“Eat every few hours,” intones a weight loss guru. “Eat six small meals spaced evenly thoroughly the day,” suggests another expert. “Schedule your eating to ensure you lose the most weight possible,” an article on the internet suggests. Although these pieces of advice can work, there can be a downside to eating on a strict schedule. If you are eating five or six times a day on a strict schedule to lose weight and not having success, here are some possible reasons why the strategy could backfire.
Why Is Scheduled Eating Recommended?
The volume of advice on weight loss can be overwhelming. Not every expert recommends scheduled eating, but many do. Scheduled eating does has some advantages:
- You know when you will eat next.
- You can easily plan your meals around your work and leisure schedule.
- Hunger may be minimized because you don’t allow yourself to get hungry.
Does It Always Work?
Scheduled eating doesn’t work for everyone. If it did, that would be the universal recommendation from doctors and weight loss professionals alike.
In fact, there is research and anecdotal evidence that scheduled eating doesn’t always work for weight loss.
For instance, a 2006 article published in the International Journal of Obesity examined the eating habits of young and old people. The researchers found that “In both age groups, eating frequency was positively associated with energy intake, and eating more than three times a day was associated with being overweight or obese.”
Personally, I’ve had some clients who do well with scheduled eating and others who did not.
Who Does It Work For?
Scheduled eating tends to work best for people who function well with set guidelines rather than loose suggestions.
If you are a person who doesn’t like to follow the directions when assembling a piece of equipment or someone who likes to find your own way, you might not respond well to scheduled eating.
If, on the other hand, you find yourself being the most productive and successful when following directions or eating according to prescribed guidelines, scheduled eating can definitely work.
What’s the Problem With Scheduled Eating?
There are two potential problems with scheduled eating.
Potential Problem #1:
If it doesn’t fit your personality you are going to be unhappy. I did not do as well with scheduled eating as some of my clients do. I am a bit of a free spirit when it comes to following directions, and scheduled eating made me crazy. I was always thinking about when the next meal would be and whether it would be okay to eat before the scheduled time or even skip a planned meal. That didn’t help normalize my relationship with food.
Potential Problem #2:
This problem is more detrimental to weight loss. For some people, eating on a schedule means the removal or diminishing of natural hunger cues. Additionally, when you eat on a schedule you might eat more than you really need just because the clock tells you it is time to eat.
For example, if you have a set schedule of eating every 3 hours starting at 8:00 a.m., do you ever learn what foods fill you up? Do you ever learn what times of day you are not as hungry? Do you really learn to eat as you will once you hit weight maintenance?
Maybe or maybe not.
If you find yourself losing weight at a slower rate than you expect based on your food intake and exercise, try going a little longer between one or two of your meals. Determine if you are truly hungry enough to eat again or if you might do better skipping a snack time or pushing lunch back an hour or two.
This can help you keep your calories under control, learn to develop mindful eating skills, and train yourself to eat when you are truly hungry and not just based on the time on a clock.