There's a lot of debate around how many meals a day you should eat, particularly for weight loss. In truth, if weight loss is your goal, you should focus on how many calories you're eating overall (and the quality of those calories), rather than how often you're eating. However, the amount of meals you eat per day can have a marginal impact on your results.
How many meals a day should you eat? Probably not 6.
There is a belief in the fitness world that 6 small meals a day is ideal for managing appetite, cravings and blood sugar. However, if you're eating the right foods, you should not have to manage blood sugar - it should remain relatively stable throughout the day.
I don't think 6 meals a day is ideal for anyone, and I've included lots of links to research-based evidence in this blog post to back up my arguments. But beyond science, common sense would also prevail here. Has any generation before us eaten 6 meals a day? I bet not, and we're the first generation facing an obesity crisis.
This is one of those “fit tips” that has absolutely no substantial research behind it, and although it’s not detrimental to your health to eat this often, it may lead to fat gain and it's also really annoying. I mean, who wants to walk around with half their kitchen packed in their cooler-styled purse as they go about their day?
Is it just me or does anyone else think limp asparagus in Tupperware is a total dream killer?
Eat as many meals as you need to feel satisfied, but avoid snacking
While science has shown that increased meal frequency does not lead to greater weight loss, it has also shown that frequent snacking is positively correlated with an increased caloric intake in both obese and non-obese people. Heck, we now know that a decrease in meal frequency can lead to greater satiety levels which of course leads to fewer calories consumed, which of course leads to…. Well, you get the picture.
There are health benefits to eating fewer meals per day
Actually there is quite a bit of evidence that intermittent fasting can lead to a number of health benefits (not to mention a cleaner kitchen). It’s something I’ve been playing with myself, but truthfully I’m not sure it’s my jam (a story for another post).
Meanwhile, many people swear by it's benefits including increased insulin sensitivity (hello, you can eat carbs again) to a greater sense of alertness and productivity. You also don’t have to carry a day’s worth of food with you everywhere you go. BONUS!
Jumping off the scientific bandwagon for a moment, I have personally found that following a meal plan that called for 5 or more meals per day when I was training for my fitness competition left me constantly obsessing about food. With a schedule of 6, 250 calorie meals a day, I was never satisfied and always ready for that next feeding. I also drove my husband nuts with my food obsession (although I still do that in many other ways).
What's the magic number of meals for you?
I don’t believe there is a magic number of meals for all people, but between 3 and 4 meals per day seems to work for most people. More importantly however, if you're concerned about weight loss, I would be focusing on the quality of those meals and the overall caloric intake rather than the timing. You're going to get better results with tracking macros or following a portion-control meal plan than worrying about how often you're eating.
Caren is a certified yoga teacher, fitness instructor and ADHD Coach. As the founder of The Fit Habit, she shares ADHD-friendly self-care, food & fitness inspiration, along with practical ways to foster mind + body wellness.