On Schedule or Just When You Feel Like: When Should You Eat?
Should you just eat when your tummy lets you know or should you establish a regular eating timetable for your meals and snacks? There are pros and cons to both approaches, but which one is advisable for your weight-loss goals?
The benefits of trusting your body’s hunger signals
One of the most basic signals your body sends out is one for hunger. That familiar stomach growl lets us know it’s time to eat something. Ghrelin, the body’s hunger hormone, is produced in the pancreas and stomach lining and works to stimulate the appetite.
Eating because you’re hungry comes naturally because hunger pangs are just the body’s way of saying it needs an energy boost, ideally in the form of something nutritious.
Whether you prefer 3 main meals a day or 6 smaller ones, never stop listening to your body telling you it’s full. If you’ve provided it with enough energy, it will let you know, usually within 20 minutes after your mealtime. Eat slowly, listen carefully and put down your knife and fork when your stomach says “enough”.
Learning to correctly interpret your body signaling when it’s hungry and when it’s full is extremely important. We sometimes confuse emotions, both positive and negative, or cravings with hunger signals.
Don’t wait till you’re starving to eat something
Do you wait to eat until your appetite is so big you’d eat pretty much anything? Bad plan — this usually results in overeating. When our blood sugar drops fairly low, we tend to grab any and all food we can get our hands on. This is obviously less than ideal when you’re trying to lose weight.
For people suffering from blood sugar issues, such as diabetes, this extreme drop in blood sugar can be particularly dangerous.
The argument for an eating schedule
The debate rages on: 3 larger meals a day or 6 smaller ones? Sticking to a timetable helps many people avoid feelings of extreme hunger. This, in turn, can reduce the risk of overeating or emotional binge eating. A meta-analysis of 15 studies on the relationship between eating frequency and weight loss showed that smaller, more regular meals can help weight loss efforts.
The argument against scheduled meal times
If you’re rigid about eating at a certain hour, you might begin eating out of habit instead of hunger. This means you’re taking in calories even if your body isn’t asking you for them, which can lead to weight gain instead of loss. Additionally, there are a lot of people who just aren’t comfortable with a strict eating schedule. For some people, paying more attention to the timing means paying less attention to the natural hunger signals, or ignoring them all together.
Keeping yourself nourished should be a natural process, not one full of forced rules and regulations. Both timing-based and instinctually-based methods can aid in weight loss. If you choose to follow an eating schedule, make sure you aren’t forcing yourself to eat even if you aren’t hungry. What if you’re hungry, but your next meal isn’t scheduled for another 2 hours? Tide yourself over with a nutritious snack, like these granola bars! Ultimately, you need to listen carefully to your body. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full. If you’re making sure nutritious, whole foods are the main staples in your diet, then you should be able to reach your weight goals using either method.