Eating Little & Often Is A Myth
We’ve long been told about the necessity of three square meals and two snacks a day, breakfast being the most important and the need to eat immediately upon waking if we want to kickstart our metabolism. But for nutritionist Ailsa Hichens, this couldn’t be further from the truth. “For years, we were led to believe that keeping blood sugar under control was the secret to feeling satisfied and fewer sweet cravings – and that constantly grazing was the way to do this. Over the last ten years, scientists have learnt a lot more about fasting. Being in a constantly ‘fed’ state prevents the body from performing crucial tasks, one of which is known as ‘autophagy’, which literally means ‘cell eating’, a type of housekeeping the body does to get rid of dead cells. It also affects digestion and sends your blood sugar into a spin.” For nutritionist Petronella Ravenshear, we should be eating three meals a day, at the most, for better health. “Many of us are in a constant state of inflammation due to constant grazing, which affects immunity and saps our energy.”
Snacking Wreaks Havoc With Your Blood Sugar
Whether it’s a bag of popcorn at 11am or a couple of energy balls before an evening workout, many of us are guilty of grazing round-the-clock. “Healthy individuals don’t need snacks,” continues Petronella. “In fact, snacking ultimately makes you fatter and tired, especially if you sit at a desk all day.” It all comes down to how snacks affect insulin levels. “If energy is exerted shortly after eating, the dietary fats and sugars you just ingested will be processed and used immediately for energy. If not, the excess glucose is stored as glycogen in the liver and muscle cells, or as body fat,” adds Sophie Chabloz, co-founder of Avea Life.
Five Hours Is The Optimal Time To Leave Between Meals
“It takes five hours for insulin, our fat-storage hormone, to be low enough to allow glucagon, our fat-burning hormone, to kick into action,” says Petronella. If you’re looking to lose a few pounds, leave at least five hours between meals. If you’re more concerned with weight management and overall wellbeing, aim to leave four hours between meals. “Our digestive system takes three to four hours to digest food completely,” adds Sophie. “So, the ideal gap between your breakfast to lunch and lunch to dinner should be at least four hours.”
Don’t Be Afraid To Eat More At Mealtimes
If you get hungry throughout the day and feel the urge to snack, look at what you’re eating at mealtimes, says Sophie. “If you feel the urge to reach for sweet snacks to boost your energy throughout the day, then it’s likely you’re eating too many carbs and not balancing those carbs with protein and healthy fat, which causes a blood sugar spike and crash. If this sounds familiar, think about increasing portion sizes at meals, being sure to include adequate amounts of protein, healthy fats, starchy vegetables and satiating complex carbs – think quinoa or sweet potatoes. This is especially worth doing if you want to lose a few pounds. If you’ve been trying to lose weight for a while but can’t seem to progress, look at the timing of your meals and what you’re eating. Space out your meals, include all macronutrients and experiment with intermittent fasting to kickstart your metabolism.”
Hunger Isn’t Always A Sign You Need To Eat
If you’re the type of person who reaches for a snack at the first rumble of hunger, it’s important to understand that hunger may not always be what it seems. “Hunger is quite conceptual,” continues Ailsa. “Feeling hungry is sometimes a sign from your body that something is different rather than a need to eat. Hunger comes in waves, and if you start experimenting with fasting, your body may try to tell you ‘something is different’ in the form of hunger pangs. Ignore these pangs as the wave will pass – you don’t always have to have a snack.” If you are fasting for 12 or 14 hours, it’s worth giving some thought as to what your first meal will be, Ailsa advises. “Always have this planned out rather than wait until you’re hungry then undo the good work by making poor food choices.”
A 12-Hour Window Is A Good Place To Start
If you’re looking to clean up your diet, the experts recommend starting by leaving a 12-hour gap between dinner and breakfast. “Start by working out the maths,” says Ailsa. “When do you normally have your dinner? Then count forward. A 12-hour window is do-able for most of us, and then when this feels good, go to 14 hours.” Sophie, meanwhile, is a fan of a 14-hour overnight fast. “A 14-hour fasting window works well with female hormones as most of the fasting takes place while you’re sleeping.” So, is there anyone who shouldn’t fast, or for whom snacks may be beneficial? “If you’re very stressed, it’s vital to get your blood sugar levels on an even keel first before thinking about fasting,” adds Ailsa. “Start with a 12-hour fast on two non-consecutive days and see how you get on. If you have thyroid issues, speak to your GP before fasting. Fasting and cutting back on snacks is also not appropriate if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you have BMI under 18.”
It Will Quickly Become Second Nature
If the thought of going without snacks fills you with fear, Caroline Hind, registered nutritional therapist for Vitaminology says the body is quick to adapt. “Start by including a protein-rich food at every meal – whether it’s a generous amount of Greek yoghurt for breakfast, a scoop of protein powder in a smoothie, or a chicken or salmon fillet with lunch and dinner, as well as plenty of vegetables and a portion of olive oil or avocado,” she advises. “It may take a week or two for your body to adjust, but you’ll soon notice your blood sugar is steadier as you won’t feel the urge to re-fuel immediately upon waking in the morning and you’ll be able to go for longer without food. If you do anything, experiment with pushing your breakfast time a little further into the day – you’ll be surprised at the results.”
DISCLAIMER: Features published by SheerLuxe are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programme.