Three Meals A Day

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I recently got a lovely email from a reader who has recently started swimming (awesome!) and had a question for me about food that I thought I’d also address here. She said that she was trying to cut down on her food without counting calories and to do so, she’s eating only three meals a day. No snacks, no second helpings, no desserts. She asked me for my input. Since I’m not a doctor or R.D., I can’t really give advice but I can talk about my own experience with making the transition to healthier eating. I recommend everyone see a registered dietitian or nutritionist to address any nutritional questions you may have.

Even when I was a kid, I ate more than 3 meals a day. I ate the typical 3 meals but then I also had the “after school snack” (usually it was something healthy my mom prepared instead of the junk food I wanted) and then dessert. When I was living on my own I pretty much ate three meals a day but that’s probably because I was bingeing at those three meals.

When it was time to lose weight, my goal was to eat 2,000 calories or less a day. That was a huge departure from the typical 5,000+ calorie a day I was used to eating. The first few weeks of the new diet plan was definitely a challenge. It was a rude awakening to reduce your caloric intake by more than half so abruptly. Perhaps I could have eased into it for a few days to get used to eating 4,000, then 3,000 then 2,500 calories a day until I transitioned to 2,000. But that’s not what I did.

Eating less than 2,000 calories a day was a math puzzle. If I ate 400 calories for breakfast, 400 calories for lunch, 100 calories in a snack, that left me 1100 for dinner and dessert. I had to find alternatives to the high calorie foods I wanted in order to fit into that math equation each day.

One thing I knew for sure: only eating 3 meals a day was setting myself up for failure. I knew it from the beginning. I’d eat a healthy, low calorie breakfast and then go to work and have 4-5 hours before it was lunch time. I’d start to get hungry and then consider going to the office vending machine for a bag of chips or a candy bar. That was not a recipe for success. I quickly started bringing snacks to work to tide me over until lunch time. A typical snack was an apple, orange, string cheese or maybe some crackers (measured out in a serving). It took the edge off before lunch.

I know myself. If I get too hungry or go too long in between meals, I get some blood sugar issues where I get shaky, cranky and have an overwhelming desire to EAT EVERYTHING IN SIGHT. No joke. It’s like the logical part of my brain goes on vacation and the primal “I’m starving” part of my brain takes over. I KNOW I’m not starving. But my brain sure doesn’t know that. Michael jokes that when I get home from the gym at night I come through the door like Kool-Aid Guy. 🙂

koolaid

Thus began the habit of eating three meals plus snacks. To this day, I still eat several times a day. Breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, pre-gym snack, dinner, possibly dessert. Basically, I eat every 3 hours or so. This is not to say that I’m eating a huge meal 6 times a day.

Example:

Breakfast (7am) – 2 eggs, turkey sausage or bacon, coffee

Mid-morning snack (10am) – apple

Lunch (1pm) – soup and salad

Pre-gym snack (4pm) – Greek yogurt with fruit

Dinner (7pm) – chicken, steamed veggies, salad

Dessert (8pm) – chocolate and glass of milk

That above routine is pretty standard for me now. Why do we think three meals a day is the norm?

The number of meals eaten per day, along with the standard hour and fare for each, “are cultural patterns no different from how close you stand when talking to people or what you do with your body as you speak. Human beings are comfortable with patterns because they’re predictable. We’ve become comfortable with the idea of three meals. (source)

I found the article where I got that quote really interesting. It’s true: our eating patterns are created by ritual, habit, history and time perimeters. Lunch is mid-day. Dinner is around 6pm after school or work. But what happens if it’s noon and lunchtime but you’re not hungry? Maybe you ate a bigger breakfast or you just don’t have an appetite. How many of us eat anyway simply because it’s TIME TO EAT?

So which is better? On the flip-side  I found another article that said for obese women, three larger meals a day was the better bet.

“Eating larger meals less often lowered blood-fat levels. Over time, consistently eating fewer, larger meals each day could lower the women’s blood-fat levels and thereby lower their risk of developing heart disease.” (source)

The article was a little vague for my liking and didn’t really explain their findings to my satisfaction. Finishing the article,  I didn’t think “oh yeah! That makes so much sense and only eating 3 meals a day is healthier”.

Bottom Line

I think it’s important to figure out what works for YOU. Everyone is different. Some people cannot eat breakfast or they feel sick. Some people need to eat immediately in the morning. Some people can’t eat after 6pm due to acid reflux issues. Some people get the munchies at 10pm and have a snack then.

Ask yourself the following questions:

Am I hungry? Is it boredom? Or am I really thirsty and dying for some water?
When was the last time I ate? Again, if it hasn’t been very long, maybe it’s thirst or boredom or emotional distress.
Could a small snack tide me over until the next meal?

Experiment. Try eating only 3 meals a day and see how you feel. If it doesn’t work, try eating smaller, more frequent meals. Eventually your body will let you know what works.

QUESTION: Are you a 3 meal a day person or 3 meals and snacks kind of person?

Author: Lisa Eirene

About Lisa Eirene Lisa lost 110 pounds through calorie counting and exercise. She swims, bikes, runs, hikes and is enjoying life in Portland, Oregon. Her weight loss story has been featured in First Magazine, Yahoo Health, Woman's Day and Glamour.com.

15 thoughts on “Three Meals A Day”

  1. I LOVE this post! I tend to eat like you. separating out snacks and meals. If I don’t plan my snacks, I absolutely end up at a vending machine. But I tend to get hungry pretty frequently – and dizzy/cranky when I don’t have food. Thanks for researching this and sharing your insight!
    Ashleysh22 recently posted..Oscars Recap: Who Wore What

  2. I agree that people need to figure out what works best for them! I know some people that eat two huge meals a day, and that’s it. They like it that way. There is NO WAY that would work for me! I do much better with eating multiple times throughout the day. In fact, my daily meals look a lot like yours. 🙂
    Michelle @ Eat Move Balance recently posted..Too Cute Not To Share!

  3. I would love to eat smaller meals during the day, but since I have to take insulin every time I eat, plus a shot at night – that could be 7 shots in one day – ouch!

    So I normally stick to my 3 meals a day – each around 500 calories and hope for the best. That’s not to say I don’t indulge (um, hello chicken fingers and deep dish pizza I ate this past weekend!), but 3 square a day usually works for me.
    Biz recently posted..Sunday Dinner

  4. I typically eat 3 meals a day, but not all the time. When I remember to take some nuts with me to work and have some in the morning, and some in the afternoon, it always helps to keep me feeling full by the time it’s dinner time. I’ve been trying to make fruit my dessert, as much as possible, as much have something sweet after dinner!
    I ❤ 2 Eat recently posted..Look Back to Move Ahead

  5. I was formerly a two meal person (pre-weightloss), but now I am definitely a three meal plus snacks person. I usually eat six times: breakfast, mid morning snack, lunch, afternoon/preworkout snack, recovery snack or smoothie, light dinner (about an hour after recovery snack or smoothie). I dont usually eat dessert, but after dinner i usually drink a couple cups of unsweetened ginger, chai or herbal tea. Since I learned how to eat intuitively, three bigger meals a day is now too much food at once for me and I wind upfeeling overstuffed and fatigued.

    1. You make a good point I forgot to add. I can’t eat huge portions anymore either. If I eat too much I just feel gross. Yesterday we went out to breakfast and mine was huge (scrambled eggs, potatoes, toast). I ate like 75% of it and was still so full I didn’t eat until dinner at 7!!

  6. I’m a snack person. I have a 400 cal breakfast, 400 cal dinner, then instead of having lunch I have 3 larger (200-300 cal) snacks at 11, 1 and 3.30. That leaves me room for some chocolate for dessert! You really have to find what works for you, because everyone is different!

  7. I feel like you all and I’ve tried every diet going over many many years but just recently I decided to just go by my gut instinct and eat three meals a day with no snacks in between, as was the normal routine when I was a child and it’s working very well for me at last! I’m losing weight naturally without counting calories or restricting certain foods, but I seem to eat well and nourishing foods without thinking about it. So at last I’m listening to my body instead of all the conflicting advice which does my head in! I’m relaxed about food now and can think about other day to day things instead

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