How Often Should You Eat?

Eat More To Lose More

Claims have been made, that eating more frequently (more than 3 meals a day) will help you boost your metabolism and help you burn more fat. Some studies even show that eating six meals a day will help you reveal that six-pack you want so bad.

But the question is, is six meals a day really the secret to losing fat?

Pros and Cons to Eating More than three times a day

Benefits:

  • Eating more will help decrease your hunger, which can potentially prevent you from overeating at your next meal. In fact, when people become really hungry they tend to grab whats easy, which is typically junk food.
  • The more you eat, the more opportunities you have to consume healthy foods such as fruit, vegetables and whole grains.

Disadvantages:

  • Eating more frequently can lead to eating more calories over the course of the day.
  • More mindless eating. Unhealthy food options are everywhere to tempt us. We learn to respond to cues, such as food availability, rather than hunger and fullness. This can lead to overeating. Eating three meals a day can help us resist tempting foods and overeating.
What science says

One study involved 12 boxers. They were put on an extremely low calorie diet (just 1200 calories a day) for two weeks. In this study, six of the boxers divided their 1200 calories into two meals and the other six ate the same number of calories divided into six meals. Both groups lost a bunch of weight and, not surprisingly, a significant amount of lean muscle. That’s what happens when you lose weight too quickly. But the loss of muscle was less in the group who ate more frequently.

What this study really shows is that when you are crash dieting, you’ll lose less muscle if you eat more frequently. But if your goal is a six pack (or any multiple thereof), you don’t want to lose muscle, you want to lose fat. Crash dieting is not recommended. So, I’m not sure this study is all that relevant to the claim.

Another study was done in 2017, researchers analyzed data on more than 50,000 adults. The researchers found that the people who ate more than three times a day weighed more than those who ate less frequently. Unfortunately, when people embrace this idea of eating six small meals a day, they often overlook the “small” part of the equation.

There are also some studies that support the idea that eating more frequently will help with weight loss. For example, eating more frequently has been shown to improve appetite control and this may help people avoid overeating. But this is not the same thing as revving up your metabolism. It’s just a way of managing your behavior.

An 8-week study looked at the difference in weight loss between participants who ate 3 times a day versus 6 times per day. Half of the 16 participants ate 3 times per day. The other half ate 6 times per day. Participants in each of the groups lost the same amount of weight.

Bottom line

Here’s the thing about nutrition research, especially the kind that involves humans. No matter what question you are asking, there are usually multiple studies with conflicting results. That means that if you start with a certain point of view, you can almost always find at least one study to back you up.

If eating more frequently throughout the day, instead of the traditional three square meals helps you manage your appetite better, do it. Some people (like myself) find it works better for them. But keep in mind, eating more frequently doesn’t rev up your metabolism, or slow down your metabolism if you go too long between meals. 

When you eat, or how often you eat, does not affect weight loss. What affects weight loss, is being in a calorie deficit.

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