I blame my history of poor eating habits on a long-standing loathing of breakfast. My AM appetite has never been great and aside from eggs, which take too long to make, breakfast-y foods don’t appeal to me. Since childhood, this mismanagement of the morning meal has resulted in a daily cycle of running on empty, hangry to the point of hysteria, and non-stop eating until my stomach hurts.
I was never moved to change this until recently. After working hard all year to crush my running goals and feeling like I was in the best shape of my life, I had somehow managed to gain 10 pounds that were definitely NOT muscle.
“I don’t care how much kale you eat,” my GP said at my annual physical. “If you’re routinely powering through workouts and not eating until 1 in the afternoon, you are totally confusing your body. That’s a big problem.”
Let it be known I’m all about body acceptance. I’m proud that I’ve had three kids AND I can run for miles and miles—my body is a rock star! The fact of the matter was I had two amazing brand-new pairs of jeans that I paid EXTRA to have TAILORED hanging in my closet—I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to wear them comfortably. It was time to finally get my eating habits on track, and according to my doctor, four small meals a day was a good start. Here’s how I did it.
RETHINK YOUR DEFINITION OF MEAL
If you’re going to try four (or five) small meals a day, you have to make peace with none of those “meals” being a restaurant-size portion of chicken marsala over pasta with a side salad and bread. You need to create an ideal balance of nutrition, portion, and satisfaction four times a day, whether it’s in a single varied dish like a salad with grains and proteins or a large eclectic snack like cheese cubes, a handful of almonds, and bowl of fresh fruit.
Some prep work is required. Plan in a way that feels right (and easy) for you. This could mean making a week’s worth of breakfast bowls ahead of time or stocking up on pre-made convenience items like sweet potato noodles, riced veggies, and cooked grilled chicken. If you have stationery-store lust like me, this is your excuse to buy a cute meal-planning notebook to organize your shopping lists and recipe ideas.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Ask yourself, what are the best times to fit four meals into your schedule? Because of my aforementioned aversion to breakfast, my first meal is around 10:30AM, my second is at 1:30PM, my third is at 4:30PM, and my fourth is around 6:30PM.
This actually works out perfectly because instead of having an empty snack like my kids’ Cheez-Its during the late-afternoon slump, I now eat a legit meal, like half an avocado stuffed with ground chicken and tomato. This fuels me much better for the next few hours of carpooling, cooking, and homework-helping, and I’m far less likely to keep “tasting” dinner as I’m preparing it. It’s so sustaining that I often end up choosing something lighter for my fourth meal, like a smoothie with vanilla protein powder, frozen strawberries, blueberries, and half a banana.
DON’T DEPRIVE YOURSELF
Remember that chicken marsala, pasta, salad, and bread meal we discussed earlier? Go ahead and have it if you want—just split it into two separate meals. Now that you’re eating four meals instead of three, there’s no need to overdo it in one sitting. Craving chocolate? Find a way to work that into a meal, like oatmeal with cocoa powder and raspberries.
I’ve been doing the 4-5 meals a day thing for nearly six weeks. My jeans are back to fitting exactly as they should, and at no point did I feel like I was eating less or missing out. If anything, it seems like I’m eating all the time.
I see a huge improvement in my mood and focus, and for the first time in my life, I can feel my body becoming accustomed to refueling on a regular schedule. It’s also changed my relationship with snacking—I see no point in it. Instead, I’m more creative and thoughtful about making the most out of every bite.