The Plain Truth About Meal Frequency
“How many times a day should I eat?” This is a common question that, as a fitness expert, I get asked a lot. You’ve probably heard that eating frequent, small meals throughout the day is optimal for fat loss, boosting your metabolism, and keeping your blood sugar stable. However, eating that often can be very time consuming and inconvenient for some people. So, is it really necessary to eat so many times a day?
According to recent research and my own personal experience, the answer is no, it’s not.
A 2013 study from the University of Colorado School of Medicine found no significant difference in fat oxidation, hunger, the desire to eat, or fullness in people eating three meals a day compared to those eating six meals a day1.
Other similar studies comparing eating more often to less often also found no significant effects on metabolic rate or fat loss.
It has also been suggested that eating more often keeps blood sugar levels stable. Research has shown that those who eat less often have lower average blood sugar levels and that less frequent meals can actually improve satiety, or feelings of fullness, and reduce hunger.
I once consistently ate five or six times a day. I thought it was necessary and I would worry that I would gain weight if I changed my eating habits. To be honest, I didn’t really enjoy having to eat so often; it was a hassle! I felt like I was constantly prepping or eating food. However, last year I switched to eating four meals a day and found that the change worked great for me. If I eat only three meals a day, I find it difficult to consume enough calories. On the other hand, I find eating more than four meals a day too inconvenient for my busy lifestyle.
I now focus on eating when I’m hungry rather than at specific time intervals. In doing so, I’ve noticed that I don’t get hungry as often, whereas before when I’d miss that two to three hour window, I’d get hungry very quickly and sometimes I’d even get a bit cranky. My energy levels are up and I’ve even lost a few pounds of fat over the last year.
Most importantly, eating should be a pleasant experience. Worrying about when to eat next or forcing yourself to eat every few hours, even when you’re not hungry, can take the joy out of a culinary experience.
While eating five or six meals a day isn’t harmful, if your goal is to burn more fat and boost your metabolism, it isn’t necessary and can be more work than it’s worth. My advice is to decide what fits best with your lifestyle. Everyone is different, so experiment with your eating schedule to pinpoint the meal frequency that yields the best results for you.
1) Ohkawara, K., Cornier, M.-A., Kohrt, W. M. and Melanson, E. L. (2013), Effects of increased meal frequency on fat oxidation and perceived hunger. Obesity, 21: 336–343. doi: 10.1002/oby.20032