If you have ever tried to change your diet you may have read that in order to lose weight or gain muscle you need to eat more often. Maybe you were told to â€œeat six small meals per dayâ€ or that eating large meals would slow your metabolism. Many people have come to accept the idea that eating several small meals a day will burn more fat and boost your metabolism. Is there an effect on your metabolism from eating small vs large meals?
This style of eating smaller more frequent meals is popular with everyone, from dietitians to bodybuilders and has been repeated so often for so long that itâ€™s generally taken as fact. However, the assumed benefits of eating several small meals as superior to fewer meals have not been scientifically validated.
While eating many meals may not accelerate yourÂ metabolismÂ or make you burn fat, experts say it could help you in other ways. The longer you wait between meals, the hungrier you get, and then youâ€™re more likely to overeat. So having a snack between meals can prevent overeating at meals.
In contrast, if you are someone who has a difficult time eating a small amount at meals or snacking (you have a hard time stopping once you get started), then it’s quite possible that, for you, eating five or six times a day isn’t the best way to go. Each time you sit down to eat these small meals, youâ€™ll create more opportunities to overeat; this can be a serious problem for some people.
Other people simply do not have the time to prepare healthy small meals, or maybe your job does not provide the time to eat frequent small meals. So it will be important for you to decide what will work best with your lifestyle and examine your eating habits.
Although there is no research to support eating frequently increases your metabolism, eating every four hours (three meals per day with a mid-morning snack and afternoon snack), stabilizes your blood sugar, optimizes insulin production and keeps your hunger in check. Your body will use your energy stores and burn more fat!
The trick is eating when you are truly hungry but not so ravenous that you are at risk of overeating or eating out of control. When you feel hunger, don’t go more than an hour without eating or you will move from truly hungry to ragingly ravenous. According to the American Diabetes Association, eating every time you feel “slightly” hungry can result in overeating. Their remedy for this is to ask yourself these questions before a meal if you aren’t sure:
- Am I hungry? If unsure, wait 20 minutes and ask yourself again.
- When was the last time I ate? If it’s less than three hours, it may not be real hunger.
- Could a small snack tide me over until the next meal? Have ready-to-eat vegetables or protein snacks on hand for this.
Since the number of meals you eatÂ doesn’tÂ matter, focus onÂ what you eatÂ when you are truly hungry. Choose foods that contain nutrients, vitamins, and fiber (like fruit and vegetables) and lean protein to keep you full, but how often you consume those foods might not matter as much as you thought.