I came across this little tidbit today, about a study that found that overweight/obese men on a reduced-calorie, high-protein diet were able to control their appetite better (i.e., they felt less hungry and more satisfied) when they ate three real meals each day instead of six “mini-meals.”
Now, this was a small study (27 participants) involving only one gender (men) and the frequency of meals didn’t make a difference when the men were eating a “normal” protein diet. Also, the “high” protein diet was only 25 percent of total calories, which isn’t really high (the “normal” protein level was set at 14 percent of calories). I feel it’s important to note that even the higher protein diet included a lot of fruits and veggies…this is actually the type of diet that I prefer for myself.
Anyway, that paragraph above just highlights that this isn’t the sort of study that can be universally applied. So if you tend to eat multiple small meals a day (as is commanded by many fat loss gurus) and are happy with that eating pattern and you feel good and weigh what you want to weigh (or are losing weight in line with goals you have set for yourself), then don’t change a thing.
However, if you are eating your mini-meals, and cursing because you feel like you spend three-quarters of your life preparing food, eating food or cleaning up after eating food, then you should know there is another way. There is no magic number of meals, no magic number of hours between meals. It all depends on you.
So, what is important? Two things:
- If you are trying to lose weight, you need to make sure you are not eating more calories than your body burns by simply existing and by exercising (remember that exercise often doesn’t burn as many calories as you think…you can easily eat more than what you just burned off if you stop for a latte and a pastry after hitting the gym). You get bonus points for making eating nutritious food a priority, but the calorie deficit is the main thing here.
- If you are eating to be as healthy as you can be, and weight isn’t an issue, then you need to eat a wide variety of healthy foods most of the time (there is always room for a few treats). It’s a good idea to still monitor your weight (even if you get in the habit of weighing yourself just once a month or so), just to make sure you aren’t experiencing weight creep.
Eating breakfast, avoiding nighttime eating, eating every 2-3 hours…none of these things in and of themselves will help you lose weight or improve your health. Yes, nighttime binging is bad (and is an actual eating disorder, called Night Eating Syndrome) and skipping breakfast or otherwise letting yourself get too hungry isn’t smart if you know being ravenous leaves you vulnerable to inhaling the contents of a vending machine. But forcing yourself to eat just because it’s “time” to eat isn’t any better (unless you have to eat food with a medication, or something).
If you’re eating the right amount, and eating healthy most of the time, you can play around with the other variables and arrange them to your preferences and/or needs. And don’t let anyone persuade you otherwise.