We’ve already looked at how many overall calories you should be eating in a day and we’ve also looked at the right amount of carbs, protein and fat you should consume, so our next step is to look at how often you should eat. I’ve heard all kind of strategies for figuring out the right amount of meals to include in your diet. The old school way of thinking was three meals a day, now some say three meals plus two snacks, some say seven meals, others say no snacking after 7 pm, while others advocate eating within an hour of going to bed and some promote intermittent fasting or even grazing (or as I call it: The Pick at Your Food Diet). It’s very confusing to figure out what’s right for you and it has taken me many years to find the best strategy for myself. For the longest time I wasn’t eating enough and it was mostly because I would only eat four small meals a day, now I eat seven times a day, this is just what works best for me and it guarantees that I won’t be missing any nutrients or calories.
Some people do fine eating three times a day, if this is what you’re comfortable with then go for it, just make sure that your eating hearty meals with enough calories and with the right macronutrients to keep you fueled up and ready to go all day long. If three meals is not enough then go ahead and add some snacks, keep these around 200 to 300 calories and be sure to keep them balanced. Try to avoid the store bought pre-packaged snacks as these are loaded with additives that you really don’t need, instead try making your own (see below for my healthy snack ideas and recipes). Try to time your snacks for in between your meals so you’re not ravenous come lunch or dinnertime. Also consider how much time lapses between meals and how you feel. Are eating every 2-3 hours, 4 hours, or 5 hours? Whatever you’re doing now take note of how hungry you feel and keep in mind that if you wait too long your metabolism will drop as will your overall energy and you may end up gorging yourself on whatever food you can find. This is why extreme calorie cutting doesn’t work; your body will fight back and you will lose all inhibitions and eat the most caloric food that you can get your hands on. Did you ever notice that when you drop your calories because you’re dieting you typically crave sweets or fast food? This is because you’re not eating enough and you’re body is seeking out the highest amount of calories possible. Keep that in mind the next time you go on a diet.
One really important point that I would like to make here is this: don’t be a junk food dieter. You know what I’m talking about; those 100 calorie packs of cookies/chips/cakes are not fooling anyone anymore, they are junk do not rationalize with yourself that just because they are only 100 calories they’re not that bad, they are. They are not satisfying at all, I know from my own personal experience as a junk food dieter. Save the junk for a treat meal and eat the real thing if you prefer it to the reduced sodium/sugar/fat version, and be mindful that this is a treat, so enjoy it no more that once a week if that and that’s it.
Try a few different strategies on for size and see how you feel only eating three meals a day or eating every 4 to 5 hours, and try 6 to7 meals every 2 to 3 hours. See what you’re most comfortable with and go with that, but give them all a try for a few days each, it may surprise you to see how your body reacts. Also if you’re using a food journal (as I do) or an App, take note of when you start eating and when you finish eating each meal so you don’t go too long without nourishment and to make sure that you’re not inhaling your food too quickly. If you happen to practice The Pick at Your Food Diet, then take note of what you are eating and how much; you are most likely either eating too much or too little. If you’re eating too little you may be “skinny”, but wouldn’t it be nice to be lean and strong instead?
It’s good idea not to eat the exact same thing each day as it can get really boring really fast. Instead, mix it up a little by adding a different snack or changing up your dinner options. Usually for me midweek I need a little change of pace so although I typically don’t eat whole grains with dinner (I mostly focus on eating lots veggies with a lean protein) I typically make an exception on Wednesday and I eat a sandwich with sprouted grain bread or some whole grain pasta on the side with my grilled seitan and sautéed veggies.
What works best for me is eating seven meals a day every 2-3 hours, this way I am satisfied all day long. I personally am most hungry in the morning, probably because of my morning workouts; I usually start to feel hungry right at the two hour mark and later in the day I typically start to feel really hungry when I approach the three hour mark between meals. Once I started eating this way the most amazing thing happened…no more crazy cravings! When I began consuming the right amount of calories and macros at the right times, everything changed for me; I no longer got crazy eyes around dinner time and my afternoon naptime was no longer necessary, I very rarely get a hankering for junk food now, it’s very liberating.
Take a few weeks to find what works best for you and try different things, but make sure that however many meals or times each day you choose to eat, you are eating enough calories with the right amount of carbs, protein and fat. As always be sure to consult your healthcare provider for further information on how to eat right. Bear in mind that each day is different for us all so if you happen to have a particularly busy day that messes up your plans and you end up eating something that’s not-so good for you, don’t beat yourself up, it happens to all of us. Do the best you can each day and you’ll feel more healthy and empowered than ever!
Here are a few healthy snack ideas:
- 1-2 cups raw veggies with ¼ cup hummus
- Oat-Protein Bar (see below for the recipe)
- 2 squares 70% dark chocolate with 10 almonds (try not to eat this each day as there is added sugar, maybe once a week as a snack…and don’t worry, you don’t have to consider this as your treat meal as there are tons of nutritional benefits to eating a bit of dark chocolate)
- Rice crackers with 2 tablespoons nut butter
- 1 slice sprouted grain bread with 2 tablespoons sliced avocado, 2 slices tomato and onion
- Protein Shake: 1 scoop protein powder with non-dairy milk
- ½ cup Banana-Protein Nice Cream (see below for the recipe)
- Half a cup of fresh fruit with 1 tablespoon coconut milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1 teaspoon shredded coconut (it’s super yummy!)
This is one of my go-to afternoon snacks; it’s super hearty and delicious. I first made this when I was looking for a healthy and affordable alternative to the store bought protein bars.
Yields 6 bars
- 2 cups oats (not steel-cut)
- 2 scoops protein powder (vanilla or chocolate)
- 1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds
- ½ cup soft silken tofu
- ½ cup unsweetened almond milk
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl using a rubber spatula (if the batter is too dry, add additional almond milk 1 tablespoon at a time)
- Pour batter in an 8 by 8 square pan, spread evenly
- Place pan in freezer, uncovered, for up to 2 hours until firm
- Remove from freezer and pan and cut into six equal portions
(can be stored in the freezer for up to 2 weeks)
Banana-Protein Nice Cream
I love this recipe. I made this one afternoon when I had a serious hankering for something sweet. The protein powder and vanilla extract take away a bit of the overpowering banana flavor, so all you’re left with is creamy sweetness.
Yields 2 servings
- 1 banana
- 2 tablespoons protein powder (vanilla or chocolate)
- 2 tablespoons peanut butter
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon wheat germ (optional)
– Optional Toppings: shredded coconut, walnuts, cocoa powder, cinnamon, unsweetened carob chips
- Combine all ingredients except optional toppings in a food processor or blender
- Blend until well combined
- Place in an air tight container and place in freezer for at least 30 minutes
- Remove from freezer and separate into 2 equal portions
- Add optional toppings if desired
(Can be stored in the freezer for up to two days)
Start It, Finish It