Is It Ok to Break Some Food Rules?
By Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN
Whether you’re trying to lose weight, maintain a recent weight loss, or prevent future weight gain, it’s likely you try to abide by a few food rules. But while following certain rules—keeping snack foods like cookies or potato chips on a high shelf, behind closed doors, or not allowing certain foods you can’t control your intake of, such as ice cream or peanut butter, into your home—may help you stay on a healthy eating track, you can bend or break a few rules without sabotaging your healthy eating habits.
Here are three food rules you may want to reconsider in your effort to eat well and manage your weight:
Rule #1: Eat every few hours.
As a registered dietitian, eating every few hours, not skipping meals, and not being starved when it’s time to eat are ideas I advocate for a lot of people, especially those who tend to go several hours without food and wind up overeating or reaching for high calorie, nutrient poor comfort food at the next meal. But it turns out that for some people, eating only three times a day (but not less than that) may not be a diet buster after all—as long as portions are appropriate, you pace yourself, and you eat up to (but not beyond) your comfort point.
A recent randomized controlled trial pilot study published in Obesity found that although dieters who grazed on at least 100 calories every 2 to 3 hours reported less hunger than those who consumed three meals per day, there were no differences in total calorie intake (1,200 to 1,500 calories) or body mass index (BMI) during a six month behavioral weight loss intervention.
A previous review published in the Journal of Nutrition looked at controlled feeding studies and concluded that increased eating frequency (eating more than three times per day) has minimal, if any, impact on appetite control and food intake, but that eating less often (less than three times per day) may increase appetite and food intake.
Rule #2: Don’t eat while distracted.
Of course it’s great to be mindful and to pay attention when you eat. It’s also great to eat at a table rather than when you’re on your feet. But I definitely break both of these rules more often than not when I prepare dinner for my family. I fill a bowl with a heaping portion of vegetables (favorites include raw baby carrots, steamed carrots or broccoli, or nuked, plain frozen Brussels sprouts) and pick at these while I prepare my family’s meal. This habit not only helps me meet my daily quota for vegetables (about 2.5 cups), but it fills me up so that I eat less of the rest of the meal.
If you plan to break this rule, be sure to choose low calorie, nutrient-rich foods and choose appropriate portions to avoid taking in more calories than you need to maintain a healthy weight.
Rule #3: Don’t eat too close to bedtime.
Several studies suggest that the less sleep you get, the more you weigh. Although cause and effect has not been proven, a new small study published in The Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism found that a specific brain region associated with appetite is more activated in response to food images after one night of sleep loss than after one night of normal sleep. The researchers concluded that poor sleep habits may affect people’s risk of becoming overweight in the long run. But can certain foods really help you sleep?
Although there’s little evidence that drinking a warm cup of milk really helps you snooze before bed, milk and turkey are rich in tryptophan, an amino acid linked with a more sound slumber. While it’s important to consume tryptophan-rich foods throughout the day, the body relies on foods rich in carbohydrate to move tryptophan into the brain to create the sleep-inducing neurotransmitter serotonin.
If you want a small bedtime snack, choose 100 to 200 calories worth of a carbohydrate-rich food like air-popped popcorn, whole grain crackers, or ready-to-eat whole grain cereal. You may also want to give that warm cup of milk--rich in carbohydrate and protein—a try. Just be sure to factor your pre-bed snack calories into your daily meal plan to keep total calories in check.
Are you a rule breaker? Which rules do you break and which rules would you never break?
Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN, is a nationally recognized registered dietitian and award-winning author of "Nutrition At Your Fingertips," "Feed Your Family Right!," and "So What Can I Eat?!." She is also a past national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For more information, go to www.elisazied.com. Sign up for the free weekly ZIED GUIDE™ newsletter for nutrition tips and news you can use (go to right side of home page at elisazied.com). Follow Elisa on Twitter/elisazied and on Facebook.