Like a lot of people on Instagram, Justine McCabe is a fan of selfies—but hers have a special meaning behind them. The mother of two has taken a selfie a day for 365 days to document her weight-loss journey from 313 pounds to 187 pounds, and she’s nabbed nearly 86,000 Instagram followers in the process.
McCabe decided to lose the weight after realizing she was turning to food for comfort in the aftermath of her husband’s suicide. “I would say I consumed anywhere between 5,000 to 10,000 calories on a daily basis,” McCabe told Us Weekly . “I was completely broken and grieving. I had no desire to live life.”
But one day she snapped a selfie and says she didn’t recognize herself. “I looked lost, broken, and full of darkness,” she said. “So every day from there on out, I took a selfie with the hope that I would start to see myself again and reclaim my light.”
Inspired by her revelation, McCabe started working out six days a week and began eating healthier. And, in addition to seeing herself in a more positive way, her weight began to drop. She now eats four balanced meals a day that include things like egg whites and avocado, chicken, broccoli, brown rice, fish, and spinach.
You’ve probably heard some people swear by eating more than three meals a day for weight loss. While it’s clearly working for McCabe, how can you know if it’s the right approach for you? Before getting to expert input on the subject, it's important to keep in mind that health and weight loss look different for every person. If you want to lose weight, what works for you might not work for others, and vice versa. And it’s incredibly important to think about why you actually want to lose weight—and whether doing so is a healthy decision that will enrich your life. For example, if you have a history of disordered eating , you should talk to your doctor before starting a new eating plan, like eating more often. Even if you don't have that history, setting healthy, realistic goals and expectations is key. When it comes down to it, weight loss involves a lot of components. It’s important to factor in whether you’re sleeping enough (and actually getting good-quality rest) and trying to manage stress in your life , plus elements outside of your control, like health conditions and hormones. The most important tip we can give you is to pay attention to your body, treat yourself well, and be kind to yourself above all.
Now, when it comes to how many meals you should eat each day, New York City-based registered dietitian Jessica Cording tells SELF that it ultimately depends on your hunger, energy, and activity levels. But, she says, some people have found that eating more than three meals a day leaves them feeling more satisfied, hunger-wise, and stable.
“This may work great for some people who find it hard to go long stretches between meals,” she says.
The only way to know if this is the right move for you is to tune into your hunger and energy levels, Cording says. She recommends keeping a food journal (and making note of when you get hungry) to help you notice patterns that show whether you’d benefit from eating smaller, more frequent meals.
It’s also a good idea to keep loose tabs on your weight, Cording says, since they can be a good indicator if your current meal schedule is working for you. “If your weight continues to trend towards your healthy-weight goal, then the eating pattern you’re following likely a good fit, provided you feel satisfied and not like you’re white-knuckling it,” she says.
But if you find that you’re not near your goal weight and are feeling hungry despite eating three meals a day, you may want to consider eating more often.
Of course, we’re not talking about having four or five meals that are the same size as your three-a-day meals. Instead, Moskovitz says you want to keep an eye on how many overall calories you should be eating and split it up from there.
Each meal should include a lean protein like chicken, lots of vegetables, a small serving of healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, and nuts or seeds), and a high-fiber or whole-grain starch like quinoa, beans, or sweet potatoes, says Moskovitz. “This will ensure you feel the most satisfied from the meal while retaining as many nutrients as possible,” she adds.
And then there’s the question of when to eat your meals . Moskovitz advises eating every four to five hours and aiming to stop eating about two hours before bed to allow your food to properly digest. So, if you have breakfast at 7 A.M., you’ll probably want to eat again at 11 A.M., then at 3 P.M. and 7 P.M. Cording says you can also just listen to what your body is telling you and plan from there—if you find that you’re hungriest in the afternoon, have two small “lunches” before dinner.
Eating more than three meals a day isn’t for everyone—Cording notes that some people feel less satisfied with the smaller meals—but if you find that having three meals a day just isn’t working for you, it’s worth a closer look.
Watch: What Everyone Gets Wrong About Eating Disorders