In addition to what you should eat, the next biggest question in developing a healthy overall diet is “How often should you eat?” And it’s a good question because meal frequency can be pretty confusing and there are many different options from skipping breakfast for weight loss and eating many smaller meals to gain weight. This blog post will sort through some of the conflicting advice, but how often you should eat is largely person-specific, but after reading this you should have a better sense of how to mick the optimum meal timing for you for more energy and hitting your target caloric intake. Remember it’s not always about diet quantity but also diet quality!
The three meals a day diet schedule is probably what you’re most familiar with. After all, it’s the standard most of us grew up with since we were kids.
- Breakfast – Most people eat breakfast within 30 minutes of waking up, around 7:30 A.M. – 8:30 A.M.
- Lunch – Lunchtime is usually from noon to 2:00 P.M.
- Dinner – Dinner is generally eaten between 6:00 P.M and 8:00 P.M with many meals ending closer to 7:00 P.M., but some people will eat as late as 9:00 P.M.
- Snacks – Optional snacking in between, usually for kids, around 3:00 P.M. – 4:00 P.M or two to three hours after lunch.
If you do the math, that means you’re eating every four to six hours while awake. But the default option many of us have been following for years may not be the best for you. With the emergence of many trends in intermittent fasting and time-restricted feeding lately, it’s worthwhile to take a minute to examine the different options and how they can help you achieve your health goals; whether you want to know how often you should eat to lose weight, gain muscle, or just improve your metabolism and how you feel. This article will cover the different common options to help you choose which one might suit you best, given your health goals and lifestyle.
Eating More Frequently – The 3-Hour Diet
- PROS – might help give you a boosted metabolism
- CONS – not proven in studies and difficult to plan for
The 3-Hour Diet, basically consuming six small meals, might sound like some scam to take your money, but it’s actually all about eating smaller meals to help burn more total calories, not what you eat or how much of it. The idea behind this diet is to eat small meals more frequently in order to boost your metabolism and that having a digestive system that’s always actively digesting will burn more calories. However, there aren’t any studies tying this method of eating to increased basal metabolic rate (improved metabolism) and a constantly stressed digestive system isn’t ideal either, every part of your body needs periodic rest, just like you do.
This diet also requires more eating options, so it can be difficult to plan for if you’re busy. A common pitfall to overcome is planning snacks, instead of choosing healthy keto snacks, people end up choosing processed foods high in sugar, carbohydrates, and other less wholesome ingredients which makes it difficult to maintain a healthy weight.
The Standard Schedule
- PROS – makes your social life very easy
- CONS – can be easy to make poor food choices if you don’t plan ahead
If you follow the modern-day standard schedule for eating, it means you’ll eat three meals a day, every four to six hours. Optionally, you could plan one or two snacks in between. How you progress on your health journey on this schedule will be primarily determined by what you eat. If you can adhere to the tenets of a healthy diet in line with your overall goals you’ll be set. However, if you’re constantly on the road and forced into eating more processed fast foods that have become staples in the 21st Century you’ll be disappointed by the progress on the scale and in how you feel.
There’s nothing wrong with this using this schedule to lose fat, if you can stay disciplined and eat wholesome foods. The biggest benefit, especially when compared to fasting, is the enjoyment of getting to eat with your friends and family on a normal schedule, but remember you can’t eat fried foods all the time and expect to be healthy so you’ll need to be on the lookout for the healthy alternatives wherever you happen to be.
Time Restricted Feeding / Intermittent Fasting
- PROS – no diet restrictions, emerging diet trend with promising studies shown to benefit overall health if practiced correctly, gut rest
- CONS – skipping meals can be difficult to practice with a busy social life or kids, it’s still very early so we don’t know what the actual effects of fasting are for everyone so you’ll have to do some experimentation to see what works best for you.
TRF or IF as they are sometimes called, have been increasing in popularity lately due to many celebrities like Halle Berry, Chris Martin, and others who skip meals to reach their goals. This diet can be done in many different ways to suit your schedule.
- 16:8 – 16 hours of fasting followed by an 8 hour eating window. This means you’re basically skipping one meal a day (most people skip breakfast). A common replacement is black coffee.
- 18:6 – Similar to 16:8, but the fast is 18 hours instead, so 2 hours longer, and your eating window will be 2 hours shorter. Most practitioners will eat a light lunch later than normal and a larger dinner as their most important meal (most people skip breakfast but it’s up to your).
- Alternate Day Fasting – Exactly as it sounds. People will normally reduce their caloric intake on alternate days.
- Others – While these are the main ones, you can use apps like Zero to explore further options like one-meal-a-day (OMAD) where you only eat one big meal, if you’re ready to commit to longer fasts.
The premise of intermittent fasting and skipping meals is to engage the body’s natural energy breakdown cycle to force the body to use ketones, once you’re in starvation mode, and break down fat stores that build up over years. This is similar to how the ketogenic diet works, but uses time instead of restricting certain foods to get there. This typically requires avoiding food intake for at least 12 hours, while maintaining your overall calorie intake with larger meals.
A huge benefit of this diet is that there are no off-limits foods, of course, that doesn’t mean burgers and pizza every day but you can eat as much as you want of generally healthy foods and be ok. However, as a warning after a fast, certain foods will cause your digestive system to react differently than they would on the standard eating regimen. Recommended fast breaker meals are eggs, avocado, nuts, and broths, and going straight for high carbohydrate foods that will spike your blood sugar (pizza) is not advised.
What’s The Right Eating Schedule For You?
The most important factor in picking your schedule is adherence to the principles of a healthy diet and the ability to avoid unhealthy fast foods while still being able to keep yourself full with enough diversity to make sure you don’t get bored eating the same things every day. So whether you decide to eat frequent meals or stop eating breakfast the most significant difference in your success will be your eating habits.
You need to ensure that you aren’t going to set yourself up to overeat or eat bad calories. Some people will be more likely to overeat on snacks, so the 3-hour diet would not be a good choice for them, but on the other end of the spectrum if you try to fast and then eat an entire pizza, well that won’t work either.
Even health experts are still conducting clinical nutrition experiments on this subject, so use consider all of the factors like when you feel hungry, your hunger cues, and your physical activity levels throughout the day, your work and social life, so you can use common sense to decide how often should you eat.