Do you remember how your Gran used to say, “don’t eat between meals” and only people dressed like the monopoly millionaire ate their dinners late in the evening? The rest of use ate “tea” as some of us ordinary people used to call our evening meal at around 6.00 pm and we rarely had anything extra to eat in between times.
Most people will be too young to remember this first hand but it is true to say that eating habits have undergone a radical change in the last couple of decades. Now with the staggering rise of obesity over the last 30 years or so, getting back to more old-fashioned eating habits may help you if you wish to lose weight.
The Rise in Obesity in the 1980s
The rise in obesity has been attributed to many reasons but many nutritionists agree that it first became apparent in the early 80s. According to a report into American obesity published by the Journal of Economic Perspectives, the average American male weighed in at 168lbs in the 1960s, growing to 180lbs by 2003. More recent figures taken in 2006 put the average at 196lbs and this figure is still rising.
This first rise can be explained in part by the changes of society and eating habits that occurred in the late seventies. Meals changed from being produced at home from scratch and switched to being based around convenience food. In the 1960s, the bulk of food preparation was done by families that cooked their own food and ate it at home at regular meal times, not as a lifestyle choice but because that was when the food was ready.
However, with the changes to food production technology, eating habits changed and the focus of food preparation switched from the home to industry now offering pre packed food making meal times less of an issue.
This theory is illustrated by the potato. Before World War II, Americans were not obese and ate massive amounts of potatoes, largely baked, boiled or mashed. French fries were rare, both at home and in restaurants, because the preparation of chips required peeling, cutting and cooking. Today food technology has made fries or chips available to everyone and consumption has rocketed. The same sort of convenient changes stretch all across the food industry and as people are working longer hours and are spending less time on cooking due to work commitments, sales of processed food, which you can eat any-time, have gone through the roof.
There are many other reasons of course but the importance of regular mealtimes and the use of natural ingredients in cooking have sometimes been overlooked.
Any Time is Meal Time
When you can eat food instantly and are not committed to preparing meals from scratch at regular times, there is no need to eat at regular times either. Today it has become normal to eat at any time and although some advice is to eat when you are hungry, if you are always feeling hungry there is always the opportunity for a snack or an extra meal. We all do it. Most people snack throughout the day and many miss lunch and even a “proper meal” in the evening. Instead grazing on bits and pieces that fail to satisfy us, and making us eat more round the clock.
Again, the food industry has played a role in this pattern with its outpouring of snacks candy and treats suitable for all occasions and at affordable prices. However, wouldn’t it be better just to eat a full meal and be done with eating until dinnertime? Like the French…?
The French Paradox
For years, the French paradox has puzzled nutritionists. Just how is it that French people eat a rich diet full of butter and fattening products yet remain on average much slimmer than their American and British counterparts? There have been many theories around this question.
The health benefits of red wine and smaller portion sizes have been proposed as reasons but scientists may be missing another obvious cause. This important point is that the French are still fanatical about meal times. Skipping meals is unheard of but by the same token, people do not snack as much. Even in McDonalds – hugely popular in France, you only tend to find that the traditional meal times are busy times.
French people generally eat a small breakfast but with lunch scheduled at between 12 – 12.30 each day, it is not too long to wait. Many French people eat well at lunchtime and then go on to eat another meal in the evening. Eating between meals or eating too late is simply not that usual because how can you eat snacks when you have two main meals per day at set times to get through?
Eating at regular times and spreading the calorie count over two meals may be a major contributory factor to the low obesity levels in France.
Any time, Any place, Anywhere…
The British and Americans do not work this way and when it comes to food, anything goes. Food is always available and you can always eat out or eat in regardless of the hour. It is fun too. You can pick up a takeaway on the way home from work or a bar , snack throughout the day on whatever you like , pop into all day food outlets on a regular basis and eat your lunch at your desk. You can eat where and when you like.
But because no time is properly set aside for lunch, it can last all day. Because most of us spend long hours at work we grab food on the go. When we get home, we lack time for adequate food preparation and need to eat junk between meals or face hunger.
The problem is that there is simply too much fattening food about and it is too easily accessible around the clock. If we couldn’t phone up and order a pizza or pick up a takeaway at 10pm we would not do it.
Eating too close to bedtime is going to add to your weight and whether you cook a meal yourself or order it in, it will add to your weight if you do it too often.
So How Can I Watch the Clock to Lose Weight?
Watching the clock may help you lose weight if you prepare for it in advance. Here are some quick tips that may help.
- Eat medium sized meals for lunch and dinner and not just snacks. Spreading your calorie intake across the day will enable you to burn more weight off.
- Eat breakfast and allow yourself a proper meal at lunchtime that is something you can look forward to, and again a meal in the early evening that you can enjoy.
- Don’t always eat your evening meal too late. Advice is to eat 3 or 4 hours before bedtime at least.
- Prepare a packed lunch full of healthy food that you can eat at midday. It must be against all human rights legislation to be prevented from eating your lunch so make sure you get some time away from your desk and do just that.
- Preparing evening meals in advance that are quick to make or can be re heated such as casseroles, allow you to eat a normal healthy meal at a reasonable time. In summer, salads and light meals are often enough and are quick to prepare.
- In between times snack on fruit if you get peckish and just get rigid about meal times being set aside for eating. Don’t give into other people’s timetables.
- Remember lunchtime is sacred. It works for the French and it will work for you.
- You don’t need snacks if you are eating properly and feeling a little bit hungry just heightens the anticipation of the next meal.
We Cannot Put the Clock Back to 1950
Although you may be able to lose weight by watching the clock, none of us cannot put the clock back to an earlier time. The days when someone (in most cases the woman of the house) stayed at home cooking all morning and everyone came home for lunch are over.
Most of us do not even have time to cook a proper main meal in the evening these days and with family lives and work commitments more varied than ever before it is hard to reinstate this on a full time basis.
It May Be Hard But It Is Not Impossible
There are many reasons given for the rise in obesity and there is not any cut and dried cause, save that we eat too much of the wrong stuff and do not move about enough to burn it off.
But perhaps the basic reason lies buried deep within our own culture. Perhaps if we all thought about food in a way that compartmentalised eating into something we only do at certain times of the day, then we would not be so overweight?
It might not be easy to ensure that you eat regular home prepared food everyday at set times but if you are struggling with your weight, it will probably help.
After all watching the clock until dinnertime was once how everyone lived. Going back to this idea for weight loss may help, especially if your meals are worth waiting for.
Half of the UK is predicted to be obese by 2030 so it is important to change your eating habits for you and for your family in order to prevent this happening to you. Bringing some discipline into our daily routine and eating “by the clock” in an old-fashioned way, might just work.