While grazing throughout the day can lead to unexpected weight gain for bariatric patients, there are many benefits associated with eating “mini meals.' Here’s a closer look at the concept of mini meals, why they work, and tips for helping weight loss clients make smart choices when it comes to meal planning.
The term “mini meals” refers to several different eating strategies: three meals a day with two healthy snacks; five small meals a day; or small meals every three hours. The mini meal method of eating makes smart sense for bariatric patients. After all, weight loss surgery limits food intake because the stomach now holds smaller amounts of food. It follows that eating smaller, healthier meals will help optimize weight loss.
One thing “mini meals” doesn’t mean, however, is constant snacking throughout the day. In fact, graze eating after weight loss surgery is associated with a number of poor weight loss outcomes. Mini meals are neither snacking nor grazing. Rather, they feature whole foods made with plenty of lean protein, vegetables and fruits.
We’ve established that mini meals make sense for post-op patients. This begs the question: Why do they work so well?
For starters, smaller, more frequent meals are better for the metabolism. Explains DukeHealth: “The human body has always been able to adapt and function during periods of feeding and fasting. That changes when the body is bombarded by a steady flow of carbohydrates and fats in the form of overeating. Cells no longer understand the signals being sent to them, and become confused about which fuel to burn and when.”
The result, according to Duke researcher and metabolic diseases expert Deborah Muoio, PhD: “Metabolic gridlock.” Eating small meals, meanwhile, leads to more efficient calorie burning.
Another advantage of mini meals is that people who follow this eating pattern make healthier choices and weigh less, according to joint research from Imperial College London and the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. Experts attribute this to several reasons, including that people who eat more frequent but smaller meals are less likely to binge at night and to drink alcohol with meals. They’re also less likely to eat at restaurants, where it’s harder to make healthy choices.
Explains clinical dietitian Elena Tovar: “The major hypothesis that can be taken away from this study is interesting but not so mind-blowing — eating more frequently throughout the day leads to a greater intake of healthier, lower calorically-dense foods, which in turn leads to a lower overall caloric intake and BMI.”
“This just makes sense — eating more often staves off hunger so that we don’t end up eating whatever we can get our hands on later on, thereby making it more likely that the foods we eat are healthier,” adds Tovar.
The authors of the research, which was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, point to the findings as a call for new approaches to eating. “Modifying eating behavior through more frequent meals of low dietary energy density and high nutrient quality may be an important approach to control epidemic obesity,” they propose.
One last thing to keep in mind: While mini meals are a terrific start, it’s important not to overlook the value of exercise. Continues Muoio, “Physical activity can clear the metabolic highways because carbon molecules are burned at a much higher rate.”
It’s also critical to keep in mind that mini meals aren’t inherently healthy — which is why meal planning and preparation remain paramount. Having healthy options readily available is also essential, which is what makes Achieve from Rational Foods such a powerful solution.
Unlike many meal replacement products which fail to meet the needs of today’s bariatric patients, Achieve is packed with protein, high in nutrition, portable, shelf-stable, wholesome and delicious. In incorporating Achieve into their mini meals, patients ensure that they always have a bariatric-friendly option at their fingertips.