You may have heard that eating more small meals a day is better than eating fewer large meals. But is eating 6 meals a day better than eating 3?
According to multiple studies, that may not necessarily be the case. In these studies, participants were divided into two groups. One group was given 3 meals a day and the other group was given 6 meals a day. Results were mixed:
- In some studies, participants who ate 6 small meals a day showed no metabolic or weight loss advantage over those who ate 3 large meals.
- In other studies, the 3-meal-a-day group reported higher levels of hunger and an increased desire to eat and, thus, a tendency to gain weight.
- Some studies found a modest effect of smaller frequent meals on fasting glucose levels, but overall HbA1c (glycated hemoglobin, which measures average glycemic control) was not significantly different as compared to the 3-meal-a-day group.
Can eating 6 meals a day help you lose weight?
While results of those studies were inconclusive, eating 6 times a day is a weight loss strategy that has worked for some people, provided the meals are small and healthy.
For example, some people may feel full easily after a meal but get hungry again within 2-3 hours, and waiting too long may cause them to overeat during their next meal. So the idea is that eating more frequently throughout the day may help them prevent weight gain.
So the 6-meal-a-day diet plan may help you lose weight as long as you learn the art of portion control. This is because no matter how many meals you eat in a day, if you consume fewer calories and burn more calories, you are bound to lose weight.
Also, it’s important to remember that it’s not just the quantity of food or frequency that matters, but also the quality of your diet. So eating a balanced diet with sufficient macronutrients (proteins, carbs, and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) is essential, regardless of how many times a day you are eating.
What is the 6-meal-a-day diet plan?
As the name implies, the 6-meal-a-day diet plan involves eating 6 mini-meals a day. An example of a meal plan is as follows:
- Breakfast: Egg whites, potatoes, and turkey bacon or muesli, oatmeal, and vegetables
- Snack: Fruit smoothie with protein powder or half a piece of fruit with non-fat yogurt
- Snack: Hard-boiled eggs (whites only)
- Lunch: A healthy fat, such as avocado, with chicken, turkey, or fish
- Snack: Almonds and a protein shake or green tea
- Dinner: Lean protein, such as salmon, poultry, or lean beef, with vegetables
What are potential challenges of the 6-meal-a-day plan?
The key with this diet plan is that it’s crucial to control your portion sizes, since messing those up can cause you to consume more calories. Talk to your dietician about ideal portion sizes recommended for your age, gender, and physical activity level.
For the best chance of success, follow these tips:
- Don’t skip breakfast
- Avoid junk food
- Avoid eating late at night
- Add protein and high-fiber foods to your snacks to make you feel full for longer. Examples include: a cup of raw veggies, 2-3 whole-grain crackers, 1/2 cup of nuts, dried fruits, a spoonful of non-fat yogurt, and some whole-grain cereal.
If you have trouble controlling your portion sizes or you don’t have time to prep healthy snacks, you may be better off with the good old 3-meal-a-day plan. Either way, what matters most is getting enough nutrition from the foods you eat.
Is intermittent fasting a better option than eating small 6 meals a day?
Studies conducted on individuals who tried intermittent fasting have reported benefits such as weight loss, better heart rate and blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, and improved glycemic control. This data supports the idea that intermittent fasting positively impacts the way the body metabolizes food.
When you can only eat in an 8-hour or 10-hour window, you may be able to:
- Consume fewer calories in a day
- Learn to differentiate hunger pangs from boredom or stress eating
- Drink more water or liquids
However, intermittent fasting may not be suitable for everyone. Before trying any type of diet plan, talk to your doctor first, especially if you have underlying health conditions.
The bottom line is that regardless of your diet plan, it is the total calories consumed and the nutritional quality of those calories that matter. Healthy calorie restriction, a balanced diet, and regular exercise can help you lose weight, so it’s simply a matter of finding the way to do it that’s right for you.
UCLA Health. Ask the Doctors – Are 6 Small Meals a Day Better Than 3 Big Ones? https://connect.uclahealth.org/2018/03/13/ask-the-doctors-debating-the-benefits-of-eating-six-small-meals-a-day/
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