June 22, 2012 at 9:07 AM ET
By Markham Heid
It's the same old story: You start out your day with the best of eating intentions but, by lunchtime, that candy bar's starting to sound really good. And dinner? Well, let's just say the pizza delivery guy asked you to come to his wedding. Just as the last few miles of a marathon are the most arduous (or so we hear), your healthy-eating habits tend to break down as the day wears on, finds a new survey by the digital health company Massive Health.
Using an app that lets users send in photos of their meals, Massive Health tracked the eating habits of thousands of people over five months. The results? Most of us hit the wall in our daily race to eat well. In fact, the foods you eat for dinner are nearly 16 percent less healthy than what you ate for breakfast. And get this: For every hour that passes during the day, the healthfulness of the foods you eat drops 1.7 percent.
"These findings don't surprise me," says Manuel Villacorta, RD, author of Eating Free. People tend to eat worse as the busy day wears down their diet resolve, he says. Another culprit: The hunger hormone ghrelin, which can build up quickly when you skip meals, eat too little, or exercise without eating. "Ghrelin makes your hunger spin out of control, and you'll reach for anything you can get your hands on," Villacorta says.
The good news is that this eating pattern doesn't have to be your forgone conclusion. Here's how to beat those daily food demons:
Eat breakfast already! No more excuses. The survey found that people who don't eat breakfast eat significantly more food during the day -- something no shortage of research confirms. Be sure your a.m. meal includes plenty of protein, says Susan Bowerman, RD, assistant director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition. Many women don't eat enough hunger-quelling protein for breakfast and end up reaching for junky treats before lunch, she says. Eggs, Greek yogurt, and cottage cheese are all good sources of breakfast protein.
Veg it up at lunch. And keep downing the protein, too. "Vegetables are healthy, filling, and low-cal," Bowerman says. Lunch selections like stir-fry with tofu or a salad with beans and hard-boiled eggs are a great way to mix protein with plenty of veggies.
Incorporate snack attacks. Think of healthy snacking as your chance to bridge the dangerous gap between meals, especially the long, perilous afternoon stretch between lunch and dinner, Bowerman says. Pack half a sandwich and fruit, a protein shake, or a bowl of lentil soup for an afternoon snack. "You won't be starving at dinner time, and you can keep the last meal of the day light," she says.
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