You Are When You Eat
Last updated: January 2022
When Mr. Big died on a Peloton bike in the Sex and the City redux, fans were outraged, and the manufacturer of the bike was put on the defensive. Peloton and even some doctors emphasized on social media that Mr. Big lived an extravagant lifestyle that included big steaks and other unhealthy foods.
What we eat vs. when we eat
“You are what you eat” is an adage from one of the earliest and most influential commentators on food: Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, the Parisian politician and bon vivant who in 1825 published one of the first serious books on food.1 What we eat is the focus of most discussions of food and health.
Often overlooked, is a related question: How often should I eat? The answer is especially important to MS patients who often suffer from comorbidities such as GERD or IBS.
Square meals versus grazing
If you are a Baby Boomer, you probably were weaned on three square meals a day. We were told not to snack between meals because it would ruin our appetite. But, hey, we were also told that canned soup was just as nutritious as homemade…
If you are a bit younger, you might have been taught the theory of grazing: eating more often boosts metabolism. Having low blood sugar, I jumped on this bandwagon, and I believe it has helped me maintain a proper weight and prevented me from overeating at regular meals.
But which approach is healthier?
Conflicting information abounds
The scientific advice on when to eat is all over the map. A 2010 study found that when subjects ate 3 meals and 3 snacks versus 3 meals a day (same calories), the rate of weight loss was the same for each group.2
Meanwhile, the folks at Men’s Health say that if your diet is healthy, you can eat “as frequently or infrequently as you see fit.”3
The best recommendations
A National Institute of Health-funded study for people at risk for diabetes and heart conditions showed that eating over a 10-hour period instead of a traditional 14-hour period yields benefits. The NIH stated: “Not only was a longer stretch of daily fasting associated with moderate weight loss [3% on average], in some cases, it was also tied to lower blood pressure, lower blood glucose levels, and other improvements in metabolic syndrome.”4
There also seems to be a consensus that we should: 1) not eat continuously; 2) schedule meals at least three hours apart and wait two hours before snacking, and 3) finish eating 3 hours before bedtime.
A solid suggestion
The University of California at San Diego’s Center for Healthy Eating and Activity Research (UCSD CHEAR) offers a valuable example of healthy scheduled eating:5
7am: Breakfast - Oatmeal with fresh fruit or an omelet with spinach.
9:30am: Snack - Sliced apple or low-fat yogurt (unsweetened).
12pm: Lunch - Salmon with brown rice and broccoli.
3pm: Snack - Unsalted nuts.
6pm: Dinner - Chicken breast with whole grain noodles, diced tomato, and spinach.
CHEAR explains that scheduled eating helps keep our blood sugar consistent, curbs overeating, and helps “maintain a balanced diet and create a more stable energy source, as our metabolism will be engaged at optimal levels all day long.”5
Of course, the rules may be different for those with diabetes or other conditions. As always, consult your doctor before altering your diet.
What does advocacy mean to you as someone living with multiple sclerosis? Please select all that apply: