I heard an interesting story on NPR this morning, about twin brothers, one of whom was diagnosed, years ago, with Type 2 diabetes. Because they are identical twins, and this disease has a strong genetic component, the other brother knew that he was at high risk for the disease. He chose to participate in a national research study on what factors play a significant role in the delay or prevention of onset of Type 2 diabetes. Within the various groups in the study, this fellow "was randomly assigned to the "lifestyle intervention" group. He received intensive counseling from a dietitian and motivational coach who helped him develop a plan to eat less and exercise more." Think that a something ordinary like this won't make a difference? The study found that these simple lifestyle changes were twice as effective as a prescription medication at preventing diabetes. One of the changes involved in eating less was learning to eat small portions all the time.
Vegetarians, especially new ones, may discover that their vegetarian meals do not seem to hold them as long. You know the saying about Chinese food, how you're always hungry an hour later? That's because vegetable matter is processed more quickly by the digestive system and doesn't stay as long in the stomach, meaning that you might find your belly growling long before it's time for lunch. This problem can be alleviated by eating more portions of fat and animal protein-rich dairy foods, like cheese and eggs. Dietary fiber, the complex carbohydrate found in whole grains and legumes also takes longer to process in the stomach. However, it's important to have all things in moderation.
What works for me is a technique similar to that done in the health study. When I am feeding myself, I tend to eat six small meals spaced every three hours. Eating this frequently means that I am never a slave to my hunger pangs (and I get some pretty painful ones), and because these mini-meals are about 300 calories each, I consume the right number of calories I need to maintain my healthy weight. There's some flexibility in this as well, as I can always make allowances and adjust my meals accordingly if I know I'm going out to dinner. There's also some wiggle room in case I decide to have some hot chocolate in the evening or a cookie after lunch.
The ideal mini-meal/maxi-snack will have components from at least a couple of food groups and should contain protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Here are some examples:
Stir-fried veggies with 4 oz of tofu
1/2 C beans and 1/2 C rice with fresh salsa
1 apple and 2 T peanut butter
Sauteed greens and cooked quinoa with a sprinkle of fresh grated parmesan cheese
A bowl of minestrone with a serving of whole-grain bread
1 C yogurt with a sliced banana
An easy way to begin eating mini-meals is to take what you'd eat at normal meal and divide it into two portions. They don't have to match; you can have half your peanut butter sandwich with baby carrots, and the other half later with a cup of strawberries. Take a normal amount of time to enjoy your food, and you might be surprised at how good your stomach feels with a smaller portion.