Patient Questions Answered: How Many Times Per Day Should I Eat?

Our friend & colleague, Christine Dionese, integrative health and food therapy specialist is here to answer a patient’s question on functional nutrition today.

Patient question: My sister eats six times a day and my boyfriend eats twice. Is there any science to how often we should be eating? Should I eat a certain number of meals per day? And, how important is it to eat breakfast?

Christine: How many times a day should you eat? Great question. Yes, there’s a lot of science behind how often we should eat, but the answer to your question is- it depends on your personal lifestyle. So, let’s take a look at your typical day. What type of exercise do you engage in, is your job sedentary or active, are you taking in enough food for your size, do you eat meat or are you vegetarian, vegan or pescetarian? These are all essential considerations to determine how many times you may want to eat each day. The amount of calories you ingest should be proportionate to your lifestyle and activity level, yet to avoid overeating, studies suggest eating at regular intervals.

I definitely do N O T suggest that you start counting calories. Counting calories stresses anyone and everyone out- who has time to count calories anyway?! You’ll know you’re getting enough or too much based on how you feel. Let’s face it, when we over- or under-eat, we feel tired or cranky and just not ourselves.

Breakfast is not any more important than other meals in your day per se, but without it, cortisol and insulin levels un-necessarily fluctuate. This fluctuation creates internal stress that can throw the entire rest of your day off; adversely affecting your natural ability to regulate the amount of calories you need. Your brain and metabolism are “sparked” in the morning by calories and without them, your body calls on reserves- this signals the cortisol/insulin response and it stresses your body out if it isn’t necessary. The same can happen if you skip any other meal, but what makes breakfast so important is that it sets the tone for the day ahead. If you want your body to naturally regulate the amount of calories it needs, eat breakfast everyday.

The research says eat at regular intervals to avoid overeating 

Research published in the American Journal of Physiology: Endocrine & Metabolism suggests that taking in meals at regularly scheduled times positively affects metabolism by reducing the amout of insulin that may be converted to adipose tissue. While weight management may not be your concern, this research suggests that the reduction in insulin can be considered pro-epigenetic information. Less insulin shifting equals less inflammation and less inflammation equals less stress. This means that eating at regular intervals not only helps you regulate weight, but also allows you to absorb the optimal amount of nutrients possible as you eat.

If you’re a go-with-the-flow type of person you might forget to eat. If you’re a regimented person, you may simply need to set a number of times to eat per day to make yourself feel relaxed. When deciding, keep a journal, see how you feel. Note whether your energy increases, fatigue reduces, you are maintaining your weight management goals and that you feel well. Consider the other variables I mentioned above and you’ll figure it out.

Choose nutrient dense foods to get the ultimate answer

What you feed yourself is the final part of this equation. Essential fats {more omega 3 than 6} + complex carbohydrates + easy to digest proteins will fuel your daily nutrient requirements and naturally satiate.

Buon Appetito!

Photo courtesy of Unsplash by Correen

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