Although your food almost instantaneously reaches your stomach once you’ve chewed and swallowed it, the body has not yet initiated the breakdown and digestion process. Once your food enters the stomach, it usually remains there between 2–4 hours. During this time, the breakdown process begins, readying the body for the digestion and excretion process. Factors such as portion size of the meal, fat content of the foods eaten at the meal, and the types of foods eaten will dictate exactly how long your meal stays in your stomach, but with the norm ranging between 2–4 hours, placing your meals three hours apart is a sound estimate. I also like to tell my clients they should begin feeling like they could eat again within 30–40 minutes of the next meal. For instance, if you eat your first meal of the day at 8 a.m., around 10:20–10:30 a.m., you should begin feeling like you could eat again and the onset of stomach emptiness should occur around that time frame. With this in mind by 11 a.m., you should be ready to eat your second meal and stay on track with your schedule.
If you find that at the three-hour point you still feel full, or that you could wait longer to eat, you’ll more than likely need to adjust the portion size of your meal. If you take in too much food at any certain meal, not only will it throw off your eating schedule, but you’ll begin overlapping meals in the stomach—as it’ll take longer to break down excess amounts of food, and this will slow down the digestion process, as well as your metabolism.
If altering your portion size still leaves you feeling like you could use more distance between your meals, you may naturally have both a slower-acting digestive tract and slower metabolism. As previously discussed, you definitely don’t want to continue decreasing your portions, as this will quickly take you back to starvation mode. As long as your portion size isn’t too large, I suggest spacing your meals around 3½ hours apart—but no more than four hours apart. In the beginning this may be better suited to your schedule and your stomach. However, once you’re on this schedule for a while and your metabolism begins balancing back out, you may find that you can decrease the time between meals to three hours. Just as with your physique, tailoring your nutritional program and schedule is a constant work in progress, so it may take a bit of tweaking here and there to find the right balance.
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