Welcome to Dear Melissa, where I answer your questions about transitioning into or completing a Whole30, successfully sticking to your new healthy habits, and figuring out how to make this lifestyle work in the real world. Today, I’m talking to a woman who gets up early and is unsure how to plan her meals and snacks with so many extra waking hours.
I wake up every day at 5 AM for work and eat breakfast at 6 AM before I leave the house. It’s really hard for me to imagine only eating three meals a day! By the time 10 AM rolls around, I am usually pretty hungry. Since I started the Whole30 (I’m on Day 12), I have been eating two hard-boiled eggs every day around 10 AM, lunch around 1 PM, have a pre-workout snack around 5 PM, then a post-workout meal, and then dinner a little while after that. I have tried eating a bigger breakfast but I am still hungry around 10 every day. How many meals do you suggest I eat? Should I cut out the snack? I’m scared that I am overeating and I want to get the best results possible! –Jess, Missouri
First, remember that our “three meals a day” recommendation is just that—a recommendation, based on most people’s general needs and fitting into most people’s regularly scheduled lives. However, as explained in The Whole30, if your context is different (you have very long days, you’re very active, you’re a teenage boy, etc.) you’ll have to figure out whether adding another meal or a filling snack is a better option.
I’m not surprised that you’re getting hungry by 10 AM—that’s four hours after your breakfast, and a reasonable point when most folks would start feeling a rumble. As this is your first Whole30, you’re also still not fat-adapted (able to utilize fat as fuel, no longer reliant on sugar for energy), which means four hours post-meal is a pretty normal time for your belly to start growling.
Quick interlude: I assume you do the “hungry or craving?” test, because your 10 AM snack isn’t a Larabar or dates stuffed with almond butter. Just in case, here’s the test: Ask yourself, “Am I hungry enough to eat steamed fish and broccoli?” (Or hard-boiled eggs, or a grilled chicken breast…) If the answer is yes, go eat! If it’s, “No, but I’d eat an apple with Sunbutter or an RxBar” then you’re just having a craving—time for distraction.
So, you have a few options here. Either add another small meal in there (with protein, fat, and carbs) to tide you over, or add a snack containing at least two out of the three macronutrients to hold you over until your 1 PM lunch. It sounds like your hard-boiled eggs are serving you well here, so add either a quarter of an avocado (or some other small source of fat) or a few veggies or fruit (as your carb source) and keep doing that.
By the way, it’s highly unlikely that a few extra hard-boiled eggs in your day is going to make-or-break your performance or body composition goals, especially in the context of an active lifestyle. What I’m trying to say here is listen to your body. You’re legitimately hungry, so EAT. Your body knows how much you should be eating way better than any calorie calculator on the internet, and ignoring your body’s signals (I’m hungry!) in favor of dieting to achieve a weight loss goal is what got all of us into trouble in the first place, right?
At some point, you’ll either become more fat-adapted, figure out the best size for your breakfast, and be able to happily and energetically skip the snack; or you’ll realize that snacking isn’t actually that big a deal when you’ve still got three hours between feeding times, and keep doing what you’re doing. Use your hunger, energy levels, performance in the gym, and recovery to help guide you towards smaller or bigger meals, snack or no snack. And remember as your context changes (you build muscle, lose fat, become more fat-adapted, reacquaint yourself with your body’s natural “hungry” and “full” signals), your daily eating plan will need to change too, so be flexible here, and continue to pay attention.
Best in health,
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Remember, we aren’t answering questions about the Whole30 rules via this column (use the forum!), nor are we able to offer you specific advice about your medical issue, health condition, or body composition.
Melissa Hartwig is a Certified Sports Nutritionist, and the author of the New York Times bestselling books It Starts With Food and The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom. She has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Details, Outside, SELF, and Shape as the co-founder of the Whole30 program. Melissa lives in Salt Lake City, UT.
Photo credit: Taylor Gage, She Thrives Blog