Chapter 22 Myth #6: Eat Fewer Meals

It’s a difficult thing to accept, but we do age.  Our metabolism slows down, way down the more years that go by.  When we were young, we played, danced, ran after our friends, and fidgeted. This activity raised our metabolic rates. And our hormones helped by giving us energy and drive for all that rambunctiousness.

 Later, we “grew up” and took desk jobs, sat in cars, and spent our evenings watching television. Instead of playing soccer, we drove our kids to practice. And that high school sports injury now creaks and keeps us from working out when the weather is bad.

 It isn’t just about lifestyle; our bodies also conspire against us. As we end our reproductive years, the drop in hormones, like estrogen and testosterone, also lowers our metabolic rate.

 The good news is there are things we can do. Exercise, for instance boosts our metabolic rate, but oddly, so does eating more meals in a day. Most people will lose weight by eating five or more meals a day.

 Take Susan, for instance.  At 41, she was the vice president of a land development company. She had been a little overweight in college, but not enough to keep her from having an active lifestyle. She maintained her weight by playing volleyball and softball.

 Now, work was so busy, she didn’t have the time to exercise or play in any sporting activities. She barely had time in the morning to get two kids off to school. There wasn’t an extra moment for breakfast.  Her schedule didn’t slow down by lunchtime. Deadlines and competitive bids kept her either stuck at her desk, or she was driving from worksite to worksite during the noon hour. As a result, she rarely got more than a few nibbles for lunch.  By the time she got home late in the evenings, she could hardly fit in a few minutes to ask her children about their homework before sending them to bed. Finally, when the house was quiet, she was able to relax and prepare her first real meal of the day.

 For all her running around and restricted meals, Susan gained weight, pushing past 200 pounds by the time she came to see me.

 Ironically, skipping meals was what was causing Susan to gain weight. Yes, she had a lot of stress in her life, so her

cortisol levels were high, but she was also signaling her body by not eating that it was experiencing a famine.

When we skip meals, our bodies respond by hoarding calories which is accomplished by converting them into fat. Susan’s body knew that whatever food entered her body would have to deliver energy for nearly 24 hours. Plus, her body had to protect Susan from the possibility that the one daily meal might also be skipped. If Susan could talk to her body, she’d assure it that she would be eating the next evening, but since she couldn’t communicate that information, her body kept storing fat.

 While it is counter-intuitive, most people will lose weight when they eat more meals a day. In fact, I usually recommend five to six small meals. And I don’t mean fast food type of meals. If you’re going to have more meals each day, make sure those meals are much smaller than your usual meals.

 The best approach is to add two snacks a day to your routine (assuming you’re not snacking now). Make your three main meals smaller than usual, but also add another “snack” a couple hours later. This snack, of course, should still be from the periphery of the store. Maybe some vegetables or meat, maybe some nuts or olives, maybe even some cheese. And occasionally, some fruit could also be an option if you combine it with some protein.

            The point is by eating every couple of hours, you signal your body that there is plenty of food, and there is no reason to store calories for future catastrophes.