The Ideal Number of Meals a Day – Does it exist?
There is a lot of debate over how many meals one should be eating per day. In Camp 1 are proponents of sticking to the ‘conventional’ three-meals-a-day diet, arguing that eating any more will more often than not lead to weight gain due to calorie overconsumption of calories. In Camp 2 are those who recommend eating multiple small meals a day (five or six), positing that this increases metabolism. Through both research and personal experience, us here at Superlife Co. have concluded that there is a lack of evidence which suggests that how frequent one eats a day correlates with weight loss. In view of this, however, here are some points to consider when planning your diet, regardless of whether or not such a correlation exists:
1. Calories are calories regardless of when you consume them.
While a heated debate exists over how often one should eat, a pattern is consistent in both camps – one can ‘afford’ to have higher calorie meals should s/he have less meals a day, and conversely one can ‘only afford’ lower calorie meals should s/he have multiple sittings at the pantry table from sunrise to sunset. The bottom line is that whether you are eating three or six meals in a given day, weight loss boils down to what you eat, and how much. At the end of the day, your weight (and health) is determined by the number of calories you consume, for calories are calories regardless of when you consume them.
2. Certain kinds of lifestyles are best supplemented by diets that involve smaller but more frequent meals.
Besides weight loss, having small but more frequent meals can positively impact certain kinds of lifestyles, e.g. busy people who tend to spend long periods of time without eating, then gorging themselves at dinner. Meals do not have to be taken only if one has at least half an hour of time to spare – if you don’t have the luxury of time, try eating small meals often throughout the day. Don’t wait for what’s regarded as conventional ‘lunchtime’; no one said that you can and must only eat between 12 pm and 2 pm! Similarly, if for any reason you have lost your appetite and big meals make you feel like barfing, be good to your body still by eating a little at a time – your body needs energy no matter what.
3. Frequency of eating matters less than making healthy choices.
Regardless of whether you choose a three- or six-meals-a-day diet, you need to maximise the nutrients you consume at each meal. Remember our first point that “calories are calories regardless of when you consume them” – with this in mind, you need to make every calorie count. For instance, avoid eating ‘empty’ calories such as those from processed foods. Instead, make all your meals balanced by consuming complex carbohydrates and foods packed with protein to give you energy, such as chia seeds and quinoa.
4. You know your body best.
Make sure you eat when you’re hungry, and don’t force yourself to if you’re not. Health and fitness blogs can suggest how much you should be eating a day, but ultimately these are all generalisations and you’d know your own body best. Listen to it, trust it and act on it when it tries to tell you something – our bodies are programmed to let our brains know when they need something. This way, you will never over- or under-eat. Simple!