Safe to say that most of us have a typical eating schedule whether we realize it or not. Hopefully, it’s an intentional, mindful pattern, but it may also develop without much thought—when the ice cream truck rings its bell or when you stroll by Starbucks. Do you set your own schedule with an eye toward hunger, health, and satisfaction, or have you simply fallen into eating at certain times, well, just because? The answer to this question may help determine your weight.

According to Prevention Magazine (March 2009), not only what or why you eat, but when you eat has a strong impact on healthy weight maintenance. Want to guess which kinds of people do better at keeping the number on the scale steady? Through a study of 3,607 women and men, the Karolinska Institute in Sweden determined that people who eat consistently at the same time every day without missing meals are less likely to develop a large waistline or insulin resistance. Conversely, folks who skip meals and eat at odd hours have a greater possibility of developing metabolic disease.

Perhaps engaging (or not) in regular eating times is based on whether we were fed randomly or given food on a fixed or interval schedule as infants. Fed at the same time every day, our bodies became programmed to eat then. Fed on a random basis, our bodies got used to going for long periods of time without food or eating when we were not hungry. Do you know the frequency of feedings when you were a baby or a toddler? How might they affect your eating schedule today?

If you want to regularize your eating, consider what times make sense for you. Rising and going to sleep early puts you on a different schedule than someone who stays up half the night and sleeps until noon. Parents often end up eating around their children’s schedules, which is fine as long as it suits your appetite signals. Obviously, your job has an impact on when you eat, but I’m a firm believer that most folks give up too easily when it comes to setting aside time to eat at work and act as if eating there is the least important thing they do. To improve your relationship with food, change your attitude and make it one of the most important.

Consider how often you want to eat during the day: 3 or 6 or more times. Once you’ve decided, think about what times would be right and then spend a few weeks eating at those times only. If they don’t work, alter your schedule and keep at it until you hit it right. This may take a while, but after a while you’ll re-program your feeding schedule.