Many of us will be looking forward to taking some foreign sun this summer. However, the thought of revealing our bodies on the beach or by the pool can also make us mindful of the fat we laid down during the winter. This time of year will see lots of us looking to trim our figures by trimming our diets, and eschewing between-meal snacks is a common weapon used in the fight on fat. However, I recently glimpsed a TV advert for a popular range of slimming foods that encourages us to eat up to six times a day. I suspect many will be intrigued by the notion that, far from putting us at risk of piling on the pounds, snacking actually aids weight loss. The obvious reaction to a weight loss plan that encourages all-day eating is that it must be generous to a fault.
The idea that snacking can help us shed excess weight clearly runs contrary to the commonly-held belief that eating less and being hungry are almost prerequisites for weight loss success. Yet, while food deprivation may seem like a sensible strategy for slimming, my experience in practice is that is often fails to have the desired effect. Although many individuals seem to be able to exercise considerable dietary restraint between meals, they may also fall foul of a ravenous appetite at mealtimes, especially supper. Those who cut down on the frequency with which they eat may simply make up for this when they do.
There is a thought that, by helping to keep our appetite under control, snacking might actually help us to eat less, not more. Although somewhat counter-intuitive, there is actually some evidence for this concept. In one study, men were fed a set meal, and five hours later were asked to eat freely from a buffet. At another time, the same men were given a fifth of the set meal each hour, before being presented with the same food free-for-all. On both occasions, the researchers measured the number of calories consumed at the buffet. Compared to the single meal, frequent feeding was associated with a reduction in average calorie intake of more than a quarter.
The ability of regular eating to reduce meal size has other important implications for our weight. Generally speaking, the more we eat at one sitting, the more of the hormone insulin we are likely to secrete to temper the rise in blood sugar that comes after a meal. While insulin is essential to life, it has anabolic (weight-gaining) effects in the body. One of insulin’s chief actions in the body is to stimulate the conversion of sugar into fat ” not ideal for those wanting to trim down a little. High levels of insulin are also believed to stimulate the appetite, specifically for blood sugar-boosting foods that will tend to cause more surges of fat-inducing insulin.
Despite its undesirable reputation, there is good reason to see snacking as useful strategy for weight loss. A piece or two of fresh fruit had in the mid-morning and late afternoon can take the edge of our appetite, and lead to the consumption of more moderately sized meals that are less likely to be sequestered as fat around the body. For those of us seeking to slim down this summer, it’s worth bearing in mind that going hungry between meals is only likely to cut our losses.