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Getting Skinny on Six Meals a Day

more on eating less more often

We’re so used to hearing people talk about eating less food that it’s become weight-loss doctrine. But as you remember from the physiology of metabolism, you have to eat more often to change your body composition. The new philosophy I want you to keep in mind is “energy balance.”

Researchers at Georgia State University developed a technique to measure hourly energy balance — that is, how many calories you’re burning versus how many calories you’re taking in. The researchers found that if you keep your hourly surplus or deficit within 300 to 500 calories at all times, you will best be able to change your body composition by losing fat and adding lean muscle mass. Those subjects with the largest energy imbalances (those who were over 500 calories in either ingestion or expenditure) were the fattest, while those with the most balanced energy levels were the leanest.

So if you eat only your three squares a day, you’re creating terrific imbalances in your energy levels. Between meals, you’re burning many more calories than you’re taking in. At mealtimes, you’re taking in many more than you’re burning. Research shows that this kind of eating plan is great — if your dream is to be the next John Candy. But if you want to look slimmer, feel fitter, and — not coincidentally — live longer, then you need to eat more often. In the same study, subjects who added three snacks a day to three regular meals balanced out their energy better, lost fat, and increased lean body mass (as well as increased their power and endurance).

In a similar study, researchers in Japan found that boxers who ate the same amount of calories a day from either two or six meals both lost an average of 11 pounds in 2 weeks. But the guys who ate six meals a day lost 3 pounds more fat and 3 pounds less muscle than the ones who ate only two meals.

There’s science to support the fact that more meals work, but the plain-speak reason it works is because it does something that many diets don’t do: It keeps you full and satiated, which will reduce the likelihood of a diet-destroying binge.

How it works: For scheduling purposes, alternate your larger meals with smaller snacks. Eat two of your snacks roughly 2 hours before lunch and dinner, and one snack roughly 2 hours after dinner.

Sample time schedule:
8 a.m.: breakfast
11 a.m.: snack
1 p.m.: lunch
4 p.m.: snack
6 p.m.: dinner
8 p.m.: snack

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