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How Many Times a Day Should You Eat, According to Ayurveda

There are two types of diets I see most commonly when adult clients first come to see me. The first is the three-meals-a day-and-two-snacks model, which I have followed before in my life, back in the days when I was a little thicker, exercised a little bit more, and had constant heartburn. This model seems to be a default for many people. The second model is to eat 2-3 solid times per day. This latter approach is often followed by people who have explored intermittent fasting.

Before my son went to preschool, he generally ate 4 times per day, and when he went to preschool, that number became 5 times because that was the routine that the school followed. However, my child was generally not hungry at every meal, unless of course, he was given something processed, with added flavor, which is what people often give to kids because it’s easier to do. Then he would eat for taste, rather than hunger. And if he had a snack between meals, then he wouldn’t eat his main meal.

Having written my master’s thesis on fasting when I was in Ayurveda school, and practiced a bit of it myself, I have paid close attention to my child’s hunger patterns. He eats way less than some other children, but despite this, he has very steady energy. He has his own unique constitution, as each child does. I learned to not force him to eat something when one day I told him he had to eat a sweet potato as a snack and he vomited a glob of mucus the moment he attempted to swallow it.

Our humoral responses are wiser than we give them credit for. Our tongues, on the other hand, aren’t the keepers of much wisdom. Lacking discernment, they will tell our brains that it’s okay to eat something that’s been engineered for us to feel pleasure from, like a Dorito or a pile of ice cream, and then our bodies and brains have to deal with the ramifications.

Modern Diets Need a Makeover

The idea of eating three meals a day and two snacks is a relatively recent cultural development. Historically, people ate when they were hungry and had access to food. However, the industrial revolution and the standardization of work schedules led to a need for more regimented eating patterns.

The three meals a day and two snacks model was first popularized in the early 20th century as a way to combat malnutrition and promote healthy eating habits. The idea was to space out meals and snacks throughout the day to prevent overeating and to ensure that people were getting enough nutrients.

Snacking as we know it today has been a part of American culture since the mid-20th century, with the rise of processed foods and increased leisure time. During the 1950s, snack foods like chips, pretzels, and candy bars became more popular and were marketed directly to consumers as a convenient way to satisfy hunger between meals.

Today, snacking has become a regular part of most Americans' daily routines, and most people are very disconnected from where the source materials in their food come from. And we get very narrowly focused on thinking something is good for us simply because it says organic, or gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO, glyphosate-free, Paleo, guilt-free, or some other thing, discounting many other attributes of the food and the context in which we are eating it.

Does creating an organic, non-GMO Twinkie make it better for you if you have already consumed a ton of sugary, sticky foods that will clog up your digestive tract today?

Overall, a typical day in the life of a 35-year-old American in the early-to-mid-20th century involved a lot of physical labor. Today, many of us are sitting down for most of the day, getting tight hip flexors and an array of metabolic and digestive issues.

Because of our more sedentary lifestyles today, snacking may not be suitable for everyone. Some people may prefer to eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day, while others may prefer to fast for longer periods and have fewer meals. Additionally, the type of food we eat has changed significantly since the early 20th century, with many processed and high-calorie foods readily available, which can make it difficult to stick to the three meals a day and two snacks model without overeating.

Choosing The Right Food For You

The easier it is to eat something - say fast food, or even some organic prepackaged snack bar - the more likely that it’s going to end up as something extra that your body can’t process well. This doesn’t even account for what the trickery of added flavors and chemicals is doing to your body.

Ultimately, the best eating pattern is one that suits an individual's needs and preferences, while also providing adequate nutrition and supporting overall health. In Ayurveda, we look at one’s body type, metabolic strength and lifestyle. A person with high vata or pitta will need to eat at more routine intervals, but an individual with high kapha will need to have longer fasting periods. Vata bodies tend to be more dry, so they need smaller, more moist meals. Pitta bodies are very hot, so they need moderately sized, anti-inflammatory meals.

Our metabolic strength will change as our lifestyle changes, and the food choices we eat will also influence the metabolic strength. Cold, heavy ice cream does something very different to a body than a hot, spicy tomato soup or a bag of dry popcorn. The key is to figure out what kind of body you have and act accordingly. Some digestive tracts are more wet, while some are more dry. Some cooler, and some hotter. And some are faster than others. You can actually train your digestive strength to be where you want it to be! You just need to learn how.

Many people have certain beliefs about how they are supposed to eat, but the proof is always in the pudding. If your body isn’t functioning optimally, chances are that it’s time to challenge your beliefs around your food and lifestyle. There is no one diet that works for everyone. You have to find precisely what works for you. This is what I help people do every day with Ayurveda. When you find the right routine and the foods your body actually likes, your body changes, your mind changes, and your life changes!

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