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People have difficulty warming up to the idea that eating a lot of food is healthful, especially if they're overweight and their misinformed family is urging, "Stop eating so much!" even when
they're eating correctly. There are plenty of chronic overeaters, but that's a separate problem we're not going to tackle here. In America eating disorders run like wildfire as a result of all
the pressures associated with body ideals for each of the sexes. Yet overeating is fast becoming our leading cause of preventable death. Then again, not eating enough - or often enough - can
create a similar quandary.
Commonly held notions of body awareness are hard to shake because of the constant flash of images we see. But this isn't our biggest problem. Walk into the gym and see the best bodies in the world. Their high physical standard isn't accidental. These people live and work out in a culture that has its finger on the pulse of what actually works, and they have a lot of motivation to duplicate the results of those around them who are successful. The way to accomplish that goal is through diet and a certain protocol that works.
Some diets will doom their followers to failure when they merely look at them. Another unlikely diet will be a runaway success. One common thread that weaves its way through all successful diets is the realization that food is to be eaten for energy and survival and must be implemented intelligently into a plan that works with the body, not against it. Diets that stand the test of time are really not diets at all, but eating plans. And those eating plans include more than three meals per day.
Although a calories of any kind is still a calorie, what you eat actually does matter. Even odder is the fact that some people can gorge themselves on almost anything, hovering around 4000 calories a day, and never gain an ounce, while some others just glance at 1000 calories of food and virtually blow up! The explanation can seem completely puzzling.
Forget the low-carb movement of the moment, and take note of this fact: The more meals a person eats, provided the food still contains a reasonable number of calories for his particular metabolic rate, the more weight he'll eventually lose. Why? Two thousand calories eaten in three meals isn't the same as 2000 calories eaten in six meals.
Many people have asked me over the years, "If a calorie is a calorie, what's the difference if it hits the stomach in three meals or six?" I always respond by explaining that the number of calories is important, but how you spread them out across a full day is crucial. The body can handle only a certain number of calories, proteins, carbs and fats at one time. Overfeed it in one meal and it stores what it doesn't use as fat or glycogen. Remember, too, each time we eat, the metabolic machine fires up and creates heat. Refiring several times during the day will burn calories because the furnace requires energy to fire up and run. In the end 2000 calories has a much better opportunity to be utilized and burned up over the course of six meals than it ever would over the course of three meals.
Eating often has much more benefit than just weight loss over the long haul. It sustains the body's blood sugar level and creates a situation where moods, energy levels and chemical levels are all balanced. Wait too long between meals and energy levels ebb and flow in ways that aren't always healthy. Perpetuating this cycle can lead to light-headedness in most cases, and diabetes in the worst-case scenario. Frequent eating tends to curtail this kind of wild swing in blood sugar and keeps the body feeding on a steady flow of useable energy, provided that overeating at one sitting isn't the norm.
Eating smaller meals much more frequently also benefits the body because it can process only so much food at any given time. For instance, eating 700 calories in one meal almost assures a person of storing some of those calories as fat. The average person cannot use all those calories taken in at one time. As a result, the body must find something to do with the excess energy stored in the surplus of calories. Fat storage is a logical choice. The body saves it for later so that it will be assured energy during times of lack or starvation.
Although we do not live in a Third World country where starvation is a great danger, the body truly sees circumstances only in terms of survival. Become accustomed to this idea and you'll start to understand how the metabolism and body function. Bottom line: When we go without food for long periods of time or skip meals because of schedule conflicts, the metabolism slows down. String several days or weeks like this together, and the body develops a reaction to what it perceives as a pattern. An almost equal amount of time will be required to repair it when this happens.
By the way, the body perceives the beginning phase of starvation about six hours after your last meal. Even missing meals within that short a period is harmful to the metabolism. You may know you're going to eat in seven hours, but the body senses it may never get food again, now that it has reached the six-hour point.
Probably the best reason to eat consistently and frequently is the prevention of that binge-starve cycle so many get into. I'm not referring to eating disorders here. I mean the feast-or-famine kind of mentality that causes a person to gain an easy ten pounds over the course of a year and not know why, just because he or she forgot to add a few more meals into the day.
I can't tell you how many times I've had a new client talk to me about her diet and say she doesn't eat enough food to justify how fat she has gotten. I'm probably one of the few people on the face of the Earth who will look at her and say sincerely, "You know, I believe that's true." I see her face light up as if to say, "Finally! Someone believes me!" Now, that's not to say such clients don't still eat too much food because they do, typically at one sitting. That's how the metabolism goes down the drain slowly but surely.
One way to rescue your metabolism is to get on a simple plan right now. The more you train your body to eat small meals, the less you'll want to overeat at any given meal and the better you'll feel chemically and hormonally once you balance your blood sugar. I recommend the diet shown here. You can modify it to suit your needs, but pay attention to the macronutrients in each meal and try to match them accordingly to what you like. The optimum diet for weight loss includes at least five or six meals per day.