I’m often asked, “How often should I eat?” and this is a subject that frequently crops up on my message board (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings). It’s an important question lacking a one-size-fits-all answer. When people ask me how often they should eat, I know immediately that they are looking for an answer in the wrong place—outside themselves—rather than reflecting internally on what is right for them because the only person I can answer for is me!
How often you want to (not should) eat depends on your lifestyle, hunger and activity level, interest in food, and its availability. Some people love having three meals and three snacks a day. Other folks (like me) don’t like to be hungry or full and have multiple food encounters during the day without counting. As a writer and therapist with a home office, I can take frequent breaks and have foods I love readily available. My husband generally eats two large meals a day and that works for him.
And, remember, every day isn’t the same although we do fall into habits. If you’re out tooting around and don’t have time for a sit-down meal, you may think in terms of frequent snacks. On the other hand, if you’re home alot and tend to spend more time in the kitchen than any other room of the house, you might think about establishing a three-meal-a-day routine. Another factor to consider is when you’re usually hungry. If you enjoy having a large, wholesome breakfast, you may not be hungry until late afternoon. However, if you like breakfast lite and you eat it early, you may want a nibble mid-morning. It’s important to eat complex carbohydrates and protein during the day to keep your nourished. If you tend to turn toward food more than you’d like in the evening, it may be because A) you haven’t eaten enough during the day and/or 2) you’re not really hungry, but are using food for non-hunger reasons. It’s not healthy to eat a great deal before going to sleep, so try giving yourself a cut off time to end eating that’s a few hours before bedtime.
Experiment with eating frequency: try eating more or less often and in larger or smaller amounts. See what feels comfortable for your body and routine. Don’t make rules (other than adhering to “normal” eating rules), but do follow the internal appetite signal you have for hunger and try to eat when you’re moderately hungry. Needing external rules and answers from experts is part of the residue of having had a diet mentality for too long. The only way you will learn to trust your appetite is through trial and error and keeping your eyes on your own plate!