‘Grab something sweet!’. . . ‘Eat now!’ These are not helpful messages to be swarming around your body. If you give in to them, please don’t feel bad. It’s not your fault. These messages are part of your biology: part of your body’s survival mechanism.

It can feel imperative that we eat when these messengers tell us to. Similarly, you may have high levels of the messengers that tell your body, ‘Store fat’. Ever feel your body puts on weight too easily? If your body is getting lots of messages to store fat, it’s going to be hard to shift those extra pounds! In this article, we look at how eating regularly and including some protein with each meal and snack helps regulate these messengers.

If intermittent fasting works for you, you can adapt the information in this article. Emma’s story Whilst changing her breakfast had helped stabilize her energy early in the day, Emma was still having a slump late morning. By now she had switched to a healthy breakfast and added fruit and vegetables to meals.

What more did she need to do? The next area to focus on was proteins. She was already including protein with most meals, so next to address was protein-containing snacks. She was ready to tackle them head on. Keeping it simple, she began taking a couple of pieces of fruit and a few nuts into work. Her morning snacks went well. But things fell apart in the afternoon.

On a number of occasions, she found herself ignoring the snack she’d bought in, getting a chocolate bar from the vending machine instead. Emma’s work in a busy law firm was demanding. So how could she be blamed? Her stress hormones convinced her the chocolate bar was much more appealing!

I suggested that Emma make some chocolate snacks to take to work but healthy ones: made with cacao sweetened with dried fruit, which included nuts or seeds for protein. And that if she did buy the chocolate bar, cut it in half next time and put half away (or give it to someone else or even throw it in the bin), then eat the other half with the nuts she’d brought in.

At this point, our focus was on including protein with each snack. As Emma was looking to make long-term changes, it was more important to take sustainable steps than to change everything at once.

She found that instead of a coffee or biscuit, having her protein-containing snack half an hour before she hit the predictable drop-off in energy significantly reduced and ultimately stopped this energy slump. Feeling less drained was helping Emma feel more like her old chirpy self. Her enthusiasm was returning. (She was even finding a difficult colleague less exasperating!)

It’s not just the calories that count, but when you consume them

Have you tried a weight-loss diet where you gave yourself a daily calorie allowance? Perhaps you skipped breakfast to save calories for later in the day? If you do skip breakfast, you are likely to consume less calories over the whole day. However, you are more likely to be overweight. If you eat a larger proportion of your food in the evening, you are also more likely to be overweight or obese.

One weight-loss study divided overweight women into two groups and allotted each the same number of calories. One group had more at breakfast, the other in the evening. You can guess what happened. The group that consumed more of their calories in the morning felt more satiated, lost more weight, and had a greater reduction in waist circumference.

If you want to lose weight, it helps to stop snacking in the evening. If you snack in the evening, not only do you burn less fat and increase your risk of obesity, but you also increase your cholesterol. It is best to avoid eating after 8 p.m.

Have 3 small meals a day plus a small snack mid-morning and mid-afternoon

If you go a long time without eating, this can cause your blood sugar levels to drop. As explained in the blood sugar levels article, to push them up again, you may crave carbs, sugar, or caffeine. Eating regularly helps prevent these blood sugar crashes and cravings. To avoid these lows, have three small meals a day, plus a small snack mid-morning and another mid-afternoon.

Eat something small roughly every three hours. If you currently go a long time between meals, eating every three hours means spreading your food intake throughout the day, not adding in extra food! Over recent years, intermittent fasting has become popular.

There are different types of intermittent fasting; one way is to reduce the window of time for consuming food. If skipping breakfast works for you and helps you to eat more healthily throughout the day, then skip it. But make sure what you do eat helps balance your body.

Include some protein with each meal and snack

As we looked at in the previous article, foods higher in protein are more filling. They also help stabilize your blood sugar levels. This is because when you eat protein with your carbs, the carbs release their sugars more slowly. This is why diabetics eat protein before diving into something sweet.

So, including protein with each meal and snack helps prevent your insulin from rising too high and telling your body to store fat. Also, by helping you avoid the rollercoaster of blood sugar highs and lows, it helps stabilize you’re eating. Many people are very stressed. When under stress, it is particularly important to balance your blood sugar levels. As we saw earlier when your blood sugar levels are not balanced, your adrenal glands release stress hormones, and stress can be a major contributor to weight gain. Blood sugar imbalances also affect your female hormones.

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If your female hormones are not in balance, again, it’s important to make sure you are balancing your blood sugar levels. Including protein with each meal and snack is key to this. Protein-containing foods include meat, fish, tofu, lentils, and beans (e.g. the aduki bean, cannellini beans, black-eyed beans, butterbeans, kidney beans, haricot beans), chickpeas, eggs, hummus, nuts, seeds, cheese, and yogurt. We tend to think of foods as being one macronutrient, e.g. a protein food or a carbohydrate.

However, many foods contain more than one macronutrient. (Macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins and fats.) For example, beans and lentils are good sources of protein and carbs. Nuts and seeds contain protein and fat. It is best to limit the meat and cheese you consume and to eat a variety of other sources of protein.

The higher your meat intake, the more likely you are to gain weight. Remember that fruit and vegetables are carbohydrate foods, so eating them with a little protein, for example, a handful of seeds slows the sugar release.

Tailor to the imbalances in YOUR body

Some proteins have other properties that can help with particular imbalances.


Lentils, beans, eggs, poultry, nuts, and seeds contain nutrients that help support your body when you are stressed.

Female hormone imbalances

Some proteins contain phytoestrogens—remember that these plant substances help bring your female hormones into balance. Soy is one of the best forms, but to have an oestrogenic effect, it needs to be fermented. Fermented soy includes tempeh, miso and some soy sauces. Tofu is an unfermented soy product. However, it can be fermented by your gut bacteria, providing they are working well. Legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, black-eyed and other beans also contain one of the best forms of phytoestrogens to help with hormone balance.

Seeds such as sunflower, sesame, pumpkin and flaxseeds are another source of phytoestrogens. Grind flaxseed to get the benefits from it. If you eat flaxseed, make sure you are drinking enough water. Whilst nuts do not contain phytoestrogens, they have a beneficial effect on PCOS. Women with a vegetarian diet have a higher fiber intake than meat eaters.

Fiber helps your gut eliminate old hormones. They also have more sex-hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), which controls the levels of your sex hormones. Reducing the amount of meat, you eat can therefore be helpful for your female hormone balance. To detoxify old hormones, your liver attaches them to specific substances. However, certain ‘bad’ bacteria in your gut produce an enzyme called beta-glucuronidase, which can detach the oestrogen.

Instead of being excreted, the freed oestrogen can now be reabsorbed, contributing to hormone imbalances. Vegetarian women have less beta-glucuronidase activity than non-vegetarian women, another reason why reducing consumption of non-vegetarian proteins may help balance your female hormones. Choose organic meat and dairy to reduce your exposure to hormones and antibiotic residues.

Appetite regulation disruption

Pulses, such as dry beans (e.g. haricot, cannellini, butterbeans, black-eyed beans, kidney beans), chickpeas and lentils may increase feelings of fullness and help with weight loss. The more pulses you eat, the less likely you are to be obese. Eating one serving per day (130 grams) makes you feel 31 percent fuller. Including 160 grams of dietary pulses daily helps in managing and losing weight.

Raw unsalted nuts may also be helpful. A study using almonds showed they reduce hunger and the desire to eat. Participants ate less over the rest of the day, naturally compensating for the calories in the nuts. Include nuts in moderation; a small handful (approximately fourteen almonds) should be sufficient.

Low calcium, magnesium or vitamin D Some protein-containing foods are a good source of calcium, magnesium and/or vitamin D. Calcium is in tinned sardines, tofu, nuts, seeds, chickpeas, cooked dried beans, lentils and dairy.

Whilst dairy is a good source of calcium, include in moderation only. Magnesium is in fish, lentils, beans, nuts and seeds. Vitamin D is in oily fish and eggs.

Gut bacterial imbalances

Live yogurt contains probiotics, which help your gut bacterial balance. Lentils and beans contain prebiotics that support your good bacteria.

Slow metabolism

Nuts (particularly Brazil nuts), seeds (including pumpkin and sesame), eggs, beans and lentils contain nutrients that support your thyroid, which controls your metabolism. Tofu is one of the foods that can activate your SIRT1 ‘skinny’ gene, which represses fat storage and triggers your body to burn fat. Tofu is great in stir fries, or you can blend silken tofu in smoothies.

Exposure to obesogens

Plant proteins contain fiber and nutrients that support your liver-detoxification enzymes. Plant proteins include pulses, lentils, tofu, cooked dried beans (for example, chickpeas, haricot, black-eye, lima, kidney and butterbeans), nuts (such as cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios), seeds (like pumpkin, sunflower, sesame and flaxseed) and tofu.

Eggs and fish also contain nutrients that support your liver-detoxification enzymes. Choose organic eggs and avoid larger fish such as tuna and swordfish, as they have accumulated higher levels of toxins from polluted seas. Wild salmon is a better choice than farmed, which has higher levels of toxins.

Your liver detoxifies some toxins (including BPA, phthalates and parabens) by attaching them to glucuronic acid. Meat eaters have more of an enzyme that frees the toxin, so it is released back into your body rather than being excreted.

Read Also About best vegetables for weight loss

Your next step

Your next step is to have three small protein-containing meals a day, plus a small protein-containing snack mid-morning and mid-afternoon. (If you are practicing intermittent fasting, adjust this to what works for you.

But make sure you include protein with each meal and snack.) Having snacks does not mean you should increase your food intake. It can be as simple as leaving some of your breakfast to eat mid-morning and some of your lunch to eat mid-afternoon.

If you are not currently including protein with all your meals, you could simply add in, for example, tofu, chicken, prawns or cashew nuts to stir fried vegetables or add beans or a handful of lentils to a vegetable stew. Or add nuts and/or seeds to your breakfast cereal.

Simple protein-containing snacks include the list below:

  • A piece of fruit with a handful of nuts or seeds
  • Carrot, cucumber, pepper or celery sticks with hummus or a lentil or fish pate
  • A celery stick filled with nut or seed butter or cottage cheese
  • A rice, oat or corn cake topped with any of the following:
  • Nut butter and sliced apple
    • Lentil pate and cucumber slices
    • Sardine and tomato
    • Hummus and grated carrot
  • A hard-boiled egg with sliced tomato and basil
  • A smoothie with nuts or seeds
  • Natural (sugar and sweetener-free) yogurt with berries and sunflower seeds

Or half an avocado. Avocado is mainly fats and has roughly equal amounts of carbohydrate and protein, so it’s not going to spike your blood sugar levels. But if you want to up the protein, sprinkle it with toasted seeds.

Key things you have learned in this article

  • It is best to avoid eating after 8 p.m. If you eat more of your food in the evening, you are more likely to be overweight.
  • If you skip meals or go a long time without food, it can cause your blood sugar to drop. To keep your blood sugar stable, have three small protein-containing meals a day plus a small protein-containing snack mid-morning and mid-afternoon.
  • When you combine protein with carbs, it slows down the release of sugars from the carbohydrate foods. This helps balance your blood sugar levels, which reduces cravings and fat storage.

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