Saturday, 9 June 2012

How Many Meals?

Some people swear by three meals a day; some people live on two. Others recommend from 5 up to 8 meals per day!

So what’s right?

Well, for starters, we’re all different, and what works for others may not work for you, and vice versa. What you need to pay attention to is how you feel when you follow different eating plans. If it makes you feel good, then it’s probably right for you, regardless of what the next guru says.

Before now I’ve recommended the “smaller meals every 2-3 hours” approach, and for some that’s great. Especially if your main goal is to bulk up – you need to eat more meals to get the sheer amount of food you need in. You can’t get 5,000 calories down you in 2 or 3 sittings (certainly not the right calories anyway!).

But, for fat loss and general health, as well as hormone optimisation (which is the key to weight loss, muscle gain, mood, energy levels, fat storage/burning, sleep and much more besides) I’ve come to realise that actually, despite all the reasons to do otherwise, we actually weren’t far wrong in the first place with the old “breakfast, lunch and dinner” routine.

There are a number of reasons for this, and although I HATE talking about calories (because if you’re eating the foods you’re supposed to be eating, calories really aren’t an issue), you’ll struggle to overeat on just 3 meals a day.

The key here is not to snack between meals. 3 meals means 3 meals.

Various and numerous chemical reactions happen after we’ve eaten, and some hormones aren’t even released until 3-4+ hours after we’ve eaten, others take that long to get back to normal levels. The main hormones we’re concerned with here are Leptin and Insulin, which interact to determine when we feel full, and what we do with the food we’ve eaten. If these are out of whack, you can be sure your body fat levels will show it. The best way to address insulin resistance and leptin sensitivity is to take longer periods between eating, as well as selecting your foods carefully.

There’s a lot more to it than this, and I don’t have space here to go into detail, but you don’t need to know how or why it works to benefit from it. The most important thing you can do is to make sure when you do eat, you’re eating the right foods (see my previous articles/blog posts/website for details).

So try it for a couple of weeks. Have a good breakfast (not toast/cereal etc. – have real food), then nothing until lunch 3-4 hours later, then nothing again, until dinner. No snacks between. No sugar-filled drinks (that includes “sugar-free” versions of things!). Just keep well hydrated.

It’s important that you get all the nutrients you need at these three meals, so plenty of veg, lots of protein and fat from good sources, fruit, nuts and seeds. Don’t waste your meals with breads, pastas and other nutrient-free foods.

And always check with your GP before you make drastic changes to your diet – especially if you have any medical conditions. (Although I have to say that – it’s always a good idea!)