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

4) Mood stability
Science shows a strong connection between food and mood, and eating more often can actually alter the brain chemistry, says Kleiner. The key is to include complex carbohydrates like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, all of which help maintain levels of serotonin, a mood-elevating chemical in the brain. "It's what anti-depressants are all about," says Kleiner. "These drugs work to elevate serotonin levels or at least keep them from dropping too low. The right foods accomplish the same thing."

5) Reduced cholesterol
In one study at the University of Toronto, switching to multiple small meals reduced participants' total cholesterol levels by about 8 percent and LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels by 12 percent. The meal schedule kept blood sugar more even, helping to eliminate insulin spikes that can stimulate cholesterol production, according to lead researcher David Jenkins, M.D. "Eating frequent small meals is a tremendous idea," he says, "though it's going to mean a major lifestyle change for some people."

How to go small
Changing your eating habits is easier if you tailor your diet to suit your needs and preferences. "The goal is to eat every two to three hours," says Kleiner. "You can try six equal-sized small meals or three small meals with two or three snacks each day."

When meals are smaller, quality really counts. Make sure to include protein, high-fiber complex carbs, and healthy fats, says Kleiner. Protein and fiber help you feel full; complex carbs digest slowly without spiking blood sugar; and the fat, which also digests slowly, delivers a spurt of energy long after it's consumed.

You may need to redefine your sense of portion control so you don't take in more total calories each day. In restaurants, order a hearty appetizer as your main course, or before digging into your entree, reserve half of it to take home in a doggie bag.

A great snack is as simple as a handful of nuts and a few pieces of dried fruit. Spread a bit of almond butter on apple slices or whole-grain bread. Or wash down a hard-boiled egg with a glass of tomato juice garnished with a stick of celery. The body craves variety, says Kleiner, so mix things up a little.

To limit your portions, remind yourself how bloated you feel after overeating, advises Pepper. "Ask yourself before you fix your meal if you really want to down both halves of that double-decker sandwich and chips when you know you'll be nodding off at your desk a few hours later," she says.

It's also useful to devise a complete day's menu, and place the food in plastic containers you can take to work or have waiting for you when you get home.

The simplest way to turn three meals into six, says Benardot, is to divide your normal breakfast, lunch, and dinner in half, and then eat the second half three hours after you eat the first.

It may take some trial and error for a few days, but the rewards are substantial--and go far beyond vanity. Last spring, Kleiner shepherded a group of volunteers who tried the multiple-meal system. After a week, the participants stopped obsessing about their weight and began crowing about their well-being. "I kept hearing the same sentiments over and over: 'I have more energy. I feel so much better,'" she says.

For her part, Pepper swears she will never go back to three squares. "I sleep better. I don't have mood swings. My energy levels remain even throughout the day," she says. And she likes that she gets to eat more often. "You're not eating big quantities, but you get to snack six times a day. If you love food, that's a beautiful thing."