So how many meals should you eat each day? The short answer is that you should eat as many or few meals as you want as long as you are eating healthy. For the longer answer keep reading below. I personally eat 2-3 meals a day as it fits my goals and lifestyle. It is possible to have 1-10 meals per day and still be perfectly healthy, it all depends on the reasons you are eating that amount of meals.
One of the longest lasting myths within the fitness world is the idea that eating smaller meals more frequently is a healthier way to live. This has been told so many times that most of us take it as a fact. The reality is there is little evidence to support this notion. Here are a two of the most popular statements:
More meals ‘rev up’ your metabolism
This idea comes from the real fact that when you eat food your metabolic rate will increase in response in order to digest the food. The problem with this fact in isolation is that it does not give the full picture. The amount that your metabolism will speed up is proportionate to the amount of calories you have eaten. The bottom line is that there is no metabolic benefit found eating more meals over the day as the metabolic benefit of eating is proportionate to the calories not to how frequently you eat. The only thing that would slow your metabolism down is restricting your caloric intake significantly for a long period of time.
Skipping breakfast means you will overeat later in the day
This particular topic has varied research and even the research that allegedly supports this statement is not entirely accurate. In one study, there were 2 groups of people, one was allowed a 500 calorie breakfast and the others ate no breakfast. Later on they were given access to a buffet lunch and the total calories were tracked. Those in the no breakfast group ate 700 calories on average and the breakfast group ate 500 calories on average. This was given as ‘evidence’ that you will overeat.
If we add up the total calories though we find that the no breakfast group is so far on a total of 700 for the day whereas the breakfast group is on a total of 1000 for the day. So even though you may eat more in later meals, indeed you should, you are still more likely to eat less overall food during the day if you eat fewer meals!
Let’s look at some benefits of less meals throughout the day
Larger meals more satisfying
The biggest benefit to eating less meals throughout the day is that you can have MORE FOOD at each meal that you do have. Let’s say you are trying to lose a bit of weight and eating around 2000 calories a day to do so. If you have 6 meals you can have roughly 330 calories for each meal. If you have 3 meals you can have 660 calories in each meal. To me, bigger meals are much more satisfying than eating very small amounts of food.
Give stomach a break
This can go both ways as will be mentioned in another point below. I find that not eating so regularly allows my stomach to feel a lot better as it can digest food and I am not constantly putting food in.
Easier to control food intake
The more meals you have each day the easier it is to overeat in total. Due to the small size of the meals that many people need to have if having 5-6 meals a day, it is very easy to make these meals too big. If you are only sticking to 3 meals a day you have much more leeway in your eating to overeat and can add in desert after dinner without it being such a concern.
Less time to worry about food
Eating fewer meals throughout the day means you can spend less time eating. If you are busy with work it can be an annoyance to have even a 300 calorie snack every 2 hours while you are doing important work. For many it is also not even feasible to eat that frequently due to work and life commitments.
Less effort in preparation
Every time you eat you have to prepare something even if it is basic. For me preparing food is already quite time consuming, I don’t want to have to do that even more times a day. Less meals means less food preparation and less time invested in eating.
Let’s look at some benefits of more meals
Smaller meals easier to eat
Small meals can help some people who have a bad stomach. Eating less will produce less food acid and stretch the stomach less. It can be very helpful when overcoming illness, especially anything related to your stomach to eat more regular small meals so you can try and get as much food back in you as possible.
If you have to eat a lot to gain weight more meals can be good
If you are somebody who struggles to gain weight, you likely need to eat very large amounts of calories everyday. I have known people who need to eat over 5000 calories a day day in day out to gain the amount of weight they wanted to. Eating this many calories in 3 meals is very difficult. Splitting the meals up into smaller portions is a much easier way to be able to eat this much food on a consistent basic.
This is mentioned in both categories for a reason. Some people feel more satisfied eating smaller meals on a regular basis and they love to constantly have at least something to eat. I feel many more people get satisfied from a good big solid meal but to each their own.
So you can see that the amount of meals really is going to come down to what you find most appropriate for your lifestyle and your goals. If you are eating nourishing foods then don’t be concerned with how many meals you eat through the day. Look at your diet as a daily total, what you ate for the entire day and whether it was nutritious when looked at on that basis.
Regardless of how many meals you have, remember to eat mindfully. Fit a healthy diet into your lifestyle, not your lifestyle around a diet that is restricting you of the best way to eat. There is no benefit to eating more frequent meals so eat as you please. Whichever way you choose, try it out for at least a month so that your body gets used to it and you can give it a fair assessment.
How many meals do you have a day?