How Often Should I Eat?
I will start out by saying that this is a highly personal question. Given the fact that we are all incredibly unique and each one of our body operates in slightly different variations, it is nearly impossible to give a one-size fits all answer. With contradicting advice and research from breakfast advocates to intermittent fasting, it can be confusing (to say the least) when it comes to how often you should eat.
So with that being said, a good place to start is with what might you be experiencing if you AREN’T eating enough during the day?
Low Energy - if you are feeling sluggish all day, it may be that you don’t have enough calories to keep you energized. Just like a car that needs gasoline to function, your body needs fuel in the form of calories to operate optimally - without enough of them you might feel lethargic and unmotivated
Brain Fog - did you know your brain uses 20% of your calories everyday! If you feel like you can’t focus or are experiencing headaches or migraines it might be because your brain doesn’t have enough glucose to operate. Your brain is a powerhouse and requires adequate energy in order to function.
Mood Swings - hangry is a real thing. If you are often finding that you feel irritated or moody it may be that you haven’t been eating enough. When our blood sugar levels drop, we release certain hormones that can lead to the “angry” of hangry.
Now that we know what you might experience if you are not eating enough during the day, what might you be experiencing if you are eating TOO MUCH?
Lack of Hunger - if you are overeating on a frequent basis this can impact your natural hunger cues. You might find you never actually experience true hunger (stomach grumbling, salivation, physical need for food)
Disturbed Digestion - if you are filling your body with too much food during the day, this can upset your digestion. You might experience symptoms such as heartburn, diarrhea or bloating throughout the day
Sluggish Feeling - I know I mentioned that food is energy, so why would you feel sluggish if you are eating too much? Because eating causes blood sugar to rise, therefore you may be experiencing frequent dips of your energy that follow overeating
So, where does this leave us?
We now know what you might be experiencing if you are eating too little or too much during the day, but that doesn’t answer how often you should be eating. To help answer this question, lets look at how long digestion takes.
Generally speaking, our stomach will empty within 4-5 hours after eating food. This time frame is contingent on a few factors including basal metabolic rate, activity level, and type of food eaten. So in essence, after 4-5 hours you may begin to feel hungry, and your blood sugar will start to dip.
When it comes to frequency of eating - the ultimate goal is to stabilize our blood sugar. For some that means we eat more frequently (every 3-5 hours), following a schedule such as:
9:00 am - breakfast
12:00 pm - lunch
3:00 pm - snack
7:00 pm - dinner
So what is the case for intermittent fasting (prolonged period without eating)? There has been research to say that by having regular prolonged intervals without food you can actually improve your metabolism, blood sugar, and help your body rejuvenate and repair.
The Final Answer
Consistency is king. As I mentioned at the start of this post, we are all very unique - so what works for you, might not work for someone else. That being said, trying to be consistent so your body can follow a rhythm is your best bet. Start to learn when your body energy dips and when you might need fuel. Avoid stimulants to keep you going as this will mask what you really need (i.e. rest, food, movement). Begin to recognize the symptoms of eating too little or too much during the day. Try out different patterns of eating until you figure out what works best for you.