How Many Times Should I Eat Each Day?
While much of the conversation around nutrition, weight loss, and disease prevention focuses on the inclusion or exclusion of certain foods, or the adherence to certain dietary protocol, every so often, consumer attention pivots.
Eating healthy as a lifestyle.
Instead of focusing on specific foods and “diets”, consumers focus on meal patterns. Eating incidence, specifically, has been a sporadic trend in in recent decades: is it better to eat multiple small meals throughout the day, or three square meals? Does one pattern favor weight management?
Meal patterns: what the research shows
While the trend has passed to some degree, many consumers believed, for a time, that eating multiple small meals throughout the day was superior to three large meals. It was believed that, theoretically, by eating more frequently, one would be less hungry, and take in fewer Calories overall at each eating incidence, thereby aiding weight loss outcomes.
A secondary theory was that the consumption of six smaller meals (rather than three larger meals) would benefit metabolism, increasing metabolic rate and burning more Calories throughout the day.
Unfortunately, most research has shown that it doesn’t quite work out that way: studies have shown that a schedule of smaller meals does not enhance weight control or boost metabolism to a greater degree than a schedule of three larger meals.
Additional research on meal patterns
Other studies have shown that the higher number of eating incidences (meals, snacks, etc), the higher the rate of weight gain. This is likely because the more times an individual is exposed to food, the higher likelihood that he or she will over consume Calories.
However, skipping meals is not a good option either. Research shows that a lower number of eating incidences (for example, one large meal each day) is associated with a greater degree of weight gain.
This may be due to hormonal disruption, or by the binging behaviors associated with being overly hungry: by the time a feeding-restricted consumer does eat, their degree of hunger predicts a larger Caloric consumption than if they had gone into the meal only moderately hungry.
So where’s the sweet spot? It depends.
With regards to weight loss, Calorie control reigns king. Regardless of how you distribute your Caloric consumption throughout the day, the total number of Calories you consume will ultimately determine whether you lose, gain, or maintain weight.
With that being said, studies have shown that the three meals a day pattern does favor weight control when meals are Calorically controlled and high in protein. This method tends to help dieters feel fuller longer, and the restricted number of eating incidences reduces the likelihood of Caloric overconsumption that may occur with fewer or greater meal incidences.
Healthy weight management
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Calorie controlled meals
However, if you find that a higher number of small, Calorie controlled meals fits your schedule better, it may be beneficial in your individual situation. Until research shows otherwise, pick a pattern of meals that best fits your schedule and ability to control your Caloric consumption, but aim to eat at least three times each day.