In 2004 I had a great job working in a holistic medical center in Manhattan. Without much notice, the doctor had to shut down the practice and everyone was let go. Besides losing income, the process of sending out resumes and looking for a new position was obviously stressful. My next door neighbor happened to be in the entertainment field and came to me about a job opening she heard of that paid pretty well. I thought it could be a fun change even if temporary.
The position was for an executive assistant to the CEO of The World Sumo Challenge. “Huh, what the hell is that?” was the first thing that came to mind. She explained that sumo wrestlers would be flown in from all over the world to participate in this competition at Madison Square Garden. My responsibilities were to manage their hotel bookings, book their flights (which would be two first class seats per person since they couldn’t fit into one chair), and take them to weigh-ins, press conferences, and TV appearances. As crazy as it sounded, there was also a part of me that thought it was kind of cool and would make for good cocktail party conversation for the rest of my life.
I became somewhat of a sumo wrangler managing these enormous Japanese, Mongolian and Hawaiian guys. During that time I learned a lot about their eating habits. Just like any competitive athlete, sumo wrestlers need to maintain their weight. There is a formula involved and it’s surprisingly not just eating high calorie foods all day long. Actually, their diet may be quite the opposite of what you’d expect! Rather than feed themselves every hour, they often skip breakfast and eat only one to two very large meals a day. Despite their heavy physical activity and great feats of strength, it’s not enough to undo the effects of food bombing - not to mention all the alcohol in one sitting. When a female eats in this fashion, it’s bad news. So even if you are training for an Iron Woman competition, if you eat and drink without abandon (even just one meal a day), your physical efforts won’t save you.
Many women are scared to snack for fear that they are eating too much throughout the day.
Overweight women are especially self-conscious about snacking. When I see them during a consultation, they almost applaud themselves for not having breakfast, maybe skipping lunch again or having something light like a half a sandwich or a carby oat bar or muffin with a juice, latte or chai, and then having a regular dinner. But the question is, “what are they eating for dinner?”
Think about how children eat. Their parents make sure they have a little breakfast, they run around and play, then have a little snack before lunch. They eat a little of whatever is on their plate, run around some more and probably have a snack later. Then they have a little dinner and usually leave the table before finishing. Before bed they may have a small piece of something sweet and that’s it. Children don’t tend to gorge themselves at any meal because their parents are on top of them having something satisfying and nutritious every few hours. Although we may not have the metabolism of a 10 year old, the way in which they eat and move is keeping them like skinny string beans.
So let’s do the math here. This is an example of someone who grazes on healthy foods throughout the day:
Breakfast Two scrambled eggs with spinach and mushrooms. Side of sliced tomato (240 calories)
One individual serving Low-Fat Greek yogurt (150 calories)
Lunch Grilled chicken salad with cooked yellow and green squash, beets, and red peppers. Side of quinoa (500 calories)
Mid- Afternoon Snack 12 raw almonds and an apple (170 calories)
Dinner Baked salmon with side of grilled asparagus and small salad of lettuce, cucumbers, avocado and tomato. Olive oil dressing (550 calories)
One glass of wine or two vodka/club sodas (110 calories)
Evening Snack One small piece of hard cheese with two organic dark chocolate squares (170 calories)
Total calories = 1780
By grazing throughout the day, your metabolism stays revved, keeps you burning calories, and stabilizes your blood sugar. You also know another meal is coming in a few hours so you don’t need to chow all in one serving. This is the worst at dinnertime and, interestingly, another sumo habit. They have a heavy meal at night and then go to sleep. If you eat late and don’t have a chance to burn those calories off, (especially all those carbohydrates), they will turn into sugar and get stored as fat. This is the main reason why I don’t recommend exercising late at night, since you will go home hungry and typically overeat at the wrong hour.
The following example is of someone who doesn’t really eat during the day but saves it up for later:
Breakfast Large latte with skim milk and Splenda™. (180 calories)
There is no lunch - only a small snack based on the rationale it’s better to skip the meal
4 p.m. Break Coffee with a muffin or “natural” snack like pretzels and a small container of hummus (500-700 calories) Even if you consumed less calories, this type of meal is not nutrient dense, high in carbohydrates and will still leave you feeling hungry.
Dinner = Starvation
You have a roll because you are starving. Then you may have another and this one has a little butter or olive oil. Trying to eat healthy, you start off with a plate of salad. This is followed by grilled chicken with vegetables and rice. After finishing your meal, you still don’t feel satisfied so you go back to get seconds. Now you’ve just had a double portion of food and carb loaded on rice right before bed. Trying to practice portion control if you are starving doesn’t work very well! (1900 calories)
If you are not conscious of drinking, it’s easy to have two glasses of wine without a second thought (220 calories)
Evening Snack Bowl of fruit (grapes, cantaloupe, watermelon or whatever is in season). You would assume fruit is healthy - right? (200-300 calories)
Total calories = 2120-2420
Now some women may need to have this amount of calories in their diet if they are physically active. What you need to know, however, is that a day of eating is not based on the total number of calories consumed but, rather, the quality and nutritional breakdown.
Someone who eats 2,300 calories (coming from nutrient dense foods) distributed over a 14-hour period will have a faster metabolism than a person who eats the same amount all in one meal plus a snack that holds no nutritional value. Ideally, you want to train your body to burn calories faster. The way you do this is by exercising (but not solely) as well as eating frequent meals. Everyone has heard at one time or another that if you wait long periods between meals, the body is unsure when it will eat again so it holds on to the calories in the last meal it consumed. Sumo wrestlers understand this concept. So before you pat yourself on the back for going an entire day with barely eating aside from your one meal, I guarantee that you are doing yourself a huge disservice.
This pattern of eating also leads to blood sugar imbalances. When your sugar gets too low, you crave starchy foods or sugar to bring yourself back to equilibrium – which is only temporary. Someone who eats every few hours may be fine eating a diet lower in starchy carbohydrates and excess grains (which contribute to weight gain) because their sugar levels are balanced and they are not depleted. On the other hand, those who wait until they are ravenous will end up not having self-control by dinnertime. They will likely need to eat double or triple the amount of food compared to the person who didn’t skip meals. Additionally, they are more likely to want a more filling and caloric evening snack.
While fruit seems healthy as a snack choice, too much of it can be high in sugar and carbohydrates to have in the evening. Although a small piece of cheese and square of chocolate contains more fat, it’s actually more satisfying and you can stop there without overdoing it. Unfortunately, if you are feeling hungry following dinner, this kind of light snack or a single pear or apple won’t satiate you. Only a giant bowl of fruit will!
Even if you are busy at work, have children to take care of, or just don’t feel hungry during the day, don’t let that be an excuse for not eating!