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7 Reasons Why “Eating Regularly” Is a Good Idea

A bowl with yogurt, granola and jam

Have you ever heard the recommendation to eat every 3 to 4 hours? There are several reasons why registered dietitians endorse this. Dieting, fasting and ignoring hunger are not health-promoting behaviors. Eating regularly is important for both physical and mental health!

When it comes to nutrition, there are a few core building blocks required for a good foundation:

  • Adequacy (eating enough food)
  • Consistency (eating at regular intervals)
  • Variety (eating a diversity of foods)

Of course there is more to nutrition than these building blocks, but if these aren’t in place, more detailed nutrition work won’t make much difference. 

As a registered dietitian, I see many people overly focused on the minutiae of nutrition or getting tripped up by health claims and diet advice they see on social media, all the while they’re eating chaotically and do not have a solid nutrition foundation. 

True, scientific, evidence-based nutrition is not that complicated. Steer clear of internet influencers and diet gurus and remember the core building blocks of solid nutrition!

Having access to enough food is the most important component of nutrition, and unfortunately not everyone has that. If you’re experiencing food insecurity, please get support. In the United States there are several food assistance programs

If you have access to a wide variety of foods and some basic food prep skills, you can build habits to support good nutrition!

One of the most impactful habits you can build when it comes to food and nutrition is eating every few hours throughout the day. Here’s why!

7 Reasons to Eat Every Few Hours

While the human body is quite resilient and can survive weeks or even months without food, eating several times a day is optimal. We aren’t talking about just surviving here, we’re talking about thriving!

And remember, this guidance is based on evidence-based nutrition, not weight loss diet fads. Forget what you’ve heard about fasting, cleansing and dieting. 

This is about building the body up, not tearing it down. Caring for ourselves with compassion rather than trying to control them with willpower. 

If you’ve ever cared for a child, you know that you need to feed them a variety of foods several times a day. The same goes for adults! Just because we’re not in a rapid period of growth doesn’t mean our bodies don’t need nourishment consistently throughout the day. 

It’s time to be your own caregiver and show yourself the love you’d show a child. And you can start by feeding yourself with regularity!

Two people holding bowls of Asian food, eating with chopsticks

Eating regularly provides adequate energy to body and brain 

Our liver runs through its storage of carbohydrates in about 3 to 4 hours while we’re awake, and much quicker if we’re active.

Eating every 3 to 4 hours helps fuel our brains, organs, muscles and other tissues so they can continue doing their jobs well.

Remember that hunger is not just felt in the stomach. Other signs of hunger are mood instability, muscle weakness, trouble focusing, lack of motivation, headache and more. 

Consider how you feel in body and mind when it’s been many hours since you’ve last eaten.  

Consistent eating promotes consistent hunger signals

While eating on a schedule can be a helpful strategy for many people, it can feel easier to eat regularly when our hunger signals serve as built-in reminders that it’s time to eat. 

Hunger signals are interrupted when we eat irregularly. Which means if you haven’t been eating every few hours, it’s likely that your hunger signals aren’t fully present. 

Many people have low levels of connection with their body. If you don’t notice hunger, you aren’t alone.

When you start to eat every few hours for a period of time, you will start to notice more hunger signals. 

If you don’t feel hungry and it’s been several hours since you’ve eaten, you still need to eat. We cannot rely on hunger signals alone to tell us that we need food. Remember that physiologically our bodies need nourishment every few hours. 

A regular eating routine supports calm, peaceful eating

We’re more likely to eat comfortable amounts of food, in a relaxed way, when we eat with regularity.

Ideally we’d eat at a gentle level of hunger rather than when we’re ravenous, which can lead to feeling out of control and eating to discomfort.

If you want to feel more calm, connected and present when sitting down to eat, make sure you’re eating regularly and not waiting to eat until you get overly hungry!

Contrary to what diet culture tells us, ignoring hunger and delaying eating are not helpful. The caring, compassionate choice is to respond to earlier signs of hunger with food, whether it’s time for a meal or you have a quick snack to tide you over until mealtime. 

Frequent food intake boosts nutrient intake

The more opportunities to eat, the more opportunities to get nutrients!

It’s tough to get enough nourishment if you only eat once or twice a day.

Consider how many more nutritious foods you can eat when you’re able to spread them between several eating occasions throughout the day. 

Eating every few hours encourages balanced blood sugars

Fasting and low-carb diets are not the answer to blood sugar concerns. 

The most important food behavior to promote balanced blood sugars is eating balanced meals and snacks consistently throughout the day. 

This is important for everyone, not just those with diabetes.

Regular nourishment communicates safety to our bodies and nervous systems

We need to eat to survive. And we need to eat frequently to thrive.

Through a function called neuroception, our nervous systems are constantly scanning within us and outside of us for signals of safety and danger. A pretty cool survival mechanism!

Our nervous systems signal danger when we don’t have regular access to food. We can help signal safety to our systems by providing our bodies with frequent nourishment.

Especially for those with any history of dieting or disordered eating, hunger can be a nervous system dysregulator. This means that our nervous system signals danger and gears us up to fight, flee or freeze. 

When we’re dysregulated, we’re further disconnected from our bodies and hunger & fullness signals become even more disrupted. We also tend to experience cognitive distortions (e.g. disordered thoughts about food, urges to engage in disordered and self-harming behaviors) and body image disturbance when we’re dysregulated.

Remember, eating regularly is important even if you don’t feel hungry. Especially if you’ve ever restricted food, ignored your hunger, or had unreliable access to food. 

A consistent eating routine reinforces self-worth

There’s a reason that lots of people show love through food, cooking and celebratory meals. Food is one of the most primitive ways of expressing care and compassion. For others and for ourselves. 

You deserve to be cared for. You deserve an abundance of nourishing and satisfying food. Every time you respond to hunger with food, every time you eat when it’s been a few hours since you last ate, you are showing yourself that you are worthy of care.

Self-compassion has a snowball effect. The more we show it, the more it grows, the easier it becomes. Every caring choice we make for ourselves reinforces that.

If you forget to eat or skip a meal, it’s OK to be disappointed. And, responding in that moment with self-compassion and resuming eating with regularity communicates that you are deserving of care even when you mess up. Don’t let an imperfect day derail you. This isn’t all-or-nothing and you can always make more supportive choices moving forward.

a young woman is sitting outside holding a cup with a brown bag lunch on the table in front of her

6 Tips to help you eat regularly

Perhaps you’re sold on the importance of a regular eating pattern but aren’t sure how to make that happen. You’re not alone! Many of our nutrition counseling clients lead busy lives and aren’t used to prioritizing nourishment throughout the day. Here are some pointers to help you out.

Reject perfectionism 

Don’t expect yourself to be perfect or jump right into eating every 3 to 4 hours if you’ve been eating irregularly.

Pick one time of day to add some food and get consistent there, and then add another time. Behavior change takes time! If you forget to eat or skip a meal, eat again as soon as you remember. 

This isn’t all or nothing. You can always decide to make a kind choice for your body, no matter how you’ve been treating it.

Build in frequent check-ins

Many of us are used to going about our days focused entirely on others and work. Consider how often you feel connected to your body during the day. 

Are you aware of how you’re feeling? Are you aware of your body’s needs during the day?

When we’re so focused on productivity, it can be tough to hear the signals our bodies send us. This is where intentional check-ins come in handy. They don’t have to be anything intense, just a momentary pause, breath, and body scan to see how you’re doing.

Consider asking…

Do I need a snack or a meal?

Do I need a glass of water?

Do I need to move or stretch?

Do I need fresh air?

Stack habits 

Starting any new habit is hard. One way to make it easier is to “stack” the new habit on top of something else you’re already doing.

Are there things you do regularly at consistent times of day that you could use as an anchor to add the additional habit of eating?

For example, do you have medicine or supplements you take each morning? Or coffee or tea you enjoy? Could you stack breakfast onto that existing habit? 

Do you have a similar break or commute time during the work day? Could you stack a meal or snack onto that existing routine?

Do you have a dog that you walk regularly? What would it be like to grab a snack and nibble on it while you’re out with your pup?

Set reminders

Good old-fashioned reminder systems can help us tune into our bodies and give it what it needs. 

For some people that’s an alert on their phone, an event on their calendar, a sticky note in their kitchen, or a task in their project management software. 

Consider using existing strategies that help you remember to do other things. Think of all the things you have to do each day and ask yourself, how do I remember to do all of those things? Consider if whatever helps you do those things could help you remember to eat!

Reconnect at the end of the day 

To build your own positive feedback loop for nourishment, you need to connect with your body and notice what it feels like when you eat regularly.

What does a supportive food day feel like? What does a not supportive food day feel like? Pay close attention and note pleasant, unpleasant and neutral sensations, thoughts, emotions. 

If you have trouble connecting with your body you might not notice much at first, but after a while of consistently getting curious, you’ll begin to notice valuable information.

Some areas to pay attention to:

  • Energy
  • Stamina
  • Motivation
  • Focus
  • Mood stability

How else do you notice nourishment making a difference in how you feel?

Get professional support

Have you explored these strategies and still find it tough to eat enough? That means it’s time to get some support. And there is no shame in that! Many of our clients carry judgment about how difficult it can be to feed themselves adequately. The reality is lots of folks struggle with food. And we’re here to help

 

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