A successful diet doesn’t mean starving yourself until you can’t stand it any longer, as that’s a surefire way to end up with a case of “the hangries” — when you’re so hungry that you get, well, angry. But what time you eat your meals may have just as much of an impact on your diet as what you eat. Here’s a good game plan for success.
7 a.m. — Fill up on protein.
Americans eat nearly triple the protein at dinner than at breakfast. But those who divvied it up among all three meals (30 grams per meal) boasted a 25 percent higher rate of muscle synthesis (which helps maintain a healthy metabolism) versus those who loaded up at dinner, according to a study in the Journal of Nutrition. Three eggs and 1/2 cup of cottage cheese will get you to 30 grams.
10:30 a.m. — Snack on almonds.
Almonds make a great midmorning snack since they may not increase your overall daily calories, according to research published in the European Journal of Nutrition. When people ate 1 1/2 ounces of almonds (about 35 almonds, for about 250 calories) as a morning bite for four weeks, they naturally cut out 250 calories from the rest of their day — without even trying to.
11:30 a.m. — Pre-order lunch.
You know you’ll be ready to eat at noon, so if you didn’t pack a lunch, put in your order before you pick it up. Deciding what to eat ahead of time with the benefit of seeing the nutrition info online (versus making an of-the-moment decision) can help you save 115 calories, per research in the journal Appetite.
3 p.m. — Spoon up yogurt.
When the afternoon munchies come calling, resist vending-machine snacks, and BYO yogurt instead. An afternoon yogurt snack helped people hold off hunger longer (versus crackers or chocolate) so they ate 100 fewer calories at dinner, reports a study in Nutrition Journal. Go for Greek versions: The higher protein content is the key to keeping hunger at bay.
4 p.m. — Skip the java.
Resist the coffee jolt to beat the afternoon slump. Sipping joe this late in the day can cost you an hour of sleep, reports a study from the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. (And lost sleep can make you ravenous tomorrow.) Cut yourself off at least six hours before you plan to hit the hay. For a caffeine-free boost, head outside for a short walk.
6 p.m. — Focus on family.
Sit down at the table — not the couch — for dinner. Eating without distractions — rather than zoning out in front of the TV — is associated with a healthier BMI for both kiddos and adults (and strengthens your family bond), says Cornell University research. And chat it up. Talking about your day is also linked to a healthy weight, found the same study.
10 p.m. — Turn in.
Go to bed at a reasonable time. People who clocked a mere four hours of sleep gobbled 130 extra calories compared to adults who got closer to the recommended eight hours, found research in the journal SLEEP. Night owls also tend to eat a greater proportion of their daily calories after 11 p.m. and usually go for sweet, salty and fatty foods at night.
(EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at www.eatingwell.com.)
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Erin O’Donnell is a freelance health and science writer, parent, and graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Walks by Lake Michigan make her happy.