’re not able to eat one of your meals, or one of those meals is going to end up being a less than healthy choice, you would be better off putting intermittent fasting into play.
Allowing your body to go longer between meals or snacks and learning to recognize that the feeling of hunger isn’t necessarily bad may help you break through a weight-loss plateau. Getting away from the idea that you must eat every three hours can give you the freedom to do what is most natural: eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full.
Plus when you focus on what you are going to eat three times a day instead of six you will have more time to focus on the quality of the meals that you’re eating.
Do You Graze or Fast or Both?
I’m both a grazer and a faster. On days when I’m working on a project in my cubicle I’ll do plenty of grazing. A banana. An hour later a handful almonds. Before lunch I’ll eat a Greek yogurt. Veggies and hummus as an afternoon snack get me through until dinner.
On Saturdays I’m busy enough that I don’t think about food until later in the afternoon. I drink coffee and water until I have time to stop for something to eat around 1 or 2 p.m.
I’m not convinced one method is superior to the other.
To date, we know two things for sure. 1.) to lose weight you need to burn more calories than you consume and 2.) the only thing that has consistently shown to increase Basal Metabolic Rate is exercise.
So, we’re back to square one.
Who’s to say that in three to five years researchers won’t learn that intermittent fasting is a weight-loss myth and have a new trick for us to try that’s been proven to work on rats.
Whatever you do, make sure that you load your plate with vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, whole fruits, drink plenty of water and get moderate amounts of exercise each day. That’s the real secret sauce.
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