One of the major problems with misconceptions about health, nutrition and fitness is that in theory they often seem to make perfect sense, making them easy to buy into and believe.
This can cause many of us to over think the way that we eat, spurring on negative behaviours and relationships with food and massively overthinking an action that should be pretty simple. This can make weight loss, maintenance or even gain an overwhelming and daunting task, when in fact, it really shouldn’t be.
So let’s set the record straight once and for all, and look at how often you should be eating, and I am also going to clear up several misperceptions along the way.
One of the biggest myths I bought into for a long period of time was that eating small meals more frequently causes your metabolism to keep continuously working throughout the day.
The idea behind this is that nutrients are more effectively put to use, thereby resulting in increased fat loss over the course of the day.
This is the reason why the fitness industry’s standard advice is to eat small meals every few hours, and people are continually told this is the optimal strategy to burn fat and lose weight.
In theory, it makes perfect sense and while it is true your metabolism goes up when you eat, studies prove the amount it increases relates directly to the proportion of food consumed.
This is more commonly known as the ‘thermic’ effect of food and the net effect is the same whether you spread the food out over three meals or six.
So it really just comes down to what and how you like to eat, and timing has little to no effect on fat loss.
While we’re on the subject on nutrient timings, one thing I’d also like to point out is that in order to achieve your weight goals is in large linked to the total quantity of food you eat across the day. So the misperceptions that you can’t eat certain foods such as carbohydrates at night is wildly misguided, with no scientific backing.
In direct relation to this, another widely believed misconception is that regular intake of food stops you from overeating and curbs your hunger.
Again, in theory it makes perfect sense. You are giving your body a constant supply of fuel to top up its energy levels, which would prevent feelings of hunger.
But is this really the case?
It took me a long time to realise that in fact, doing this was having the exact opposite effect on my satiety.
By having smaller meals, I was never satisfied and even before finishing a meal I was immediately thinking about the next. I was never comfortably full and this got to the extent where I spent everyday counting down the three hours until I could next eat, causing me to fixate over the thought of food. A mindset that in hindsight was both unhealthy and filled with negativity.
I started to contemplate the idea that something was wrong with me. Perhaps my metabolism was messed up, or maybe I had some sort of imbalance in my diet since I was always hungry. I changed up what carbohydrates I ate, tried different fats, added more vegetables, yet still, I could never shake the constant feeling of hunger.
At one point I even ‘self-diagnosed’ and convinced myself that maybe I had diabetes, as that was the only thing I could think of to explain how I felt.
It wasn’t until the holidays when I had some time off work and was at home eating three large meals a day that I actually felt normal and realised the error of my ways. By eating larger, more filling meals, I was finally giving my body enough food to be satisfied. Not stuffed, but comfortably satisfied.
For the first time in a long time, food was no longer on my mind and I could go hours without obsessing over when my next meal was coming. Eating this way gave me a sense of freedom and a clearer mindset, I had increased concentration and contrary to what I previously believed, I had more energy.
Furthermore, I also reduced the stress I was directly placing on myself by never being able to shake the desire to eat from my mind, as before I faced a daily battle struggling with hunger and cravings, combined with the irritability and on-edge feelings that comes with it.
I found that when eating regular, smaller meals I had daily periods where I felt off, slightly lightheaded, dizzy and drained. In fact, come 3pm and it was simply an expected part of my day and it was only by eating that I could temporarily feel normal again.
I have found from my own experiences and the people I have worked with that it’s actually during this time that you are more likely to binge or overeat. This is down to simply wanting to shake those negative feelings and emotions, as often you will turn to any glimpse of hope in doing so.
The take away point from my story is that it was only once I stopped overthinking the entire process and just ate normally that I stopped having problems.
What should you be doing
Most diet plans range from suggesting you eat three meals per day, with two snacks in-between, to eating six to eight smaller meals every couple of hours.
The truth is it doesn’t really matter, as I said before, your body responds to the overall number of calories consumed that day. That’s why how often you eat should come down to your personal preference and what works for you.
With that being said though if you do regularly deal with hunger and a constant battle trying to deal with willpower and cravings, then I highly recommended adapting to a way of eating where you aim to have three larger meals, with no snacking in between.
I completely understand if you are hesitant to do so, thinking this will leave you feeling starving all day, as that’s the exact same conclusion I would have jumped to if this had been suggested to me a few years ago.
However, when I incorporated eating three big, balanced meals into my lifestyle on a daily basis, I found the exact opposite to be true. This approach drastically changed the way I thought and felt, which is why if you are hesitant or pessimistic about changing your behaviours, then all I ask is that you take a leap of faith in trusting me with this one and giving it a go.
Eating like this has helped many people I have worked with lose weight easily and effortlessly, simply through the knock-on effect of removing the constant internal battle of dealing with willpower and obsessing over food, therefore directly improving their overall mindset and happiness.
There is however an exception to this and that’s for people who are highly active or regularly engaging in exercise. That’s because depending on where it fits into their schedule, it may require adding an additional pre or post workout meal. Personally while I aim to have three larger meals a day, on days I work out it’s usually increased to four.
Also, while in the grand scheme of things nutrient timing doesn’t matter, if you are regularly working out and aiming to build muscle, then you could benefit from protein intake at more regular intervals.
But it’s your journey
As with everything else, everyone responds differently, and because of that, it’s all about finding out what works best for you, what you enjoy doing and fits into your lifestyle.
If you struggle with dieting and weight loss and can resonate with the examples that I have shared, then I highly recommend that you have an honest reflection on your eating behaviours, as you may find that something is off and with a few minor tweaks you could quickly get back on track.
So what do you think?
How often do you currently eat and how does doing so work for you?
Leave your thoughts and comments below.