When I was a kid growing up in the 1950's-1970's I remember being told not to eat snacks because it would "spoil" my next meal. This was a pretty universal thought from what I remember.
In the late 70's and early 80's this all changed right along side the newly released dietary guidelines that had not existed before that era.
Now anybody here who grew up in the 80's or later "knows" that we are supposed to eat three meals and 2-3 snacks a day to keep our blood sugar "stable" and keep our brain and body from experiencing low energy. That is what just about every dietitian, physician or dietary aide will tell you. They will also tell you that skipping a meal or not eating breakfast will "slow your metabolism and make you gain more weight". Well how has this all worked out for the last 35 years? It seems that is has worked out poorly indeed! Because these guidelines to eat all the time came along at about the same time as the published dietary guidelines and the war on saturated fat it is difficult to know which dietary change is the worst culprit here. I'm going to focus here on the 5 meals a day idea only at this time.
Why would eating five or six "small" meals a day be a problem? The first thing seems obvious and that is that most people aren't following the "small" meal part of the advice. That in itself is a fail!
Next, Let’s look at the process of what happens when you eat a meal. I'm not going to go into great detail as I am not a biochemist. At the start of the meal, in the mouth, digestion begins. Enzymes are release to begin the breakdown of starches and sugars. At the same time a signal is sent to the brain. The brain signals that you are eating and the hormones and enzymes are released to process the meal.
Let’s just focus here on insulin and let’s assume that the person eating is not a diabetic. Insulin levels rise and fall in with food consumption. In the standard diet the meal is normally a high carb meal. The hormone insulin is known as the energy storing hormone. This means that the meal causes your body to release insulin. If it is a really high carb meal and blood sugar is still rising after a half hour or so, a second round of insulin is needed and your body will continue to release insulin until the blood sugar is back to normal levels.
In a non-diabetic person this should happen in less than an 1 1/2 hours or so. Insulin then comes back down to baseline and some new insulin is stored for the next meal. In two hours you are now eating again at your morning coffee break. This process begins again. So this is normal right? Why is this a problem and why does it contribute to obesity?
Insulin has several jobs. Number one is to store excess carbs and sugar as fat and secondly to tell the cells not to release any fat. Blood sugar management is not it's primary job. Insulin has several jobs. Number one is to store excess carbs and sugar as fat and secondly to tell the cells not to release any fat. Blood sugar management is not it's primary job. Your body will NOT release fatty acids from your fat cells, and will instead encourage your body to store fat.
This will happen at each meal and snack you eat. It means that you are storing fat all day long. Even eating a low calorie, low fat diet isn't going to do much good for weight loss as long as meals are going to be eaten every few hours. The only time insulin is going to stabilize is when you are sleeping. Most people have noticed that dieting this way just doesn't seem to work out very well.
Now if we go back to the old idea that snacking between meals is not a good idea we should be better off as far as insulin goes. We may have some fat loss between meals once insulin levels are low. This works even better if we eat a low carb diet because insulin levels come down even faster and we don't need as much to deal with the meal.
What if we go to eating only twice a day with 6-7 hours between eating low carb meals; something no mainstream dietician is ever going to recommend? Would this be a fat burning scenario? It should be! It may not be the same once a person has metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance. Things get more complicated and weight loss may still be difficult for a person in this situation.
Here is the problem we face with the dietary guidelines that we have learned to follow. Most adults do become insulin resistant because of the standard American diet and the pounds begin to add up. This is even more reason to leave longer periods between meals. Insulin will have to stay high longer to deal with the insulin resistance and blood sugar problem. It will take much longer to go back to base line. All of this time you are storing fat and not losing it.
So the next time that your dietician, diabetes educator, or doctor tells you to eat several high carb meals throughout the day to keep your blood sugar stable remember that you don't have to be part of the failed 35 year dietary experiment any longer!