Which do you think is better? Like most people out there, you probably answered that the former is better for losing weight and for overall health than the latter. Let’s back up a minute there and think it through. Does one approach work for everybody? Or can both ways of eating work? There are pros and cons to each approach so let’s explore these:
GRAZE – Six or More Smaller Meals per Day – The Pros and Cons
According to the experts pushing for the frequent feeding model, six or more smaller meals per day burns more calories because of the thermic effect of food (especially a protein-rich diet). It also suppresses your appetite, makes you feel full, avoids huge swings in your insulin levels, and has positive effects on your cholesterol.
People with diabetes feel more comfortable with this type of approach. It helps them sustain their energy (prevent hypoglycaemia), and avoid weakness and fatigue especially from physical activity.
People with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) also benefit from this type of approach. They may not go to the loo or experience reflux as often respectively.
On the other hand, some people can find the grazing approach too much to handle. Some people have problems with portion control, also known as stimulus-bound eating. The mere sight of food creates an appetite and prompts you to eat more leading to weight gain. That small meal you’re grazing on may turn into a large feast.
GORGE – Three Main Meals per Day – The Pros and Cons
Proponents of this approach state that eating fewer but bigger meals per day promotes weight loss, avoidance of illness, and an increase in lifespan. They believe that people consume too much of everything, especially food and that snacking is not necessary with three large meals per day. We often underestimate the number of calories in the food we eat. The more times per day that you’re exposed to food, the greater your chances are of overeating. Some even suggest that eating fewer meals per day may have similar benefits to alternate day fasting, particularly for weight loss.
Supporters of the gorge method also argue that their method is best for controlling appetite, managing food intake, and very convenient for people on the go. To them, meal frequency doesn’t increase your basal metabolic rate, thus has no perceivable effect on weight loss. Decreasing the number of times you eat, also decreases the amount of time you’re exposed to tempting food.
Healthcare practitioners will inform you that three big meals per day can lead to bloating, lower energy, unpredictable insulin levels, and indigestion. The gigantic mixture of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats unloaded on your stomach and intestines creates a suboptimal environment for digestion.
When should your heaviest meal of the day be?
Let’s cut to the chase, from a health standpoint, it’s definitely NOT dinner. People with 9 to 5 jobs don’t need a heavy dinner. We have to keep dinner light so that our digestive system will not have a hard time assimilating all the nutrients from our food while we sleep. Also, you should eat your dinner three to four hours before going to bed to give your body enough time to finish the heavy task of transferring the food from your stomach to your small intestines (called gastric emptying time). A study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology in 2005 found that you increase your chances of developing GERD if you eat a heavy meal (at dinner) close to your bedtime.
And now we’re left with breakfast and lunch. Again, it may become a battle between these two. After an overnight of fasting, your stomach is almost as flat as an iPad ready to take in food again. Theoretically, this would mean that it’s ready for a huge delivery making it the ideal time for the biggest meal of the day. Experts also state that whatever you eat during breakfast should last you throughout the entire day. Furthermore, your body is most physically active during this time of the day (morning), so you need the greatest amounts of calories to sustain energy.
Leaping over to the other side of the fence, authorities who argue that people should eat their heaviest meals during lunch state that a heavy breakfast will not last you a full day. You need to buffer and extend your energy levels around lunchtime to late afternoon, which would equate to lunch being the heaviest meal of the day. What about those who want to lose weight? Again, this largely depends on variation between individuals. A little experimentation will give you a lot of information about how your body responds to the heaviest meal at different times of the day. As opposed to breakfast, there is more likely to be ample time for everybody to prepare and sit down to eat a full lunch.
Most New Zealanders, Australians, Americans, British, and other people from the western hemisphere make dinner the heaviest meal of the day. While the rest of the world have lunch as their biggest meal. But for optimum health and for aiding weight loss, breakfast or lunch are considered the best times to eat your heaviest meal. Dinner is out of the picture.
This is where warring sides all agree (breakfast versus lunch, graze versus gorge). This is because of gut AND brain physiology. Eating slower allows your gut to communicate efficiently with your brain, telling it you’re full and that you can stop eating. It’s basically a complex interplay between digestive enzymes, hormones, and brain neurotransmitters. From a practical standpoint, wouldn’t it be nice to savour the flavour and taste of the food you eat? You can’t appreciate that if you eat like a blue whale (who opens its mouth and takes everything in at once).
In the end, it all boils down to your personal goals. Which approach is most sustainable for you and fits best with your lifestyle? And, let’s not forget the actual food you eat, which is equally as important, if not more important! Some people find it comfortable and convenient to eat three meals a day while others don’t. Others find it easier to lose weight and keep it off by eating several smaller meals during the day. Both approaches have valid scientific evidence to rival each other. They only differ in how you apply them to your weight loss, fitness or health goals. The cool thing is that you can choose which one works best for you.
Choosing when you eat your heaviest meal is also up to you and what suits your schedule best. While dinner may not be the best time to eat your largest meal, if you can’t change this to lunch or breakfast time, just make sure you have dinner early enough to give your body plenty of time to digest it before bedtime.