Although supermodel Cindy Crawford turned 41 on 20 February 2006, she looks as good as she did when she first found fame 21 years ago.

The secret behind her great figure is eating often – up to fives times a day, in fact. Cindy explains: 'You have to eat regularly to maintain your energy levels – if you starve your body, it simply stores everything that you do eat. Going seven hours without food isn't the way to maintain your weight or your energy levels. I couldn't live on one meal a day because I get low blood sugar when I'm hungry.'

Eat little and often

While Cindy likes this way of eating because it gives her the energy she needs as a busy working mum, it also helps to maintain her slim physique. Our bodies need a regular input of food in order to run efficiently and burn calories at a steady rate.

'I always have a snack mid-morning and mid-afternoon so that I'm not starving,' says Cindy. 'For breakfast I usually have egg white omelette or yogurt and bran flakes or fruit. For dinner I'll have a salad with some vegetables and grilled chicken.'

Her healthy eating regime follows the 'eat little and often' principles that many top nutritionists recommend. We're designed to graze, not gorge; our ancestors ate when hungry, not at set times or to feed any emotional need.

Grazing keeps blood-sugar even

When eating five times a day, all meals should be light. Large meals are hard to digest and can result in indigestion and sleepiness. Grazing keeps blood-sugar levels even, resulting in more consistent energy, moods and concentration.

Studies comparing the effects of eating little and often with those of eating two or three large meals a day have found many health benefits – such as lower cholesterol – in eating smaller, more frequent meals. Our ancestors naturally did just that.

Glucose control helps hunger pangs

'Snacking between meals helps to keep your blood-sugar levels slow and steady,' says nutritionist Azmina Govindji, author of The GI Plan (£6.39, Vermillion; visit www.giplan.com).

'But it's important to be wise with your snack choices. Low glycaemic index [GI] snacks such as fruit, nuts or oatcakes will help to keep blood-sugar and energy levels steady between meals. Good blood-glucose control has been linked to the reduction of hunger pangs.'

Watch the carbs

Cindy believes in eating all the food groups and not cutting carbs out of her diet. 'As soon as I feel I'm not allowed something, that's what I want,' she says. 'I watch the carbs a bit more these days, but I don't cut them out. I still have days where I think: "Forget it, I'm going to have pasta or bread." Once you learn to eat right, you don't have to feel deprived.'

Azmina agrees: 'Missing meals or snacks tends to make you feel deprived and therefore more likely to reach for unhealthy foods, such as biscuits or chocolates. Planned, healthy, low-calorie snacks can help you keep to a balanced weight-loss programme.'

How to eat five meals a day

The grazing rules to stick by:
Have breakfast within an hour of getting up to kick-start calorie burning. Ideally, choose muesli, porridge or granary bread.

Eat every few hours – that's three main meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) plus two snacks in-between.

Whatever you eat, just make sure you include the good stuff – that's at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Keep vegetables raw or lightly cooked and choose whole fruit rather than fruit juice.

Cut back on sugar

Make sure your diet includes protein, such as chicken, lean red meat or fish, and healthy carbs, such as beans, wholemeal pasta and lentils. But try to cut back on sugar. Bulgur wheat is one of the lowest GI grains and makes a great substitute for rice.

Treat each snack as an eating occasion. Sit down, use a plate if appropriate and focus on enjoying the flavours. This will help to satisfy your appetite and also teach you to feel when you're full.
Ali Agnew