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We’ve all been there — the to-do list piles up during the day and, before you know it, it’s almost time for bed and you’re standing in front of the fridge, having barely eaten anything all day. Your appetite catches up to you, with a vengeance. To avoid the pitfalls of under- and over-eating, use these tips to keep blood sugar stable and hunger under control:
1. Stay fuller, longer
According to the latest research, increasing your meal frequency has a positive impact on your body composition. The caveat being that the meals must be smaller in size. By eating smaller meals more frequently (approximately every three hours), you’ll help maintain a steady level of blood sugar.
Bottom line: An increase in meal frequency has been found to lower overall body mass in men and have a positive impact on energy levels throughout the day in both genders. Another study found that spreading out our food intake keeps us fuller longer during the day and also sustains fat oxidation (the use of fat as fuel) at night. As an added bonus — more often is not only better but the simple activity has a favourable effect on lowering plasma cholesterol and raising the healthy versus unhealthy cholesterol ratio.
2. Eat earlier in the day
A study published in the International Journal of Obesity, found that consuming meals earlier in the day was associated with faster, and more significant, weight loss. Scientists monitored the eating habits and weight loss success of 420 overweight Spanish participants on a 20-week diet program. Participants consumed about 40 percent of their daily calories (roughly 550 to 570) at lunch. In the end, the group that ate lunch after 3 p.m. lost an average of 17 pounds compared with 22 pounds in the early-lunch group. The late eaters consumed fewer calories during breakfast and were more likely to skip breakfast than early eaters. The latter also had lower insulin sensitivity, which is a risk factor for diabetes (and certainly weight gain in general).
Bottom line: Some people may prefer three larger meals and one snack, while others may like four equally-sized meals. You’re free to find the best combination that works for you. If you can lose an extra five pounds just by spreading out your meals, and eating at the same time each day, it's certainly worth it.
3. Stick to a schedule
Not unlike the aforementioned study, an older study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology manipulated "dinner time" for 22 obese and 24 healthy-weight individuals to determine whether eating behaviour changed when standard mealtimes were altered. They found that the obese group ate more when they thought they were eating after their regular dinner hour than they did when they thought that they were eating before.
Bottom line: Skipping a meal causes blood sugar imbalance and raises cortisol levels, which in turn has a host of negative consequences from increasing belly fat to disrupting insulin receptors. Be sure to eat around the same time each night to ensure your body knows when each meal is happening.
4. Start your day off right
There's a good reason why I tell patients to eat within one hour of rising and never within the three-hour period before bedtime — it makes a significant difference in body composition. A study from 2005 found evidence that people who skip breakfast compensate later in the day with more refined carbohydrates and fats and fewer fruits and vegetables. Skipping breakfast was also associated with significantly higher fasting total and LDL (bad) cholesterol, and impaired post-meal insulin sensitivity.
Bottom line: If you must eat before bed, opt for a light meal or snack that is high in protein and low in carbohydrates and fat like plain yogurt, a protein shake made with berries and water, salad with grilled chicken, or shrimp and veggie stir-fry. Stick to eggs or whey protein shakes at breakfast and you’ll eat less throughout the day.
Remember to know your numbers
I don't advocate counting calories, but you should try to avoid overeating in one sitting, which can cause stress on your body regardless of what time it’s at. Pay attention to my recommended serving sizes (measure by your hand/fist or by the number of grams of protein, carbs and fat). If you feel you need a specific number as a guideline, 500 calories in one meal is a reasonable amount to try to stick to, with half of that for snacks. A good rule of thumb is to stick to the parameters listed below. I use Calorie King or On Target Nutrition to make sure I am in balance 90 percent of the time (with that final 10 percent left for my weekly cheat meal). I encourage you to do the same.
|Protein: 25-30 g||Protein: 35-40 g|
|Fat: 9-12 g||Fat: 12-15 g|
|Carbs: 20-30 g||Carbs: 30-40 g|
Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and The Supercharged Hormone Diet. Her newest release, The Carb Sensitivity Program, is available across Canada. She's also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here.
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