Busting Food Myths with Nicole Senior

Myth: You need to eat every few hours to lose weight

Nicole Senior

Fact: To lose weight you need to eat less over the day and constant snacking may impede your efforts
I’ve read many websites, books and diet programs that say you must eat every few hours or the body will go into ‘starvation mode’ which slows the metabolism and encourages weight regain. This is incorrect. I’m all for eating regular balanced meals, but insisting everyone snack every few hours is simply not necessary and may actually encourage overeating and weight gain.

When it comes to weight loss, the total amount of food you eat is what matters not how often you eat. I’m not recommending it, but you could eat one large meal a day and still lose weight if the energy contained in the meal was less than your needs. ‘Starvation mode’ is a non-scientific term but perhaps describes ketosis: the state of burning fat instead of carbohydrate (glucose). Rather than something to be avoided, this is the end goal of reducing body fat. Very Low Calorie Diets (VLCDs) invoke ketosis quickly and that’s why they work. These have been used by health professionals for very large patients when rapid weight loss is needed for health reasons. Every successful weight loss diet must have a little ‘starvation mode’ for it to work.

Your metabolism does not become permanently slowed by eating less food, or eating less often. Metabolic derangement is not why many people regain weight after dieting, but rather they slide back into old habits and fail to eat less to suit their smaller body weight. Your metabolic rate goes up and down relative to body size, lean muscle mass, energy (food) intake and exercise. It’s an unfortunate fact that once you’ve lost weight on a diet, you need to eat less than you did before; you need a new normal to maintain the loss. You can minimise this effect by exercising to maintain or increase your muscle mass because muscle is ‘hungrier’ than fat and demands more metabolic energy.

Individuals vary in their need to snack, and this can change over a lifetime. I remember as a young adult experiencing quite debilitating hunger (I called it ‘cotton wool head’) if I didn’t eat between meals, yet now I find I don’t need to. If I feel peckish between meals the reason is often boredom or because food is there, not because I’m actually hungry. Does this sound familiar?

The practical downside of the ‘you must snack’ advice is that it’s hard to find suitable snacks. Easily available snacks are usually nutrient-poor and oversized. In this day and age our demand for convenience means it is too easy to snack unwisely.

To lose weight you need to eat less and move more. If you perform better snacking between meals, make sure they are nutritious foods and fit within your daily kilojoule budget – you may need to reduce the size of your meals to achieve this. If you don’t need to snack between meals, don’t.

If you’d like more common sense nutrition advice, check out Nicole’s website HERE.