You have probably heard that the best way to stoke your metabolism is to eat 6 small meals per day which includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner plus 3 snacks in-between. The theory espoused by fitness pros and nutritionists alike is that the more you eat, the more active your metabolism will be.
The problem here is that in recent years, the amount of time spent snacking has doubled. And as you might expect, the number of calories consumed while snacking has increased as well. If you are snacking more in addition to your regular meals, then you are likely gaining weight.
According to data collected by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), snacks represented 502 calories for men and 296 calories for women in the 1970s. Currently, men consume about 634 calories from snacking while women have increased to 438 calories.
Some of this increase is representative of a shift in traditional eating habits. Less time is spent around the breakfast and dinner table for meals. It is more common to grab meals on the run at random times.
Eating has become a lot less purposeful. Most Americans (2 out of 3) eat 2 or more snacks per day. About 23% of our calories come from snacking and most of those are consumed late in the day. Timing is important as the opportunity to burn those calories is reduced greatly if they are consumed close to bedtime.
Sometimes snacking becomes a habit that is hard to break. You may start a diet where you eat each meal at a fixed time. After about a month, your body adapts to this eating plan. It will signal you to send food, even if you aren't hungry. You just eat because you are used to eating, a practice referred to as mindless eating. If you are not exercising enough to justify the extra calories that you are consuming, then you will gain weight.
It is important to note here that when it comes to nutrition and your metabolism, one size does not fit all. There are elite athletes who fast during Ramadan from dawn to dusk who only eat and drink at night and early morning. They continue to train, but they adjust the type, quantity, and timing of their meals.
Bodybuilders eat meals high in protein and the right carbs to fuel 2-3 workouts per day. Consider what your level of activity demands, age, your lifestyle, and what your fitness goals are and adjust accordingly.
Snacking could work for you if your are mindful of what you eat. Plan your meals and snacks according to your nutritional needs and activity level. To keep your calorie intake on-track, keep a food journal. Holding yourself accountable will help keep the scale tipping in your favor!