Swapping your three squares a day for six smaller meals can help you slim down and keep your energy levels up.

By Nicci Micco

Is It Possible?

Nothing beats grazing for keeping your appetite in check and your energy levels stoked. But done the wrong way, this nonstop noshing can wreak havoc on your waistline. The key, say experts, is planning. “Frequent eating will help you lose or maintain weight — but only if you come up with a daily calorie goal and then divvy it up into healthy, filling meals and snacks spaced out every few hours,” says Beth Casey Gold, RD, a nutrition consultant in Burlington, Vermont. No time for calorie calculations? No worries: We’ve done the math for you. Follow our plan and you’ll weigh less at the end of the week — even though you’ll feel you’ve been eating more.

Day 1

8 a.m. Breakfast

What to eat: Toasted Whole-wheat English muffin with 1 wedge of spreadable low-fat cheese (or 1 slice of reduced-fat cheese), 1 egg (whisk in bowl with black pepper; microwave for 45 seconds), 1 cup coffee with skim milk

The benefits: People who are successful at losing weight — and keeping it off — eat breakfast daily, according to research from the National Weight Control Registry. Aim for at least 250 to 300 calories in your morning meal — and include a mix of carbohydrates, protein, and a bit of fat so you'll feel satisfied. Also, a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition showed that people who ate protein-rich eggs in the a.m. consumed fewer calories during the rest of the day than those who ate a bagel for breakfast. “Gram for gram, protein tends to be more satiating than carbohydrates or fat,” says Gold.

10 a.m. Midmorning Snack

What to eat: A large orange

The benefits: Fueling up at 3- or 4-hour intervals throughout the day helps curb binges. When you’re ravenous, your stomach overrides your brain, says Gold. “By the time you realize you’re full,” she says, “you’ve already overeaten.”

Rather than chugging a glass of O.J. with your breakfast, save the calories for a midmorning snack and have a piece of whole fruit instead. Unlike processed juice, it contains fiber, which makes you feel fuller longer, says Gold.

12:30 p.m. Lunch

What to eat: 1 cup vegetarian bean chili, medium-size apple

The benefits: In addition to being packed with vitamins and disease-fighting antioxidants, these foods are rich in soluble fiber, which takes up space in your gut (making you feel fuller) and slows digestion. Research presented at April’s Experimental Biology conference found that adults who eat beans weigh, on average, 6.6 pounds less and have a 22 percent lower risk of obesity than those who don’t. Scientists at the State University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil found that those who included 3 small apples or pears a day in their weight-loss plan consumed fewer calories overall and lost more weight than those who didn’t.

3:30 p.m. Afternoon Snack

What to eat: A 6-ounce container of low-fat yogurt and 10 almonds

The benefits: The built-in balance of protein and carbs in low-fat dairy products, including yogurt, provides a sustained release of energy to keep blood sugar steady and regulate appetite. University of Tennessee researchers found that a weight-loss plan that included 3 daily 6-ounce servings of yogurt produced a 22 percent greater weight loss and a 61 percent greater fat loss than one that included little or no yogurt. “Portion control is critical in the weight-loss game,” says Gold, who cautions that even healthy foods like almonds can add up when they’re eaten in excess. Use a scale to accurately measure portions; for countable foods like nuts or pretzels, figure out how many are in an ounce so you can snack sanely when you’re on the go. Single-serving packages can also aid in weight loss by eliminating the guesswork.

6:30 p.m. Dinner

What to eat: 3 1/2 ounces of broiled salmon, 1/2 cup sauteed spinach (in olive oil), 1/2 cup cooked wild rice, 1 1/2 cups of salad (romaine, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, 2 tablespoons light balsamic vinaigrette)

The benefits: You may think you’re doing the right thing by opting for steamed veggies instead of sauteed ones, or skinless chicken over an oilier fish. But it’s okay — and, in some cases, beneficial — to choose foods that are higher in healthy fats. Adding a little olive oil (a monounsaturated fat) to your vegetables actually helps you absorb certain vitamins and phytochemicals, while the omega-3 fats in salmon and tuna provide cardiovascular benefits. “These fats can also help you to feel satisfied on fewer calories by making things tastier, not so diet-y,” says Gold.

8:30 p.m. Treat

What to eat: Ice-cream sandwich (or another 120- to 150-calorie snack)

The benefits: A successful weight-loss plan is one that includes the foods you love, so be sure to budget a few of your favorite treats into your daily calorie tally. “Following a strict diet for a temporary period of time will help you to lose weight, but you’ll gain it right back as soon as you return to your normal eating habits,” says Gold.

Day's Nutritional Count

1,450 calories; 186g carbohydrate; 107.3g protein; 37.9g fat; 32.5g fiber

The “magic” number for weight loss depends on a few factors, including your genes, age, and activity level. But a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that adults who followed several popular diets were able to lose weight when they consumed between 1,400 and 1,600 calories a day. If you’re leaner to start, you may need to cut back more to shed pounds faster. Just don’t dip below 1,200 calories a day or you may not get all the nutrients you need.

Days 2-3

Day 2

  • 8 a.m. Breakfast: 1 cup cooked oatmeal (made with 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup skim milk), 1/2 cup blueberries (can be frozen)
  • 10 a.m. Snack: Large pear
  • 12:30 p.m. Lunch: Large salad (3 cups mixed greens, 3 ounces grilled chicken, 1/4 cup chickpeas, 3 tablespoons diced bell pepper, 7 cherry tomatoes, 2 tablespoons light balsamic vinaigrette), 1 small whole wheat roll
  • 3:30 p.m. Snack: 12-ounce latte with skim milk
  • 6:30 p.m. Dinner: 3-ounce lean beef steak (sirloin tip or tenderloin), 1 medium-size baked sweet potato, and 1 cup of chopped broccoli sauteed in up to 1 teaspoon olive oil and garlic to taste
  • 8:30 p.m. Treat: 1 mini bag (100 calories) of microwave popcorn
  • Nutrition info: 1,436 calories; 199.6g carbohydrate; 93.3g protein; 36.7g fat; 34g fiber

Day 3

  • 8 a.m. Breakfast: Whole wheat English muffin (toasted), 1 tablespoon peanut butter, 1 cup of skim milk
  • 10 a.m. Snack: Large apple
  • 12:30 p.m. Lunch: Tuna salad (3-ounce can water-packed tuna, drained, 1 tablespoon plain low-fat yogurt, 1 tablespoon light mayonnaise, 1 celery rib, chopped, 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, if desired) stuffed into 1 small (4-inch) whole wheat pita, 1 plum
  • 3:30 p.m. Snack: 12 baby carrots, 1 red pepper, sliced, 3 tablespoons hummus
  • 6:30 p.m. Dinner: Chicken-veggie stir-fry (saute 4 ounces chicken breast, 1 cup broccoli, 1/2 cup snow peas with 1 teaspoon sesame oil and 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce), 1/2 cup cooked brown rice
  • 8:30 p.m. Treat: 1/2 cup light ice cream (120 to 150 calories)
  • Nutrition info: 1,427 calories; 165.5g carbohydrate; 106g protein; 41.6g fat; 26.3g fiber

Days 4-5

Day 4

  • 8 a.m. Breakfast: 1 cup nonfat cottage cheese, 1/2 medium-size apple (chopped), 1 tablespoon dried cranberries, and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 10 a.m. Snack: 22 almonds (1 ounce)
  • 12:30 p.m. Lunch: Bean burrito (8-inch tortilla filled with 1/2 cup refried beans, 1/4 cup shredded low-fat cheddar cheese) with 2 tablespoons salsa, 1 large orange
  • 3:30 p.m. Snack: 1 mini bag (100 calories) of microwave popcorn
  • 6:30 p.m. Dinner: Grilled shrimp salad (3 ounces grilled shrimp served on 3 cups mixed greens, 1/4 cup chopped tomato, 1/4 cup chopped cucumber, 7 kalamata olives, 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese, 2 teaspoons olive oil and unlimited balsamic vinegar), 1 small (4-inch) whole wheat pita
  • 8:30 p.m. Treat: 1 chocolate fudge pop
  • Nutrition info: 1,449 calories; 165.6g carbohydrate; 92.5g protein; 53g fat; 30g fiber

Day 5

  • 8 a.m. Breakfast: 6-ounce container low-fat vanilla yogurt, 1/2 cup raspberries (frozen is okay), and 1 tablespoon chopped walnuts
  • 10 a.m. Snack: Large apple
  • 12:30 p.m. Lunch: Turkey sandwich (3 ounces turkey breast, lettuce leaf, tomato slice, 1 to 2 teaspoons mustard on 2 slices whole wheat bread), 8 baby carrots
  • 3:30 p.m. Snack: 49 pistachios (1 ounce)
  • 6:30 p.m. Dinner: Soy burger, 1 slice (1 ounce) low-fat Swiss cheese, toasted whole wheat English muffin, 1 small red potato (sliced thinly, brushed with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and baked at 375 degrees until crispy), 1/2 cup cut-up cantaloupe
  • 8:30 p.m. Treat: 100-calorie prepackaged treat (like Oreo Thin Crisps)
  • Nutrition info: 1,452 calories; 223.5g carbohydrate; 65.3g protein; 39.5g fat; 34.4g fiber

Weekend-Friendly Weight Loss

Does Friday night signal a reprieve from a week of hard work — and your healthy new eating habits? Unfortunately, taking a few days off can keep the weight on. According to a new study in the International Journal of Obesity, consistent eaters were 50 percent more likely to maintain their weight than eaters who didn’t follow the plan on all days of the week. “Try to view your diet as a lifestyle change rather than something you do only for a while,” says lead study author Amy Gorin, PhD, a psychologist at the Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center at the Miriam Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island. Heed her tips to stay steady — and succeed — at slimming down.

  • Set some structure. On weekends many of us will sleep in and blow off breakfast or do errands in lieu of eating lunch. Aim to eat your meals at about the same time you do during the week, and schedule in snacks, advises Gorin.
  • Stop the skimp/splurge cycle. “Saving up” calories all day so that you can enjoy a meal out later? Not a good idea. Being overhungry can hamper your ability to make controlled choices, says Gorin.
  • Forgive and forget. So, you stuffed yourself silly with pizza on Friday night — we’ve all been there. “Try not to see the whole weekend as being shot,” says Gorin. “Get back on track at your next meal.”
  • Eat what you love — in moderation. Weekends are filled with social events; enjoy yourself. If you’re craving a Belgian waffle at brunch, go for it. But just eat half. “Feeling deprived is the surest way to set yourself up for a binge,” says Gorin.