You’ve probably heard the outdated (and totally untrue) advice that you should eat six small meals a day.
Many of us have been duped into following this advice for years, and the results speak for themselves. Hello, stubborn belly fat and feeling “hangry”!
So what’s a girl to do when it’s 3PM, your stomach is growling, and you can hardly keep your eyes open?
Should you reach for a snack? Sounds tempting, but the answer is almost always NO.
Read on to find out why, how to manage your meals so you never need to snack, and when it’s okay to make an exception to the rule.
The Dark Side of Snacking
Whether you want to keep your energy levels high, lose those stubborn pounds, or maintain focus during your busy schedule, snacking actually works against you!
Snacking locks the doors to burning fat.
The idea of eating six small meals a day started with the mistaken belief that you can keep your blood sugar and insulin stable with a constant supply of food. If that was the case, then snacking all day would keep your energy and weight stable.
Unfortunately, the opposite is true.
Every time you eat, you spike your blood sugar and insulin levels. While blood sugar goes down fairly quickly, insulin takes longer.1 And when insulin is high, your body can’t use stored fat for fuel.
So in order to burn fat for energy instead of sugar, it’s important to go 4-6 hours between each meal. These intentional gaps between meals signal to your body that it can’t rely on a steady supply of carbs for energy. As a result, it naturally shifts to burning your fat stores and the healthy fats you eat from your diet – a definite win!
Snacking makes you hungrier.
Need another incentive to eat less often? When you nix snacking, your hunger hormones finally get a chance to balance out.
That means eating less frequently actually teaches your body to be LESS hungry, making it easier to stop watching the clock between meals. Yes, please!
How to Keep the Munchies in Check
Your food choices affect how well your body feels and performs between meals. Putting the right combination of foods on your plate is key to staying focused, energized and satisfied without snacks.
The great news is that staying full and satisfied for 4-6 hours between meals can be effortless when you include clean, lean protein, healthy fats, and fiber in every meal.
I like to call this the “satiety trifecta” – the trio of nutrients essential to staying full and satisfied. They are:
Protein not only helps you preserve muscle, it’s also been proven to quiet the hunger hormone, ghrelin.2 This cuts down on cravings so adding some protein to each meal helps you coast through your day without the temptation to snack!
Examples of clean, lean protein include grass-fed, organic beef, wild-caught salmon, and organic, free-range chicken. Plant-based options include legumes (beans and lentils), quinoa, and chia seeds.
Forget eating fat-free! Healthy fats are perfect for decreasing your appetite and slowing the release of sugar into your bloodstream, so your blood sugar and hormones can stay balanced and happy.3
Translation: No more hangries or blood-sugar crashes! My favorite sources of healthy fats are wild-caught salmon, avocado, flaxseed, and coconut oil. (I also take Omega Plus fish oil for added protection.)
Fiber not only keeps you satisfied for hours, it also keeps your blood sugar balanced, supports a healthy gut, and is good for your heart!4-6 This helpful nutrient also keeps your immune system healthy while keeping you regular.7
You can boost your fiber intake with antioxidant-rich leafy greens, non-starchy veggies like broccoli or Brussels sprouts, or whole, unprocessed slow-low carbs such as quinoa or sweet potatoes. (Or take a shortcut and supplement with my Extra Fiber!)
For more balanced meal ideas and a great infographic for the Sugar Impact Plate, check out this blog post.
More Secrets to Preventing Cravings
Water is the most underrated superfood by far and an amazing ally for fighting cravings between meals.
By the time you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated, and often when we think we’re hungry, it’s actually time for a sip of some clean, refreshing H2O! In fact, studies have shown that drinking a glass of water cuts hunger 100% of the time.8
Not only is staying hydrated the perfect way to curb hunger and bust through fatigue, water is also essential for keeping your cells healthy, flushing out toxins, and even boosting memory, mood and your metabolism.9,10
So get into the habit of drinking up before you grab that between-meal snack. You might just find that you were never really hungry at all!
L-Glutamine to the Rescue
If you find yourself constantly caving to those powerful cravings, and you’re a stress eater, meet your new bestie, L- Glutamine!
It’s an effective ally that can help fight cravings, especially sugar and alcohol, while also burning fat and building muscle.11,12 Find out more about the amazing benefits of L-glutamine, how it works, and why you need to add it to your daily routine to kick the snacking habit for good in this blog post: Fight Cravings with L-Glutamine: the Ultimate Multitasker.
When to Make Exceptions for Snacking
When You’re Still Adjusting to a New Eating Schedule
One thing I’ve learned about healthy habits is that nobody’s perfect, and we all have our tough days.
This is especially true when you’re starting a new program and beginning to space out time between meals. Let’s be honest, changing habits can take some time, and sometimes you need a healthy option to get you through the rough spots!
It’s much better to be prepared with healthy snack options than to grab something unhealthy from the drive thru or next to the grocery checkout stand.
Always try sipping a glass of water before reaching for even healthy snack options, and if that doesn’t do the trick, then it's time to try something nourishing to tide you over. (More on those options in a minute…)
When You Need a Pre- or Post-Workout Boost
If you know you’re going to be headed toward the gym for a high-intensity workout, a healthy snack can give you the energy and stamina you need to crush it.
Eating a hefty meal beforehand would shift blood flow towards digestion and away from your muscles, so if you need a little something to fuel your body less than 2 hours before hitting the gym, try one of my All-In-One Protein Bars to tide you over without slowing you down. Another great option is this delicious Energizing Pre-Workout Coffee recipe.
Post-workout is a time when your body wants to refuel and repair muscle, preferably with carbohydrates and protein. Here’s when fat and fiber can slow down recovery, so skip them in your post-workout meal.
My protein shakes are easily digestible, so they are a great option. You can also choose a mini-meal or snack that’s both rich in protein and healthy carbs needed to promote optimal recovery and repair.
When You’re Caught Without Healthy Meal Options
Life happens, and sometimes you just get caught without any good meal options! Whether it’s that office party serving fancy appetizers with mystery ingredients, or you’re stuck at the airport during a long layover, sometimes a healthy snack is the best option.
It’s always a good idea to be prepared with nutritious options that won’t leave you feeling guilty or create a backlash from inflammatory ingredients and too much sugar.
Some Healthy Snack Ideas:
A high-quality, low-sugar protein or fiber bar
When you use these tips to extend time between meals, you can shift from being a sugar burner to a fat burner and conquer your cravings!