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The Balance: Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

Breakfast LunchCreating and sticking to a balanced diet is difficult enough, then you've still got to figure out when to eat it! Research has revealed that when you eat plays an important role in appetite control, and is therefore just as important as what you eat. Turns out the best way to live healthy and control appetite is to bring a little balance to your day.

 The Balancing Act


The human body needs calories for energy; without them you'll stall out like a car without gas. Even as you sleep the body pulls gas from your tank to keep your organs functioning. Eat too many calories without burning them off and the tank overflows, or in your case, calories convert to fat and leave you overweight.

So how big is your tank, i.e. how many calories do you need a day to keep going? The numbers vary based on height, weight, age, and activity level; talk to a doctor or nutritionist to determine your ideal intake. You can use the Harris-Benedict formula to determine your BMR, aka the minimum number of calories you need for your body to function at rest. Remember: this is only an estimate of the calories needed just to function; you must exceed this number to live an active lifestyle healthfully.


Adult male: 66 + (6.3 x body weight in lbs.) + (12.9 x height in inches) - (6.8 x age in years)
Adult female: 655 + (4.3 x weight in lbs.) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age in years)

The number you get is the minimum number of calories you should be eating daily.

 Three square meals a day?


Americans tend to have three square meals a day but this needn't be a rule. In fact, limiting yourself to three scheduled meals alone can lead to binging and weight gain. The human body isn't programmed to eat three times a day; it is programmed to eat when it needs food. If you have problems making it from meal to meal, it might be time to think outside of the box, you won't be alone. In Mexico the largest meal of the day is actually lunch, with mid-afternoon snacks curbing appetite before a light supper; in Spain breakfast is eaten twice: once upon rising and again midmorning. Since natural appetite varies from person to person, listen to your body. If you are hungriest in the afternoon, make lunch your largest meal and eat lighter at night; if you aren't hungry in the afternoon, have a light snack and tuck in at dinner, just don't exceed your daily allotment of calories. P.S. - The old rule about not eating after 8pm? A wives' tale. Eating at night won't make you fat, eating too many calories overall will.

You can also try eating six small meals a day instead of three large ones. This regulates appetite, making sure you never go into the next meal starving. Don't cut out snacks (they help control appetite); switch to healthier choices like fruit, veggies and lo-fat dip, rolled chicken or turkey, legumes, or a handful of nuts instead.

 A Note on Breakfast and Skipping Meals


The cliche that breakfast is the most important meal of the day has been preached since we were children. Unfortunately, the misguided dieter's logic tends to declare eliminating the meal altogether is a good way to lose weight. Others believe that skipping breakfast suppresses appetite throughout the day. The truth is that skipping breakfast is counter-effective to weight loss (as well as unhealthy), and ultimately leads to weight gain.

Skipping breakfast, or any meal, puts the body into starvation mode, a slowed metabolic state during which fewer calories are burned in order to conserve energy. Starvation mode is gift left to us by our hunter-gatherer ancestors, who sometimes went long periods of time without finding/eating food. During times of when food was scarce their metabolisms slowed, suppressing appetite as the body converted more calories into fat (stored energy). This allowed for longer periods of time before starvation set in. The physical state was useful to our ancestors but is unneeded in modern cultures where people have easy and frequent access to food. So while it's true that skipping meals can suppress appetite, the reason for the result causes weight gain because the body burns fewer calories. Even worse, skipping meals can cause dangerous dips in blood sugar (which plays a role in appetite control), leading to uncontrolled hunger and damaging binges later in the day. The BEST option is to eat a balanced breakfast comprised of complex carbohydrates (oatmeal, whole grain cereal, whole grain toast, fruit, etc.), lean protein (eggs, lo-fat yogurt, chicken, turkey), and heart-healthy fats (peanut butter, nuts, olive oil), this regulates blood sugar and kick starts the metabolism. Try a breakfast with at least 250-300 calories so you'll have enough energy to begin your day.

Not big on breakfast? Eat something "anything" small to get yourself going: half an apple or banana w/ peanut butter, a handful of nuts, string cheese, or leftovers from dinner. And if you hate breakfast food, have lunch/dinner food instead! Your body won't know the difference.

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