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Square meals vs snacks.

Hungry anyone?

I am.


Life for me is just one big SNACK ATTACK.

Yes I am greedy, but I’m also busy. And being busy is why there has been such a huge shift in our eating culture over the last 40 or so years. The days of sitting down to enjoy three square meals are fading fast. In their place, we see people (like me) grabbing quick bites here, there and everywhere. Eating on the go. Shoving a quick snack down the gullet before racing off to do something…or be somewhere (invariably late). Datamonitor tells us that the average Briton now eats on average 5 or 6 mini meals, as opposed to 3 big ones.

I have always told myself that this ‘little and often’ approach was a good thing - because that’s how I have always consumed food and it never used to be a problem. But, post children, and post 40…when I look down at the number on the scales, it’s starting to look more like a phone number than a reading of my body weight.

Damn it Janet.

Time to reflect.

Could I, should I be doing things differently?

There are 2 schools of thought (ie totally CONFLICTING data).

1. Make like a cow and graze. Eat little and often to keep energy levels up, and to avoid grabbing rubbish food in a moment of panic starvation. The says: “This just makes sense - eating more often staves off hunger so that we don’t end up eating whatever we can get our hands on later on, thereby making it more likely that the foods we eat are healthier”.

On the other side of the fence…

2. Snacking contributes to recreational eating and excess calories, because we’re losing track of what we’re consuming. Eating all day can apparently also undermine our body’s ability to burn off fat. Professor Atkin at the mailonline says: “If we can hold out for four to five hours between meals, we burn more fat. Fat is burned as soon as your carbohydrate stores fall and you start the mobilisation of fat for energy”. The Mail also reports that snacking means that organs such as the liver and pancreas are under greater stress, as blood sugar and fat levels stay higher throughout the day. 'In my view, the ideal would be not to snack at all,' adds Professor Atkin. 'It's normal to feel hungry before a meal.'

But I just simply don’t do hungry.

If I’m hungry I can’t do anything. I can’t think, I can’t exercise, and I certainly can’t be civil (to anyone or anything). I need my regular snacks to feel energized and to get me through the day. I can’t do everything I need to do on an empty stomach.

So, little and often it has to be for me. However, where I’ve recognized that I do go wrong, is that by accepting I am a ‘snacker’, I tend to subconsciously allow the calories to rack up. One bit of good advice I read was to try setting yourself a ‘calorie salary’…sounds naf, but hear me out…and spend your salary wisely. You have a certain amount (of calories) to spend, over the course of a day, and just be mindful of when you’re spending them and how much you have left in the bank. So, you work out what your body needs on a daily basis and then spread this out over as many meals as you feel comfortable consuming. This seems to be working for me at the moment. Previously, I would eat dinner number 1 at 5ish with the kids, then dinner number 2 with my husband when he got home. I still eat twice, but now rather then having 2 meals, I will have half a meal at each sitting. Same amount of total food, just split over different sittings. Clever, clever old me. Let’s wait and see…

In doing my research, one myth that has been dispelled is that eating little and often like this can boost your metabolic rate. “Studies that examine data for up to 48 hours after eating find that the jump in metabolic rate, or the thermic effect of food, is not dependent on meal frequency. Rather, overall metabolic rate is similar when a specific amount of food is eaten during few or many occasions”.

As ever, it seems research is proved and then disproved. One year you should do one thing, and the next, another. However, whilst experts debate the health value of snacking, they seem unanimous in their opinion that the type of snack definitely matters. Can we conclude then that the meal and snack quality is more important than frequency of eating…

That begs the question, what is a good quality snack? We’ve blogged about it before, so you can get some brilliant ideas (even if I do say so myself) from previous posts. In a nutshell though, I would say just don’t live out of wrappers. Snack on fresh foods, and use this micro-meal approach as a good way to add extra servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy protein to your diet.

“Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight brings obvious health benefits, so people should use whatever meal frequency they find to help them achieve this”.

It feels almost unheard of doesn’t it…health advice that says do it your own way?!

I like.

And I will.


Ben Coomber



I am not a dietician or a nutritionist, and make no claims to the contrary. What is written on this site should not be taken as fact or advice. It is merely an opinion blog.

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