If you have any interest in nutrition, you’ve probably heard or read articles suggesting that it is better to eat smaller and more frequent meals throughout the day to help speed up the metabolism and help shed unwanted body fat.
I, for one, am an advocate of eating every 3 to 3 ½ hours.
However, as so often happens in science, studies come out to prove our theories otherwise.
Meal frequency is one such parameter that has been tested and several studies have found that dividing the same daily caloric intake over 3 meals or 6 meals makes no significant difference when it comes to weight loss.
In other words, whether you were to eat three 500-calorie meals or six 250-calorie meals, the total daily caloric intake remains the same, and therefore would not tip the scale one way or the other.
Here is my take on these studies.
It is important to recognize that the human body is a very sophisticated machine that must be looked at as a whole.
While it may be true that eating 3 larger meals vs. 6 smaller meals can have the same effect on weight loss, you cannot rely on counting calories alone.
If this were the case, then why not eat one huge 2,000 calorie meal per day and be done with it?
We need to consider the implications this would have on the body and more specifically the digestive system in this case.
For general health and wellbeing, it is important to keep your blood sugar level and hormones balanced, and by eating frequently you help achieve just that.
It’s also important to know that calories are not created equal. WHAT you eat can impact your health more than the calories it provides.
For instance, an avocado and a small scoop of ice cream may yield the same number of calories, but their metabolic effect and nutrient benefits will be entirely different despite their identical calorie count.
In addition, if you are in the habit of eating fewer than 3 meals per day, you run the risk of:
1) Craving foods that are higher in fat and sugar and
2) Not consuming enough of the right calories, and therefore being undernourished.
Believe it or not, the majority of people that I meet don’t eat enough food, let alone wholesome quality food.
In a bid to lose weight, they cut down on meals over and above what is needed for weight loss.
The “eat less-weigh less” principle is flawed and it stems from the negative energy balance equation, which states that in order to lose weight you must burn more calories than you consume.
Although a slight caloric deficit is needed to achieve weight loss, when taken out of context through calorie restrictive dieting, it will work against you.
Glycogen (stored sugar) and fat reserves are there to be used as energy, but if your body is constantly being deprived of food, on the long run hormonal shifts and chemical changes may take place that can prevent the body from using this “reserve”.
The Bottom Line
Eating every 3 hours is not set in stone, but I’ve found it to be a very good guideline for maintaining hormonal balance, blood sugar balance, keeping energy levels high all day, eliminating cravings, and helping people achieve positive shifts in body composition.
If you find it difficult to consume 6 meals per day because of work or other reasons, then find comfort in knowing that 3 larger meals consisting of lean sources of protein, natural sources of complex and fibrous carbohydrates can provide you with enough daily nutrients.
However, if you find that going without food for more than 4 hours leads to cravings, energy dips, and uncontrollably large meal portions, then consider introducing healthy snacks such as raw nuts, fresh fruits, etc., in between your main meals.
The best recommendation is to eat whole foods and let hunger dictate when it is time for you to eat next.
I personally eat supportively every 3 hours or so and find it helps keeps my energy levels constant and cravings almost non-existent.
What about your meal habits? Do you find smaller and more frequent meals works better for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.
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