What’s the Best Diet Strategy – Few Big Meals or Many Small Ones?

breakfast lunch dinner

What’s the better way to lose weight? 3 small meals and 3 snacks a day? or 2 big meals with no snacking?

A research project that was presented at the recent American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions Conference in Chicago has shown that a small number of big meals are actually more effective for weight loss. The results are based on a small study of 54 participants in the Czech Republic. They were divided into 2 groups – one had just breakfast and lunch, and the other had 6 mini meals interspersed throughout the day.

Both groups consumed the same amount of daily calories, which was about 500 calories less than their base consumption in order to induce a weekly weight loss of 1 pound. The participants dieted for 12 weeks, after which their BMI (body mass index) change was measured. The 2-meal group lost 1.23 points, while the 6-meal group lost only 0.82.

This study is very interesting and raises a few points:

- In a less controlled environment, would the people who are supposed to eat only twice a day really be able to fast for almost 20 hours every single day?

- Does eating 6 times a day increase the chance of overeating? It’s 6 opportunities to overeat vs. just 2 times in the other program.

- Is eating just twice a day even practical for people with diabetes who need to control their blood glucose levels more carefully?

- Is eating just twice, earlier in the day practical for most Americans, for whom the main meal of the day is dinner in the evening?

Our take? The move from 3 square meals a day to multiple snacking opportunities and small meals sounds good in theory, but in practice simply encourages a “grazing” mentality and over-consumption of calories as a result.

How many times a day do you eat?

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  • Corey Rowland

    I used to eat the normal three big meals a day but over time I’ve shifted to about 5 or 6 smaller meals throughout the day. I find that I’m not extremely hungry like I often would be because I never go more than about 3 hours without eating something. When I used to go 8 hours without eating, I would be starving by the time I ate and then I would eat too much because all I could focus on was my hunger.

  • Paula Middleton Reed

    I used to be a 4-5 small meals a day person, but that was because my blood sugar was unstable (hypoglycemia) and I would feel shaky/hungry after a couple hours or so. I have completely changed the way I eat and no longer eat processed food, including grains, and I have discovered that eating REAL FOOD in normal quantities keeps me full for hours. I typically eat three meals a day and don’t feel the need to snack. I could probably do just two meals a day, but haven’t tried that yet.

  • StaceyTheFabulous.

    I usually let my body and activity level decide. Sometimes my body doesn’t need constant refueling especially after a few days of low activity and satisfying whole foods. Sometimes it does because of my training schedule and the aesthetic gains I’m trying to achieve. Listening to my body ( not my mind and emotions, completely different conversations there) hasn’t failed me yet. By the way, I love Fooducate!!

  • http://www.jonkidwell.com/ Jon Kidwell

    You bring up some excellent points about overeating in a 5-6 meal situation versus a bigger 2-meal plan. I know eating a large dinner is often still a struggle for me because I do eat smaller meals throughout the day. I think the trick is to find 3 or 4 options within your calorie limit for each meal. Then you have a go-to food option, you can control your calorie intake, and can adjust the size of the other meals as the day goes on. Whatever the number of meals you eat if you have healthy options and create a sustainable routine you can succeed at losing weight and living a healthy life.

  • cuddly_cinnabun

    I personally cannot handle large meals. Plus, as a runner, my metabolism is constantly burning, so I find that for me, I have to eat every 3-4 hours, or I become extremely hungry and irritable. Being a vegetarian also contributes to that, as raw fruits and vegetables generally tend to digest fairly quickly.

  • Phrick

    Five, most of the time. I’m using My Fitness Pal to count calories at the moment, and I am losing just fine.

  • Roger Moore

    I eat 6 – 7 small meals throughout the day. I eat when I am hungry and stop when my body tells me its had enough.

  • Carol H

    The problem with larger meals is that it “stretches” your stomach and sets a larger “fullness” threshold, so your body will be predisposed/trained to eat more in order to feel satisfied.

  • Peter

    I only eat once a day, usually at around 6 or 7 pm. I’ve been doing this intermittent fasting for more than two years now and I’ve never felt healthier and have much more energy than ever before.