Healthy Eating

Eat Around the Clock

If you want to boost your energy, lose weight, and lower your cholesterol, it's time to upgrade those 3 square meals.

Eat Around the Clock
Pin it Pornchai Mittongtare

Three years ago, magazine editor Tracey Pepper zipped through four Pilates classes a week, pumped a little iron on the side, and hoofed it all over Manhattan. But something wasn't right. "I was in shape, but I was always dragging," she recalls. "Also, I'd be happy one minute, then crabby for no reason. My moods were all over the map."

A visit to a dietitian offered Pepper, 37, a prescription for her flagging energy and intermittent blues: Eat six times a day. "I've been eating five or six small meals every day now for three years, and it has changed my life," she says. "It takes discipline at first. But once you start feeling the results, you don't go back. "

You're likely to see the results, too. "Grazing," as some people call this eating strategy, is far more effective for weight control than ordinary "deprivation diets," says mini-meal proponent Jorge Cruise, author of The 3-Hour Diet. Studies show that consuming small meals keeps your blood sugar on an even keel and ramps up your metabolism.

It's pure physiology, explains Seattle sports nutritionist Susan Kleiner, Ph.D., R.D., author of Power Eating. After a meal, food is broken down into sugar, which travels through the blood, providing energy to your entire body. "It takes two to three hours for the whole process--for blood sugar levels to go up and then back down again," says Kleiner.

Little meals, big results
eating a large meal dumps huge amounts of fuel into your system at once--with the excess stored as fat--but frequent, small meals deliver manageable amounts of energy over the course of the day. Here's a quick look at the many health benefits of a six-a-day menu:

1) Sustained energy
Food supplies the body with energy; the body then burns that energy to function. But it's easy to upset this delicate balance by skipping meals or waiting too long to eat. "When blood sugar levels are up, you feel energized. When they drop, energy levels plummet," says Kleiner. "So if you eat frequently to keep your blood sugar levels steady, you'll feel more energized all day long."

2) Speedier metabolism
Your body is genetically programmed to conserve energy when food intake ceases. "Blood sugar fluxes every three hours, so if you don't eat something to raise the blood sugar, metabolic rate can slow down," says Dan Benardot, Ph.D., professor of nutrition, kinesiology, and health, and co-director of the Laboratory for Elite Athlete Performance at Georgia State University. Benardot has found that three-meal-a-day female athletes tend to have lower resting energy expenditures and higher body-fat percentages, which he suspects is due to the extended time between food intake.

3) Easier weight loss
It's tough to lose weight when your metabolism is slowing down and your body is trying to hang on to every calorie. In addition, long gaps between eating lead to poor food choices, which can quickly turn weight loss into weight gain. "One of the stimulants to hunger is low blood sugar," he says. "If you let yourself get really hungry and find a bag of unpeeled carrots or a ready-to-eat pound cake in the refrigerator, which would you choose?"