Myth: Six meals are better than three

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There is no evidence that any number of meals is better than another.  

Meal on Plate

Meal on Plate

There is a lot of debate over how many meals to eat per day. I have heard many reported experts and professionals scream out in support of a higher number of smaller meals over the traditional three meals a day tradition that we grew up eating.  I have used the word traditional because that is what many of us have grown up eating.  This is more of a religion than a science-backed fact because there is literally no science to back up the myth that you must eat more meals to lose weight.  

Supporters of the traditional “eating three meals a day” have argued for years that eating more often will cause you to consume more meals will result in eating more calories and thus gain weight.  On the other side, supporters of eating five or six meals a day argue that eating smaller meals more frequently causes weight loss by keeping a g a little food in your stomach and thus decrease hunger and increase your metabolism.  These beliefs have little scientific backing.  It is a myth that fat loss can be achieved solely by breaking up your current caloric intake into more meals.  In fact, I would argue that engaging in mindless snacking or forcing yourself to eat five or six full meals a day cannot help you lose weight is counterproductive because breaking up the calories you into a day into more meals worsens your insulin resistance by keeping your blood glucose higher over time. Even worse, there is no science to support the myth the ramifications of worsening insulin resistance is severe.  I know there is limited evidence to support this belief also, but do you want to take a chance on your health with this “eat more” concept that simply put defies common sense.  

Meals are an important part of our social structure, and daily lifestyle, but structure of schedule has more to do with socialization than true physiologic need.  There is no required number of meals that we must eat to maintain function or lose weight.  Most nutritionists argue that you should have more meals and not skip meals or go an extended period without eating.   Your weight is still determined by the number of calories you consume minus the number of calories you expend. They do this because they believe that this will lead to splurging.  There is little to no evidence to back up this argument.  In fact, there is limited evidence outside of their observations to back this belief.  

I think you have to individualize the diet to the person.  Eating smaller meals or sticking to the traditional three meals a day may have health benefits for some of us.   If that works for you, then stick to it.  Then again, if you graze all day when you have smaller meals or if you are a someone who tends to go long periods of time without eating and then gorge yourself at the next meal, these methods are not ideal for you, and you should try something different.  

Many so-called experts claim that weight loss comes down to how much, or more precise, how many calories you eat.  I would argue that is more about the quality of the food you eat in conjunction with the number of calories.  If you eat crappy processed food, you will get a flabby midsection that is covered with a nice thick layer of fat.   No matter whether you are eating three meals or six meals, you should avoid empty calories and maximize the nutritional value at every meal.  Foods that are low in nutrients and high in calories are the enemy of a healthy diet.  

The bottom line: There is no magical number of meals that will help with weight loss.  The key is that you need to make sure you are eating enough and stop when you are not hungry.  Both quantity and quality of food are important for long-lasting weight loss.  

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About the Author

ChuckH
I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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