It’s a question I’m sure you’ve pondered! Just flick through any glossy health magazine or social media news feed, and I’m sure you’ll come across different theories on how often you should eat. From six-meals-a-day, to the latest dietary craze of ‘intermittent fasting’ (more on this another time), it’s no wonder we’ve all become a little bamboozled over something as simple as eating food.
The six-meals-a-day approach may work for some, but in practice it means you’ll need some pretty impressive organization skills – and let’s face it, sometimes just getting dinner on the table in a timely fashion is a win for the day! Perhaps the greatest difficultly I see in this approach lies in the need to reduce meal size. While the intent may be to have six small meals, what I usually see is people eating three regular sized meals, plus the three snacks! So, unless you’re an elite athlete or are actively trying to gain weight, this approach certainly has its challenges when it comes to weight loss or maintenance.
Whilst there are no hard and fast rules as to when we should eat, I am a fan of sticking to the time-honored tradition of three meals a day. This style of eating is deeply entrenched in our culture, and for the most part I think it works well - particularly if you attend school or spend your day at work.
While children certainly need snacks in between meals to support growth and meet nutritional needs, most adults will do just fine with three main meals, spread throughout day. By eating wholesome balanced meals, the aim is to comfortably fill you up and get your mind off food – which is just what we need in todays world of growing waistlines. I typically find it’s those who graze all day, are the ones who constantly think about what and when they’ll next eat. Current research also shows, that ‘grazers’ usually end up eating more by the days end, than those who focus on eating three balanced meals.
What about snacks? …
If you feel like eating in-between your meals, just do a quick body-scan before snacking to see if you’re truly hungry or are perhaps eating for others reasons such as boredom, procrastination or even thirst. Try also assess how hungry you really are as I often see people reach for a snack at the first pang of hunger, to then only eat their next meal shortly after. Keep in mind that a little bit of hunger is not a bad thing – it actually means your body will turn to using stored energy, rather than utilising the energy coming in from that snack you had at close reach.
If your day requires you to have long gaps between meals, a snack may just help see you through to your next meal. The aim is to start your meal feeling hungry, not ravenous – as only leads to overconsumption and you feeling sluggish, rather than refueled.
The bottom line is to be smart with your snacks. Have healthy wholefood options such as yoghurt, fruit, nuts or wholegrain muesli bar on hand, to eat if you have more than 2 hours before your next meal, and have real, rather than perceived hunger.