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November 30, 2006

How Often Do We Need to Eat?

How often you need to eat is hotly contested among weight-loss experts. What works for real women? See who got slender and who got cranky

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Steak Salad

Photo Credit: James Baigrie

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Americans love the idea that eating all the time might prevent blood-sugar dips — and the cravings they allegedly create — thus helping you lose weight. (Could be why The 3-Hour Diet hit the best-seller list.) But some experts now say that three meals a day — or even one — can work just as well. We asked three women to see what three very different feeding schedules did for their bodies, and their lives.

EATING SIX TIMES A DAY
The Day in Food

Breakfast: One egg, half a dry English muffin, a small glass of fruit juice, two omega-3 pills

Three hours later: Six almonds or one piece of fruit

Lunch: Mesclun salad (as much as I want) with 1/2 cup tofu, 2 cups vegetables, 1 tablespoon sunflower seeds, two rice cakes or a mini pita, one piece of fruit Three hours later: One piece of fruit or a granola bar

Dinner: 1 oz. salmon, 1/2 cup couscous, 1 cup steamed broccoli

Three hours later: 12 frozen grapes

The diet: The 3-Hour Diet, by Jorge Cruise

The theory: If you don't eat every three hours, your body will start cannibalizing your muscles and your resting metabolism will slow, says Cruise. If you wait too long between meals and snacks, blood sugar plummets and activates hunger, cravings, and fatigue. To boost metabolism and suppress cravings, every meal should contain vegetables, carbs, fat, and protein.

Tester: Marnee Horesh, 35, consultant

In one month, she lost: 5 pounds

I used to rush out of the house and grab coffee, skipping breakfast. By the time I got to work, I would be full from the coffee. But by 11 a.m., lunch was calling my name — and when I actually ate, I'd have anything I could think of eating. Then, I might skip dinner.

So for me, there was nothing easy about this diet. It takes a ton of planning to have the right foods around every three hours. When you do eat, you have to have a combination of fat, carbs, and protein — it's really complicated! Also, when you eat every three hours, you must control portions: If I wanted grapes, I could only have 12 of them. If I wanted almonds, I could only have six. I hate measuring food. It takes a lot of preparation, and having to get the snacks ready before work was stressful. At first, I was starving between my morning snack and lunch. But by the end of the second week, that had lessened, and I noticed that I wasn't as interested in eating dinner (but ate it anyway) because I was eating so often.

By that time I'd lost a few pounds, and all of a sudden, I had more energy. I never felt that "afternoon crash" feeling. And I've never felt the need to go out and jog before, but I did twice that week. I love having energy to burn.

On the flip side, it seemed impossible to have a life on this diet, and I didn't like the fact that my days seemed to be ruled by food. It was difficult to navigate on weekends, or when I ate out with friends — life gets in the way! One day, I had a 1 p.m. lunch appointment, and I would have had to wake up early to eat breakfast so the timing would work out — but I forgot about the lunch, woke up at the regular time, and ended up having to wait till 2 p.m. to eat. Another time, I took a road trip with friends. On the way home I bought peanuts, but the diet only lets you eat 20, so my friend actually had to count them and hand them to me as I drove.

By the end of the month, I liked knowing when and what I had to eat; it took the indecisiveness out of the equation. Plus, I'd lost five pounds, and my body felt like a machine: If you feed it well and give it what it needs, it performs at its peak. Still, I don't think I could stick with the diet forever. I can't live that strictly.


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