Say it ain’t so! The accepted conventional wisdom of eating several smaller meals throughout the day to shed pounds is being challenged at almost every turn. A recent article has gone so far as calling extra meals a “faddish dieting trend” (gasps in horror).The study cited in the article took 179 obese men and women who were on the same weight loss diets with the same caloric intake with different eating patterns. One group ate 3 times a day while the other ate 3 meals + 3 snacks. No difference was found between the groups in terms of weight, girth measurement, body fatness or blood sugar levels.
The results are consistent with a compilation of similar studies that showed little to no difference between snackers and non-snackers.
“We found it’s not when you eat that matters, but what and how much you eat”. Says Michelle Palmer, a dietician at the University of Newcastle.
The Theory Behind Snacking
The rationale for eating more often is to boost metabolism and/or help contribute to lower caloric intake. In theory, eating stimulates the thermic effect of food, which should elevate metabolism. Further, aren’t we helping curb binges brought on by long stretches without food?
The research does not appear to support such theories and if it is does, it isn’t enough to translate into weight loss.
Snacking Can Help or Hinder
Like any other aspect of eating, snacking is highly individual. Making sure you eat a healthy balanced diet is the first line of defense against excess fat. It comes down to hunger cues. If you aren’t hungry between meals then don’t eat, if you are, grab a healthy snack.
Successful snacking needs to be strategic, healthy and planned for. For people always on the go, sit-down meals are not always in the cards. For these people, snacking is crucial to healthy eating. Also, I often encounter those who eat voraciously at dinner because they essentially don’t eat from about noon until after 6. For these people, a mid-afternoon snack is warranted.
Also, look at what you’re doing now. If it isn’t working, try something different. If you are eating 2-3 times per day – try eating 3-4. If you are prone to excess snacking, try cutting back.
Eat when you are hungry, eat healthily and don’t eat too much. The rest will take care of itself.