Health & Food

Is There a Right Time and Amount to Eat for Weight Loss?

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I went to, and currently work for a University that focuses heavily on reliable and valid research (as most universities do), much of which revolves around nutrition.  Have you ever stopped to think about just how much food and nutrition research is going on on a daily basis?  Think about all that you read each and every day, and all the messages you get sent via the internet, newspapers, friends, magazines, whatever it is, we hear something new that has been “shown in research” every single day, and often times more than once per day. Do you ever think that research makes life more confusing, rather than less?  Research is meant to provide us the answers that make us live healthier lives.  But sometimes I feel like it just creates more questions.  Case in point….

Source: iStockPhoto

This study showed that bigger breakfasts are healthier than bigger dinners, and could potentially be more beneficial for weight loss purposes.   I know it’s just one study, but I think there is something to the idea of switching from larger dinners to larger breakfasts instead (of course for me the exception is weekends..that’s tough). But wait!  This study showed that eating breakfast may not be as important for weight management as we once thought (although I encourage you to read Lauren’s post about why this study was just plain absurd).  All together though, my point is that we get mixed messages all the time.  And we really only get small pieces of those mixed messages, and rarely do we actually sit and read the whole story (or in other words, the actual research).  Who has time for that? No one, really.  But then with all these little pieces of information from studies, I feel like trying to be healthy and live a “balanced lifestyle” is just confusing! I guess you could argue that’s why dietitians are for…..darn it. I’ll go ahead and admit, I’m typically just as confused as you.

I digress, let’s get to the purpose of this post, which is to clear up (hopefully) the idea that there is a perfect schedule for eating for weight loss.  Because admit it, you’ve heard hundreds of ideas for the “Best time to eat” or “the best way to eat; 6 small meals, 3 large meals, 2 large and one small, yadda yadda”.   I recently had a co-worker ask me, “Gina, is it true that eaitng six small meals is the best thing to do?”….My answer? “Umm, the best thing for what? For you? For weight ? For health? I don’t know! No one does. But, of course, everyone thinks they know the right answer, based on what they’ve heard”. In the news lately there has been so much about “eating three square meals” or “skipping meals” or “snacking all day” and I don’t know about you but I’m about to go crazy.  Which is best?  In my opinion, whatever works best for you is what’s best.  And as this article from the Washington Post points out, there is good research to back up the benefits of just about every eating style and eating schedule, but the bottom line remains the same; you have to cut calories to lose weight!

Source: iStockPhoto

I recently started analyzing my own way of eating, and my own food schedule.  It has changed a lot since I started my new job. I work different hours and I have different food options available to me.  Am I doing things right, or wrong?  In my opinion, I’m eating the right way.  That’s because it works for me.  I’m consuming the correct amount of calories (typically), and (most often) the correct type of calories (in other words, calories that are providing me health benefits, not empty calories that do nothing for my health) and I feel great.  Here is my eating schedule;

 Wake Up: 5:30 am

Coffee: As soon as I wake up. Seriously, the moment I get to the kitchen, it’s liquid gold in my mouth. I drink it black.

 Workout: 5:45am

 Eat breakfast:  8am (~350-400 calories)

 Eat lunch:  Anywhere between 11:30 am and 1:30 pm, depending on my schedule and really, when I get hungry (~300 calories)

Snack:  Anywhere between 3pm and 5pm (~200 calories)

 Dinner:  7pm (small, typically some protein and lots of vegetables, ~200-300 calories, mainly vegetables and a small amounts of lean protein)

Snacks:  ~9pm (yes, I eat snacks late at night, every night.  So what?!  And yes, it’s probably about 300 calories worth of a snack, sometimes more if I have wine)

So as you can see I’ve certainly grasped the advice to eat a larger breakfast, but I’m ignoring (for now) the advice to not eat late at night.  After all, I’m still not convinced that if my calories consumed aren’t in excess of what I burn, I need to worry about late night eating (yes, yes, I know some research shows otherwise, but other research agrees with me, so I’ll do what I want. BAM!).

Sometimes in order to stay sane it’s good to just grasp onto one or two eating philosophies at a time…you know, so you don’t go crazy.  For me it’s breakfast.  I’ve been talking about breakfast a lot lately.  In the past few months I’ve written about the importance of eating a good amount of protein at breakfast, and then I’ve probably posted about four new breakfast recipes (see the links on my recipes page).  I can remember about twelve years ago (I was eighteen, I remember that age well) when I barely ate breakfast at all (but I did eat something, no matter what).  On most days I ate a small bowl of Kashi Go Lean cereal and maybe 1/2 cup of skim milk.  Sometimes I had fruit, other times nothing.  Then about six years lately I had an obsession with oats and oatmeal.  I ate hot oatmeal, made in many different ways, just about every morning.  Truth be told, breakfast has always been a part of my daily routine, ever since I was really young.

Banana Split Oatmeal

So is there a right answer when it comes to not only breakfast, but also the age old question; “Should I eat 6 small meals, or 3 mid-size meals?”, or as of recently, “Should I have a couple days of fasting during my week?”.  Ugh.  My answer? There is no right or wrong answer. The bottom line is that you should do what you want, and whatever fits your schedule.  As long as, in my opinion, you are eating a balanced diet and not consuming more calories than you burn, you shouldn’t put on any weight.  The problem? No matter how hard many of us try, no matter how many studies we read and new ways and times we try to eat, we inevitably end up eventually eating the wrong amount (and typically type) of calories. Thus, we gain weight.

So, bottom line: Stop freaking out about when you eat, and focus more on what you eat and how much.  Period. How do you know how much to eat?  Be more intuitive (don’t think so much about food. Eat when you’re hungry, and don’t eat when you aren’t. Meanwhile, enjoy your food and don’t stress about it). It’s so important! And stay tuned for a post coming up, which focuses on how weight loss and maintenance really comes down to one thing, and one thing only (and I won’t tell you what that is quite yet, but I am willing to be you can guess).

Happy Friday everyone. Please, enjoy your weekend!

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