July 3, 2012 at 11:36 AM ET
By Natasha Turner
Certainly what we eat has an enormous impact on our health and weight status. But did you know that when and how we eat also makes a huge difference? Eating at the appropriate times throughout the day will help to maximize fat burning and keep hunger at bay.
Aim to eat every 3 to 4 hours. Most people eat three meals and one snack, while others may prefer four smaller meals; you're free to find the combination that works best for you. Timing your meals in this way will improve your fat loss by preventing excess insulin, allowing leptin to work its magic on appetite control and metabolism, and by balancing the stress hormone cortisol. You should also enjoy your meals at the same time every day.
Eat within one hour of rising. Your mom was also right when she told you breakfast was the most important meal of the day. When you skip breakfast, you lose its stimulating benefits on your metabolic rate. You also become more likely to eat unbalanced meals, more calories, and larger amounts of saturated fat throughout the day. Plenty of research shows that those of us who skip breakfast are actually heavier. Missing out on a healthy morning meal also increases stress hormones.
Never eat within three hours of bedtime. Eating too close to bedtime raises your body temperature, increases blood sugar and insulin, prevents the release of melatonin, and cuts down on growth hormone release. All these factors interfere with the quality of your sleep and the natural fat-burning benefits of a good night's rest. Furthermore, sleep deprivation leads to more cravings and a greater likelihood of overeating the next day.
If you must eat before bed, opt for a light meal or snack that's high in protein and low in carbohydrates and fat, such as a protein shake made with berries and water, salad with grilled chicken, or a shrimp and veggie stir-fry.
Start the day with protein. For better appetite control throughout the day, try combining your starchy carbs at lunch, dinner, or after your workouts rather than at breakfast. Stick to eggs or whey protein smoothies for breakfast and you'll eat less throughout the day.
Related: 125 Best Foods for Women
Always eat within 45 minutes of finishing your workout. This meal or snack is the only one of the day that should not contain much fat and should be higher in carbohydrates. For example, have a smoothie made with juice, fruit, and protein powder, but no flaxseeds or oil.
Never do your weight training on an empty stomach. You will need energy from your foods to perform optimally. You may, however, complete your cardio before eating if your session will be less than 30 minutes.
Related: Weight Loss Tricks That Really Work
Focus on your food. Do not eat while you are doing anything else (i.e., watching TV, working, surfing on the computer, etc.). Focus on chewing your food and relaxing while you eat.
Eat protein first. Eat the protein on your plate first to help speed the signal to your brain that you are full.
Drink alcohol last. If you have alcohol or wine, do so after your meal to enhance the hormones involved in appetite control and digestion.
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