How many times a day should you eat to stay healthy?


Nagina Abdullah


January 29, 2019

How many times a day should you eat to stay healthy

How many times a day should you eat to stay healthyI’ve had friends and clients who like to eat 3 square meals a day with no snacks, some who swear by 3 meals a day with snacks, and others who say 6 smaller meals is the way to go.

Personally, I used to make the mistake of skipping breakfast in the busyness of the morning or working right through lunch. Then obviously, my blood sugar would crash and, feeling ravenous and desperate, I would binge on chips or fast food.

I ate way too fast and felt weird even afterward since my body was trying to balance itself out. Of course, feeding it sodium-lined, fried food was not doing myself any favors. I felt bloated and gross until I felt hungry again and the whole thing kept happening over and over.

Now that I know how many times a day I should eat to stay healthy, I feel (and look!) so much better. I have energy and focus, and I’m comfortable in both tailored blazers and short cocktail dresses. It’s great!

In this post, I’ll walk you through:

  • How many meals I recommend you eat per day to lose weight (and avoid going into starvation mode)
  • The ideal times to eat each meal
  • What to eat at mealtimes to keep you full while helping you burn calories
  • The best snacks to keep the fire burning to boost weight loss

How many times a day should you eat to stay healthy

My research and experience lead me to think 3 protein and fiber-rich meals a day is ideal. Depending on your activity levels and your natural metabolism, you might want to have a couple of snacks as well if you get hungry.

Keep healthy snacks handy for busy days where you might need a little something between meals. If you’re not hungry between meals, you don’t need to eat.

But if you’re distracted by a rumbly tummy, it’s actually better to nip hunger in the bud with a quick healthy snack like nuts or veggies and hummus. Otherwise, your body will go into starvation mode and you’re more likely to give in to unhealthy options and/or overeat.

This is especially important if there’s a big gap between the time you eat lunch and when you eat dinner. For example, if you eat lunch at noon, but can’t get out of the office and home for dinner until 8 p.m., your blood sugar will probably be very low by the time you can finally eat again.

When that happens, you’re more likely to overeat and overstuff yourself at dinner. (1)

Ayurveda is a holistic medical practice from India that many people around the world follow. Although I don’t follow it strictly, I think there is some ancient wisdom in it that can be helpful.

The topic of “digestive fire” is a big part of Ayurveda. Meal timing is laid out to help sustain the body’s natural and best rhythm for digesting in a healthy way. The idea is to keep the fire stoked throughout the day with three balanced meals.

This means giving it enough fuel to burn, but not overwhelming it with too much fuel either. (1)

But it’s not just ancient wisdom supporting these claims. Modern nutritional science finds that people who eat three meals a day actually have lower average blood sugar levels than people who graze all day long. (4)

How many hours apart should you eat?

When asking “How many times a day should you eat to stay healthy?” when you eat is important, too. According to Ayurveda, ideally, breakfast should be eaten between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m.

Having a high-protein breakfast (eggs, smoothie with Greek yogurt) instead of refined carbs (cereal or a bagel) sets up your blood sugar to be steadier through the rest of the day. (5)

Lunch should be between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. It’s important to sit down and eat mindfully. No desk lunches where you’re staring at the computer and don’t even remember what your salad looked like when it’s gone.

Ideally, dinner would be between 6 p.m.—7 p.m. at the latest. It’s important not to overeat at dinner. It should be about the same size or smaller than your lunch was.

Of course, not everyone can walk in the door at home at 5:20 p.m. For the ambitious and the busy, you might have to eat dinner at work if you always have to stay super late, or you might just eat a little later.

I still recommend trying to eat at least an hour before bed to give your body a little more time to digest.

How many times a day should you eat to stay healthy
Being too full when you go to bed can interfere with your sleep, which is also very important for losing weight.

Can you lose weight by eating three meals a day?

Yes! Remember, three meals a day is ideal for weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight because it keeps the fire of your metabolism burning without overwhelming it. That means your fat-burning engines are on steadily. (1) It’s the best number to keep in mind for the question of how many times a day you should eat to stay healthy.

Eating six smaller meals per day can help you lose weight too, but it might be harder to manage and maintain. Always having six small healthy meals handy is a lot more work than three. (1)

And again, fewer filling meals per day lowers your average daily blood sugar levels more than grazing throughout the day does. (5) Lower blood sugar levels help you with weight loss or maintenance and help prevent and manage insulin resistance and diabetes.

How many times a day should you eat to stay healthy
Cinnamon and honey are a power couple that help support insulin sensitivity and have other huge health benefits. Plus, they taste amazing together!

The main idea revolving around how many times a day you should eat to stay healthy is to eat enough at every meal to satisfy you until your next meal, without overstuffing yourself. This is because it slows your metabolism (and your productivity) down. (1)

How helpful or hurtful snacking is for weight loss depends a lot on the snacks. (6) The best snacks are low sugar fruits or nuts with protein like Greek yogurt, eggs, or meat, or hummus and veggies. (1)

Tips, tricks, and recipes to make eating healthy breakfast and work meals easy and tasty

Healthy eating at work: 5 clean eating lunch ideas

How to eat healthy without cooking: 10 ideas!

6 low sugar smoothies to start your day

There’s no exact formula, but these are good guidelines to help you find what works for your body type. Generally, if you feel hungry, drink water and eat something healthy and protein-based. When you feel full, but not stuffed, stop eating.

What works best for you? What struggles do you have with keeping an eating schedule that works with your busy life?

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Nagina Sethi Abdullah, BA, MBA

Nagina Abdullah is a health coach for middle-aged women and professionals. She coaches women to boost their metabolism naturally, shed pounds and keep them off. Her work with weight loss clients led to the creation of Masala Body, an online weight loss platform that provides an easy and accessible system that helps women sustainably lose weight. She has helped over 1200 women successfully lose from 10-80 lbs and create a sustainable lifestyle change. Nagina earned her degree in Molecular and Cell Biology from UC Berkeley.

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