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When you’re trying to lose weight, it seems as if every minute detail could potentially make or break your diet. One such issue is meal frequency, so how often should you eat for optimal results?
“Eat frequent small meals or snacks to boost your metabolism”.
Chances are you’ve read that a fair few times in magazines or diet books, and heard it given as advice on weight loss shows on TV.
But just because you’ve heard it lots of times, that doesn’t automatically make it true. Throughout the 1980s we were all told that fat was the devil – it caused heart disease, premature deaths, and was the cause of many a failed diet. Then in the 90s and 2000s, low carb was all the rage – according to many experts you only had to look at a slice of bread or piece of fruit and you’d pile on the pounds. But nowadays, we know that both fats and carbs are important parts of any healthy weight loss diet.
It’s similar now with meal frequency – for the last few years, the advice of eating little and often has been touted as one of the keys to losing weight. However, this isn’t necessarily true. In this article, we’ll examine whether you’re better off eating 3 meals or 6 meals per day.
Advantages to Frequent Eating (6 meals per day)- It can potentially keep you feeling full and avoid cravings.
- If you’re often thinking about food, it allows you to eat more regularly and take your mind off it.
- Energy levels are maintained throughout the day.
- You can have one meal immediately before a workout and another one after, thus providing your body with energy and nutrients to perform at its best during your session and kickstart recovery as soon as you’ve finished.
Disadvantages to Frequent Eating- For some people, eating more regularly actually stimulates hunger.
- More rises and falls in your blood sugar levels.
- It’s easier to over-consume calories.
- Planning, preparing and cooking your meals can be extremely time consuming.
- It can be antisocial if you’re out with friends or colleagues, and have to delve into your bag every few hours to pull out Tupperware containers full of food.
Advantages to Infrequent Eating (3 meals per day)- You only have to make three meals.
- Blood sugar levels remain lower for most of the day.
- Some people find bigger meals more filling.
- Potentially better nutrient partitioning. This refers to what your body does with carbs, proteins and fats. Some research suggests these macronutrients are more likely to be used for energy, muscle growth and hormone production than stored when you eat less frequently.
- There are many benefits associated with fasting, the main one being greater longevity.
Disadvantages to Infrequent Eating- Larger meals can make you feel sleepy and drowsy.
- If you have a small appetite, eating enough calories in each meal can be challenging.
- Potential loss of concentration when you’re hungry between meals.
- Increased temptation to eat junk food if you still have time to wait until you next eat.
As you can see, there are several advantages and disadvantages to both methods.
Notice one thing though – the issue of metabolism wasn’t discussed. The main reason why many people favor the “little and often” approach with 6 meals per day is because they believe that more frequent eating results in a larger metabolism boost, which in turn burns extra calories and sheds fat quicker.
However, this isn’t the case. It is true that every time you eat, your body has to burn calories to digest food. This is known as the thermic effect of feeding, or TEF. However, TEF is proportionate not only to how often you eat, but the number of calories you eat too.
For example, if your calorie intake one day is 1800, and you split this evenly into 6 meals of 300 calories each, you may burn 100 calories through TEF at each meal. If you were to only eat 3 meals of 600 calories each, you’d get a less frequent metabolism boost, but where the calorie content is double, TEF would double too, and you’d burn the same number of calories.
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