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It sounds like a paradox, but the diet philosophy here is that by eating five small meals a day rather than the traditional three most of us eat, you'll shed pounds. Why? Because eating this way helps maintain a stable insulin level. The carbohydrates and sugars that cause insulin to be released into the bloodstream will come in a steady stream five times a day instead of in three big loads. This consistent insulin flow sets in motion key changes to your body to help you lose weight and have more energy. Here are changes you can expect from eating five small meals a day:1. Less Stored Fat
Eating five smaller meals a day prevents the body from releasing excess insulin and storing as fat the calories your body doesn't need. Instead, you get the amount of food your body can use as energy right away.2. More Energy All Day
Eating five meals a day makes you feel more energized and less sluggish than you would if you ate more food less often because you get a regular stream of nutrients (to convert to energy) all day long. You also get an energy boost by eating protein at all five meals. Here's why: One of protein's most important amino acids is tyrosine, which can increase your mental alertness and energy by elevating the brain chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine.
Eating protein five times per day, instead of two or three, releases these chemicals more often for energy all day. Dieters who snack on just pretzels or fruit lose the protein plus.3. A Faster Metabolism
Did you know that one way to burn calories is to eat? It's counterintuitive but true. Every time you eat, your body uses up a certain amount of energy -- calories -- digesting, absorbing, metabolizing, and storing your meal. In fact, about 5 to 15 percent of your total calories are spent on digestion alone. It's called the "thermic effect of food" (TEF): The more often you eat, the more often your metabolism revs up to process food. To keep your metabolism spinning, time your meals so that as it begins to slow, more food will revive it.4. Mood Improvement
Have you ever felt agitated, depressed, or irritable during the day but couldn't pinpoint the cause? It might be because you're eating less often than you should. When you eat fewer, but larger, meals, your body may respond to the flood of food by releasing more insulin than you actually need. The result? The excess insulin removes more blood sugar than necessary, causing a deficit in your body's glucose, which saps energy and leaves you feeling less happy, no matter how cheerful you normally are.5. Reduced Stress
Eating is important for a reason most people don't appreciate: It's a time to put your life on pause. Taking a break isn't just healthy for your mind. It's also beneficial for your body. The more stressful your life is, the higher your odds of being overweight. A New York Academy of Sciences study suggested that women who experience chronic stress overeat. When you're stressed, your body releases a hormone called cortisol that can stimulate appetite. A Yale University study suggested that women dealing with stress may develop excess fat around their waistlines and surrounding their organs. The study noted that there are more cortisol-sensitive receptors within fat cells in your belly than elsewhere in the body. Five meal breaks a day, even short ones, can help turn off this fattening stress-cortisol cycle.
1. Protein will help your metabolism because it has a high "thermic effect of food" (roughly double that of carbohydrates and fat). Raising the amount of protein you eat daily will increase your TEF by 21 calories.
35 percent of total calories (most people eat 15 percent)
2. Low- to moderate-glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates take longer to digest than those with a high GI score. This helps you avoid sugar spikes that affect mood. They also help prevent mood swings by (1) making sure your brain produces enough of the chemical serotonin, which helps regulate mood and appetite, and (2) keeping your serotonin levels steady so you avoid emotional highs and lows. Good choices: vegetables, wild rice, beans, lentils, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, and quinoa.
2 portions per meal (half your total calories)
3. Fiber slows the release of glucose and speeds the movement of food through the body.
5 to 10 grams per meal
4. Healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) provide energy; help you absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K; provide taste and consistency, and help you feel full so you eat less.
65 to 100 grams a day
5. Sugar-free beverages provide the hydration you need for health and digestion and help you feel full.
8 to 12 ounces of liquid per meal
Excerpted from The 5-Factor Diet copyright 2006 by Harley Pasternak (Meredith Books).
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, January 2007.