by Susie Garcia

Time rules.  Time to get up, time to go to work, time for a meeting, time to go to Pilates, time to take kids to baseball, time to do laundry, the list never ends!  It is like being in a psychedelic cartoon with calendars, clocks, alarm clocks, planners, palm pilots, blackberries, and cell phones beeping and ringing and swirling around your head!

When is it time to eat?  Although the seemingly old fashioned notion of set times for meals is difficult, it actually has scientific validity.  There are ways to modify set times for meals that can help improve your health, energy and mood!  Taking and making time to eat a meal, or even a snack, can be a challenge when you have a busy schedule and demands from other people.  If you have struggled with losing or maintaining weight, it may be a result of poor meal timing.

It is virtually impossible to eat at 8:00 am, noon and 5:00 pm for most busy adults.  Why are those times beneficial?  It really is not so much the time on the clock as it is the timing.   First, this old fashioned time table schedules three meals –no skipping, and second, there are no long gaps between meals, the most is 5 hours.  How many times have you skipped breakfast, eaten a quick little lunch around noon and didn’t sit down for dinner (if you even got to sit down!) until 7:30 or later?  These two principles can help you get control of your meal timing and enjoy the healthful benefits.

No Skipping.   A little “something” is usually better nothing when it comes to a meal; and sometimes when you are busy you may have to string together a few little something’s throughout the day to provide nourishment and energy.  Some simple math can illustrate the importance of No Skipping.  An average daily calorie intake is 1500 – 1800 calories.  Using 1500 calories a day, to evenly distribute calories that would mean each meal should contain about 500 calories.  If you skip breakfast, you are 500 calories behind; then you choose a light lunch, maybe 300 calories; now you are 700 calories behind.  Guess what? You will still eat those 700 calories – a quick snack when you walk in the door, or eating as you cook, maybe 2 helpings at dinner because you are hungry and a small snack before bed.  But look what happened!  You consumed over 2/3 of your day’s calories in the last 1/3 of the day!  Years and years of this habit can often result in gradual weight gain because you do not sufficiently burn off all of those calories at the end of the day.

Five hundred calories for breakfast may seem a little high; however you can manage your meal timing easily if you divide the day in thirds with a goal to eat 1/3 of your calories in each third of the day.  You may need to utilize snacks on some days, and this is especially useful for the morning third.  For example, drink a protein drink on your way in to work (about 250 calories) and mid morning enjoy a piece of fruit and yogurt, or some other 200 calorie snack.

The second principle is No Long Gaps.  This goes hand in hand with dividing your day in thirds.  As a general rule of thumb, do not go longer than 4 or 5 hours between meals, if you need to then have a small snack.  When looking at the Gap principle, it is imperative that you understand what you are eating and how that can impact the gap.  This information will help you plan as well as minimize guilt for being hungry sometimes.

Foods are comprised of Carbohydrates, Protein and Fat.  Each are metabolized differently and at different speeds.  There are two types of carbohydrates, simple and complex.  Simple carbs are in their simplest form, easy to digest and instant energy; such as fruits, juices and sugars.  Simple carbohydrates provide energy for about ½ – 1 hour.  Complex carbohydrates take longer to metabolize, providing energy for 2-3 hours.  Examples include breads, cereals, rice, pasta, and potatoes.

Good sources of protein include meats, dried beans, dairy products, nuts and seeds.  Protein will provide energy for 3-4 hours.  Fats are the slowest to digest, taking 6-8 hours.  Mayonnaise, salad dressings, fried foods are examples.  Think of a time where you ate a bacon cheeseburger and fries and it felt like lead in your stomach almost all day.  It takes a long time to digest all of that fat!

OK, what does this mean in real food?  If you have a banana for breakfast at 7:30 am, you can expect your stomach to rumble between 8:30 and 9:00.  Add a couple slices of toast you will make it to about 10 am.  Put some peanut butter on your toast (protein and fat) and maybe add a glass of milk and you shouldn’t feel hungry until close to noon.  This does not mean you have to eat all of those things at breakfast, but it gives you an understanding of why you might be hungry, as well as what to choose to “tide you over” until the next meal, depending on how far away it is.  If all you have time to eat for breakfast is a banana, great!  Now you know to plan to have a snack with some complex carbs and protein around 9:00.  And you don’t have to feel guilty for the stomach rumble!

Total calories also count, but you are paying attention to this by dividing your day into thirds.  In other words, just because you eat a protein food, it does not mean that it will last for 3-4 hours if it is only a 90 calorie cup of yogurt.  Frozen single-serving entrees that contain only 250 calories are a great example.  They are convenient, have some protein and complex carbs, but at 250 calories, you are still going to need a snack between lunch and dinner; about 3 hours later!  Understanding how long each type of food will last can help you choose your snack.  If dinner is in an hour, eat an apple.  If it is a few hours away, try a bowl of cereal or half of a sandwich.  It will feel like you are eating a lot because you are eating during the day, but you are distributing your calories so you can burn them efficiently instead of saving them all for the end!

Side Bar

Now is the best time to time your meals.

· No Skipping

· No Long Gaps – eat every 4-5 hour

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