You may have heard a lot of different advice about how many times a day to eat to help you lose weight. There’s a lot of conflicting information online, so I’m going to review the medical data that’s available. These are mostly small studies, so the data is limited.
How Many Meals a Day Should You Eat?
Medical studies are mixed on how many times a day you should eat, and that’s why the information online is so confusing. What seems to matter the most is what you actually eat during those meals and possibly what time you eat.
One Meal versus Three Meals a Day
Some studies showed that eating one meal a day versus three meals a day doesn’t make a difference in your ability to lose weight. Other studies showed that people eating one meal a day were more likely to gain weight or have difficulty losing weight. The reason for this was that in these studies the people eating only one meal a day were more likely to eat more unhealthy food, foods high in sugar, high in unhealthy saturated fat, and/or high in unhealthy carbs.
Possibly, this was because they thought it was ok for them to eat more unhealthy food because they were only eating once a day. Or maybe they were so hungry they didn’t think as much about what they were eating. That’s what happens to me when I’m really hungry.
Six Small Meals versus Three Meals a Day
There are also studies looking at people eating three regular sized meals a day versus five to six smaller meals per day. These studies also showed mixed results about which one is more beneficial for you to help you lose weight. I think this is because it’s person to person dependent how many meals a day will help you eat healthier throughout the day.
The Time of Day You Eat
The other thing to consider is if you eat one big meal a day and it’s at the end of the day, there’s less time between when you eat and go to sleep. This means you’re less likely to burn off the food as energy. It’s more like to then be stored as fat. Eating earlier in the day gives your body more time to burn off the food you eat as energy instead of storing it as fat.
Impaired Blood Sugar Insulin Regulation
There a few studies suggesting how many meals a day you eat can impair your blood sugar (glucose) insulin regulation. The reason this is important is that impairment of your insulin regulation long-term can make it harder for you to lose weight and more likely to develop diabetes.
It’s possible that eating one big meal a day could cause a higher spike in your insulin level and over time impair your insulin regulation. It’s also possible that eating six small meals a day could impair your insulin regulation because your body is continually releasing insulin for a significant part of the day. However the data on this is very limited, so I wouldn’t recommend you change the way you eat based on this yet, but it’s information to look out for in the future.
What Should You Do?
Based on the medical studies available it seems person to person dependent how many meals a day you should eat. It depends on how many meals a day helps you maintain eating healthier throughout the day. You can test it out for one week by keeping track of how healthy you eat on the days you skip meals versus days you don’t skip meals. It’s worth testing yourself to see what works best for your lifestyle, work schedule, etc. as it’s not a one plan fit’s all type of situation.