The consistency and timing of your meals/snacks throughout the day is key to keeping our body energised and happy and provides benefits to our overall health and well-being. While focusing on what to eat for health is truly important, timing of meals also plays a role. Properly timing your meals can help stave off hunger, improve your digestion and energy levels, and assure you meet your daily nutritional requirements. If you are making healthier food choices but your meal schedule is scattered, it can lead to feelings of bloat, intense hunger, or blood sugar imbalances. Getting into a consistent meal routine takes a little practice, but establishing a good system will be well worth the effort. Having a fairly steady day-to-day meal schedule will take the guesswork out of knowing when to eat. It will also help you to more easily stick to healthy habits. In fact, one study showed those who follow a more predictable meal schedule had a more nutritious diet. Here are five simple ways to get into a system with the frequency and timing of your meals.

Focus on eating within one hour of waking

We’ve all heard the phrase that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. This still holds true, but the timing of your breakfast is important. The sooner you eat your breakfast, the better it is for your metabolism. If you wait too long to eat, your blood sugar and insulin levels can drop which then can increase your cravings for sugar. Fuel yourself with a nutritious breakfast containing lean protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates to get you through your day without voracious cravings. For example, eggs with avocado and a slice of toasted bread.

Eat every four to six hours

This is a range because everyone is different. Some of us need to eat a little more often, and some can last longer without it affecting their energy or cravings. In general, eating every four to six hours will help keep your blood sugar and hormone levels steady for a healthy metabolism and to curb cravings. Going longer than six hours can increase your cravings for sugary foods and at that point, those cravings are difficult to control. When you eat regularly and don’t let yourself get to that point, you’ll have a steady stream of both physical and mental energy to get you through your day.

Stop eating at least two hours before bedtime

Your meals take time to digest. If you eat dinner too late and go to bed immediately after your meal, it can lead to indigestion. Even if you’re awake and are watching TV laying down after a meal, that can still cause digestive issues. Sitting or standing for at least two hours after your dinner will assure you give your body time to process your meal. If not, it could negatively impact your sleep quality and cause you to feel bloated in the morning. Especially if you ate a big dinner or just ate too much, it can lead you to feel uncomfortably full. Those feelings can stretch into the morning where it can throw off your energy and hunger levels.

Save snacks for when you can’t eat within a six-hour window or scheduling is a challenge

Snacks are not a necessary part of your diet unless you are not able to eat regularly enough. If you are able to eat your meals within the four to six-hour window, snacks are likely not needed unless you had a very intense workout. Otherwise, snacking can result in excess calories.

Consider a 12-hour eating window to create more structure

This can be considered if you find your diet lacks structure or you find yourself frequently grazing over the course of the day. This can lead to an overconsumption of calories. In this case, creating an eating window can help create more structure to limit mindless eating and establish more control over your eating times. This can lead to a better routine and an overall more nutritious diet.

While everyone has different needs when it comes to eating, these are some basic rules-of-thumb to start developing habits that can support you for a lifetime.