Are you trying to lose weight, but you find yourself in the employee break room every day at 4 p.m.? Pretzels, chips and candy bars call to you from the vending machine, and you're too hungry to resist?
With some preparation, you can avoid the afternoon trip to the vending machine. Some studies have suggested that grazing — eating smaller amounts of food more frequently — may make it easier to maintain or lose weight. The key is to not have those afternoon calories be empty calories of added sugars and solid fats.
Eating four to six small meals each day can take the edge off your appetite. You'll be less likely to binge on fast food or empty calories. More research needs to be done to clarify if eating more often or eating smaller portions is the reason for weight loss.
Some research has also suggested that mini-meals may contribute to lower cholesterol levels and better blood sugar control. That means added protection from heart disease and type 2 diabetes — two conditions also linked to obesity.
Smart grazing tips
But if you're going to graze, you must remember two things: Your snacks must be nutritious to count. And you must be careful that more meals don't turn into more calories per day. In the end, total calories count, no matter how many meals you eat.
If you decide to eat mini-meals for weight control, try the following tips:
- Keep a food diary so you can keep track of your calories. Eating more meals is not permission to overeat. After all, calories from even small snacks and meals can add up quickly. Use the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Choose My Plate Guidelines to help guide you on reasonable serving sizes.
- Eat whole foods instead of processed foods. A mini-meal is just that — a smaller version of a larger meal, not an excuse to eat junk food. Go for things like a bowl of soup, a large rice cake with natural peanut butter, half a sandwich, yogurt and fruit, a hard-boiled egg and raw veggies, or whole-grain crackers and low-fat cheese.
- Plan ahead. Don't get caught wanting to buy junk food at the vending machine. Keep your kitchen or work place stocked with nutritious options.
- Make sure your mini-meals balance out. Choose from the various food groups (meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts, grains, fruits, vegetables and dairy) to get protein, carbohydrates and a little healthy fat.
Most nutritionists agree that a successful formula for maintaining a healthy weight includes:
- Portion control
- Balance of calories consumed versus calories burned off
- Daily breakfast
- Regular eating pattern (whether that means three or six times/day)
- A healthy balance of complex carbs, lean protein and healthy fat
- A good night's sleep
Greg Breining contributed to this report.
Created on 06/10/2002
Updated on 02/11/2013
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Healthy snacking in a nutshell.
- United States Department of Agriculture. Dietary guidelines for Americans 2010.
- United States Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Research Service. Snacking associated with increased calories, decreased nutrients.