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When you eat may be as important as what you eat

When you eat may be as important as what you eat

9 Meal Schedules: When to Eat to Lose Weight

Susan E. Matthews, MyHealthNewsDaily Staff
Are you a breakfast fanatic, an early luncher or a late-night snacker? 

The answer to that question may have greater implications for health than one might think. Although what we put in our bodies matters most, when we choose to eat that food also has an impact on how our bodies will process it and our likelihood of gaining weight from it. 

“The timing of when we eat can influence body weight,” said Constance Brown-Riggs, a registered dietitian and spokewoman for the National Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Studies done on mice — in which food intake can be controlled for extended periods — have demonstrated this, she said. 

The most important aspect of any diet is keeping overall calorie consumption in check, particularly for those with diabetes or who are trying to lose weight. But the schedule people follow in eating meals and snacks can help them either stay on track with their diets, or be more easily swayed off course, Brown-Riggs said. 

Here’s a look at nine eating-schedule habits, and how they might help or hurt.

1) Eating a big breakfast
An old adage advised people to “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a queen and dinner like a pauper.” This may be the best way plan daily meals, according to Brown-Riggs. 

Eating a big meal in the morning gives the body plenty of energy to start the day, and sets the pace of metabolism for the rest of the day. It helps people avoid feeling so hungry at subsequent meals that it derails their diets, Brown-Riggs said. 

2)  Eat within an hour of getting up

It’s normal for people to have different preferences about when they eat, and some people say they just don’t like to eat breakfast. But regardless of how opposed the body seems to eating in the morning, breakfast really is most important meal of the day. 

Because these personal preferences are also mostly shaped by habit, they can be changed by building new habits, Brown-Riggs said. Start out by eating a single piece of fruit or toast to get the body comfortable digesting something early in the morning. 

Breakfast should ideally be eaten within an hour of getting up, she said, and a big meal is not needed to jump-start the body’s metabolism. 

People who skip breakfast are a third more likely to be obese, Brown-Riggs said.

3) A long, lesiurely lunch 

The traditional European lifestyle, in which people take a long lunch break to consume the day’s main meal, might partly explain why Europe’s obesity levels are lower than those of the U.S, Brown-Riggs said. 

Eating a large lunch is better for the body than eating a big dinner, she explained, because it means that calories consumed throughout the day are more evenly distributed, and satiety is also more even throughout the day. 

But be careful about eating too much at any meal, Brown-Riggs said, because that can lead to weight gain even if you reduce calories consumed at other meals. 

“The body is only going to use what it needs at one particular meal, and the rest of it is going to be stored in the body as fat,” she said.

4) Snack size meals throughout the day
Another often-used dieting trick is to eat small snacks throughout the day, in lieu of larger meals. This is supposed to keep portion sizes in check, while maintaining fullness throughout the day. 

This strategy can work well for some people, as long as they stay within their bounds for target calorie consumption, Brown-Riggs said. Some dietitians even advocate that the small, constant meals rev up metabolism and encourage weight loss, she said. 

However, the main problem is that “people don’t know what ‘small’ means,” and so they tend to overshoot their calorie limits, and wind up eating more than they should, Brown-Riggs said.

5) Is a big dinner a big mistake?

In American culture, people often eat their biggest meal of the day at dinnertime. While people may like the idea of friends or family members gathering to discuss the day’s events and share a feast, unfortunately, that’s not what’s best for health. 

People who reserve their biggest meal for the end of the day may tend to eat less before that point. 

“If you go into dinner ravenous, the tendency is to over-eat,” Brown-Riggs said. 

A better option for people who want to keep their dinnertime tradition is to reduce portion sizes. This can accomplish the goals of both getting in some bonding time, as well as maintaining a healthy weight, Brown-Riggs said. People can redistribute those extra dinner calories to breakfast and lunch, to maintain a steadier level of fullness throughout the day.

6) Three meals with three snacks in between 

According to Brown-Riggs, this eating schedule is the golden ticket for health, though as always, it’s critical that the total calories and fat consumed are kept at or under individual daily goals. 

“Most important is the minimum of three meals daily,” which keeps you feeling full the longest, Brown-Riggs said, adding that “how you divide up your calories depends on your individual schedule.” 

If the body goes more than four or five hours without eating, this will effect metabolism and how likely overindulgence is at the next meal, she said. 

Brown-Riggs said she likes the plan of three main meals with snacks in between because this plan takes people’s busy schedules into account. When it’s not possible to sit down for lunch until 3 p.m., having a light snack available can stave off hunger. This schedule keeps you in more control of the food choices you make, she said.

7) Know when to stop

Some diet plans tempt participants with an offer that they can eat whatever they want, they just can’t eat after a certain time of day, usually in the late afternoon or early evening. The assumption is that this plan will lower overall calorie consumption, but in all likelihood, people will compensate by eating more calories earlier in the day, Brown-Riggs said. 

Diets that rely on gimmicks to help people lose weight often don’t present a long-term solution to calorie consumption, she said.

8) Late-night eating

A big problem with eating late at night is that it doesn’t allow for the body to be active and burn most of the calories consumed within hours of a meal. Going to bed soon after eating means that more calories will be converted to fat, Brown-Riggs said. She suggested staying up for at least two or three hoursafter a meal, and one hour after a snack. 

Additionally, staying up should mean maintaining some level of activity, not zoning out in front of the TV. Sitting in the “recliner is the same as going into the bed,” Brown-Riggs said. 

The recliner is where a lot of people tend to get into trouble, as there is a tendency to relax at the end of the day, and to indulge in snack foods. 

“For the average person coming into my office with weight problems, the biggest problem is after-dinner snacking.” 

She added that for people who stay up very late, a snack at midnight is a fine choice, as long as it fits into the overall calorie plan, and the consumer is planning on staying up for long enough to digest it.

9) Fasting 

Any diet that involves fasting for an extended time is not likely to be very effective. While it can lead to weight loss in the short-run, as soon as the dieter starts eating normally again, he or she will most likely regain all of the weight that was lost. One reason for this is that the weight lost comes from losing fluids, not fat. 

“Fasting is not a means of controlling one’s weight,” Brown-Riggs said. 

Even more problematic is the tendency for people to be disheartened when the weight is regained, and simply give up on dieting all together, she said. 

Pass it on: In order to best control your weight, eat three meals daily, and be prepared with three snacks. 


Boost that immunity!

Boost that immunity!

Photo and article courtesy of Ladue News

By Connie Mitchell

How are you faring during this cold and flu season? The answer depends, at least in part, on how your body’s immune system is protecting you from the many viral and bacterial illnesses that gets passed around every winter.

A strong immune system is crucial to our ability to fight off potential illness-causing pathogens, and there are several ways in which the body fortifies its defenses. “Innate immunity is what we’re born with, and includes the normal barriers that we have, such as our skin or the lining of our digestive tract, and even some of the secretions in our sinuses and airways that help protect us and keep bacteria and viruses out,” says Washington University Clinical Associate Dr. Matthew Bonzelet, a physician specializing in internal medicine with Maryland Medical Group. “We also have some cells and proteins that are our first responders to infections. They’re called to sites where we’ve had (bacterial or viral) invaders to set up our first line of defense and to call upon more specialized defense cells to come and lend a hand,” Bonzelet adds.

Acquired immunity develops through exposure to specific pathogens. This is the type of immunity built through vaccinations, such as the flu vaccine, which exposes the body to the same antigens or parts of antigens that cause disease. While the antigens delivered via vaccine are not strong enough to cause the actual disease, they do stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies against them.

A third type of immunity, passive immunity, develops through antibodies passed from mother to child during pregnancy and via breastfeeding. This type of immunity helps babies defend against illness in the first months of life.

Besides what we’re born with and what we can achieve via vaccines, maintaining a strong immune system is largely a matter of good self-care. “The best thing to do is stay as healthy as you can,” says Dr. Sarah George, associate professor of infectious diseases at Saint Louis University. “Eat a good, balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, exercise regularly, keep within a normal body weight, and get good sleep. It’s been reasonably well shown that people who are not getting enough sleep, who are extremely fatigued or extremely overweight have weaker immune systems and are more prone to infection.”

George notes that the mechanisms around these findings have not been thoroughly explained, but studies indicate that children who eat a diet containing a lot of fast or processed food and sugar experience more respiratory infections.

Over-the-counter immunity boosters crowd drugstore shelves, but Bonzelet and George agree that little to no real evidence exists to support manufacturer claims. “We do know that a lot of the substances that are in these products, like vitamin C and zinc, are important in the role of the immune system, but we haven’t seen that people who have normal levels of vitamin C and zinc have any benefit by increasing the amount that they have,” Bonzelet says. He adds that some studies have been touted to support claims that products shorten the duration of a cold or help prevent the common cold. “But when these studies are looked at more closely, they’re not great studies,” he explains. “The jury’s out. We’re not convinced that this works well.”

Although George is “dubious” about over-the-counter immune-boosters, she has a final word of advice: “Get your flu shot, please. It’s still effective and available, so if you haven’t had it, please get it.”