Home Q&A Wednesday Q&A Wednesday: Do I Have to Eat Every 3-4 Hours?

Q&A Wednesday: Do I Have to Eat Every 3-4 Hours?

by Erika Nicole Kendall
Q&A Wednesday: Do I Have to Eat Every 3-4 Hours?

Q: Is it really important that I eat every 3-4 hours to keep my metabolism revved? This is my problem area and I believe that I overeat sometimes. I’ve tried setting a timer in the past to remind me when it’s time to eat. 

No. I think the importance is conditional – meaning, it depends on why you’re doing it. If it’s about “keeping your metabolism revved up,” then that’s irrelevant.

From The New York Times:

As long as total caloric and nutrient intake stays the same, then metabolism, at the end of the day, should stay the same as well. One study that carefully demonstrated this, published in 2009 in The British Journal of Nutrition, involved groups of overweight men and women who were randomly assigned to very strict low-calorie diets and followed for eight weeks. Each subject consumed the same number of calories per day, but one group took in three meals a day and the other six.

Both groups lost significant and equivalent amounts of weight. There was no difference between them in fat loss, appetite control or measurements of hormones that signal hunger and satiety. Other studies have had similar results.

For a more reliable metabolic boost, studies show, try exercise. [source]

Your metabolism is your metabolism – it is the means by which your body burns energy to fuel your daily activity. That includes everything from waking up in the morning to taking on spin class at lunch time. The stuff that powers your nervous, digestive, muscular system? Yep – metabolism.

So, when you look at information like this, it’s important to note the key phrase: “as long as total caloric and nutrient intake stays the same.” If you’re not eating enough, your body will respond by slowing things down and shutting things off, ultimately leading to weight loss, but weight loss achieved through abject starvation is what often leads to yo yo dieting. The condition known as “amenorrhea” otherwise known as “my period stopped coming” is a common early side effect of a metabolism that has been diminished due to a severe lack of nutrition, something found in people cutting far too many calories to lose weight or exercising to a level that they’re not fueling for.

The goal is to keep your metabolism at the level it can work highest for you – eating multiple meals a day won’t actually increase your metabolism beyond its highest potential. Only exercise can actually do that.

That being said, I don’t think this is the primary reason why many people should consider eating on a schedule, and eat more than three meals a day.

One of the most common things I hear people complain about when they first convert to a lifestyle of fresh produce and higher quality/more diverse protein sources, is that because they’re eating smaller portions, they find themselves always hungry. They’re playing with portion sizes to figure out what works best for them, they’re fidgeting with macronutrient values – too much carb? not enough fat? how much protein? – and trying to figure out how to eat to fuel their daily lives, and – most importantly – they’re often battling with emotional eating challenges that might affect the way they interact with their peers every day.

Either way, switching over to clean eating can often result in people finding themselves hungry or dealing with cravings in ways they never originally bargained for and, instead of giving in to old and unhelpful snacking habits, it helps to find a meal waiting for you, instead.

As I’ve written before, eating more frequently helped me deal with my emotional eating habit because I found myself craving things in-between meals simply because I wanted them and was feeling sorry for myself that I couldn’t have them. That feeling of “feeling sorry for myself” was enough to trigger my cravings, that desire for sugary and salty and fatty that ultimately made me feel better. But, instead of going in on a bag of cheez twisters, I’d instead eat the meal I’d already prepped for myself, and force myself to deal with the emotions that arose.

Needless to say, it’s helped me do quite a bit of good for myself – not just physically, but emotionally. You’ll have to decide whether that’s a factor for you and, if it is, it’s something to consider adding. If not, tuck it away neatly in your back pocket as a tool to use should things change. There have been many a person who’ve accidentally developed an emotional eating habit after a traumatic event – it helps to know where to start to cut it loose.

Alas, you mentioned “doing things to increase your metabolism.” While eating more meals a day wouldn’t help with that, a couple of other things – on top of making sure you’re not seriously starving yourself – might: strength training (need a training plan?) and making sure you’re getting in enough protein, somewhere around at least 35% of your daily caloric intake (or, in other words, at least a third of your plate.) Strength training increases the muscle mass you have, thereby exponentially increasing your metabolism; meanwhile protein consumption makes sure that you’re preserving the muscle you already have and giving your body the building blocks to make more. Those two, when they work in tandem with one another, are the best way to step your metabolic game up, and make your weight loss goals not only easier to achieve, but easier and more realistic to manage, as well!

As I alllllways say, your body will thank you for it!

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