Lose weight by eating more often: Frequent meals lead to fewer calories

by Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D., C.D.E.

Wait too long to eat and your belly speaks louder than your good intentions. So says a report from the Economic Research Service of the USDA.

Americans know more about healthful diets and lifestyles, but waistlines keep growing and fruits and vegetables are rotting in the refrigerator anyway. So what gives? According to the report, long lapses between meals, eating out and long work hours overpower our health desires and lead us to temptation for some instant gratification.

By waiting five hours between meals instead of just four, the average person consumes an extra 52 calories. Wait six hours and you’ll gobble up about 91 extra calories. Eat restaurant food and expect about an extra 107 calories per meal compared to eating home-prepared foods.

Not surprisingly, waiting too long and eating out tend to lower the quality of your meal, too, with more calories coming from added sugars, alcohol and solid fats like butter. The more hours you work, the more calories you’re likely to consume, too, especially if you postpone the time between meals beyond four hours.

A little preparation can keep you from digging your spoon into that pint of Ben & Jerry’s and slathering the ranch dressing over your salad. These tips will help. But most importantly, don’t rely on knowledge and intention alone. Plan ahead, and use smart strategies.

  • Accept that hunger and time pressures will interfere with your health goals.
  • Limit the time between eating to no more than four hours.
  • Make snacks work for you. Instead of hitting the vending machine, bring five pieces of fruit to work each Monday, one for each afternoon.
  • Make a list of five quick, healthful meals you can throw together in a matter of minutes. Keep those staples on hand.

Speaker, writer and registered dietitian Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D., C.D.E., owns Jill Weisenberger Health Communications, LLC. She’s also an Online Expert for James Hubbard’s My Family Doctor.

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13 Responses to “Lose weight by eating more often: Frequent meals lead to fewer calories”

  1. Dr. J Says:

    This is all so very interesting! I wrote about a study done with farm animals that supports the same findings. Thank you!

    Dr. Js last blog post..Nibbles: More Americans obese than overweight, peanut butter may be cause of salmonella outbreak and stats on vegetarian kids

  2. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    This goes along with what a significant amount of obese men have told me over the years. They say they only eat one big meal per day.

  3. FatFighterTV Says:

    I am a big snacker – I try to keep things like raw almonds, plain yogurt, and soy nuts around the house for in-between meals. But occasionally, a 100-calorie pack of M&M’s gets in the mix. :)

  4. Sagan Says:

    That’s neat to see how much more we might be eating by waiting just an hour or two. I like to eat about every 3-4 hours. Munchmunchmunch.

    Sagans last blog post..Guest Chef

  5. Blake Says:

    Great info. I like the idea of making a list of 5 quick meals you can make. That’s what my wife and I do. We have a few fast meals we can make so we don’t have to go out.

    Blakes last blog post..You Need Your Heart and It Needs You

  6. Steve Parker, M.D. Says:

    Here’s a quote from “Eating patterns and dietary composition in relation to BMI in younger and older adults.” in International Journal of Obesity (Lond). 2007 Apr;31(4):675-84. Epub 2006 Sep 5.

    “While no one eating occasion contributes more than any other to excess adiposity, eating more often than three times a day may play a role in overweight and obesity in both younger and older persons.”

    I’m not sure if hyperlinks are allowed or possible here, but I’ll try one to the article abstract at pubmed.gov:

    I’m in favor of whichever eating pattern works for the individual.

    Steve Parker, M.D.s last blog post..To My Readers at Amazon.com, Regarding Spam

  7. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    Sounds like some good snacks. Define occasionally :)

  8. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    I do too. I just need to watch the calorie content.

  9. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    Blake, I like that idea also. Keeps you from grabbing something less healthy.

  10. Tom Rooney Says:

    I know that this was part of my makeup. I’d work long hours and when I finally did eat, I’d go beyond what I needed for fule. 4 hour chunks now and apples are there for balance.

    Tom Rooneys last blog post..What Motivates You

  11. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    Tom, I am prone to do the same. Thanks

  12. jhubbard Says:

    Dr. Parker, Interesting.

    I guess we haven’t solved the problem. You’re right, it is still what works.

    I welcome hyperlinks if they add to the discussion.


  13. Two Quick Weightloss Ideas To Kill Your Bad Habits Says:

    [...] Lose weight by eating more often: Frequent meals lead to fewer calories (familydoctormag.com) [...]

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