Whether you’re eating at all hours of the day or only once a day during your favorite late night TV show, you might be thinking about changing your eating schedule. Eating too often or too seldom can seriously disrupt your energy level, sending it on a wild roller coaster ride. To get your eating schedule back on track, you need to know how you got off track in the first place and you need a solid plan to get you back on.
Making the Change
Know what you're up against. Work, children, sports, hobbies, travel and stress can all impact eating schedules for better or for worse. For those of you who only find time to squeeze in one late night meal per day, odds are you’ll feel a lot better throughout the day if you work in at least a snack or two to prevent your energy levels from crashing mid-day. Small, frequent meals – rather than three large meals – have become extremely popular lately. However, if you’re constantly nibbling without dietary structure, you may not be doing your figure any favors.
Find what works for you. By eating at regular intervals whether that’s every 2 hours or every 5 hours, your body can rely on a steady stream of fuel and you’ll function better at work if you’re not running on empty – or overflowing. Finding balance is the key here. Whichever meal frequency you prefer, stick to it. Never leave home without a snack in your purse and try your best to stick to designated meal or snack times. You may end up rearranging your daily activity a bit, but that’s OK. Finding a healthy eating schedule is worth the sacrifice.
Plan, plan, plan! To effectively change your eating schedule, you need a road map. Plan meals and snacks in advance, keep a stash of non-perishable foods such as nuts or fiber bars with you at all times, and plan one day a week to cook a ton of food so that you’re never stuck without something to eat. Preparing lunches and dinners in advance and storing them in the freezer until the day you need them is a great way to significantly decrease daily prep time. Schedule meals on your calendar, set an alarm in your phone for meal and snack times and keep track of when – and what – you’re eating. Keeping track of your eating habits with a food diary is probably the most important thing you can do when you’re making any dietary changes. It’s an amazing tool for monitoring any trigger foods, boredom eating or meal skipping, all of which are affected by your eating schedule. You can use an old notebook from college or an app on your phone. Either one will work beautifully.
- Many studies on meal frequency show it doesn’t matter how often you eat, so long as you’re eating consistently and within the appropriate calorie level for your size. Choose an eating schedule that fits with your life. If you’re crazy busy, you may need to keep nutritious snacks in your purse and set an alarm to remind yourself to take a nibble. On the other hand, if you’re a stay-at-home mom, you may need to keep a padlock on the pantry between meals. It’s always a good idea to get some help with a major diet overhaul. Talk to your doctor and Registered Dietitian for more tips on changing your eating schedule and start that food diary!
Based in New York City, Jenny Champion is a registered dietitian, certified personal trainer and certified diabetes educator. She owns a nutrition party company in Manhattan and has been coaching clients on nutrition and wellness for more than six years. Champion studied nutrition and food writing at New York University.