February 28, 2017

Four Unhealthy Eating Habits That Make You Gain Weight

The American Heart Association offers way to tweak your eating habits to keep the pounds off.

You know you need to watch what you eat, but you may not be aware that it's also important to pay attention to when and how often you eat. This is the message from a scientific statement issued recently by the American Heart Association. Based on a review of the best evidence available on meal timing and its impact on health, the statement gives you more ways to improve your eating habits and reduce the number of calories you take in.

In general, eating habits have changed. In our 24/7 world, people have gotten away from the pattern of eating “three squares” a day. Instead we are snacking more, grazing throughout the day, skipping breakfast and eating too much late at night, all of which contribute to gaining weight and metabolic problems.

Troubling Trends

Reviewing the literature on eating patterns and health profiles, the researchers found that many U.S. adults eat around the clock. The only hours during which little eating takes place are overnight — between 1 and 6 am.

As grazing has become more common, people are eating fewer regular meals, particularly breakfast. Comparing data from the 1970s to data from 2009-2010, the team of researchers found that the proportion of men and women who reported consuming all three standard meals declined over this period by about 15 percent.

As calories supplied by routine meals have gone down, the number of calories supplied by snacks has gone up.

Twenty to 30 percent of U.S. adults do not eat breakfast, a number that has been increasing for the past 40 years. The drop in breakfast consumption has coincided with an increase in obesity, and many studies have looked into the connection between the two.

Skipping breakfast is also related to an unhealthful metabolic profile, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. These risks persisted even when the nutritional content of the meals was taken into account.

As calories supplied by routine meals have gone down, the number of calories supplied by snacks has gone up. On average, snacking has risen from 18 percent of women's daily calories to 23 percent, according to the review. Since snacks usually contain more fat and sugar, as well as fewer nutrients, than meals, this is not good news.

Advice on Breakfast, Snacking and The Value of Fasting

People who routinely ate breakfast were found to have healthier blood pressure and cholesterol measurements, and lower risk of cardiovascular disease and type-two diabetes. Eating breakfast may promote better health and nutritional behaviors all day, the authors suggest, and point to studies that show that people who eat healthy foods in reasonable amounts more frequently throughout the day have improved lipid profiles and a lower risk of obesity.

As grazing has become more common, people are eating fewer regular meals, particularly breakfast.

The authors offer some ways to improve your eating habits based on their review:

  • Pay attention to your eating and avoid mindless snacking. For some people, however, small pre-emptive snacks prior to meals can help curb the tendency toward overeating or excessive emotional eating.
  • Eat more of your calories early, and avoid late night eating. This keeps calorie intake in line with the body's clock and nutrient metabolism.
  • Be sure you have consistent overnight fasts — six or seven hours without eating at all — by not snacking late into the night. This gives your body a chance to reboot and recharge.
  • Based on the evidence they reviewed, the authors also support the value of intermittent fasting, once or twice a week, as a weight loss strategy.
  • The AHA's statement pulls together a wide body of research and offers research-based information that can be applied to anyone's daily eating patterns. You may want to consult your health care provider or a registered dietician for guidance on the best way to put effective and healthful nutrition practices to work in your daily life.

    “Meal Timing and Frequency: Implications for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention” is published in Circulation.

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