Eat every 3-4 hours or 6 mini meals a day. Have you heard this rule? If you have not, this is a very popular rule amongst fitness competitors and fitness enthusiasts alike. This way of eating can be very beneficial for some people and not so much for others. So let’s take a good look at this.
The reason many use the eating every 3-4 hour rule is because it is said to keep our metabolism burning strong. The truth is your body just needs to know it is going to get the amount of calories and nutrition it needs on a regular basis. When you feed your body often it knows it will get the fuel it needs, so it has no issue letting that energy from your food be used. On the other hand, when we are really inconsistent with the meals we eat, for example you may get one meal in one day that is 500 calories and then the next day 3 meals for 2100 calories total, your body can go into starvation mode since it never knows if it will get the fuel it needs. Your body then stores much of the food you eat for fuel at a later time and the most efficient way to store energy is as fat!
A good reason for people to eat multiple mini meals throughout the day is it can keep them from getting too hungry, and therefore prevent binging. When you let yourself get too hungry, your body goes into ravenous mode. As a result, your body will crave more of the bad fatty, carby or sugary foods –especially highly processed refined carbohydrates and sugar. This happens because your body needs fuel fast and these processed sugary foods absorb very quickly into the blood stream. The problem with this is these sugars are not a healthy fuel source and will eventually crash you, not to mention wreak havoc on your health in general.
When you have digestion issues then smaller more frequent meals may be best. This is because we want to keep the meals more manageable and do not want the stomach completely empty or too full. It is suggested that if our stomachs become too empty, then we can have more sensitivity to issues and can have more bloating. Yet if we eat too large of meals, we can have just as many complications. How often you eat depends on your body. This could be every 3, 4, 5 hours or less. It really depends on your body and hunger levels. As a little side note, taking a digestive enzyme can help your body process the foods you are eating. So if you are eating small meals because of digestion issues, then add digestive enzymes to your routine.
The primary reasons to eat like this would be to keep your blood sugar in a good range. When you are dealing with blood sugar imbalances, like insulin resistance and diabetes, letting your blood sugar drop can be quite an issue. If you are not eating regularly, your blood sugar can start yo-yoing, which can create fatigue issues, concentration problems as well as a host of other symptoms. But this does not mean you actually have to eat every 2-3 hours.
Here is the trick. You can follow this rule, but do not take it literally. For some people they actually need to eat every 3 hours, for others it is every 5 hours. The general idea is to go with your body’s own rhythm. To be able to do this, you need to pay attention to your body and know when you are hungry. Many people ignore this function in our body. If you are someone who eats one meal a day and just does not think about food the rest of the day because you are not hungry, then you could benefit from getting on a schedule. Consistency is the key here. Your body needs to know it will get the fuel it needs. Whatever spacing works for you is great, just as long as you feel good on it and you are giving it the quality and quantity it needs.
Do not eat garbage! When you are creating your meals, make them balanced healthy meals. With some good lean protein, a small amount of healthy fats, non-starchy vegetables and carbohydrates (either from whole grains or starchy vegetables). If you have a tendency to eat garbage for your meals, then you will increase your chance to get an overabundance of empty calories in your diet. Focus on healthy choices for your meals. If you have a habit of over-eating on meals then you may want to avoid the many mini meals a day, since this could wind up just being a ton of extra calories.
Do you need to do the mini meals throughout the day? NO! This is one method that many have used, but it is not the only way. You need to do what works for you. There is much controversy on whether it helps with weight loss to do multiple mini meals or just your 3 meals a day. Some swear by this method while others use other methods and have great success. Look at your schedule and what you will be able to maintain. At least get your 3 balanced meals in per day. If the 3 meals is all you think you will be able to keep up with realistically, then stick to that and work on making healthier choices instead. You can always carry snacks too, this way if you are hungry between meals you have it covered.
If weight loss is your reason to do many small meals, then remember it is still about the overall calories in and calories expended. Keep in mind the amount of calories you should to be eating in order to drop the weight you have in mind and plan accordingly. Also remember that you should not be putting yourself at too steep of a calorie deficit. If the amount of calories you have been eating is 2100 calories and you were maintaining your weigh at that level, then just cut 500 calories from your daily eating so you would be at 1600 calories. You can even go less than that only cutting 100 or 200 calories. Do not get over ambitions with cutting your calories. This can create a stressful situation and make you feel deprived and hungry. It is better to be modest and be able to stick to your program.
To summarize this all up. Eat regularly and eat with the rhythm of your own body. Eat often enough that you are keeping your energy in a good place and feel good. Everything is so individualized, but we can still learn a lot from any of these common practices. The main thing we can take away from this way of eating is that it is good for our bodies to be consistent.