Establishing parameters feels good when it comes to eating because it gives us guidelines in attempts to simplify the chaos we have made of food.
Low fat. High fat. Low Carb. Vegan. Paleo. The Zone.
Don’t eat after 8. No carbs at night. Eat 6 meals a day.
I am going to talk specifically about the latter today but ultimately know that no specific way of eating will conquer bad habits, stressed out choices, and restricting food (or overindulging) for lengths of time.
Eating 6 meals a day is a modern way of eating. Back in the day (even 50 years ago) we never were given the advice to pack our Tupperware for the the day and time out our mid morning and afternoon snack whether we were hungry or not.
We are told to eat more often because it speeds up our metabolism and if you can speed up your metabolism you can turn yourself into a fat burning machine and get the results you are seeking. That if you eat every few hours it will control your hunger. That if you eat every few hours it will boost your energy.
Don’t feel bad if you have believed this or tried this. I sure have. I have done the extremes of the tupperware packing to simply making sure I eat every couple hours. I remember one day stressing out about how I was going to eat my mid morning chicken and vegetables during my 5 minute break between clients. I wasn’t even hungry!
The thing with the body is it adapts and if you train yourself to eat 6 meals a day it starts to expect to eat 6 meals a day. Hungry or not.
Is this wrong? No. If you are hungry, eat. At the same time learn to find balance with hunger. Not giving into it the second you feel like it but not letting it drag on too long in hopes it will give you better results.
Here are a couple concepts to consider about hunger and eating 6 meals a day.
Don’t be scared to be hungry.
The thought for many of us is that if we just eat 6 meals a day we won’t have to worry about being hungry because we are eating every few hours. This is standard advice. But what is wrong with temporary hunger?
In part 1 of my blog post The Hunger Games, I discuss this mindset dilemma in which some people think being starving all the time equates to success. Hunger for sure does not indicate victory but it is not something to fear either.
I often have clients tell me, “But if I eat breakfast I am hungry for the rest of the day.” I respond, “Good. Your body is meant to be hungry.”
Hunger is not the issue, self control is. Learning to adapt to the discomfort of hunger from time to time and how to control eating when hungry are good practices to adopt.
Eating more often gives you more opportunity to overeat.
When our willpower is shot and our self control is limited (which it is these days) why would we so often give ourselves more and more chances to eat, and overeat? More and more chances to have to make decisions!
In the book The Willpower Instinct, by Kelly McGonigal, it discusses how we make, on average, about 200 food choices a day and our self control is highest in the morning and decreases throughout the day. So let’s not force ourselves into more decision making with food. Start by planning your 3 bigger meals for the day and 2 snack ideas. Then go about your day and try to eat in accordance to true hunger, not what the clock says.
Eating every few hours keeps your body in a chronic state of digestion.
When we eat every few hours our bodies are constantly digesting and never really get a time to rest. This can leave people feeling bloated, feeling like they constantly need to have food in their system and not really paying attention to what their body is saying. Hungry or not.
Like I said above, this is a modern way of eating that we have trained ourselves in.
Eating every few hours doesn’t take into account if you are hungry, need or want food.
In a world of high access and overabundance of food, we are used to eating just to eat. Just because the food is there. Just because we have a craving. Just because we feel like it. We are told to eat things to curb our cravings, to ward off hunger, to keep us full.
But we are talking temporary hunger people. We are talking a couple hours of hunger. It is ok to be hungry. Now if you are skipping food all day, every day to lose weight, trying to be productive at work, and get your workout in at 5 p.m. before you settle down for your one meal of the day lets talk. That is not smart or sustainable.
Is there a place for eating more often throughout the day? Sure. When schedules are odd or training for certain goals like bodybuilding, an athletic event, certain physique goals. There is a time and place for eating more often throughout the day.
Blindly following common advice is something we need to start thinking about in depth before we actually apply it. Just because we are told to do it doesn’t mean it always works.
Some reading this article may be committed to their small meals throughout the day and love it. Some may have dabbled in it a bit and some may eat one meal a day. The key is, is it working for you?
Ask yourself that question and proceed as necessary.