Weight Loss: How Many Meals a Day? (cont.)

And if you have a difficult time sticking to healthier meal choices -- perhaps you have a tendency to choose "junk" foods in between the regular meals -- then eating five or six times a day may end up being a diet disaster. Some of us are simply more in tune with our body's natural cues to eat when we are truly hungry and to stop when we are comfortable (not full). When we follow this mealtime mantra, some of us may very well end up eating five or six small meals, but for others, it may end up being three or four. What if you can't recognize when you are truly hungry? The American Dietetic Association suggests making a schedule and eating small meals every three or four hours until you learn what hunger feels like. If you overeat at one of the meals, get back on track at the next one.

Breakfast Basics

No matter whether you end up eating three or six meals a day, breakfast is still the first of those meals. "Getting people to eat breakfast at all would be a great improvement and is a long-standing, well-documented way to help with weight loss and weight management," says Sullivan. Most of us wake up relatively hungry, especially if we ate light the night before. But some of us need more time to wake up our gastrointestinal tract just a bit. Let your hunger be your guide.

"It's common sense: If you wake up hungry, eat. I'm not sure it's important to force yourself to eat," says Liebman. "People think that any breakfast is better than no breakfast, and that's just not true for adults."

The two proposed benefits of breakfast are:

  • It increases your metabolism
  • People who skip breakfast tend to eat more total calories by day's end.

According to Lisa Most, RD, clinical dietitian at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, your metabolism does increase if you eat breakfast. As far as eating more later in the day if you skip the all-important breakfast, have you found this to be true for you? If you skip breakfast, are you more likely to pass the point of no return with your hunger later that morning, and does it encourage you to overeat when you do finally get the opportunity to eat?

British scientists did find, in a recent study, that women who skipped breakfast ate more calories during the rest of the day and also had higher fasting levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) and total cholesterol compared with the women in the breakfast-eating group. The researchers noted that skipping breakfast could lead to weight gain if the higher calorie intake was sustained.

The bottom line to breakfast is to consider breakfast as an ideal opportunity to fit in some of those smart foods we should get several servings of every day, like fruit, whole grains, and low-fat dairy. You can even get some veggies in depending on the breakfast dish!

Published Aug. 12, 2005.

SOURCES: Bonnie Liebman, nutrition director, Center for Science in the Public Interest. Noralyn Mills, RD, spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association. Gary Schwartz, Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Parks, E.J. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 2005; vol 81: pp 3-4. Vicki Sullivan, PhD, RD, LD. Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN. Farshchi, H.R. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, February 2005; vol 81: pp 388-396.

Last Editorial Review: 8/12/2005

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