Eating little and often is a great method to follow in order to avoid hunger pangs, stabilise your blood sugars and keep your metabolism functioning to the best of its ability. The most important factor to remember when eating little and eating regularly is to select the correct foods and to try eating every 3-4hours.

Trying to juggle work, school or college with home life and trying to support ourselves has meant we have become lazy when it comes to eating healthy and regularly. Research has shown that the average Irish person has very little time to sit down for a big meal 3 times a day and instead is consuming 4 to 6 mini meals a day. This is not necessarily a negative way of eating however the food you consume may be an area of concern. We have become a country obsesses with snack food, eating on the go and picking up chocolate and crisps from sweet shops which seem to be on every street.

Being a nutritionist, I recommend to my clients to move away from "traditional eating" patterns such as three big meals a day and instead I recommend a grazing pattern of eating. Why you may ask? Well it takes up to 3 hours for your body to digest a meal – the food is broken down into sugars and these sugars travel through the blood stream providing energy for the whole body. When you ingest a large meal you can burden the digestive system, causing bloating and lowering energy while the body struggles to digest the large quantities of food. 

The body can only use so much energy at one time so by eating large meals you are overwhelming the body. As a result your body stores the excess fuel as fat (causes weight gain).  In addition eating a large meal means your blood sugar spikes and once the body has digested the food your blood sugar level drops leaving your mood lower. The bigger the meal consumed the bigger the crash in energy and mood which means your body will crave a replacement of fuel and it’s usually in the form of a sugary snack. 

In total it takes 2- 3 hours for the peak in sugar levels to go back down so by frequently eating small meals you are supplying the body with manageable levels of energy over the day, the body can use this energy immediately and there is no need to store it as fat for later use.

The best foods to graze on
An adult is recommended to consume up to sixteen different food types over 2-3 days in order to maintain optimum health. When you eat 3 meals a day you may only be eating between six to eight food types. Someone who grazes can eat much healthier, eating less fatty foods and including more carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables. When you eat small snack and meals regularly you can consuming higher levels of vitamin C and other nutrients. Someone who eats little and often tends to have lower levels of body fat. The only downside to eating little and often is people tend to interpret snacks as chocolate or crisps (high sugar, high fat), I always suggest snacks throughout the day to be nuts, grains fruit, vegetables and yoghurts. By eating these types of foods you stay fuller for long and are not disrupting you energy levels also you avoid high-fat, high-sugar foods which contain little or no nutrients and are loaded with calories.

Changing the way you eat in the day can be mentally difficult to adjust to and I always suggest taking it slowly do small changes every week. Reduce sugar one week, then try salt the next week, then increase your vegetable intake the following week. Always eat sitting down in a relaxed family surrounding when you’re eating at home. Enjoy the flavours of your food try not to eat too fast.

Eating little and often can be beneficial for so many reasons such as:
Increasing your metabolism
By eating little and often you are keeping your blood sugar at a steady level which means your metabolism is continuously working by skipping meals or not eating something to raise your blood sugar your metabolic rate can possibly slow down meaning you can hang onto extra weight. 

Making weight loss easier
One of the main challenges people face when trying to lose weight is keeping their metabolism steady. Long periods between eating can lead to unhealthy food choice as your body craves an instant sugar hit. Usually sweets or chocolate bars are the first foods people gravitate towards, this can then lead to unnecessary weight gain. Eating little and often stops you from getting too hungry and you can then make healthy nutritious food choices when it comes to snack time.

Continuous energy
When you eat your body uses the food as energy to function. By skipping meals or going too long without eating you can upset your energy levels, when your blood sugars are high you feel energised and when the drop your energy levels plummet. Eating frequently means you avoid dipping and peaking energy levels, instead you keep sugar levels steady and you feel energised throughout the day. .

Keeps your mood stable
A term I frequently use to describe myself if I have gone too long without eating is “Hangry” or hungry- angry. There is a strong scientific connection between food and mood, the brain needs energy in order to function and glucose is what the brain uses for fuel. So when the sugar in your bloodstream goes down, so does your brainpower and you can get snappy, annoyed and irritable for no reason other than you are hungry.  The key is to include complex carbohydrates like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, all of which help maintain levels of serotonin (a mood-boosting chemical) in the brain.

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