Would you like to learn about eating regularly, a basic guideline to healthy eating?
Eating regularly is a fundamental part of eating. It’s important because the internet can be a confusing place for nutrition. It’s easy to forget the basics in all the headlines.
If you scan the news regularly, you often hear of yet another celebrity losing weight with a new fad diet. Of course, most of the celebrities who lose weight actually gain the weight back, like Oprah. Furthermore cycles of losing and gaining weight damage to our metabolisms. The long term science of dieting shows tremendous negative health consequences.
Let’s return to the basics of eating and get clarity on a fundamental principle of a healthy way of eating.
Are you ready? If so, let’s get started.
The Basic Guidelines
Eat regularly means eating around 3-5 times per day. This comes out to be eating every 3-5 hours, not grazing in between. You should feel satisfied after eating.
That’s the basic guideline to healthy eating. And, just to be clear there are 4 basic points within this guideline that we’ll talk about within this article:
- Eat regularly about 3-5 times per day
- Allow 3-5 hours of time in between meals/snacks
- Don’t graze in between meals
- Feel satisfied afterward eating
And also, this article is primarily about the timing of food, not the actual food eaten. Overall, I recommend a balanced variety of whole foods. I don’t dive into detail into this article about what to eat, but don’t underestimate the power of eating whole foods.
The reason I emphasize regularity is because there can be sooo much debate about what to eat. And oftentimes people get caught up in the minutiae of what to eat, but then completely neglect when and how to eat!
With that in mind, let’s see more of what eating regularly is all about.
Eating Regularly About 3-5x Per Day About 3-5 Hours Apart
Let’s get clear on precisely what we mean by ‘eating regularly’ so that we can take actionable steps.
Does eating regularly mean eating every hour? Does it mean mean eating 3x per day? Or 5x per day? Here is my definition of eating regularly:
Eating regularly means eating 3-5x per day, about 3-5 hours in between meals, and not eating in between.
For many of you, this is probably what you do naturally anyways. Breakfast, lunch a few hours later, a snack to tide you over until dinner, and then dinner. That’s 3 meals right there and a snack, roughly spaced apart 3-5 hours.
It seems pretty intuitive right? In many ways this scheduled eating guideline is meant to be simple. It’s meant to be pretty straightforward.
Because simplicity in nutrition is so important these days. As I alluded to earlier, there’s an overwhelming amount of information out there. Much of this information is good, it’s just too much information.
Your brain can easily feel overwhelmed. That’s why returning to the basics of eating regularly can be so helpful to people.
Let’s continue exploring this guideline in a bit more detail.
Eating Regularly Timing Example
Here’s an example to show you what eating regularly looks like.
- ~ 8am Breakfast
- ~ 12pm Lunch
- ~ 3pm Snack (optional)
- ~ 6pm Dinner
- ~ 9pm Snack (optional)
Pretty simple, eh? Of course, you may wake up earlier than 8am, so feel to adjust the times accordingly. I don’t recommend you take this plan too seriously! The “~” sign in front of the times is meant to mean ‘approximately’.
Some days 5 hours will go by before you eat because you have back to back meetings. Other days will be more chill and you can eat closer to 3 hours. Overall the intention behind this guideline is simply to get you eating regularly. Our bodies like schedules.
Don’t Be A Perfectionist
Of course, realize some days you’ll eat 3 hearty meals while other days you’ll eat 5 times.
This ‘guideline’ is precisely that, a guideline. It’s not a precise, rigid diet rules we’re talking about here.
We’re talking about a fundamental eating principle that’s 1) easy to understand and 2) can have great benefits. Before we talk about those benefits, let’s talk about why we need to eat regularly in the first place.
The Dangers Of Dieting, Skipping Meals And Undereating
Eating regularly can protect you from some of the harmful effects of dieting. Many people want to lose weight, and it’s pretty easy to figure out that if you eat less food, you’ll lose weight.
We pick up ideas about eating subconsciously in an effort to look a certain way or have our bodies weigh a certain number. Our ideas come from the way western culture promotes a thin body ideal.
We end up dieting because dieting is in our culture. Sometimes we even diet without consciously deciding to do it. However, this type of thinking can become problematic because the long term science of dieting is dismal.
A UCLA meta-analysis in 2007 looked at the long-term studies (over 2 years) done on dieting and weight loss.
Their conclusion: “The dieters had little benefit to show for their efforts, and the non-dieters did not seem harmed by their lack of effort. In sum, weight regain is the typical long-term response to dieting, on an exception.”
This science is one of the reasons why ‘dieting’ as a word is becoming less popular. For example, Weight Watchers has rebranded to WW to avoid the dieting connotations. However, the WW program hasn’t changed one iota. It’s still the same program.
Unfortunately many people- under the diet under different branding. Examples of this are ‘wellness’, ‘cleanses’ and ‘clean eating’ programs.
Another example of dieting by accident is skipping meals or undereating. Someone who randomly skips meals or undereats may not think of themselves as dieters. But know they have to eat less to lose weight, or they mistakenly believe they have to eat less to ‘be healthy’.
Whether you use the word diet or not, if you diet, the long-term results will catch up to you. Moreover, there’s a difference between being healthy and being a ‘healthy weight’.
Skipping meals, quasi-dieting and under-eating for the sake of weight loss aren’t sustainable. Such actions lead to yo yo dieting and cycles of weight gain & weight loss, as Tracy Mann said earlier. Dieting comes in different disguises, but the long term end results don’t change.
Note that there is a difference between a lifestyle and a diet. A long-term lifestyle of plant-based eating or intermittent fasting can be healthy. Skipping from fad diet to fad diet is dieting. It’s a fine line, but the main difference between a diet and a lifestyle is longevity.
The Biology of Yo Yo Dieting
The problem about undereating is a mistaken notion. The mistake is thinking hunger is under our control. And when we lose control over your hunger, it’s all our fault.
But that’s not true. When you undereat, your body can encourage you to eat more food to compensate. In other words, you’re not failing the diet, the diet is failing you. Unfortunately, our culture blames the individual, instead of on the diet in question.
For example, you often hear this like “you gave into temptation”. Or “you were bad for breaking your diet”. And countless other phrases that promote willpower triumphing over biological hunger. And therefore, if you didn’t follow your diet it was either because you were lazy or lacked motivation.
Your biology disagrees. Undereating and undernourishment will sabotage any attempts at willpower.
Here’s what happens when you undereat (in easy-to-understand terms):
- Your brain thinks it’s starving (specifically what’s happening is that your cells are running out of energy which signal the brain …)
- Your brain sees starvation and lack of energy as an issue
- To regain energy an, your brain commands you to eat
You begin eating perfectly, losing weight through willpower and feeling proud of yourself. Byou find yourself unable to stick with the diet for very long. You always ‘give into cravings’. This is because it’s not you per se who’s giving in, it’s your stomach and brain hijacking you to eat more food.
And unfortunately, once the brain panics and begins overeating, it usually eats too much. This is why we ‘yo yo diet’. We lose weight, then our brain commands us to eat eat eat.
We blame themselves, not the undereating. Then we try again, only to repeat the same cycle again. This can go on for decades! And by regularly eating wholesome foods until satisfied, we can stop the cycle.
Benefits Of Eating Regularly
Two benefits of eating regularly are
- preventing your brain from hijacking you and
- regulating your blood sugar.
When you eat regularly, your body trusts you. Then your brain doesn’t need to intervene and make you overeat to prevent danger.
Our body needs food for life. Whether you call it energy or performance, food and nutrients in food are fuel that makes our bodies move.
If you eat regularly, your blood sugar levels and energy are stable throughout the day. But if you’re living and operating from a ‘hangry’ state then our life will have more ups and downs throughout the day.
You’ll likely be fatigued too.
Remember Eating For Satisfaction
Be sure to eat for satisfaction too. Just because we eat regularly, doesn’t mean our body is getting proper nutrition.
For example, someone could be eating celery. But even 100 stalks of celery would still not give us the variety of nutrients our bodies need to function.
Be sure you tune into both physical and mental satisfaction. After all, sometimes you can eat regularly and feel comfortably full, but have a feeling of regret. This is one reason we avoid grazing between meals and snacks.
Grazing prevents our belly from getting hungry. You actually want your stomach to experience hunger before eating. Then your belly will feel satisfied at the end of the meal or snack. And when you’re satisfied, you won’t have regretful feelings afterwards.
So be sure to pay attention to how food makes you feel. Be willing to experiment with new foods, new combinations of recipes, and learn as you go.
If you eat regularly, and aim for satisfaction, you’ll be good to go!
About the Author
Jared Levenson is an Intuitive Eating blogger at EatingEnlightenment.com.
Visit him to learn understanding and managing emotional eating and binge eating through mindfulness. Jared is active on Twitter, Pinterets, YouTube, Facebook and his website blog.