We often get the age old question of meal timing…how often should I eat, when should I eat, what are the worst times to eat? This is a hot topic for researchers, so you may have heard many conflicting suggestions. Is breakfast the most important meal of the day? Should I be snacking in between meals? Should I eat 6 small meals a day instead of 3? We’re here to help answer some of these questions!
The argument has been that eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day helps to increase metabolism. Eating these smaller meals has also been linked with decreased hunger, and improved lipid and insulin levels. Now before you switch up your whole routine, you should know that just like there’s research favoring these smaller, more frequent meals, there’s also research that links grazing with poorer diet quality and adiposity among women. As much confusion as there is about the topic, newer research has shown that eating 6 smaller meals vs 3 larger meals doesn’t really matter when it comes to health and metabolism. So which route should you take? It ultimately boils down to preference and logistics (and for some people, medical history.)
Small & Frequent
There are a number of situations where small and frequent may be the right fit for you. Perhaps you’re always on the run because of work, school, or whatever else. You can’t realistically sit down to enjoy 3 solid meals per day, so you graze during the day, eating smaller and more frequently. It may also be a matter of preference…you don’t have a huge appetite at 3 set times during the day. So you prefer those smaller meals (Jess). It could also be a medical issue. For example, if you have gastritis or reflux, having smaller, more frequent meals can help alleviate gastric discomfort.
3 Solid Meals
Now for those 3 solid, larger meals. You may be the type of person who has a huge appetite at those 3 set times during the day- breakfast, lunch, and dinner (Wendy). Eating 3 satisfying, larger meals may be preferential for you. Again, with the logistics…maybe the type of work you do doesn’t allow you to graze throughout the day because you have a set time set aside just for eating. This model of meal frequency would probably work best for you. And back to the medical aspect, if you have insulin-dependent diabetes for example, it’s important that you have very specific meal times set aside and that you consistently eat a similar amount of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins at each meal.
So what should I do?
Ultimately, there’s research to favor both sides of equation. What do we recommend? Listening to your body is going to best determine which method works for you. This may mean listening to your internal hunger cues and only eating when you’re hungry. But other times it may just depend on your schedule. If you know you’re working late and need to eat a larger lunch with more fats and protein to keep you full until you can eat again, then that works too! Aim to avoid getting wayy too hungry or wayy too full to eat optimally for our own personal needs. This may mean six small meals per day for you or it may mean three larger, balanced meals. What it ultimately comes down to is your own hunger and fullness cues, your preferences, and your schedule. Listen to your body and your health to figure out what works.
So tell us! Are you a six meals per day kind of person or do you prefer to stick to a solid three? What works best for you? Drop a line in the comments below!