When & what should I eat?

By now, you should have a large part of your nutritional plan worked out. You should know how many calories you require on a daily basis, what sort of deficit to create according to your goal and what ratio of the food groups to be consuming in order to meet your calorific needs; in addition, you should also be aware of which foods provide the best nutritional values and contain the nutrients that your body needs.

So, now for the finer details…

The most important part your nutrition is the nutrients; regardless of the timings of your meals, how they are split up during the day and with what ratio of food makes up your plate, your main concern should be your total calorie and nutrient intake, followed closely by how you are most likely to sustain your healthy eating habits.

There are many professionals out there that will suggest eating 6/7 meals a day with 3 hour intervals in between, which is great if you have the time to prepare your meals and are able to eat that frequently at work, but let’s be realistic – not everybody’s lifestyle will allow them to adapt to these types of eating habits. If you put yourself under pressure to stick to a rigid eating ritual, and you’re not able to sustain it, then you can feel as though you have failed and many people that experience these feelings will attempt to make themselves feel better through eating sugar rich foods, undoing all of the hard work that they had previously put in.

The bottom-line is, as long as you’re consuming everything that you need to during the day, you should eat however and whenever you want to, so that it is both convenient and enjoyable; this will encourage longevity and balance in your healthy relationship with food.

Once you have this under control, you may be able to gradually introduce an extra meal into your day and alter your portion sizes, so that you are headed in the right direction whilst experiencing consistent progression. Always work with what is realistic to you; it is going to be better to eat 4 meals per day for a year, than to eat 6 per day for 2 weeks, and slip back into bad eating habits.

Why are we advised to eat every 3 hours? When you leave a large amount of time in between your meals, it causes a drop in your blood sugar levels, leading to a spike when you eat again; this will cause a rise in excess insulin in your blood, resulting in your body storing fat.

For this reason, we should make eating breakfast a priority because whilst we are asleep our blood sugar levels are dropping, so breakfast will tackle this problem; if we wait until lunch, we are at risk of our bodies storing more fat, known as ‘starvation/survival mode’. Your body will be unaware of when it will next receive food, so it is forced to revert into this way of thinking. When we eat, most of our food is converted into glucose, in particular when we consume large amounts of carbohydrates. Any glucose that is not immediately used is converted into fat, with the help of the hormone insulin; hence why people tend to actually gain weight when they reduce the number of their daily meals.

Unfortunately, every time we eat our bodies are automatically going to undergo this process (converting food into glucose and then fat), but we can manipulate our metabolisms slightly, by eating at more regular intervals during the day. The most common advice is to eat 6 meals, with 3-hour intervals in between.

Think of your metabolism as a fire. If a fire runs out of fuel, it will eventually burn out, but add wood to it every 3 hours and it will continue to burn, and burn hotter. If you fail to feed yourself, especially at regular intervals then your metabolism will slow down, but eat more regularly and it will have no other choice but to speed up.

A few tips:

  • Aim to eat every 3 hours, but DON’T stress if this is not an option for you; find a routine that works for the long haul.
  • Eat 5-7 portions of fruit/vegetables a day.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink at least 8 glasses of water per day, more if you’re exercising.
  • Eat 2 oily fish a week.
  • Don’t cut out food groups.
  • Work out your calorie intake, and divide it evenly throughout your day taking into consideration how many meals you plan to eat.
Work with food group ratios that are personal to you and your goals.

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