“Hello Ms. Andie,
Like many people who read your blog, I’m struggling with weight loss. I’ve had terrible health in my 19 years, from a brain tumor to multiple kidney surgeries, and a few years ago I had the misfortune of being put on steroids for my lungs (as they almost collapsed). One of the most unpleasant side effects was the weight gain. Now I can’t say it was only the medication – I’ve never been ‘fit’ since I could never walk more than a few blocks without getting winded – and my eating habits are atrocious as well. But a bunch of factors led to me being over weight (and since I’m quite short – 5’1 – it looks even worse) and now I have a new problem. University.
My question is this: lots of advice over the internet tells me to eat three times a day, or five small meals a day, at regular times, but what happens if you can’t eat at regular times? Classes are sporadic and during ‘usual’ eating hours, and with a part time job coming up, that’ll get even more complicated. Would you have any advice for eating healthier if you cant eat at certain times? Most days I don’t get up until 12 in the afternoon, and I don’t go to bed until 2 in the morning. Not to mention being at school and traveling an hour home each way doesn’t lend itself well to cooking frequently.
I know it’s a random question, but I thought you might have some insight. I really appreciate what you do – your blog, the way you’re so open with the world, the delicious food you show people – it’s really an inspiration for so many people, myself included. You make me think that, hey, maybe I can do this. Maybe I really can.
Thank you for everything you are and everything you do.”
You are so fantastic. Thank you for writing me! I can’t imagine how hard it must be to deal with such emotional and physical trauma. You’re clearly very strong and for that, I commend you.
My advice on eating times: Don’t worry ONE BIT about noshing at regular meal times. Those times that people generally eat breakfast (morning), lunch (afternoon), and dinner (evening)? They’re arbitrary. It’s just that many people have common work hours- generally 9am to 5pm. And, historically, evolutionarily, we worked from sun up to sun down. The timing of our meals made sense for many reasons. The only thing that you need to keep in mind is this: EAT WHEN, AND ONLY WHEN, HUNGRY.
I use caps sparingly.*
*Italics? Unrestrained usage.
I would say this: Just eat from the time you wake to about an hour before you go to bed, every 4 hours (or 3-4 if 4 hours feels too long a stretch!). Whatever hour of the day you wake up, even if that’s 12pm- sister, that is your breakfast. Pay no mind to the daily clocks of others. They’re regulated on a different schedule, and yours- albeit nontraditional by common standards- is perfectly fine in its own right. Own your time. Make your schedule of eating according to how you feel. This was one of the biggest helpers in me finding my own way through weight loss.
You may naturally (organically) find you get onto a schedule like this with your eating:
12pm: Wake up. Breakfast
12am: 2nd dinner
This seems to me like a really reasonable plan. Try to keep each mealtime to 400-500 calories or so and you’ll be within a range of 1600-2000 calories a day.
If you need to adjust by breaking the day up into smaller, closer snack times, go ahead. Feel absolutely free.
For kicks, below is my rough eating schedule (I say ‘rough’ because I have a very difficult time following normal, repetitious order- I barely follow the same routine of shampoo, conditioner, body wash- in the shower. It’s zany and different every time.)
8am: Breakfast and an obscene amount of coffee
9-10pm: Dessert(s)* (*Because I’d be lying if I didn’t add the ‘s’)
Now, I’d also like to address the size and frequency of meals. There seems to be two camps of eaters out there: those who eat 3 meals a day and those who break their intake up into 5-6 meals.
Reasoning behind eating 5-6 meals a day:
Folks who prefer this way of eating believe that by eating every few hours, they’re keeping their metabolisms running efficiently all day long. If we were going to compare the human body to a car with food being the fuel (gasoline), frequent/small meal-eaters would say that they are adding just enough fuel to their tanks every few hours to keep their car (body) moving along smoothly. There is no excess fuel in their tank to be stored as fat.
Also, frequent/small meal-eaters tend to enjoy snacking more. They don’t want to wait quite as long between each meal. By scheduling many mini meals- they’re ensuring they’ll never get too hungry between eating periods. They seem less likely to overeat at each eating time because they know that more food is just a few hours away.
Reasoning behind eating 3 square meals (and maybe 1-2 snacks):
I belong in this camp. Here’s why I personally prefer it: I like mealtimes to be longer and more celebratory and most importantly: I like to eat more in one sitting.
Over the years, I’ve experimented with eating more often and eating less often. What I found when I ate many mini meals, or through grazing all day long, was that I was constantly preoccupied with my next snack/meal. I was always tightrope-walking a line between semi-satisfied and semi-hungry. I never walked away from the table feeling the fullness that my belly has come to long for, come to love. Food was constantly on my mind.
I also found that since I was breaking my food intake into smaller calorie servings- I felt more restricted in options. That is to say- there are fewer meal options in the 250-300, say, calorie range than there are in the 500ish calorie range. A serving of lasagna, pizza, etc- each of those exceeded what I could conceivably consider a small meal. And as someone who cooks and bakes like her dog’s life depends on it- I want to feel like the meals I make are truly based upon my serving size preference.
Now, here is what I love about three big meals (and dessert):
1. I want mealtimes to be special events. By sticking food into three very regular hours (morning, noon, and night), I am making those times of day unique and noteworthy. They’re lengthy. I eat, I find my own fullness, and I am able to move on with my day. My thoughts are less food-focused.
2. I like big dinners and nighttime eating. This is, and probably always will be, my favorite time of day. For years I’ve been making dinner for my clan, and we’ve sat around the table together every night. And, goodness I hope you know this about me by now: I love dessert(s).
I could never practice the “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper” way of eating. (To explain: this mantra proposes that you start the day with your biggest meal and then eat less and less as the day goes on. It’s believed that your body does not need as much fuel later in the day because you’re very likely expending less energy.) I much prefer to eat more later in the day, just because I find it relaxing, comforting, even. So long as I keep what I’m eating within my own healthy calorie range (very specific for each individual), eating at night has never inhibited my weight loss.
My bottom line: I have never gained weight from eating fewer, larger meals. Nor have I gained weight from eating a lot in the evening. I have never lost weight from eating smaller, more frequent meals.
I truly believe that it’s just a matter of proper caloric intake for your body’s needs, no matter what time of day you eat. The reason we’re often advised to stay away from heavy nighttime eating is because people tend to go above their daily calorie needs by munching away as they watch TV to unwind at night. I believe that as long as you remain within a reasonable calorie range for your body, you can eat at absolutely any hour, even right before bed. If 1600 calories are your target for weight loss- eat them whenever you prefer.
Wishing you the best