Quick Tip: Eat Every (3-)4 Hours

Happy hump day!

Today’s quick tip was a tipping point in my weight loss and general whole health. I’m sure you’ve all heard that we should be grazers, eating small meals frequently to keep our metabolisms humming. It seems to make great sense on the surface and I abided by this rule for a very long time, but it got me nowhere.

Eternal clock

c/o Robbert van der Steeg/Flickr

Then one day, while out for a run, during which I usually listen to a Jillian Michaels podcast, JM was doing a segment on dispelling common weight-loss myths. That’s when I heard her say we should only eat every four hours.

Why?

Eating around the clock prevents your body from burning fat. Whenever you eat, you release insulin. When you release insulin, your body is storing sugar instead of letting other enzymes in your body release sugar to break down fat. So instead of using your energy stores (and thus, fat), you’re using your most recent snack.

I’ve found that this not only increased my fat burn, but it made it easier for me to track my food. When you’re only eating four times a day, you know what you’re eating and when and also tend to eat more balanced meals. I also noticed that eating a bit more at each sitting has left me more satisfied. My original plan of eating every two hours left me even more hungry than when I started eating my snack!

Eat every 3-4 hours

A typical day for me consists of four meals about four hours apart: breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner. I start around 6:30 AM with breakfast. Though I’ve been experimenting with my usual yogurt parfait, I have to say that this has the best staying power.

Pumpkin yogurt parfait

Lunch is around 11:00 AM. I realize this is beyond the usual four hours, but I generally find it easy to keep myself distracted at work for the extra half hour. No one wants to eat lunch at 10:30 AM (plus, if I need to grab some extras for my lunch at my work caf, they don’t open until then!).

Salad for lunch

Next is my snack around 2:30 PM. Now this is obviously not four hours after my lunch, but I go with my body cues on this one. Sometimes it’s 2:15 PM and sometimes it’s closer to 3:00 PM. Closer to 3:00 PM is perfect timing as I often work out right after work, starting around 4:15 PM. This way my snack doubles up as energy for my workout.

Peanut butter and apple snack

Dinner times vary. We’ll eat anywhere between 5:30 PM and 7:00 PM depending on how long it takes to get dinner together and what else is going on that day.The later time is a bit better as it is closer to the four-hour mark. I definitely don’t obsess over it, which is why I say eat every 3-4 hours, with four hours being a bit more ideal.

Stuffed peppers with spinach

Dinner ends with little treat in the form of a smallish piece of one of these babies. Dark chocolate is my go-to dessert most days. Antioxidants and delicious!

Chocolate choices

My weekends tend to be less structred and I sometimes end up eating every two hours (and notice a difference in my hunger when I do–I feel like I’m hungry all weekend sometimes!).

Please keep in mind that this is not meant to be a hard a fast rule, but rather guidance on “best practice” as we say in healthcare. This is what I have found works for me and you need to find what works for you. 🙂

Questions: Do you agree or disagree with this? How often do you eat? Are you structured most of the time or wing it most days?

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18 thoughts on “Quick Tip: Eat Every (3-)4 Hours

  1. Every three to four hours works for me too! In France our meal times are pushed back a bit but general principle is the same! Breakfast around 7, lunch around 12:30 or 1, possible snack around 4 or 5. Home from work at 7, Dinner not before 8:30 pm.

    • That would be a late dinner for me! Do most people eat dinner that late in France? We had a hard time getting a sense of dinner time when we were there last summer (then again, we were eating pretty late most nights, too!).

  2. I eat every 3 hours, sometimes I’m hungry before that as well… I’m structured, mainly because my weekdays are similar to one another, so I can always plan ahead in terms of meals and snacks to take to work, etc.
    Weekends usually include some changes like eating out, but I still eat every few hours.

    • I’m sure with the high miles you put in that you need a bit of a different fuel strategy. Do you usually need a snack during your longer runs?

      • I usually don’t. I take gels sometimes and like them, but I don’t particularly enjoy eating while running, and I fear stomach cramps even though I’ve been lucky with gels so far. I’ve gone up to 23K/14M without eating, no problem.
        I do have a snack pretty soon after I’m done working out though.

      • I would definitely fear stomach cramps as well! My husband sometimes does the caffeine jelly beans. A friend suggested yogurt-covered raisins, but those are pretty sweet and kind of turn my stomach. Maybe it was the brand. Anne has suggested using PB-stuffed dates with a bit of salt on top, but I don’t know how you’d carry those without smushing them. Yes, I would imagine you would need to eat very soon after that!

  3. I agree with the importance of eating every 3-4 hours but I weight most of the importance on keeping active and well-fueled. My exercise suffers when my energy is low. Usually speaking, when my energy is low it means I should eat something to feel rejuvenated. Sometimes when my energy is low I need to reflect on how much sleep I got the night before. Over the past several months a good 8 hours seems to elude me.

    • Hi, WHH! I know–we need to figure out what’s going on with your sleep! We’ve checked the usual culprits (caffeine, exercise, screen time) and added in some herbal teas and OTC meds, but to (not much) avail! We’d welcome suggestions from anyone out there!

  4. That stuffed pepper looks amazing…

    • That was a last minute, what-the-heck-can-we-make-tonight dinner. It was an Italian take on stuffed peppers, using leftover sauce and fresh mozz. It came out okay–peppers should have been cooked more ahead of time. But you can stuff a pepper with just about anything. 😉

  5. I try to do the every 4 hours thing but I’ve noticed that my breakfasts which are at about 7:45am are only about 200 calories and sometimes not enough protein so I tend to eat a second mini breakfast in the 10:30ish range. Then lunch happens around 1pm and dinner around 7. I try to save a piece of fruit to break up that time and eat it around 4ish. Unfortunately at work I feel like I eat based on stress and not actual hunger so it screws me all up.

    • I try to get at least 300 calories in my breakfast and it’s always loaded with protein and fiber. That’s what really keeps me full. Yes, stress can definitely bring on “hunger.” Have you tried chewing gum to distract yourself? Or a soothing tea to bring down the level of stress?

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