How often should you eat?
Three meals a day or eight? TOI speaks to experts who seem to have contrary opinions.
In our race to be the biggest loser, most of us go after different diets. The trusted and age-old three-meals-a-day concept works for some, while others swear by the new-age eight-meals-a-day. Most of us have been brought up on the notion that having untimely in-between meal snacks, is one of the major causes of weight gain. Of late, however, a number of trainers, nutritionists and dieticians have come up with the ‘six-to-eight-meals-a-day’ plan. And many Bollywood actors and actresses claim that following such diets have made them the biggest losers. They believe that in-between snacks help them stay slim and this regular intake also boosts metabolism. However, there are health gurus and trainers who believe that eating too many meals may just work against you and increase your weight. Read on to find out what the experts have to say…
Eat six to eight meals a day
Eat to burn! This can be one of the easiest and most reliable ways to ensure fat loss. Digestion itself is a calorie-burning activity. For every calorie you ingest, your body uses some to burn what you are eating. The question is, how do you make this wonderful feature of your body work for you? This is the essential principle behind the practice of frequent eating where eating at shorter intervals (six to eight meals a day or more!) enables your body to use more calories to aid digestion. When you constantly provide fuel to your body, it means you are also tickling your body to work. Keep working, keep burning. This is called the thermogenic effect of food and it is not only an incredibly smart way of losing weight, it also helps you increase your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate).
I like to call this the Internal Workout — because by continually making it work for digestion, you’re giving your body a workout. And while you may not be able to see the furious digestive activity going on in your body at any point in time, trust me, your body is working way harder than if you eat at longer intervals (three-to-four meals a day).
– says Pooja Makhija, Consulting Nutritionist and Clinical Dietitian
More meals means less stored fat
Eating six to eight meals a day rather than three, is better because it boosts metabolism, controls blood sugar levels and helps in weight management.
Consuming three meals increases the likelihood that one will start an exercise regime with a low blood sugar level. For instance, if we eat lunch around noon, generally our second meal of the day, we would not have much energy for an optimal, calorie-burning workout in the evening.
On the other hand, if we follow a six-meal-a-day plan and have a small meal around noon and another meal around 3 pm, our blood sugar level would be more stable, providing us with more energy for our workout. Cortisol, a hormone, breaks down body fat. However, if we eat a large, high-calorie meal, cortisol is produced in large quantities, but transports the fat from under the skin to deep within the abdominal cavity. This increases the risk of chronic diseases including abdominal obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Incorporating a six-meal-a-day plan into one’s routine decreases the magnitude of cortisol production.
Eating within 30 minutes of every exercise session enables our muscles to maximally replenish the glucose we used during the workout. Consuming another meal two hours after the post-workout meal further enhances post-exercise recovery and replenishment.
Eating every three-to-four hours can ward off hunger and prevent binges that lead to weight gain. It also maintains metabolism and can help regulate proper digestion to prevent gastrointestinal discomfort.
When people consume the same number of calories in one single daily meal rather than three, they show significant increase in blood pressure, total cholesterol levels and levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol.
Eight meals increase our energy levels, accelerate muscle growth, and speed up our metabolism without storing fat. In fact, frequent eating will actually allow us to eat up to 50 per cent more calories without storing an ounce of it as fat.
– says Dr Shikha Sharma, MBBS Doctor and Wellness Expert
Follow your hunger, don’t eat mechanically
It is very important to understand the circadian rhythm of the body. As per our ancient science, Ayurveda, it is all about appropriate time for appropriate food in appropriate quantity.
It is also important to understand that the body needs time to utilise the fuels released from our food. Our body has its own natural rhythm which is as follows:
– 12 pm to 8 pm is the ideal period for human digestive capability. So, most nutrients must be consumed at this time.
– 8 pm to 4 am is assimilation time, where the body begins to slow down.
– 4 am to 12 pm is elimination time/detox time, if you are following a proper and disciplined lifestyle.
The body’s digestive process slows down after sunset as the energy on that side of the earth is ebbing. So, all the food eaten post sunset becomes difficult to digest. The later you eat, you must make sure to choose your food sensibly.
The thumb rule of eating small meals six to seven times a day, which occidental science suggests is rooted only in the shallow system of addressing the BMR / calorie counting.
Even the book Fit For Life by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond suggests the vedic principles of food discipline.
Always remember, to never eat by the rule of the thumb. Go by the bio-feedback and follow your hunger needs. Hunger is the need of the body, and appetite for more meals, is the greed of the body. Eating mechanically should never be the case. Eat with awareness as you are not only consuming cosmic energy but cosmic intelligence too.
– says Mickey Mehta, Holistic Health Guru
Our body was always accustomed to being fed at regular intervals
There is this common perception that I have come up with this radical idea of multiple meals a day. But most of us, apart from the three main meals, have always eaten in between, just that we never thought of those as “meals”, a terminology of the new age nutrition. By default, the body was and is accustomed to being fed at regular intervals as evident in newborn babies who need to be fed constantly. At the basic physiological level, this ensures a steady level of blood sugar in our body and sends a signal that ‘all is well’ and it can continue with its regular processes. On the other hand, not eating for long hours sends the body into a state of panic and it reacts by converting food into fat for any eventuality (read — scarcity of food).
The act of eating often during the day can only happen when communication is established with the stomach, the biggest diet guru on earth. This process is facilitated by the four principles of eating right.
Eating as soon as we are awake kickstarts our metabolic rate and signals our bodies that our nightly fast is broken. Tea, coffee, or any other stimulant, does the exact opposite by suppressing the signals of hunger.
Eating at regular intervals post this reassures our bodies that nourishment is readily available and that it no longer has to convert every meal into future fuel i.e. fat.
Eating more when we are more active and less when less active will happen naturally once we are in tune with our appetite. Everybody is unique so we can’t standardise the number of meals a day. For most of us there is the call of hunger every two-three hours. It is up to us whether we want to listen to it or ignore it.
Of course, as all good things come to an end, eating the last meal of the day a few hours prior to bedtime allows our body to digest and assimilate all the nutrients it needs before focusing on its essential function of recovery during our sleep. If the last meal is too heavy or eaten too close to bedtime, the body will be unable to carry out its recovery and thus will leave us feeling uncomfortable the next day.
– says Rujuta Diwekar Celebrity nutritionist and author
‘Breakfast kickstarts your metabolism’ is utter nonsense
London-based personal trainer Venice A Fulton negates the notion of six-to-eight meals a day and says that one should only eat three good meals a day and no in-between snacks. In his book Six weeks to OMG: Get Skinnier Than All Your Friends. Venice (real name Paul Khanna), claims he can help you lose upto around 10 kgs in six weeks. Venice states that the belief — “each time we eat we boost our metabolism and our chances of losing weight’ — is wrong and just wishful thinking”. He adds that our snacks have become meals and we eat more than we realise during the in-between-meal times. There is no point in eating six or more times a day because just sticking to three meals also controls our appetite as it releases leptin (a chemical that tells our brain we are full). Venice says in an interview on a video-sharing website, “The belief ‘breakfast kickstarts you metabolism’ is utter nonsense”, and goes on to state that metabolism begins the moment you wake up. A cold bath or shower in the morning helps burn calories too.
– says Venice A Fulton, Personal Trainer and author
Why no more than three meals
– You will end up in the toilet more often.
– You will be fatter because your in-between snacks may be much bigger.
– All that food will make you visit your dentist more often!