How Many Times a Day Should I Eat?
“In order to lose weight and increase my metabolism, I have to eat 6 small meals per day.” This is a common statement I hear from individuals and one of the most common misconceptions out there. There is no research to validate how many times per day you should consume a meal and/or snack. You could consume 3 large meals, 3 moderately sized meals and 2 snacks, or 6 small meals per day and still achieve results.
It is important to individualize this recommendation based on individual health and fitness goals, lifestyle habits, nutrition and health history, and work/home environment. I hear quite a bit that consuming 6 small meals can be extremely difficult and may even be a stressful experience. If that is the case, then it probably is not the best long term solution. Always ask yourself if this is a lifestyle that you can maintain for at least six months before increasing meal frequency or making any change. We also want to be able to listen to our hunger signals. If we are constantly attempting to eat 6 times per day, we may eat when we are not even hungry. It is really important to listen to your body and eat when you are actually hungry while also doing whatever works with your lifestyle.
I do find that increased meal frequency can help some individuals. Increased meal frequency might benefit those that struggle with energy fluctuations, sugar cravings, tend to overeat at meals, and may just be starting on a weight loss journey. Whenever your blood sugar is not regulated, you crave sugar and might experience an energy drop. That is when we typically reach for that mid afternoon caffeine fix. In reality, your body is telling you it is hungry and that your blood sugar needs to be stabilized. I would recommend having something with protein and fiber for enhanced blood sugar regulation and increased satiety. A good example would be an apple with almond butter or carrots and hummus.
I have also seen increased meal frequency prevent individuals from overeating. When you go into a meal starving, you might make different choices than if you go into a meal slightly hungry. Increased meal frequency usually helps keep individuals from going into a meal ravenous. Increased meal frequency does require more preparation. If you think increased meal frequency is something that would benefit you, start small and add in an afternoon snack.