“Time to eat!” are words that bring back memories of play-time interruption as a child, but now as big kids, we don’t have a dinner bell announcing the presence of prepared food awaiting us. Between schedules, work, family, and stress, it can be difficult to find the appropriate times to squeeze in eating, not to mention when you have your own personal goals for your body. Also, between all of the conflicting opinions and studies telling us when we should or shouldn’t eat, it can be a bit overwhelming to figure out what is best for our own body.
Have you ever heard the saying, “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper?” It’s an old and wise saying according to recent studies that provide evidence that people in the past knew what they were doing, even without studies that proved such. The basic principle of this saying is the biggest meal or calorie consumption that you take in during the day should be early on, and then decline with each meal. For example, if your daily calorie intake is 1,400, you would portion the calories out as 500 for breakfast, 400 for lunch, and 300 for dinner with 200 for a mid-afternoon snack prior to dinner, perhaps. Even if it’s not calculated perfectly, the premise is that your larger meals should be eaten earlier in the day, rather than later.
What the studies have shown is our bodies’ natural cycles are programmed to use glucose more efficiently earlier during the day for energy, rather than later on when it remains in our blood longer and is stored as fat. Consumption of higher calories later in the day – the typical American style of dinner – causes significantly higher insulin resistance levels and higher liver fat content, which can lead to disease and obesity. The studies showed a higher fat loss for those eating earlier during the day than those eating more calories later or even consistently throughout the day.
Whether you’ve recently lost weight and worried about being able to maintain, or at a healthy weight and just want to remain there, it’s a different mindset and strategy than the goal above. However, to honor your body’s natural rhythm and prevent heart and metabolic disease, you want to still be mindful to consume your larger meals earlier during the day. Skipping breakfast or lunch lines up with disaster, as you’re much more likely to over-eat later in the day, which is exactly when your body isn’t using the food as fuel as it is storage. Also, fasting too long between meals puts your body into ‘storage mode,’ so that’s a double whammy when you over-eat later on thinking that you “saved up’ your calories for that larger meal.
For maintenance, keeping your hunger in check throughout the day is key, so small snacks (about 200 calories) at mid-morning and afternoon times between a decent sized breakfast and lunch will keep your hunger in control and curb you from sitting down to a large meal later in the day.
While some people may gawk with envy at the person who states, “I want/need to gain weight,” we all have different personal goals for different reasons. Whatever the reason, gaining (or losing) weight shouldn’t just be reaching a number on the scale anyway possible, but doing it healthfully. So, if your goal is gaining weight, simply consuming empty calories or high-fattening foods isn’t the way to get there – unless your goal is unhealthy fat deposit and increased risk for heart and metabolic disease.
Gaining weight healthfully can be attained by eating your breakfast, lunch and dinner with snacks in between like the plan for maintenance. However, you’d consume each with a higher caloric intake of protein, carbs, and healthy fats. Where a ‘weight-maintenance’ snack is around 200 calories with 5-10 grams of protein and a healthy carbohydrate (fruit, vegetable, or whole grain), a ‘weight-gain’ snack may be around the 300-400 calorie range made up of 20 grams of protein, a healthy carbohydrate and an added healthy fat (nuts, avocadoes, olive or coconut oils). If you’re working out, you want to make sure you intake a high-protein snack immediately post-workout so your body can replenish your depletion of calories used and repair the broken-down muscle tissue.
Integration of Goals
Nutrition – Regardless of your goal, the commonality between each is the nutrition and quality of the foods you use to fuel. Although calories are energy fuel for your body, it will use them differently depending on the nutrients that your body needs. Focus on the three primary macronutrients that are essential for our bodies and base each meal and snack around them – carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Each macronutrient plays a vital role in your body and all are an essential component to fueling your body for any healthy goal.
Exercise – Although the frequency and intensity may be different, keeping up with physical activity and exercise is the other key element for a healthy lifestyle, no matter what the goal. For weight loss, your exercise program is going to need to be more frequent and more intense with both cardio and strength training. Weight maintenance will require less frequent intense workouts, but will still need moderately intense cardio and strength training for 30-60 minutes at least 4 days a week. As for weight gain, physical activity and exercise to keep your body and cardiovascular system healthy is still needed. However, your exercise program would vary depending on the exact goal for the type and reason of weight gain.
Remember, we are all individuals and one food or exercise program researched in a study doesn’t affect all of us the same way. The best way is to play around with a program and discover what works best for your own body.
Charge UP Health | Fitness
Rena Roark, CHC, CPFT, is a Certified Health Coach and Certified Personal Fitness Trainer and owner of Charge Up Health and Fitness, LLC. She works with individuals and group clients as a health and fitness coach to offer support and guidance for their health goals through a holistic look at their lives, helping to find balance between exercise, diet, career, and relationships. Providing accountability and motivation, she can help reduce stress, increase energy and self-confidence, and ultimately help individuals work towards the best version of them.
Please be aware that this article is not a diagnosis, prescription or recommendation for any individual and is not a guarantee for results. Before starting food and/or exercise programs, or using any vitamin or supplement, you should always talk it over with your doctor. He or she may have specific recommendations or warnings depending on your health and the other medicines you take.
Compiled using the following sources:
Health Hub “Watching the Clock: An Effective Dieting Tool?” http://healthhub.brighamandwomens.org/tag/dr-frank-scheer
PubMed.gov study, “Increased meal frequency does not promote greater weight loss in subjects who were prescribed an 8-week equi-energetic energy-restricted diet. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19943985
WebMD “Tactics Are Different For Weight Loss Than Weight Maintenance.” http://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20110705/tactics-are-different-for-weight-loss-maintenance