Figure Out How Many Meals You Should Be Eating A DayJun 22, 2020
With so much conflicting information, “how many meals a day should I eat?” can feel confusing.
Some of us are “grazers,” eating little bits throughout the day to lose weight, while some believe we need three solid meals.
Many of us are on that intermittent fasting trend, while some say we should eat one massive meal in the middle of the day.
Are you confused yet? Don’t fret. We’re here to help break it all down.
“I think the most important thing is to eat when your hunger is real and not when you suffer from emotional hunger or stress hunger,” says Gianluca Tognon, nutritionist and Associate Professor in Public Health at Skövde University in Sweden. “Often, your brain tricks you into thinking you’re hungry, but it’s simply the signal that you need to soothe yourself. More often than not, when you wait a few seconds from the moment you feel hungry and the moment you put something into your mouth, you might notice that your sense of hunger disappears.”
That said, let’s dive into the fundamentals.
Does meal frequency really matter?
It depends on your needs, struggles, and symptoms. Are you a chronic over-eater? It may benefit you to eat every three to four hours. Long gaps in eating windows can cause blood sugar levels to dip, which can contribute to fatigue, cravings, and overeating, among other symptoms.
Tognon says meal frequency matters because restricting can signal that you “do not eat mindfully and therefore end up eating more than necessary. On the other hand, if you are an athlete and you’re trying to build up muscles, eating more frequently can help you accelerate this process,” he adds.
If over-eating isn’t a struggle for you and you’re not trying to become a bodybuilder, some research suggests eating less frequently, skipping snacks, and fasting for 18-19 hours may be the best for preventing weight gain. It’s essential to identify your goals, needs, and struggles and make an educated decision.
Can intermittent fasting slow your metabolism?
“I don’t think it’s so easy to modify your metabolism,” says Tognon. “I think the most important thing that can slow down your metabolism is when fat mass increases, when you have thyroid problems, or when a woman enters menopause.”
Researchers collected animal and human studies to infer how intermittent fasting (IF) would affect humans. The human studies showed that there is little evidence for IF to be harmful, and that almost any intermittent fasting regimen can result in some weight loss. However, since there is limited data on human studies and the impact of time-restricted feeling, the rodent studies were used to show support of the positive impact.
It is also important to note that the data does not show the impact of IF on other health behaviors such as diet, sleep, and physical activity. There was also no data that linked IF with better health benefits for people with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or other chronic diseases.
Clearly, more research needs to be done.
Is it better to eat 3 meals a day or 5?
“In general, I think there is no need to have more than two main meals a day, perhaps plus a light meal lunch or breakfast, says Tognon. “However, some people need a snack in between, which could be a piece of fruit or some nuts, but you really need to train yourself into understanding whether you’re feeling hungry or not.”
When it comes to meal prepping, consuming five meals should only be necessary if you are feeling a real sense of hunger between meals, he adds, or if you’re trying to build muscle.
Again, it comes back to knowing your specific goals, patterns, and food behaviors.
Are there any health benefits to consider when timing meals?
“In my practice, I noticed there are essentially two kinds of people: those who feel hungry in the morning (who should eat more during the first part of the day) and those who feel hungry later in the day (and who would benefit from having a snack in the evening rather than an early breakfast when they are not hungry),” says Tognon.
If you’re not super hungry in the morning, wait until later in the day! If you force yourself to eat when you’re not hungry, you’ll likely end up consuming more calories than you need, which can lead to weight gain.
- Intermittent Fasting and Human Metabolic Health www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4516560/
- Meal Frequency and Timing Are Associated with Changes in Body Mass Index in Adventist Health Study 2 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5572489/
- Eating Frequency and Weight Loss www.health.harvard.edu/diet-and-weight-loss/eating-frequency-and-weight-loss
- Hypoglycemia www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypoglycemia/symptoms-causes/syc-20373685