Eating on schedule versus snacking when hungry

Posted on 4 July 2017

How often, how much and when should you eat for optimum health and wellbeing? The jury is out. A dietitian at Mediclinic gives her view.

No two people are the same and therefore there is no set guideline on whether you should eat on schedule or only as soon as you feel hungry according to Ilsabe Spoelstra, a Mediclinic Bloemfontein dietitian. While it’s a good general guideline to only eat when you’re hungry, some people may become over-hungry if they don’t eat a small snack such as some lean biltong between meals.

Smaller frequent meals for special cases

Ilsabe cautions that people with pre-existing conditions that improve with certain diets, such as PCOS or chronic fatigue syndrome, as well as pregnant women, may need to eat more frequently. She then recommends six small meals a day, and reemphasises the word small.

‘Eating six meals doesn’t mean you should eat six plates of cooked food a day, but rather two or three small plates of food and three small snacks in between,’ she says.

Ilsabe’s top picks for small meals or snacks include:

  • A mix of sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds
  • Lean biltong
  • Fresh fruit
  • Goji berries
  • Raw nuts
  • Raisins
  • Plain yogurt

Remember the protein

She also reminds women not to neglect their protein intake if they choose to snack rather than eat larger meals on schedule. ‘As a general rule, I find that women have a bigger problem with getting in enough protein when compared to their male counterparts because women tend to favour carbohydrates.

‘I see some women in my practice who will eat marmite sandwiches, fruit and cereal during the day, and by the time they’ve reached their evening meal, they’ve had very little protein. This can cause them to overeat at suppertime’.

Her solution is to add an egg or some cottage cheese to meals as well as healthy fats such as almonds and avocados in order to feel full for longer.

Skipping meals for weight loss

Some patients trying to shed those extra kilos may even be tempted to skip meals to lower their intake of kilojoules and eat as little as twice a day. Ilsabe cautions against this approach to weight loss. ‘To skip breakfast or lunch in order to lose weight is never a good idea. It often has the opposite effect causing people to overeat later in the day and then gain weight. However, some patients have success in losing weight by cutting out their evening meal, when your body needs less kilojoules.

‘My recommendation is to rather eat a small low kilojoules meal such as a vegetable soup or salad for supper because this will help you fall asleep and sleep through rather than waking up in the middle of the night with an empty stomach,’ she explains.

‘It’s my goal after many years as a dietitian to get people off the idea of dieting and rather teach them to live a healthy lifestyle that suits their needs and budget,’ she says.

She adds that some people make small changes gradually that eventually lead to a better lifestyle, while others may make a sudden drastic change and never look back. As long as they are committed to their health goals and willing to work as a team with their dietitian, they should see sustainable results.

Published in Healthy Life

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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