Why I stopped snacking (and started eating meals instead)

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am always hungry.

I think about food constantly (I’ll admit, probably too much), and if I don’t eat every couple of hours I get grumpy, fuzzy headed, and undoubtedly not much fun to be around.

It has taken me a long time to figure out how to eat properly to best fuel my body, keep my energy up, stay lean, and of course keep myself from “turning” on the people around me when I get too hungry. I’m always experimenting with new foods and trying new methods of eating to work towards reaching my full athletic (and mental) potential.

Yet despite fully knowing that I needed to eat every couple of hours, up until recently I still basically ate only three meals a day—with many, many snacks in between.

Here’s what would happen with that approach:

  • I’d constantly end up surprised when I’d get hungry not too long after breakfast and try to eat something unsubstantial (a piece of fruit, maybe a few almonds) to tide me over until lunch.
  • The same thing would happen to me in the afternoon after I ate a healthy lunch and I’d end up hungry just two to three hours later. This would usually result in me eating at least two small snacks in between lunch and dinner, and almost always resulted in feeling absolutely famished at dinner, so I would scarf down my food like I hadn’t eaten for days.
  • Post-dinner, I’d start getting really “snacky” feeling and pretty much just constantly raid the cupboards and graze for the entire rest of the night. Since I assumed I didn’t really need to be eating after dinner, I’d choose mainly snack and dessert foods, which left me feeling endlessly hungry and also zapped my willpower to make healthy choices.

All of this led to me feeling constantly hungry and unsatisfied throughout the day, would cause me to worry about not getting enough food, and worse, made me feel completely guilty when I ate outside of regular mealtimes.

Plus, at times when I was just plain hungry and my willpower low, it would often result in me picking unhealthy options that I wouldn’t have chosen if I’d thought about it more like a meal rather than just a snack.

Changing My Mindset

As I’ve worked hard to become a better athlete over the years, I’ve realized that at times my nutrition has held me back from reaching the level of fitness I’d like to get to. And as I’ve gotten more and more interested in sports nutrition, I’m always reading about how other athletes fuel themselves properly to perform the best that they can.

Although I have zero interest in ever doing a bodybuilding competition, one of the things that comes up over and over in their nutrition planning is that they almost always eat at least five to six proper meals a day.

Eating so often keeps fitness competitors’ metabolism running fast (due to the thermic effect of digesting food), and keeps them from getting overly hungry, which more often than not results in a binge eating session when your willpower is at its lowest.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was already eating six to seven meals a day—I just didn’t treat all the meals as actual meals, usually grabbing snacky, unsatisfying foods in between breakfast, lunch, and dinner rather than something that would actually satisfy me and keep me full.

I decided it was time to make a change.

Constant Snacking to Six Meals a Day

The first day I decided to try my new meal system, I sat down to plan out all my meals so I wouldn’t lose track (yes, I do typically count my calories—here’s why).

With a daily calorie budget of around 2,500 calories a day, I was shocked at how large my meals really could be. I quickly realized that with six meals a day, I could budget around 400 calories a meal, which seemed like a lot compared to my usual snacks of around 100-250 calories.

I can’t tell you how freeing this realization really was. All of a sudden, I started really thinking of food as fuel for my body, rather than feeling guilty when I ate between standard meal times.

Yes, I get funny looks when I break out one of my mini meals throughout the day. Yes, it’s a little more work to eat like this. But I no longer really care. I’ve finally accepted that feeding my body the right foods at the right time will help me stronger and fitter—and probably even make it easier to stay leaner in the long run.

A Typical Day on This New Meal Plan

Curious about what a typical day’s meals might look like on this new system? Here’s an example of what I might eat on a standard day:

Meal #1: breakfast

Oatmeal & scrambled eggs

1/3 cup steel cut oatmeal
1 whole egg
3 egg whites
1 tsp peanut butter
1 tsp ground flax seeds
1 serving fruit like blueberries or raspberries

Meal #2: post-workout

Post-workout smoothie

1 scoop whey protein powder
1/2 cup frozen strawberries
1/2 frozen banana
2 Tbsp oatmeal
1/2 cup coconut water

Meal #3: Lunch

Sweet potato, veggies, & some kind of protein

1 medium sweet potato
1-2 cups veggies (broccoli, brussels sprouts, red peppers, kale, etc.) OR a salad
1/2 cup quinoa
1 serving lean to medium lean protein
1/8 avocado

Meal #4: Mid-afternoon

Banana almond butter toast & cottage cheese

1 piece whole grain toast
1 Tbsp almond butter
1/2 banana
1/2 cup cottage cheese
1/3 cup blueberries
Cinnamon (for cottage cheese)

Meal #5: Dinner

Veggies, protein, & rice

3/4 cup brown rice
2 cups veggies (broccoli, brussels sprouts, red peppers, kale, etc.)
1 serving lean to medium lean protein
1 tsp oil for cooking

Meal #6: Post-dinner

Post-dinner sweet tooth satisfier

1/2 cup greek yogurt
1/3 cup berries
2 peanut butter protein balls

Totals for the day: About 2,500 calories (50% carbohydrates, ~25% protein, ~25% fat)

The Ideal Vs. Reality

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I’m now planning out my meals perfectly every single day, 100% of the time.

I am human, after all, and definitely don’t want to live my life out of tupperware containers and perfectly portioned plastic bags.

Yet thinking in terms of meals has given me a lot of freedom, and as long as I plan a little ahead of time (intentionally make leftovers, do a little meal prepping when I have some spare time, bring healthy foods with me when I’m on the go), I actually think less about food during the day than I did before, since I know I won’t ever be overly hungry and I’ll have my next meal soon after my last.

So will this method of eating work for you?

The truth is that without talking to you about your specific goals, your body type, and your current eating habits, I have no idea. You might, like I did, find that eating more substantial meals more often helps curb your cravings, boost your energy levels, and fuel your workouts. Or, you might be one of those people who prefers to fast for part of the day and eat a couple of larger meals without snacking much at all.

Either way, I encourage you to experiment with your style of eating, your meal frequency, and your overall nutrition to find what works for you long-term.

Because food is fuel—and everything we take affects our mood, our energy levels, and of course, how we perform in our workouts and our lives. So choose wisely, and enjoy every bite.