According to conventional wisdom, we should always eat breakfast and never eat after 8 p.m. Other people say you should have six small meals a day and if you go too long without food your body goes into starvation mode. If you talk about when to eat with anyone you know they are likely to have an opinion. The trouble is none of these opinions match each other, much less science.
Myths about eating times
One of the most prevalent myths about food is told in regards to eating six smaller meals throughout the day rather than two or three larger ones. It seems that this has been rejected by nutritional scientists for nearly half a decade. Recently, a study with Type-2 diabetics actually demonstrated that two larger meals a day helped these patients with weight loss significantly when compared to individuals who consumed six meals with the same caloric intake. While no one has studied the effects of fewer, larger meals on the rest of the population there may be some wisdom in this information for everyone.
The truth is that our bodies respond the same way metabolically whether we eat a little bit or a lot. Eating smaller meals frequently doesn’t boost our metabolism in any way. Your body uses energy to eat food regardless of the size of the meal. Eating more often doesn’t cause your body to use more energy; it still uses the same energy for the same amount of calories you’ve ingested regardless of when or how much at a time.
One of the most controversial myths when it comes to eating times surrounds breakfast. The problem is, there is both myth and fact wrapped up in this one simple meal time that it is hard to determine which is the right approach.
A study by Cornell University demonstrated that people who skip breakfast do not consume more calories than those who don’t. Even those who consumed more at lunch than they would have if they had eaten breakfast still consumed fewer calories throughout the day than their breakfast eating counterparts.
But Dr. Megan McCrory, professor of nutrition at Georgia State University also presented a study which demonstrates that when people eat either breakfast, a mid-morning snack, or both they are less likely to develop type-2 diabetes.
So, how is it even possible to know what should and shouldn’t work?
When it really does matter
Of course, there are situations where time matters. Do you remember the movie Gremlins from the 1980s? In the movie, if you fed the adorable mogwai after midnight it would transform into the hideous and unstoppable destruction machine known as a gremlin. While humans aren’t likely to undergo this kind of transformation, there is evidence that the midnight snack may be extremely detrimental to our overall health.
According to this study, researchers believe that the restriction of eating only during eight to twelve hour time periods during the day can help reduce high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity. In fact, they observed that this was normal behavior for humans just one century ago. With the advancements of technology and changes in our behavioral patterns overall, we seem to have abandoned that simple step when it comes to nutrition.
Can when you eat impact pain conditions?
It is apparent that there are situations where altering the times you eat could impact the way your body is affected by chronic conditions or pain. As with the example for Type-2 diabetes, there may be some wisdom in abandoning the idea of six small meals a day and focus on two that encompass all of the dietary, caloric, and nutritional needs of your day.
In many cases, it also depends on your body’s specific needs when it comes to eating times. You can take cues from your pain as well. For instance, if your fibromyalgia pain increases after eating a large meal try eating several small meals instead.
Here we want to turn our attention back to mindful eating. As we discussed earlier this week, mindful eating is a method in which individuals pay attention to the hunger cues of their bodies. They only eat when they‘re hungry, and stop eating as soon as they feel full. This allows the body to regulate their intake to only the times during the day when food is necessary rather than based on social pressure or emotional responses.
Mindful eaters also pay attention to the food they eat and how it makes them feel. It can be a natural way for your body to let you know what it can or can’t tolerate when it comes to nutrition. In the case of mindful eating it doesn’t really matter when you answer your body but that you do as soon as you determine what you need.
Ultimately, there is no one rule you should adhere to when considering the times you should eat. While it is generally regarded as a bad idea to eat late at night, it may not have the impact we expect. According to mindful eating principles, if you aren’t hungry when you first wake up, don’t eat breakfast just because you’ve been told that you should. Instead, listen to what your hunger tells you and only eat when you feel that you need to. In this way, mindful eating can replace all the confusing rules about when and what you should be consuming.
Do you notice differences in your body or pain management when you change the times that you eat throughout the day? How has this impacted you?
Image by Randen Pedersen via Flickr