This could be the beginning of your slimming breakthrough! Psychiatrist DR Wu Lee, one of the world’s leading experts on eating behaviour, turns over the theory that all weight-prone people should strive to stick to three regular meals a day. This advice, he believes, is often more likely to cause weight problems rather than cure them …
ARE YOU in the habit of having three meals a day and NO extra snacks as your regular pattern of eating?
No? Don’t have any hesitation in owning up. It would surprise me if you did have this eating pattern. During 12 years of eating behavior studies at universities and, later, during my clinical practice, I have very rarely ever come across an overweight person who didn’t indulge in what’s commonly known as snackeating.
Tests which I and university colleagues have conducted suggest that the average person eats – in the form of meals and snacks – about six times a day, although sometimes the item eaten might be as small as a single apple. But here’s a much more significant fact. I n the same period of study, I have also very rarely come across a slim person who didn’t indulge in snackeating!
In western civilisation, snacks are now part of life. The morning coffee-break (usually involving food as well as drink) is a deeply established institution. So, for many of us, is the evening snack, largely due to the fact that our “day” has become very much extended from the pre-electric lighting days when people’s sleeping patterns were much more closely based on natural light.
The food industry is an excellent barometer of current habits. It is manufacturers’ business to tune into common habits to sell more food. And it’s interesting to note the increasing emphasis placed today on selecting foods which used to be eaten mainly as part of “meals” and repackaging them in” a Iorrn which makes them easily edible as quick snacks. Potatoes are sold as potato crisps. Corn is sold as. popcorn …
Slim people eat snacks. Overweight people eat snacks. Although the frequency and calorie content of snacks must obviously be reduced by those with weight problems, I came to the conclusion that it is somewhat unrealistic to expect overweight people to do what the majority of slim people can’t do, either – which is to eat no snacks at all!
This leads us to question the long-accepted social habit – because it is a social habit, not a health need – of eating three regular meals a day: breakfast, lunch and dinner. What actually happens, in terms of calorie intake, if you do follow the usual pattern? Of course, the quantity of food eaten at meals by different people varies enormously. But let us assume that you aren’t actually counting calories but are trying very carefully not to overeat.
Even in these restrained circumstances, I guess you would usually consume around 300 calories (1,260Kjs) for breakfast, 500 (2,100Kjs) at lunch, 800 (3,360Kjs) at your main evening meal. We’ve now reached a total of 1,600 calories. Add to this the 200 or 300 calories (840 or 1,260Kjs) a day most people take in the form of milk and other drinks and beverages. We are now close to the 2,000 (8,400Kjs) calorie total over which most women can’t afford to stray much if they don’t want excess weight. And, remember, we are talking about people who are eating in a fairly restrained way …
This clearly suggests that the weightprone person who eats three regular meals each day can’t afford to eat any snacks. But there’s an alternative solution: one which might stagger you a little after a lifetime of having the virtues of “three meals a day” drummed into you. That solution is to give up eating some of your meals.
Erratic eating? Again, the idea might shock you after years of having the virtues of regular meals hammered home by your mother – and by traditional dietitians, too! But by nature man is an erratic eater, and the habit of eating three meals a day at regular times is a relatively recent one in terms of the centuries.
Primitive man was a gorger. After hunting, he would stuff down the largest .possible quantity of food to fuel him through an often long period before food became available again.
But did you realise that primitive man was also a snack-eater? It is very hard to imagine that, when passing trees or plants bearing edible fruit or berries, he would carefully carry them back to his cave in order to save them for dessert after dinner at eight o’clock! Obviously, his natural instinct would be to graze there and then, just like an animal.
Incidentally, animals are also snack-eaters, of course. Now I am not suggesting that everything primitive man did in the way of eating was ideal. But there are useful lessons to be learned from his natural behaviour patterns. Since, therefore, we’re basically snack-eaters by nature, and since so much of the mighty modern food industry is heard to encouraging this urge, it isn’t at all surprising that our snack-eating temptations are enormously strong and hard to resist.
Another important thing to note about primitive man is that he wasn’t “clock locked” into a pattern of eating regular meals at regular times and dont forget about benefits of joining a gym.
This term “clock-locked” is, I believe, very significant in explaining the difference between weight-prone people who can remain effortlessly slim and those who have to wage a constant battle with excess weight.
Not enough research has been done to show a specific picture of the typical eating pattern of the person who manages to stay slim easily. But all the clues from my own research strongly suggest that this kind of person tends to be an erratic eater: the type who delays or skips meals and generally doesn’t follow a regular three-meals-day routine.
I do happen to have a vast amount of evidence about overweight people’s eating patterns because I have asked my patients over many years to keep daily records of not only what food they ate but also the times at which they ate their meals and snacks. The most typical pattern I see is a meal frequency pretty close to three meals a day, plus a high frequency of snackeating throughout the day.
At first glance, these food records might suggest my patients are erratic eaters, eating most of the time and at any time. However, a closer study almost invariably shows that the times of the day at which they eat both meals and snacks are very uniform – perhaps showing a difference just at weekends when social circumstances tend to differ.
With the majority of patients, it is remarkable how clearly you can begin to predict that they will almost inevitably succumb to extra snacks at certain specific times of day – perhaps at 11 am, 4 pm and/or at several points in the evening.
I also find overweight people nearly always eat their main meals at the same times each day, and tend to worry enormously if faced with the prospect of having to miss or delay a meal. They fear, if they skip a meal, they will become ravenous, feel awful, go out of control.
The main problem presented by this eating-by-the-clock routine is that many overweight people are eating a lot of their excess calories when they don’t actually feel hungry.
I’ve done research on this factor, asking clock-locked people to re_cord their feelings of hunger prior to meals. I found that, on average, a third of the meals were being eaten at times when people (when they came to think about it) weren’t hungry!
Advice on weight control tends to centre on urging people to use willpower, to be “strong” and resist eating what they most want to eat at times when they often most want to eat it. The serious weight problems of the western world suggest that this kind of advice has not been wholly successful.
Surely it’s time for a different approach, encouraging people not to eat out of habit at times when they don’t really feel compelled to eat – so they eat at times when they really do experience a great urge to eat.
Perhaps you, personally, don’t feel hunger at breakfast time, but often feel a strong urge to eat a snack in the evening. So what’s wrong with skipping breakfast and having that late snack instead? Absolutely nothing. But if, out of habit or respect for tradition, you also have breakfast, lunch and dinner, then that snack will tend to constitute surplus calories.
And surplus calories make surplus fat.
For the overweight person who’s become clock-locked into eating regular meals at specific times, the habit itself can trigger off the urge to eat – and usually does. It is not unusual for someone who has. been giving no thought to food suddenly to notice it is 1 pm (her habitual lunch time) and then she instantly feels the urge to eat. Even such physical symptoms of hunger as extra salivation can result from noticing the time!
A curious and intriguing little’ fact is that habitual “1 o’clock lunchers” will usually experience this urge at precisely 1 pm by the clock. This suggests that; though the. regularly fed body often -makes hunger demands at the time of day when it is used to being fed, the clock itself is the main bully in urging regular eaters to eat.
I t takes at least a little positive effort to break a habit. So, in my clinical practice, I encourage patients to experiment to break the habit of being bullied into eating by the clock. They are asked to try miss certain meals and then to see what happens.
This helps to allay those deeply-seated fears many people feel at the prospect of missing meals. Often, the habitual breakfast eater will be surprised to discover that she doesn’t feel ravenous all morning because she missed breakfast. Often, she doesn’t even feel the urge to eat a larger lunch! Some people may feel the onset of hunger pangs on missing a regular meal, but find the physical discomforts do very quickly tend to fade.
A little practice in meal Missing can give people increased confidence in their ability to control their own eating. And it can start them asking themselves which type of eating pattern would make it easiest for them to reduce overall calorie intake. This may not turn out to be the conventional social eating pattern of breakfast, lunch and dinner. Some people might find that three meals suit them best, but the three meals might well be lunch, dinner and late supper. Others might find it more comfortable to eat few meals but plenty of little snacks. Many will find they, eat less overall if they vary r, their eating pattern and quantity from day to day in harmony with their changing moods.
If you decide to experiment in changing your own meal timing, change your activity schedule, too. If you plan to miss lunch, for instance, keep busy when you would normally be eating. Otherwise, if you just sit watching the clock and saying you will not eat lunch, the clock will do a very resolute job of answering you back and insisting that, yes, you damn well will!
In helping overweight people reduce food intake, we teach them how to cope with the many situations which trigger off over-frequent or excessive eating. But it’s equally important to learn to take advantage of situations which can help us not to eat. There are times when getting food can be quite difficult, either because you have to make an inconvenient trip in order to buy it or because you may be very busy or involved and haven’t really the time to eat.
My impression with my overweight patients is that they will manage to eat at their habitual times, regardless of difficulties or disadvantages, because they are very worried that if they don’t eat they will get ravenously hungry or out of control. In fact, they are often eating mainly to “avoid hunger”.
But I suspect people who keep slim are those who, if faced with having to rush off to an evening meeting straight after work would simply take a “so what!” attitude to skipping dinner and decide to eat late at night. Research shows that meals delayed in this way often aren’t eaten later but are missed out altogether. So frequent meal-skippers are lowering their overall calorie intake by automatically taking advantage of the situations which help them not to eat.
Certainly, I doubt that I would be able to control my own weight so easily if I didn’t take advantage of – and even occasionally encourage – situations which make it easy for me to miss a meal.
Quite frequently, I see patients throughout my usual lunch time period, and find that I then work through quite easily to the end of the afternoon without giving any thought to food.
When my patients succeed in breaking the pattern of being locked into regular mealtimes, they start to make the break-through in weight loss, too.
I have one patient who literally seems to have “tried everything” in futile attempts to lose weight. She has been to some of the big-name diet doctors in the United States; she has tried hypnosis, acupuncture – even had her ears stapled! She seems to have been on just about every diet ever devised.
This patient was typically clock-locked into set meal times. Even when driving some 75 kilometers to see me, she would put food in the car, in case something happened to prevent her eating lunch.
Just a few weeks ago, she had a particularly busy day which meant she had to rush to a charity. meeting without having time for lunch. Now usually she would have grabbed a snack in the kitchen or taken something to eat in the car, but this day she didn’t. She went to the meeting and discovered nothing happened as a result of her missed meal: she didn’t feel discomfort and she found she could wait until she got home to eat a snack. She then realised that she could probably even have gone without the snack! This was a major break-through for her: for the first time she realised she didn’t have to eat just because it was a particular time.
Since then, she has started losing weight, partly by missing meals on days when it is easy to do so, and by learning to question her need for food at any particular time. Probably many of us would find it easier to reduce overall calorie intake if we ceased labelling some things eaten as “snacks” and others as “meals”. People tend to think of snacks as “sinful” but meals as “good”: I suspect this is why many of us eat automatically at traditional meal times whether hungry or not. There’s an “It’s OK to eat now, so I will” feeling that often motivates unnecessary eating.
An advantage in re-labelling lunch, as say, “mid-day snack” would be that it could reduce the quantity of food eaten.
The word “meal” automatically induces an idea that we must include certain foods and more than one course. So we often have the type of situation where a housewife may get an urge for a slice of fruit pie at lunchtime. She may crave only the fruit pie. But, because it is lunch time, she will automatically eat a savoury course first to justify eating the fruit pie as dessert.
Yet, as long as she is eating enough protein overall, which most people do automatically, that savoury course was unnecessary. It provided calories for which she felt no need. And one of the major factors in food control lies in learning not to eat calories at the times when you don’t feel a strong need for them. It’s just as important, as I said, as learning to resist temptations.
If you have long been a loser in the weight war, I think it is well worth experimenting with a less rigid eating schedule. Most people find breakfast the easiest meal to skip – partly, perhaps, because it tends to be our most uniform meal (most people eat the same breakfast every day) and, as such, our most monotonous meal. Also, for most people, it collides with the busiest time of day when there are other things to distract our thoughts from food. The evening meal is usually the hardest one to miss; very few people find it easy to skip dinner. But you may find you can some days go happily without lunch.
Experiment with day-to-day variations, too. There are certain days when we don’t
feel particularly hungry, perhaps when we have a cold or are very busy. Those are ideal days on which to’ say:
“Right, I’m not going to eat much.” For the normal overweight person, the supposed health hazards of missing meals are based mainly on fallacy.
For some people, the psychological urge to eat at what they consider to be “snack times” – mid-morning, mid-afternoon, late evening – are much more, compelling than the urges to eat at socially determined meal times,
You are much more likely to succeed in controlling your weight if, instead of always trying to fight your strongest eating urges, you concentrate on resisting the calories you find easiest to resist. Experimenting with a new, more flexible approach to eating can’ offer pay big dividends in weight control.
How to break the time barrier for the Beat-The-Clock diet, a new program which allows you to experiment and discover your own easiest dieting pattern.
We’ve selected and illustrated for you a variety of 1,500-calorie (6,300kjs) slimming menus. But we haven’t divided them into breakfast, lunch and dinner in the usual way. When you choose to eat is your concern. Whether you eat 10 little snacks, or have one mammoth evening meal, won’t make any significant difference to your weight loss.
There is no need to eat the lot on any menu, and Dr Jordan warns of a common dieting tendency to ear every allowable calorie every day. So that, for instance, if calorie-counters find themselves with 400 calories (i ,680 kjs) left over in the evening, they immediately ask themselves: “Now what can I eat for 400 calories?”
Much better to ask yourself:
“Do I really need those extra calories?” If you eat less food on an easy-to-diet day, you can “bank” some of the left-over items of food for the next day – when mood and circumstances may make it harder to keep to your food allowance. As long as your food intake averages out right, you will lose the same amount of weight. And you may even find that you don’t need those extra calories tomorrow, either!
To ensure some nutritional safeguards for the long-term dieter, we have provided your minimum daily protein requirement in the high protein foods in the first’ section of each menu. As Professor Yudkin points out: with nutrients, it isn’t really a matter of getting the right quantity on a daily basis what matters is getting the overall average right. But we’ve had to provide protein on a daily basis in order to give you a clear guide to the right overall average.
I n the second section of each dieting menu, we show any extra-to-basic-needs protein foods, plus fruit and vegetables. I n the third section, we show the cereal and flour-based foods and your fats allowance. The fourth c o l u m n is for packaged and convenience foods.
We’ve reserved the final section for what we term “mainly for pleasure” foods and drinks. There’s no crime, you know, in eating a modest amount of not particularly nutritious food simply because you enjoy it!
Note, too, we’ve included milk as part of each day’s 1,500-calorie (6,390 kjs) ration, and the protein in this milk helps to make up your minimum daily protein requirement. If you’re happy using low-fat separated milk, have that instead and you will lower your daily intake by 85 calories (357 kjs).
Drink as much as you like of unsugared tea and coffee, and drinks labeled Iow calorie”. You can also be pretty free with meat extract drinks, which are negligible in calories.
All men and nearly all women will shed surplus weight on a calorie allowance of 1,500 (6,300 kjs) a day. The only people likely to experience any difficulties are those who have already been dieting for a lengthy period or those who are carrying only a few pounds of surplus weight. In these circumstances, an average daily calorie allowance nearer 1,000 (4,200 kjs) is often preferable in order to achieve a satisfactory rate of weight loss. Just leave out some of the items in the “mainly for pleasure” section.
This diet provides YOU with a flexible, comparatively easy method of getting slim. Do also take advantage of the extra opportunity it offers of getting you out of a clock locked pattern of eating. Experiment a little. Learn to take advantage of the times when you don’t feel a strong need to eat, so that you can save food for times which you find harder to handle. This way, you will start developing a less rigid pattern of eating which could spell the beginning of the end of your weight problems for ever.
‘If you like alcohol
In the “mainly for pleasure” section of each daily menu (beginning next page) we have allowed for 120 calories’ worth (504 kjs) of alcohol. This allows you to have:
1 glass (4 fl ozs) of any table wine or champagne; OR one pub measure of whisky, gin, rum,’ brandy or vodka (used only with low-calorie mixers of course. Try mineral water; it’s great). OR 1 pub measure of any kind of sherry, or one schooner of beer.
There’s no reason why you can’t “bank” your daily alcohol ration so you can drink it all on one or two social nights of the week. No reason why you need drink it at all of course!
If you don’t drink alcohol, you can use our calorie chart to allow yourself an extra ‘1’26 calories a day in any other food or drink. Or you may simply decide to speed your weight loss by skipping those calories …
About the author: Alan Witherspoon is a Food & Nutrition expert who writes for Nutrition Comparison Magazine.