True or False: "You have to eat every 3 hours to lose weight!"
Written by Kelli Baker | Reviewed by Alyssa Tucci MS, RDN, CDN
The statement "you have to eat every 3 hours to lose weight" is definitely false. The need to eat every 3 hours was touted for many years as the best way to lose weight, stemming from the belief that it would boost a person's metabolism. It was assumed that if you ate many small meals throughout the course of a day you would constantly be stimulating your metabolism and therefore burning more calories. However, in recent years studies have shown this is not the case.
So when and how often should you eat? Well, that is a big "it depends". How hungry are you? The best way to determine if you should eat your next meal is to listen to your body's hunger and satiety cues and learn to discern between appetite and hunger. Hunger is the physical signals your body gives to notify you it is running low on fuel while appetite stems from a desire to eat and can be emotional or stress related. Your body has a complex system to determine hunger and satiety in which a constant conversation is happening between your nervous system, gut and fat cells Many hormones play a role in contributing to these signals including leptin, insulin and ghrelin to name just a few. We won't go into too much detail but our job lies in interpreting these indicators to know when it is time to eat and when we should stop. When listening to these internal cues there will be a different feeding window for every person. A great tool to utilize when figuring out hunger levels is a hunger and satiety scale like the one found at move.va.gov
Rating--Use the scale below to help determine your hunger/fullness rating:
10—Uncomfortably full or “sick”—“Thanksgiving full”
9—Stuffed and uncomfortable
8—Too full, somewhat uncomfortable
7—Full, but not yet uncomfortable- hunger is gone
6—Filling up, but still comfortable- could definitely eat more
5—Neutral- neither hungry nor full
4—Slightly hungry, mild signals that your body needs food- you can wait to eat
3—Hungry, not yet uncomfortable- clear signals that your body needs food
2—Very hungry, irritable, or anxious- you want to eat everything in sight
1—Starving, feeling weak, lightheaded, dizzy, or other extremely uncomfortable symptoms of hunger.
The best time to eat a meal or snack is when hunger reaches either a 2 or a 3 on the hunger scale above. It is good to assess hunger every few hours and to not let it get below a 2, which often times can result in overeating from excessive hunger. Additionally, it is important to recognize any number above a 4 as being more of a desire to eat and not a physiological need. Ultimately, if you still are unsure whether or not you should eat we recommend eating within 1-2 hours after waking and if you have gone over 5 hours without eating, odds are you need a meal or a snack, which will help to keep blood sugar stabilized throughout the day.