Keep the Grazing for Cows - The Truth About Snacking & Your Metabolism
"Eat three meals and two or three snacks a day to keep your metabolism in high gear."
"Don't go more than three hours without eating."
You've heard all this before, right?
Eating more frequently throughout the day DOES NOT change how many calories you burn though, or automatically result in weight loss. It does NOT speed up your metabolism. You can lose just as much weight or manage your weight by eating the standard three squares a day, as long as you stay within or under your calorie needs. There may be other benefits to saying no to snacks between meals, such as giving your digestive system a rest, which can be beneficial for people suffering from acid reflux, constipation and SIBO. You may end up getting more nutrition from meals if you stop filling up on unhealthy snack foods in between.
Eating balanced snacks and breaking your calories into four or five mini meals works well for some people. It can help control cravings and portion sizes, as well as prevent large fluctuations in energy, hunger and blood sugar levels. You have to decide which approach is best for you.
If you currently eat snacks, experiment with skipping a snack for a few days to see if you end up eating more during your meals. If you're not saving calories by eating snacks and your energy levels aren't compromised, stick with three meals. It's easy to get in the habit of eating snacks or use snacking as a "break" from your day.
Here are some other tips to determine if snacking is right for you:
- If you work out intensely for more than 45 minutes and your next meal isn't going to be for a few hours, a snack can hold you over until your next meal
- If you're ravenous between meals
- If you exercise more than four or five hours after your last meal and you feel low on energy during your workout
Some people who may have to eat snacks are active teens, athletes or very active* fitness enthusiasts (this might be you!), pregnant and breastfeeding women, people who get migraines triggered by low blood sugar and people with diabetes or other blood sugar issues.
How to snack correctly:
- Your snacks should be no more than 200 calories (this is a general guideline!).
- Each snack should have a mix of fiber and protein to give you lasting power.
- Include fruits and vegetables.
- Stay away from "snack" foods like crackers, pretzels, chips and granola bars. They might give you a burst of energy from the easily digestible carbs, but they won't stick with you.
The following snack options are loaded with fiber and protein, and each has between 100 and 200 calories:
- 3 tablespoons hummus and raw veggies like carrots and snap peas
- ¼ cup plain oats with ½ tablespoon peanut butter
- 10 almonds and 1 medium apple
- Non-fat Greek yogurt
Bottom line: You don't HAVE to have snacks or eat more frequently than three times per day to lose and maintain weight. Find what works for your body and schedule, and go with that!
*By very active, I mean working out for more than 75 minutes per day at a medium to vigorous pace.