When you think about your daily meals, you probably envision breakfast, lunch, and dinner — or the standard "three square meals" a day. And this plan can work for many people. But if you're constantly dealing with dips in energy, "hangry" moments, or simply want to feel better, you may want to switch to
four meals a day, and see how you feel.
You'll want to start by adjusting when you eat. "Depending on your work schedule and personal life, the ideal timing of four meals per day may differ,"
registered dietician Sabrina Russo tells Bustle. "I would suggest aiming for 8 a.m., 12 p.m., 3 p.m., and 7 p.m. The idea is each meal should be three to five hours apart and not too close to bedtime."
And then think about
what you eat. "Meals should likely be smaller than normal and contain satiating ingredients, such as a source of protein and fiber," registered dietician Ysabel Montemayor, tells Bustle. You might go for a standard breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but add in a healthy afternoon snack. Or maybe a lighter breakfast, bigger lunch, light dinner, and a snack before bed. Basically, do whatever feels right for you. And then sit back and reap the benefits.
"Eating more often
keeps your metabolism working, and prevents it from slowing down," Russo says. "Eating four meals a day can also improve your energy levels. [And it] may also prevent excessive hunger, which may make it difficult to concentrate, or make you tired and irritable."
If that sounds good and you'd like to give it a try, you may notice some of the health benefits below, according to experts.
While it may be a good idea to
have a light snack before bed, eating a large meal late in the evening can make it difficult to sleep. And that's where having smaller meals throughout the day can come in handy.
"You might sleep better if you eat smaller, more frequent meals,"
registered dietician Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD, FAND, tells Bustle. "Large meals eaten close to bedtime can trigger heartburn symptoms, which can keep you up at night."
If this is something you struggle with, moving your larger meals to earlier in the day, and lightening up towards the evening, may make a big difference.
If you start to feel sluggish throughout the day, you may want to eat more frequently as a way of preventing
dips in your blood sugar, which can leave you feeling tired.
"When your blood sugar remains more constant throughout the day, your energy level does too," Bowerman says. So make sure you never go more than three to five hours without a snack, lest you begin to feel sleepy.
The less your blood sugar fluctuates, the fewer "hangry" moments you'll have. So if you're someone who feels super cranky whenever you're hungry, listen up.
"Eating at least four meals per day helps prevent that 'hangry' feeling many experience when waiting too long between meals,"
Rachel Fine MS, RD, CSSD, CDN, tells Bustle. "This may help people feel better as signs and symptoms of low blood sugar include dizziness, headache, and low energy."
While stress can come from many sources, hunger — and the resulting blood sugar fluctuations — is definitely one of them.
"Stress hormones are released when your blood sugar drops,"
Billi Green, RDN, tells Bustle. "This may contribute to sleep disruptions and mood swings."
But if you're sleeping well, stressful situations may not bug you as much. "The better rest you get," Green says, "the more energy you have during the day, and the happier you will be."
More Focus & Productivity
"Eating more often may increase
mental sharpness and productivity," Green says. "When you eat more frequently, you have a steady supply of energy and nutrients going to your brain and body." And that can help you zero in on your projects, without feeing as distracted by hunger, or the annoying symptoms of low sugar.
Another benefit of keeping your blood sugar stable, is that your body will be less likely to begin pulling energy from other sources —
like your muscles.
"If you go for several hours between meals, your body may run out of glucose to burn," Green says. "The next thing it turns to are your muscles, which are
converted to glucose."
Being More In-Tune With Your Body
Eating more frequently can help train your body to actually
know when its hungry, so you'll be less likely to get stuck in an unhealthy cycle of ignoring your body's needs.
"[Many people] only know the extreme signals of hunger and fullness in their bodies due to erratic eating or simply not eating enough throughout the day,"
Crystal C. Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC, tells Bustle. But when you eat more regularly, your body is better able to identify when you need food, and when you feel satisfied.
Basically, it can help you learn to focus on
listening to your body and eating when and what you need.
Several studies show that "people who eat more frequent meals tend to
eat healthier foods," Christina Friedman, Editor-in-Chief of WomensFitnessHQ, tells Bustle. And there's a pretty good reason why.
As we know, eating four times a day can keep your blood sugar stable, Friedman says. And when you aren't dizzy with hunger, it's easier to reach for
foods with more nutritional value, instead of grabbing less nutritious snacks, such as pretzels or chips, in a hangry panic.
Of course, eating four times a day won't work for everyone, or result in
these exact health benefits. But if you feel like it might fit into your routine, it might be worth a try.